What is a Depressive Episode?
A depressive episode in a major depressive disorder is a period characterized by low mood and other depression symptoms that lasts for two weeks or more. When experiencing a depressive episode, a person can try to change their thoughts and behaviors to help improve their mood.
Recognizing a depression episode may empower you to get the help you need sooner. In 2015, an estimated 16.1 million U.S. adults suffered at least one major depressive episode, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America . Most people can say they’ve had bad days. For a person with depression, those sad or off days could indicate a mental health disorder is worsening. It could mean you need help.
Depressive episode symptoms include despair, profound sadness, and a constant low or sad mood. Depressive episodes like this are the most common symptom of depression, especially when they’re unfounded by current life events or long-lasting. A depressive episode is generally characterized by these feelings lasting for two weeks or longer. This is an indication that you should seek help.
A person facing such an episode is more likely to make reckless decisions or have suicidal thoughts. That’s why seeking help immediately is essential. Symptoms of a depressive episode can persist for several weeks or months at a time. Less commonly, depressive episodes last for over a year. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, approximately 16.1 million adults in the United States experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2015.
Signs that a Depressive Episode is Occurring
Recognizing the depressive episode symptoms in yourself or a loved one can help you understand when to seek help. Some key signs include:
- Feeling very sad and hopeless
- Feelings of being helpless to make things better
- Suffering from low energy and fatigue even with rest
- Anxiety, especially anxiety that seems present all of the time
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Feelings of guilt, even when you aren’t sure why
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Difficulty with concentrating or remembering
- Irritability or constant frustration
Two main factors occur during a major depressive episode. First, your mental health is impacted. This type of episode is often brought on by a life event such as trauma. As a result, your thought patterns are likely to change. You may feel you’ve lost interest in the things you like to do. You may have trouble making decisions or focusing on things around you. Some people also develop suicidal thoughts during this time. The second component is the physical change.
Your mental health impacts the hormones that regulate some bodily functions. As a result, you’ll feel different physically too. This may include changes in sleep patterns — either sleeping a lot or not at all — weight gain or loss, aches and pains commonly attributed to the flu, and moving or talking at a slow pace. If you’re feeling like this, it could mean you’re experiencing a depressive episode. However, that doesn’t mean you have major depression.
Understanding What’s Happening to You
If you’re in the middle of a depression episode, it may seem nearly impossible to know what’s happening. However, there are a few ways you can track such attacks so you can take action to get the help you need.
- Start to chart your mood or use a journal to record your thoughts and feelings. Write down reactions to things that occur daily.
- Use that information to recognize triggers that could influence episodes, such as fighting with a spouse or employer.
- Talk to friends and family while you’re feeling good. Ask them to let you know when you seem down. Have a circle of people you trust to help with this.
- Meet routinely with your doctor. Be sure you are receiving the proper medication and care.
- Meet with a therapist who can offer guidance about what’s happening—having someone to speak to right away can be very empowering.
You may not be able to stop your episode from occurring, but you’re recognizing what’s happening and getting the help you need to manage it. That’s critical.
What is the Difference Between Major Depression and Grief and Sadness?
It’s common for people to suffer from depression due to life changes and events. For example, if a loved one dies, you may spend a few weeks very upset and withdrawn. You may have a period when you face complex life changes, and these symptoms seem to be present. If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, you may experience this from time to time. You may also have breaks of time when you feel okay. Those with a depression diagnosis can suffer from a major depressive disorder single episode like this.
In a person with major depression, these episodes occur more chronically. This is a chronic illness, but the time between such attacks may lengthen with treatment. As a result, you may feel better for more extended periods.
Dangers of a Depressive Episode
During a depressive episode, most people are very vulnerable. They feel worthless and defeated. You may see yourself not caring about school or work. That can impact your future if it happens often. The more profound effects of depressive episodes affect people’s ability to take care of themselves. You may be at a higher risk of hurting yourself through self-cutting. Others have suicidal thoughts or make attempts to harm themselves. Because of this, major depressive episodes are considered life-threatening events.
12 Tips for Dealing with a Depressive Episode
Tackling depression as soon as symptoms develop can help people recover more quickly. Even those who have experienced depression for a long time might find that changing the way they think and behave improves their mood.
The following tips may help people deal with a depressive episode:
- Track Triggers and Symptoms
Keeping track of moods and symptoms might help a person understand what triggers a depressive episode. In addition, spotting the signs of depression early on may help them avoid a full-blown depressive episode.
Use a diary to log important events, changes to daily routines, and moods. Rate moods on a scale of 1 to 10 to help identify which events or activities cause specific responses. See a doctor if symptoms persist for 14 days or more.
- Stay Calm
Identifying the onset of a depressive episode can be scary. Feeling panicked or anxious is an understandable reaction to the initial symptoms of depression. However, these reactions may contribute to low mood and worsen other symptoms, such as losing appetite and disrupted sleep. Instead, focus on staying calm. Remember that depression is treatable, and the feelings will not last forever. Anyone who has experienced depressive episodes before should remind themselves that they can overcome these feelings again. They should focus on their strengths and what they have learned from previous depressive episodes.
Self-help techniques, such as meditation, mindfulness, and breathing exercises, can help a person learn to look at problems differently and promote a sense of calmness. In addition, self-help books and phone and online counseling courses are available.
- Understand and Accept Depression
Learning more about depression can help people deal with the condition. Depression is a widespread and genuine mental health disorder. It is not a sign of weakness or a personal shortcoming. Accepting that a depressive episode may occur occasionally might help people deal with it when it does. Remember, it is possible to manage symptoms with treatments, such as lifestyle changes, medication, and therapy.
- Separate Yourself from the Depression
A condition does not define a person; they are not their illness. For example, when depression symptoms begin, some people find it helpful to repeat: “I am not depression, I just have depression.”
A person should remind themselves of all the other aspects of themselves. They may also be a parent, sibling, friend, spouse, neighbor, and colleague. Each person has strengths, abilities, and positive qualities that make them who they are.
- Recognize the Importance of Self-Care
Self-care is essential for good physical and mental health. Self-care activities are any actions that help people look after their well-being.
Self-care means taking time to relax, recharge, and connect with the self and others. It also means saying no to others when overwhelmed and accepting space to calm and soothe oneself.
Basic self-care activities include eating a healthful diet, engaging in creative activities, and taking a soothing bath. But any action that enhances mental, emotional, and physical health can be considered a self-care activity.
- Breathe Deeply and Relax the Muscles
Deep breathing techniques are an effective way to calm anxiety and soothe the body’s stress response. In addition, slowly inhaling and exhaling have physical and psychological benefits, especially when done daily.
Anyone can practice deep breathing, whether in the car, at work, or in the grocery store. Many smartphone apps offer guided deep breathing activities, and many are free to download.
Progressive muscle relaxation is another helpful tool for those experiencing depression and anxiety. It involves tensing and relaxing the muscles in the body to reduce stress. Again, many smartphone apps offer guided progressive muscle relaxation exercises.
- Challenge Negative Thoughts
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective therapy for depression and other mood disorders. CBT proposes that a person’s thoughts affect their mood rather than their life situations. CBT involves changing negative thoughts into more balanced ones to alter feelings and behaviors. A qualified therapist can offer CBT sessions, but it is also possible to challenge negative thoughts without seeing a therapist. Firstly, notice how often negative thoughts arise and what these thoughts say. These may include “I am not good enough,” or “I am a failure.” Then, challenge those thoughts and replace them with more positive statements, such as “I did my best” and “I am enough.”
- Practice Mindfulness
Take some time every day to be mindful and appreciate the present moment. This may mean noticing the warmth of sunlight on the skin when walking to work or the taste and texture of a crisp, sweet apple at lunchtime. Mindfulness allows people to fully experience the moment they are in, not worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.
- Make a Bedtime Routine
Sleep can have a significant impact on mood and mental health. A lack of sleep can contribute to symptoms of depression, and depression can interfere with sleep. To combat these effects, try to go to bed and get up simultaneously each day, even at weekends. Establish a nightly routine. Start winding down from 8 pm. Sip chamomile tea, read a book, or take a warm bath. Avoid screen time and caffeine. It may also be helpful to write in a journal before bed, especially for those whose racing thoughts keep them up.
Exercise is highly beneficial for people with depression. It releases chemicals called endorphins that improve mood. An analysis of 25 studies on exercise and depression reports that exercise has a “large and significant effect” on symptoms of depression.
- Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol is a depressant, and alcohol use can trigger episodes of depression or worsen existing attacks. Alcohol can also interact with some medications for depression and anxiety.
- Record the Positives
Often, depressive episodes can leave people focusing on the negatives and discounting the positives. To counteract this, keep a positivity journal or gratitude journal. This type of journal helps to build self-esteem. For example, before bed, write down three good things from the day. Positives include regular meditation, going for a walk, eating a healthful meal, and so much more.
Asking for Help
Dealing with depression can be daunting, but no one has to do it alone. One of the most critical steps in dealing with a depressive episode is asking for help.
Seek help from:
- Family and friends. People experiencing depression should consider telling family and friends how they are feeling and asking for support where they need it.
- A doctor. It is essential to speak to a doctor who can diagnose and recommend treatments. Research suggests that tailoring early treatment to the individual offers the best possible outcomes.
- A therapist. Talking to a counselor or psychotherapist can be beneficial. Talk therapy can help address low moods and negative thoughts. A therapist can also teach coping skills to help people deal with future depressive episodes.
- Support groups. Look for a local support group for people with depression. It can be beneficial to talk to others experiencing the same thing.
What is the Treatment for a Depressive Episode?
How do you get out of a depressive episode? Treatment is always customized based on your mental health needs at that time. If you’re facing an emergency, such as having thoughts of hurting yourself, call 911 right away. Do not wait for anyone else to be available. Your doctor will be able to help you as an initial step. If you’ve never been diagnosed with depression before, this generally will include an exam, lab tests, and a psychiatric evaluation. During this exam, your doctors and therapists determine if you have the symptoms for the classification of depression or a major depressive episode. They also decide which type of depression you have.
Treatment for an episode depends on what’s occurring. You may need to begin taking antidepressant medications. These medications can help balance hormones and chemicals in the brain to ensure fewer episodes. Getting the proper treatment can take some time.
Most people also benefit from psychotherapy. This includes talking to a therapist about what’s happening and developing strategies for dealing with triggers in your life. A key goal is to identify the negative beliefs and work through your feelings. You’ll also learn how to set realistic goals, develop a higher level of tolerance for distress and work to improve relationships. Some people also benefit from holistic therapy as a complement to psychotherapy. This may include nutrition counseling and yoga, for example.
Self-care is also important. This involves:
- Scheduling routine sessions with your therapist
- Reaching out immediately when you need support
- Practicing good physical health habits
- Spending more time outside where nature can help boost your mood
- Engaging in support groups
Risks of Ignoring a Depressive Episode
As noted, not treating a depressive episode can increase the risk of reckless behavior or suicidal thoughts. However, not treating your episode may also make you more likely to have more. Without treatment, these episodes can become more frequent and intense.
At We Level Up FL Treatment Center provides world-class care with round-the-clock medical professionals available to help you cope. In addition, we work as an integrated team providing information about the depressive episode and other aspects of treatment. Make this your opportunity to reclaim your life. Call today to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our specialists know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.
Your call is private and confidential, and there is never any obligation.
 Depression. (2018, February)