A few weeks after my wedding, I was caught off-guard by a serious brush with depression. It was like a thick fog that rolled in, crushing my desire to do anything. I was surprised because although I live with Bipolar Disorder 1, my medications are extremely effective and I don’t usually struggle with depression. Anxiety has been more of my jam and focus for the last few years. I was also surprised because I wasn’t sad my wedding was over—I was actually relieved. All the planning that went into it was a lot for me. It ended up being an amazing and beautiful day that I will never forget. Nothing to be sad about.
But there I was, a month later, crying almost every weekend. I didn’t want to do anything; I just wanted to go under my covers and never come out. And since my husband and I were still paying off the wedding, I didn’t have a lot of money to spend. Luckily, though it had been a while, I have been through depressive episodes before and I had some tools that I could use. I didn’t try to fight it; I just did everything I could to feel better. And within a few weeks, I was back to myself.
Here are some of the tools I have used to successfully work through depression. Mind you, these may not work for everyone, but I chose 9 ideas, so hopefully one or two speak to you. Also, please note that these tools are not to replace medications for those who need them, but to add to whatever treatment plan you and your doctor have already established.
1: Buy a new journal
You can use an old one too, but there is something really special—invigorating, even—about writing in a brand-new notebook. If you’re not already journaling, boy, you should be! Hands-down after medication, supplements, and meditation, it is one of the most effective ways to get through difficult times. When you write about your problems, in a way you are releasing them. It moves the story out of your brain, where it can get stuck, and puts it on paper. You can look at it objectively as separate from yourself. I have dozens of notebooks filled with angry rants or sad boohoo parties. It’s how I get through the yuck faster.
2: Make treating your depression a project to proud of
Depression is a sneaky, complicated, and stubborn monster. It can’t be treated in just one way. You need multiple attacks. Just like planning my wedding, I sat down with that new notebook and wrote out my strategy. For me it was about priorities: sleep, exercise, meditation, finding things that bring me joy, and taking care of myself. I planned out the next few weeks, highlighting all the things I would do to feel better, like going to bed earlier, making time to exercise, scheduling fun activities, and checking that my medications and supplements were organized.
3: Go for a walk
These days we’ve made exercise so complicated, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t have to join some fancy gym or kill yourself with difficult exercise routines to feel the positive effects of movement. You literally just need to put one foot in front of the other. When I’m depressed, I have no energy to even put on workout clothes, let along go to the gym. So, I make it simple. I walk out the door and set the timer for 10 minutes. Walk for 10 minutes, then turn around. I have lived all over and believe me, this works whether you live in the city or the country. As you feel better you can go for longer, but just start slow. When you’re depressed, leaving the house is a victory. Be proud of this little victory.
4: Listen to music and dance like no one is watching
I read somewhere that when you dance alone, you’re dancing with the angels. I have never gotten that visual out of my head. Find music that speaks to your soul. There are lots of free music apps you can try, or you can even go to YouTube and listen to your favorite songs for free. I sometimes like to buy songs on iTunes for 99 cents. I put on my headphones and just feel the music first, and then I start dancing. There are no shoulds. Simply listen and enjoy. If I want to do it for exercise, I put a timer on for 20 minutes and dance around my room. It helps lift that stagnant depression fog, even for just a bit.
5: Tidy just one room for 20 minutes
I don’t know about you, but when my house is messy I feel like crapola. At times, the messy house can even cause my depression. I feel overwhelmed by all the work I know it will take to clean the whole house, so I just shut down. I can’t do anything.
I found a new tactic: I’m not allowed to think about the entire messy house. But I can choose one room and tidy it for 20 minutes. Not cleaning—tidying. Putting things away, straightening, folding blankets, etc. Usually, the best place to start is your bedroom or the kitchen. Having a small project is a much easier task than taking on the whole thing. Once you tidy that one room, you’ll feel a weight lifted. Then, hang out there for a bit and enjoy the order and calm, or maybe it’ll even inspire you to clean another room. But, again, feel the victory from this one task.
6: Watch ‘90s sitcoms on Netflix or Hulu
If you enjoy sitcoms, give yourself permission to get some comedy therapy. Some people say that comedy is pain plus time. In other words, painful moments may not be funny at the time but can become a great story later. Sitcoms can show you how to make light of difficult situations. There are so many options these days, but Friends and Will and Grace really work for me.
You don’t have to choose something from the ‘90s, of course, but I find that the subjects in the sitcoms from this decade tend to be a lot simpler than the complex issues of today. Maybe this is due to the fact that I was in my teens and early twenties during the ‘90s, which were simpler times for me personally. Netflix and Hulu are relatively inexpensive per month, both under $20. Look through the comedy categories on both sites and find what makes you feel peace. Again, let yourself just sit and enjoy it. It really helps take your mind off yourself.
7: Get a haircut at Supercuts
During this latest brush with depression, I was in a rut and just didn’t feel good about how I looked. I felt scruffy and gross, but I couldn’t afford the fancy salon that I used to go to, so I had been avoiding getting a haircut. When I made my plan of attack, to combat this depression, I threw caution to the wind and went to my local Supercuts. I got just a trim, cleaned off the ends—nothing crazy. The stylist did a great job and I felt so much better. And it cost less than $20.
One thing to consider is that if you’re sensitive about your hair, or are looking for more than a clean-up, maybe skip this one. A bad haircut could have the reverse effect. This would not be the time to get a completely new look!
8: Take a pretty princess bath
We are so busy these days that we often don’t take the time to really care for our bodies. At least I don’t. When I was feeling down, I decided to take some time for myself with a nice soak in the bath. I added some Epsom salt and bubble bath and found some jazz music to play on my phone. I took my time as I shaved and exfoliated. I focused on appreciating my body and enjoying the break. Afterward, I felt so much better about myself.
A bath is also a good time to care for your feet with a nice sugar foot scrub. Or maybe add a face mask. There are all kinds of cool low-cost options.
9: Go to a bookstore
When I was in the worst place I have ever been psychologically speaking, bookstores became my savior. Even today, going to a bookstore immediately lifts my mood.
I especially like Barnes and Noble. First, I wander around as the mood strikes and look at the books—the neat artwork and the clever titles. Then, I head to the self-help section. Whatever you are going through, there is most likely a book about it. I find one that interests me, and then I either sit down right there on the floor and camp out in that section, or I take the book to an open chair or couch. That is the cool thing about B&N: you can read the books without buying them. I do buy books when I can afford it to support others. But when I can’t, I either skim the entire book or find the chapter that speaks to me. Get the important info, and then put it back and move on. Then, if the bookstore has a café, I might treat myself to a tea and/or baked goods.
Depression affects millions of people in the U.S. alone, yet is still not totally understood. Try what works for you. Also, know that you are not alone. We are all just a work-in-progress. It can take time for depression to fully move through, but have patience and don’t give up. Sometimes it’s just about slowing things down and being nice to yourself.
Hopefully, these 9 ideas will help, or even jumpstart your own ideas for inexpensive ways to combat depression. There are countless other options—what brings you joy?
I would love your feedback. If you have things that you do to make yourself feel better that are under $20, leave them in the comments section.
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