Need support now? Help is available. Call, text, or chat 988outbound call

Two woman lying against pillows talking on the phone to each other

Recognizing Signs of a Downward Spiral (and Tips for Not Falling Into It)

When you have had major depressive disorder for as long as I have, it becomes easier to recognize the signs when things are going in the wrong direction.

I like to call it my "dark hole of gloom and doom." When I feel myself getting drawn to the edge of that pit, I employ a few strategies not to fall in.

When I notice signs of a downward spiral...

The first thing I usually do is call a particular friend of mine who has assumed a parental role these last dozen years or so.

"Don't do it," she says to me, hearing it in my voice. I do not even have to mention the dark hole of depression at this point. And by "it," she means fall into a mood where I want to isolate myself, stop talking completely and dwell on all the problems I've ever had – past and present.

What does my depression look like?

Sometimes, it means crawling into bed and staying there and not wanting to get up. Other times, it means crying so much I give myself a headache.

Mostly, it means convincing myself there is no hope of things getting better or me ever feeling okay or backing away from the precipice.

Let's call the last part, "the wrong idea" or "big lie."

Remember: you've gotten through this before

This friend I mentioned earlier also reminds me that I have picked myself up in the past and can do it again, no matter how impossible it may seem in that moment.

Have I mentioned she is also one of the funniest people on the planet? Usually, by the end of the call, I am laughing myself silly over her dry, witty remarks and hang up feeling a whole lot less defeated.

She is right. Over all these years of ups and downs, when I set my mind to it and really think about it, I can come up with ways to avoid the pit.

3 of my downward spiral coping tools

First: I can see it coming now and try to swerve away.

Second: I allow myself a cry but do not wallow in tears. It is almost as if I give it a time limit and then stop and move on.

Third: I try to ensure I get some rest, but not in excess.

Chronic illness doesn't help

In addition to depression and anxiety, I have been living with chronic myeloid leukemia for the past 9 years. Depression came first by a few years so I cannot always blame what I am feeling on CML. But blood cancer does not help.

Over the past 2 years, my mobility has become more compromised (i.e., I use a walker full-time, previously I used a cane for a while). The situation leaves me frustrated, sad and even angry at times.

The best I ever felt mood-wise was when I was exercising.

This or That

Do you use exercise to manage your symptoms?

My favorite coping tool: exercise

By exercising, at this point, I mean physical therapy. This past summer, I was hobbling to PT twice per week, starting off the session on the bike and performing other light movements.

Even if I was in a bad mood prior, I always left the sessions with a feeling of accomplishment and in a better frame of mind.

Avoiding isolation, too

During COVID, when isolation was at its peak and I was still walking around unaided, I joined an exercise program at another physical therapy practice where I had been treated for a torn Achilles tendon that knocked me off my walking game for months.

The class was for people who graduated from PT but were not quite where they needed to be physically. I liked to think of it as remedial gym class for people with pre-K levels of agility.

The mind-body connection

For many weeks, I had my own personal trainer because I was the only "pupil." I was pushed hard – very hard, alternating two days on the floor with 1 day in a specialized pool/tank with a treadmill inside.

Although it was exhausting at times, mentally it was refreshing! I think it helped save me from succumbing to the dark hole. Actually, I do not just think that – I know that.

So my last bit of coping advice would be to exercise – even if it is just walking around your house or apartment a few times a day. Heck, even touching your toes while sitting down or doing heel lifts are a start.

Avoiding falling into depression's dark hole

Focusing your mind on something else and embracing the smallest of achievements can go a long way in warding off the dark hole of depression – even for a little while. It has for me.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.