How to Be a Boss at Being Depressed

Are you trying to help your client learn how to better tackle depression?  Two articles titled “What can you do when you’re flattened by depression? plan for it” and “What to do when a relationship’s over – but your feelings aren’t“, both on We Humans by TED give applicable strategies that can mitigate a temporary breakup from content. Here’s what I learned:

Depression Takes Practice

You would not think that depression would be something anyone would practice for. But much like a sport, practicing how to manage depression can lead to victory.

What does this practice look like? Founder of this idea, Jessica Gimeno explains that “it’s time to go beyond getting a diagnosis, into giving people actual coping mechanisms. Without coping mechanisms, we’re trapped in a downward spiral. Being depressed leads to falling behind; falling behind leads to more depression”.

She’s right: without effective healthy coping mechanisms, people can fall into spiraling depression, as their symptoms become more difficult to manage. They may begin to engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as excessive drinking or social isolation.

Therapists can help their clients practice for depression by teaching them strategies to incorporate into their daily lives. Some of these strategies include the following:

  1. Identifying Feelings
  2. Understanding Your Needs
  3. Making a Plan to Prioritize

Identifying Feelings

Depression is complex: many emotions can make up the iceberg of depression.  These emotions include anger, sadness, loneliness, and sometimes, confusion. These complex emotions make the iceberg float in our mental space, but breaking through the iceberg and untangling those emotions can reduce it to an ice cube.

How can your clients this? Psychologist Dr. Pascual-Leone suggests taking time to help your clients do the following:

Finding the words – Translating emotional experience into language makes it more digestible and less daunting. Can’t find the words? Using shapes, lines, and colors to make a picture can also help translate emotions into definite space.

Asking “Where does it hurt”? – Physically, a person’s heart may hurt, you may be nauseous or have a headache. The pain that we get from emotions shares the same pathways activated when you get hurt or sick.  Answering this question can help your client understand how depression is affecting them and show them that depression is not just “all in their head”.

Asking “What’s the worst part of it”? – A person can experience a lot of emotions during an episode of depression. Answering which emotion is most impacting can help a person begin to tackle each emotion they are experiencing. For example, if your client is experiencing a lot of anger during a depressive episode, focusing on anger management and reduction techniques can help that person conquer the anger component of their depression. One emotion down, X to go!

Understanding Personal Needs

Pascual-Leone advises people to understand their deeper needs after they have gone through a breakup, as these events can stir up some deep, ugly yet familiar feelings. Like breakups, depression can do the same thing.

Depression can stir-up thoughts such as ” I am [insert negative quality here]” or “I don’t deserve to be happy”. For someone’s first go-around of depression, these thoughts are very sharp. For someone that struggles with depression chronically, these feelings can still be sharp even when the brain recognizes its been to this “place” before.

A proactive way to help your client combat depression is to help them address what they really need. Pascual-Leone defines this as what someone needs to thrive. For depression, answering this question can help someone create a plan for what they need when they feel depressed. Gimeno explains that people need different things to remedy depressive symptoms – social engagement, creative time, or exercise. She advises that these “relievers” should be ones that can address needs without making someone feel worse in the long run like they would if they ate an entire pint of ice cream.

Planning to Prioritize

With depression, everyday tasks can seem to take the energy it would to scale Kiliminjaro. Gimeno offers a unique strategy she employs for her own bouts of depression: using a numbering scale. Her scale categorizes tasks into things that need to be accomplished today, tomorrow, later in the week, and in the future. By doing this, she is able to reasonably tackle more urgent tasks without categorizing tasks as all urgent or all futuristic.

In addition to urgency, she categorizes tasks by difficulty. This method allows her to see which tasks may be more reasonable to try to attempt at first while working her way to more difficult tasks. Sometimes, applying “chunking” strategies can help breakdown more difficult tasks into more attainable ones to complete.

For task completion, it is important to balance urgency and difficulty. There are going to be times where tasks may be both urgent and difficult. By using strategies that breakdown more complex tasks, they become simplified into smaller ones that lead to completion.


Conquering depression takes time, understanding, and emphasis on self-care. Depression affects everyone differently: some people may feel sad, bored, cloudy, confused, or a combination of emotions. Helping your client understand how depression affects them and making a game plan for a depressive episode will help your client weather the storm like a pro!

Dustin Luchmee

Dustin was HappyNeuron's Product Specialist. With research experience in stroke, Dustin learned how a stroke can change someone's life. He also learned how different kinds of therapists can work together to help a person get better. He is passionate about neuro-rehabilitation and finding the active ingredients for effective therapy.

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