Depression and anxiety self-help material

What should I do if I think I have depression or anxiety?

The good news is that both depression and anxiety are treatable. Many people will try self-help strategies as the first option in managing mild to moderate symptoms. Evidence suggests that self-help books, many of which are based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can be helpful in mild to moderate depression and some types of anxiety such as generalized anxiety and panic disorder.   This is known as bibliotherapy.  Some self-help strategies can be very useful, and the self-help information below offers practical tips for self-management.

Research suggests that the benefits of self-help books and other self-help techniques can be improved by receiving guidance from a professional, so get some help if you (a) need support to practice the techniques (b) aren't improving on your own or begin to feel worse (c) think about harming yourself in any way. Talk about your feelings with a trusted friend, family member, or university counsellor.

How can I help myself to overcome depression and anxiety?

1. Admit you are distressed

It's important to acknowledge how you feel so you can do something about it. Many depressed or anxious people try to carry on as usual, feign interest in activities or friends, and smile when they don't feel happy or relaxed. Intervene early and give yourself the best chance for improvement.

2. Record your feelings

On a scale of 1-10, write down how you feel throughout day with 10 being the best and 1 the worst. Also write down what you were thinking and doing at the time, and any events that triggered those feelings. This will help you identify any unhelpful patterns (see automatic thoughts) that require your attention.

Day

What was I doing?

What was I thinking?

Mood Rating

1-10

Anxiety Rating

1-10

         

3. Identify your automatic thoughts

People are often unaware of their thoughts and self-talk that automatically occurs in response to everyday situations. Becoming aware of your automatic thoughts will give you the opportunity to actively change negative or self-defeating thoughts into positive, self-supporting ones. It's common for people with depression or anxiety to get into unhelpful patterns of thinking.

For example:

  • Black and white thinking: I don't understand that point so I must be stupid.
  • Personalising: My tutor's in a bad mood, I must have failed my assignment.
  • Catastrophising: I know I'll freeze up during the exam and I won't be able to do it.
  • Jumping to negative conclusions: If I fail this exam I'll get kicked out of the whole course.

When you catch yourself thinking a negative or unhelpful thought, ask yourself:

  • Is the thought 100% true or do I need more information to be sure? - sometimes just checking on the facts will help you gain perspective and reduce unnecessary worry.
  • Is the thought part of an unhelpful pattern? - recognising your own thinking patterns (e.g. routinely jumping to negative conclusions which increases depression or anxiety) can give you a chance to think about things in a more positive and realistic way.
  • Is there another way to think about this? - there are many ways to interpret a situation and with attention, you can replace automatic, negative thoughts with more positive ones. For example:

Unhelpful thinking 
I don't understand that point - I must be completely stupid.

Helpful thinking 
It's true that I don't understand that point but I have a good understanding of the basic principles so I can do this.  

Unhelpful thinking
I know I'll freeze up during the exam and I won't be able to do it. 

Helpful thinking
Yes I'm nervous but so is everyone else. I've prepared well for the exam but if I do feel anxious I'll use breathing relaxation techniques to calm myself down. 

Learning new ways of thinking takes time and effort but like all new skills it becomes easier with practice. In time you'll find that more positive thoughts will automatically replace unhelpful or negative ones.

4. Use lots of different ways to cope with stress

People tend to rely on only one or two strategies to deal with stressful situations. Sometimes these coping styles can be harmful in the long run such as using alcohol and other drugs to mask feelings. The greater number of helpful skills that you can practice, the better equipped you'll be to deal with a range of stressful situations. Try these stress-busters:

  • Get regular exercise: Regular exercise can significantly reduce symptoms of depression and help to control anxiety so get moving! If you feel depressed you might have to force yourself at first, so start with short bursts. You can always increase your activity as your mood lifts.
  • Eat a balanced diet: A range of healthy foods is required to obtain key nutrients such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids. It's easy to skip meals or eat sugary foods when you feel down or anxious, so pick foods that are nutritious and appealing.
  • Limit alcohol intake if you are a drinker as alcohol can make depression and anxiety symptoms worse.
  • Avoid procrastination: Students who procrastinate will often experience stress, worry, and anxiety. The paper that's due in a week or two will seem more difficult with each passing day of inattention. If procrastination is causing you stress, make a timeline of what needs to be done and break down large tasks into its components. Start with something that you can achieve and build up as your momentum grows. Sometimes just starting something will help to reduce procrastination stress (see solving problems).
  • Plan your day: Plan time to do things that you enjoy each day, as well as planning for things that you must do. This will bring some balance into your life as well as helping you to avoid procrastination.
  • Set goals: Setting goals encourages you to plan for the future, improves your confidence and boosts your self-esteem. Depressed people often feel no sense of purpose so goal-setting helps to clarify what's important.

Try to set goals that are:

Short-term to start with (this will help you to maintain commitment)

Specific ("to pass the subject" is a specific goal, while "to be happy" is not specific enough)

Achievable (make sure it's possible for you to reach it)

Negotiated if others are involved in your goal (so they will agree to support you)

Identify each step or milestone that's required to ensure you achieve your identified goal. Make a realistic timeline, and think about how you'll know when you've achieved it.  Keep a record to measure your progress.

For example:

Goal

Timeline

Steps required

Milestones

Outcomes

   

1.

2.

3.

   

Solve problems effectively: Everyone can expect to encounter problems and difficulties from time to time. However, it's the way we think, feel and behave when faced with a problem that can cause distress. People can feel overwhelmed by a problem if it is perceived as enormous and unsolvable.

Try solving problems with this useful technique (D'Zurilla & Goldfried, 1971):

Stop and think about the whole situation. What is really going on? What is the real issue?

Break the problem down into smaller, manageable parts and solve each part separately.

Creatively generate a list of possible solutions. Come up with as many options as possible to solve the problem without judging the merits of any option at this stage.

Choose an option. Now examine the options one by one and weigh up the pros and cons of each. Reject unusable options, choose the best, and keep the second best as a back-up if required.

Practice. Try out your solution and evaluate the plan. Did it work? If not, why not? How could you tackle this problem differently in future?

Use relaxation techniques: Learning to relax involves developing an awareness of your own responses to stress, listening to your body, and recognising when you need to take time out.  Turn off the phone; listen to music; read a book; take a bath; meditate; practice yoga: whatever works for you. Relaxation involves a conscious, deliberate decision to relax your mind and body.  Some structured relaxation exercises include breathing relaxation and progressive muscle relaxation.  Just like other skills, relaxation techniques require regular practice so take time out to deliberately relax each day.

Breathing relaxation:

  • Sit (or lie) down and close your eyes, or let your eyes gently rest on an object in the room.
  • Inhale deeply and slowly, while counting to four.
  • Exhale slowly, counting to four.
  • Inhale deeply and slowly again as you count to four, hold your breath for two seconds.
  • Exhale slowly, counting to four.
  • Repeat inhale and exhale cycle for several minutes, and consciously relax.
  • As you inhale, imagine yourself in a safe, comfortable, beautiful place. Continue to breathe as you hold the image in your mind. Feel how relaxed you are.
  • When you are ready, become aware of yourself in the room once again, wriggle your fingers and toes, and slowly open your eyes.

Progressive muscle relaxation:

  • Lie down comfortably in a place where you won't be disturbed, rest your arms by your side, and close your eyes.
  • Inhale as you count to 4, and exhale as you count to 4, until your mind is quiet and you feel calm.
  • As you continue to breathe slowly, tense each muscle group for 10 seconds (do not tense so much that you feel cramp or pain), then relax for 10 seconds, starting with your:
  • Feet: curl your toes, then relax.
  • Calves: tighten your calf muscles, then relax
  • Thighs: tighten your thigh muscles, then relax
  • Buttocks: tighten your buttocks, then relax
  • Stomach: pull your tummy in, then relax
  • Chest: breathe in deeply, then breathe out and relax
  • Hands: clench your hands into fists, then relax
  • Lower arms: bend your hands up at the wrists, then relax
  • Upper arms: bend your arms up at the elbow, then relax
  • Shoulders: lift your shoulders up, then relax
  • Neck: stretch your neck gently to the left, then the right, then forward, and relax
  • Jaw: clench your teeth, then relax
  • Forehead and scalp: close your eyes tightly, then relax
  • Eyes: raise your eyebrows, then relax
  • Continue slow, controlled breathing for five more minutes, and enjoy the feeling of relaxation.
  • When you are ready, gently stretch your whole body, bringing yourself back into the room, and slowly rise when you are ready.

Avoid things that increase your stress: Learn to say ‘no' when it's in your own best interests.

Turn to friends or relatives for support: Try not to isolate yourself. Be with people you trust and feel safe with. Spend time with people who are optimistic or think positively.

5. Know where to go for practical help

Keep numbers of useful organisations and support people handy. Include an emergency number (e.g., lifeline, trusted friend's number, etc.) in case you need immediate support. Feeling better takes time. Don't expect to just ‘snap out' of it. Be kind to yourself and recognise even the smallest gains and improvements.  Research suggests that the benefits of self-help strategies can be enhanced by gaining even a little support and guidance from a professional. This is known as ‘guided self-help', so don't hesitate to ask for help if you need it.

Assess your level of distress by doing our online self asssessment

Seek professional assistance if things get too much.

If you:

  • Feel depressed most of the time for longer than a few weeks;
  • Have feelings of worry, guilt or responsibility for things beyond your control;
  • Avoid specific things, places, people, or situations due to excessive worry, fear or anxiety;
  • Can't study, take exams, or do what's expected of you due to depression, anxiety or excessive worry;
  • Can't cope on your own;
  • Have thoughts of self-harm.

Self-help information for depression and anxiety by beyondblue

beyondblue is an independent, not-for-profit organisation working to increase awareness and understanding of anxiety and depression in Australia and to reduce the associated stigma. Their website contains detailed information, resources and different ways you can seek help for depression and anxiety.

http://www.beyondblue.org.au/

It's not always easy to help someone who may be experiencing depression. It can be hard to know what to say or do. Below are some tips.

  • Talk to the person about how they're feeling.
  • Listen to what the person says - sometimes, when a person wants to talk, they're not always seeking advice, but just need to voice their concerns.
  • Maintain eye contact and sit in a relaxed position - positive body language will help the person feel more comfortable.
  • Use open-ended questions such as "So tell me about...?" which require more than a 'yes' or 'no' answer. This is often a good way to start a conversation.
  • If conversation becomes difficult or if the person with depression gets angry, stay calm, be firm, fair and consistent and don't lose control.
  • Often, just spending time with the person lets them know someone cares and understands them.
  • Encourage the person to seek professional help from their family doctor or a counsellor.

Take care of yourself. Supporting someone with depression can be demanding. Family and friends should take 'time out' to look after themselves.

Information for family and friends by beyondblue

beyondblue provides information packs for families and carers of people who suffer from depression or anxiety. Click on the link below to find out more.

Better Health Channel

Better Health Channel is a Victorian site that provides health and medical information, fact sheets on health conditions, healthy living tips and questions & answers from health experts.

http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/

beyondblue

beyondblue is an independent, not-for-profit organisation working to increase awareness and understanding of anxiety and depression in Australia and to reduce the associated stigma.

http://www.beyondblue.org.au

Black Dog Institute

An educational, research, clinical and community-oriented facility in NSW offering specialist expertise in mood disorders including depression and bipolar disorder.

http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au

Headspace

A community based service for people aged 12 - 25 and their families, Headspace provides help for issues including health, education, work, mental health and drug & alcohol use.

http://www.headspace.org.au

SANE Australia

SANE conducts innovative programs and campaigns to improve the lives of people living with mental illness, their family and friends. It also operates a busy telephone helpline and website.

http://www.sane.org

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