Depressive episodes can be scary. Emerging from one can sometimes feel like you have been asleep for years while everyone else has been carrying on with their jobs, responsibilities, significant others and the rest of their lives, and you have been trapped in a self-deprecating cubicle within your mind.
First and most importantly, take a deep breath and calm down. Even though it seems like you’ve come home to a scene of utter and complete chaos, there are three steps you can take to bounce back from a severe depressive episode. You can recover your life, you can recover your grades, and you can feel a little more like yourself.
1. Connect with Others
During this stage, you need to alert the people who care about you and the people in charge of important aspects in your life of what has occurred.
You’ll likely want to go to your professor if you feel the episode will affect your schoolwork. Before telling your professors, judge how they will receive what you have to say. If you trust your professor, you can state the situation honestly through a one-on-one meeting, during office hours, or even via e-mail. You can discuss what you want them to know, see if they have any tips of their own for recovering your grades, and sincerely find out what you need to do to get back on track towards your ideal grade. However, keep in mind that the person who decides to divulge the sensitive information around your depressive episode is you. If your professor makes you uncomfortable but you still need help, just let them know that you’re having a hard time. Inquire about ways to improve and catch up with the rest of the class.
Contact the mental health services on campus for tips on how to proceed. Students differ in opinion on whether seeking help is the best option for them, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Counseling might make it easier for you to begin to balance depression and anxiety with the other sections of your life. You might also find a deeper, underlying problem that can be tackled further, such as a learning disability or the need for medication.
You might also want to contact your academic advisor. If your depressive episode was triggered by something to do with school – a class you just aren’t happy with, a professor you’re conflicting with, or you’re just not feeling your current major – your academic advisor can be extremely helpful in giving you options for performing better or evaluating your current career trajectory.
Finally, don’t forget your family, friends, classmates, and peers. Whether on campus or online, you have a network of people who sincerely care about you or are kind enough to help you out. Evaluate carefully and reach out to who you need to. If a relationship is toxic, gently distance yourself from it. Look for relationships that encourage you to grow, improve, and express emotions without wallowing in your guilt and anxiety.
2. Tackle Your To-Do List
Now that you’ve covered your bases with the important people in your life, you’ll need to figure out how to salvage work abandoned or neglected during your episode. First: don’t panic. Organize your materials by level of importance and difficulty. From those, sort which ones you need help with urgently, assignments that are due soon, and assignments where the deadline is distant.
Make lists of the classes and concepts that you don’t understand and set up tutoring sessions. You can meet and speak with someone more experienced with the topic over time to begin to properly absorb the information. Attempting to cram will make the information even harder to comprehend.
Create a game plan of how to tackle assignments that are due immediately. If, for example, you have a test, a paper, and a quiz all due the next day, you have a specific plan for how much you will study or work on each one. Install an internet blocker like StayFocusd on your browser that prevents you from procrastinating on certain websites.
Ask your professor if you can delay turning in one of the assignments to give you more time to work on another. Try a timed working method, such as the Pomodoro Technique, so that you don’t drain yourself trying to work five hours straight.
In the case that you find yourself with tons of work, it’s important to handle it all as soon as possible while maintaining your own pace. You can collaborate with a friend, creating a study session where you quiz each other and encourage each other to complete assignments. If you have a classmate who is in your class, ask if you can study together rather than simply asking for notes. Collaborating can help you understand the material better through exchanging and discussing information. Make sure the session isn’t distracting and don’t rush yourself – even if the session is last minute, you’ll just whip yourself into a frenzy attempting to rush your way through everything.
If you are a student who has difficulty understanding lectures because of the way your professors teach, you might also want to try switching up your studying method. You can read chapters aloud, read and record notes or textbook chapters and listen to them when you’re falling asleep, or hand-write notes from previous lectures over again to have a refreshed connection with the information.
3. Recovery and Preparing for Next Time
Once you’re on track with recovering your grades and your school schedule, you can finally focus on fully recovering from the ordeal. Shift towards taking care of your body if you were neglectful. If you stopped your skin care routine, introduce it back product by product. If you haven’t been showering or bathing, take a nice, long shower, exfoliate, and moisturize. Haven’t been eating healthy? Make a conscious effort to at least eat one serving of a fruit or vegetables. Is your room a wreck? Clean it while you’re recovering! Throw away garbage, wash your laundry and change your sheets. Performing these actions will help phase you physically out of your depressive episode and into a period of rebirth.
It is also important that while you are not in a depressive episode, plan around the fact that you know one may happen again. Don’t sugar coat it to yourself – depressive episodes come unexpectedly and can catch you off guard. People who have had one depressive episode are more likely to have a second episode, but having a plan for how to address it can make things easier if another episode develops.
While not in a depressive episode, plan as if you know when one will occur. Designate a productive day each week when you make a comprehensive list of what you need to do, class responsibilities and daily tasks. Then, take 25 minutes a day and work on each of them, no excuses. Have some work built up; think of it as your nest egg. If you find yourself in another depressive episode and begin to procrastinate or become less productive, you have some work to fall back on.
When in a better mood, collect things that make you feel good. This can include movies, songs, comics, books, a letter telling you everything will be okay, happy photos — collect them and put them aside for a bad day. When you aren’t feeling your best, try opening this box and watching, reading or doing what you have inside. This can help distract you from your mood a little rather than allowing you to wallow in negative thoughts.
It is completely natural for you to be depressed. If you are feeling suicidal, reach out for urgent help, but remember that you can recover. There is nothing wrong with you, and don’t worry – there’s always a way for you to bounce back. You don’t have to make your depression worse by not knowing what to do – get out and on the path to recovery.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. For those not in the U.S., visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention.