Like a lot of us, Nicolas Del Pesco tends to feel down during the wintertime. The fact that he’s a a Philadelphia-based psychotherapist specializing in mild depression, stress, and anxiety doesn’t make him immune to the blues.
“I can tell I’m not doing well when I experience compassion fatigue,” Del Pesco says. He describes this as an inability to properly connect and empathize with his clients. Ruminative thinking—basically, getting stuck on his own shortcomings or other negative thought patterns—is another of his red flags, he says.
What does he do about it?
“I’m a big fan of mindfulness meditation,” he says. “If I can tell my thinking has taken a negative turn, I get back to meditating at least every other day.”
He tries to carve out 25 minutes—or 45, if he’s really in a funk—to sit in a quiet place and clear his head. He says he often turns to guided meditations form Tara Brach, a clinical psychologist who practices “Western Buddhism.”
Along with calming his mind, meditation allows more positive feelings like compassion and gratitude to emerge, Del Pesco says.
What else do real therapists do to manage their own mild depression? Keep reading. (If you’re in a funk, out-of-whack hormones could also be to blame. Learn how to balance and boost them—and lose up to 40 pounds in the process—with The Hormone Fix.)
Laugh a little. (mild depression)
“Humor is my favorite tool in the area of self-care,” says Zereana Jess-Huff, PhD, a clinical therapist who treats patients via LiveHealth Online.
Whether you get your chuckles from close friends, cat videos, or stand-up routines on Netflix, laughter offers research-backed relief for depression and anxiety.
“Humor reminds us that life has a lighter side,” Jess-Huff adds.
Work up a sweat.
“If I have a particularly hard day at work or am worrying a lot about my patient, I might do some vigorous exercise,” says Jennifer Gentile, PsyD, another LiveHealth Online therapist who is also affiliated with Harvard Medical School.
Like laughter, exercise is a proven way to banish the blues. You want to do something aerobic—a long run, hard bike ride, or something else that gets your heart pumping and the endorphins flowing.
“I allow myself to spend half of the time I’m exercising thinking about what is worrying me, and then the other half actively think about something else, or focusing on the physical activity,” Gentile says.
She explains that shutting off the mind can be helpful. Exercise is a great way to accomplish that.
Doing something creative is a great way to engage your mind in something other than the negative or repeating thoughts that won’t leave you alone when you’re feeling down, says Heather Senior Monroe, a psychotherapist with Newport Academy teen treatment centers.
Research has linked creativity to an improved mood, and also to more control over the directions your thoughts take.
Monroe mentions music, art, and dance as some of her go-to creative pursuits when she’s not feeling her best. But go with whatever gets your creative juices flowing. (One writer tried coloring every night for a week to see if it helped her de-stress, and here’s what happened.)
Soak up some culture with a friend.
Spending time with pals—on the phone, but especially in person—is a great way to boost your mental health. Just chatting with a friend can lower your blood pressure and calm your stress, experts say.
Del Pesco agrees that being social is a great remedy for mild depression, and he recommends combining buddies with a little culture for an extra boost. “Going to a concert with friends is great for enhancing my mood,” he says.
Museum visits and festivals are also great options if you’re trying to find a good excuse to get together with a friend.
Tweak your diet.
Eating healthy can help you feel better about yourself and brush away negative thoughts, Monroe says. When she’s not feeling her best, she reaches for whole foods with no added sugar—especially “low-glycemic” fruits like apples, pears, and berries.
Drinking lots of water and avoiding caffeine are also good ways to keep your mind in the right place, she says. While water is important to prevent dehydration—even mild dehydration can tank your mood—too much caffeine can also make you feel down.