It’s that time of year again — students everywhere are heading back to school. But for students with depression, managing difficult emotions and a barrage of homework assignments, essays and projects can be extra challenging. If you’re living with depression and starting a new school year, here are six tips for managing your depression and your busy schedule.
1. Track your depression symptoms.
If you struggle with depression, knowing when your symptoms are the most intense can help you prepare for them — before they start to affect your schoolwork. Tracking your symptoms on paper or with apps like Sanvello or MindDoc can help you understand the patterns behind your depression symptoms, and this valuable information can guide you through what steps to take next. If you know that your depression worsens during fall or winter or spikes during certain times of the month, try to work on longer assignments and projects when you know you’ll be in a good place mentally. This way, you can spend harder days managing your symptoms instead of stressing over incomplete assignments
2. Use the PLEASE acronym to care for your physical needs.
You’re more likely to stay mentally healthy if you care for all of your physical needs — and luckily, there’s an acronym to remind you of exactly what to do to meet them. If you’ve done Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), you may be familiar with the acronym PLEASE, which stands for (treat) Physical iLlness, Eat regularly, Avoid mood-altering drugs, Sleep regularly, and Exercise. Once you’ve taken steps to care for your physical needs, you may find it easier to concentrate on your schoolwork without a resurgence of depression symptoms.
3. Use to-do lists to prioritize your assignments.
Depression can make starting school projects especially challenging, so when you receive an assignment, prioritize it according to its due date and the amount of time it will take. Knowing approximately how long your assignments will take you to complete and scheduling them accordingly will help you know when to start them — and when you have time to take mental health breaks. When you make your to-do list, don’t forget to include your classes and any other commitments, like work or extracurricular activities — that way, you’ll know exactly how much time you have to work on homework and care for your mental and physical health. And of course, don’t forget to reward yourself when you complete important tasks — you deserve time for yourself!
4. Take regular breaks and practice self-care to reduce depression as a student.
It may be tempting to spend hours on end studying for your latest midterm, but working for hours without a break could provoke feelings of hopelessness, helplessness and fatigue. After you’ve worked for an hour or so, do something that can help relieve your depression symptoms, like listening to music, talking with a friend, reading or going on a short walk or run. Chances are, you’ll return from your break feeling slightly more energized and will be able to more easily refocus on your work instead of feeling numb or unmotivated. Taking breaks from working on your assignments doesn’t make you “weak” or a “bad student” — it makes you smart enough to care for yourself and put out your best work!
5. Stay on top of taking medication and making appointments with professionals to treat your depression.
If you take medication or see a therapist or psychiatrist to help manage your depression, don’t stop taking those steps — even when school feels overwhelming. Although your medication may be easy to forget or you may think that seeing your therapist or psychiatrist takes up too much time, your medications and appointments are likely playing a major role in keeping you well enough to attend school. Make sure to see the professionals on your team just as regularly as you did prior to the beginning of the school year, and invest in a pill organizer so that you have a visual reminder to take your medication. Your professionals and your prescriptions can help you manage your symptoms and cope with school stress — so don’t skip out on your depression treatment
6. Remind yourself that you don’t need to be perfect in order to succeed in school.
If your depression often manifests as perfectionism, you may feel pressure to over-exert yourself on important assignments in order to lessen your symptoms — but over time, perfectionism can cause your depression to worsen. Did you turn in that assignment for partial credit even though it was late? Be proud — you finished it. Did you spend time doing something you love instead of studying for four hours in a row? That’s great — you’re prioritizing your mental health. Did you finish an exam you’re not sure if you passed? Reward yourself — you’re done, and you did your best. Remind yourself that successful students don’t necessarily earn the highest grades, but they do balance their health and their time studying. As long as you’re caring for yourself and doing what you can to succeed in school, you are a great student!