Young Adults’ Experiences of Depression in the U.S.

Depression and strategies for everyday life

Young adults we interviewed described strategies they had created or been taught that make it easier to live with depression on a daily basis. As Sam put it, such approaches make it “… more comfortable going through day to day life and dealing with these symptoms of depression when they arise.” 

For many people short-term approaches to dealing with depression lay the groundwork for eventual healing and recovery. For some these approaches also connect to a broader sense of purpose. This part of the website, however, focuses on specific strategies that the young adults we spoke with developed to lessen the day-to-day impact of depression; why they think such strategies are important; and how they succeeded in creating them. (See links below to explore “Depression and healing” and “Having a purpose in life”).
Going slowly, one step at a time

One coping strategy many people find useful is to approach things “one day at a time.” Several people said that making things “bite-sized” or “thinking about them in little stages” renders them more manageable. Others talked about the importance of slowing things down by setting priorities among competing tasks that cannot all be accomplished, or saying “no” to all but a few commitments each day. As Kate put it, “Depression makes you tired and it makes you need to recover longer than other people. So you need to give yourself a break.”
For most people, depression cycles: sometimes it is less intense, and sometimes it is more. One strategy for coping with this reality is to keep ongoing commitments flexible, so they can most easily be brought into alignment with capacity one’s on any given day. Some people described building flexible school commitments, for example by going part-time or enrolling in distance learning programs. Others talked about flexible work arrangements, such as going freelance, having work hours that can vary, or being in an environment without strict deadlines.
Setting goals and making lists

Setting specific goals for each day or for the week was described by a number of people as a useful way of staying organized and productive. As Kate put it, “knowing what you're going to do next week helps you not feel so helpless.” Colin said as he came out of a serious bout of depression, he started getting more control of his life by focusing on “… how to make myself want to get out of bed in the morning, how to find purpose in my day.” For Sophie having a creative internship experience to look forward to at the end of each week helped to take her mind off the difficult parts of everyday life and thus to lessen her depression.
Several people found that making lists helped them commit to and track daily goals. Pete says he began “keeping like checks and checklists” to stay organized because his depression sometimes makes it hard to concentrate. Sam found list making to be “one of the biggest tools” he acquired through treatment, because “time management is, of course, not just a good way of giving someone with depression a sense of power and control over their lives, but also a necessary skill with which to engage in the world.”

Journaling is a process of writing down thoughts and feelings. A number of people we talked to said that for them, journaling has been an important tool – a way to understand feelings and process them more objectively, recognize patterns over time, or improve communication with other people. Some journal on their own, and others do it in connection with therapy.

Sam finds it valuable to write down what is going on because it helps him “… realize this thing is bothering me, but, actually, there are practical steps I could take to mitigate it or, actually, it's not very consequential.” Crystal said journaling is one effective way to “process things instead of live them”; writing helps her to recognize and acknowledge thoughts born of depression without an accompanying “rush of emotions.” Ryan said the journals he kept as a child were “the best way [to] vent” that he has discovered so far. A couple of people noted that journaling is challenging for them.
Exercise and diet

A number of people focused on exercise and/or diet as a strategy for addressing their depression or preventing it from recurring. One person aptly summarized common experiences by noting “Any type of exercise feels great when you’re depressed, because it makes you feel less depressed afterwards.” Some people “… just sort of figured out what worked better” on their own, while others had doctors, therapists, teachers, or others help them.
Seeking joy 

For many people, depression includes the disappearance or absence of joy in everyday life. People we spoke to who developed an intention to counter this problem, and/or implemented strategies for doing so, generally found they were able to bring some joy back in. Colin says looking for “that little bit of joy” is a useful strategy for addressing depression day by day without feeling like he has to “grasp onto bigger concepts.” Several people talked about specific things they seek out in order to feel that joy – for example gardening, time with children, travel, or learning new things.
Avoiding pitfalls and triggers

Because depression decreases stamina and increases sensitivity for many people, every-day strategies for avoiding known “triggers” can be essential. Elizabeth says depression has taught her that she doesn’t “have the kind of brain” that handles drugs or alcohol well, and that she needs to stay away from them entirely in order to feel well. Jeremy has learned he needs to prepare for winter, when his depression always worsens, by keeping up his exercise routine, getting outside, and avoiding drinking and drugs. Marty knows that “lying in bed for too long, it’s just not good,” and that “being stuck in your own head and free time is very bad.” Others talked about staying away from lifestyle pitfalls like isolation and poor health by staying socially engaged, establishing healthy self-care patterns, or avoiding dysfunctional work habits.
See also ‘Depression and everyday tasks’, ‘Depression and healing’, ‘Having a purpose in life’, ‘Signs and symptoms of depression’, and ‘How depression feels’.
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