Basic requirements of self-care like eating, sleeping and grooming can be hard to maintain when you’re depressed. Set small goals to overcome inactivity.
By Deborah Serani, PsyD
Why can’t I take care of myself when I’m depressed?
Looking after yourself, or self-care, is vital to physical, emotional and mental well-being. At its most basic, self-care is the ability to handle daily requirements like eating, sleeping, and grooming. It’s also about identifying your unique needs for well-being and taking steps to meet them—like making the time to do things that nurture you, as well as activities that keep you healthy.
In terms of recovery from depression, self-care is often used as shorthand for all the activities in your life that keep you well outside of medication and psychotherapy. When you are depressed, however, even the most basic self-care can be hard to maintain.
It’s important for those who have depression, as well as family and friends, to recognize that trouble with self-care is not due to laziness, weakness, or not trying hard enough.
Depression has long been associated with structural differences in the frontal lobes, an area of the brain responsible for executive functioning—a set of skills that include problem solving, judgment and reasoning, attention, planning, and self-monitoring.
Depression also has been linked with imbalances in the brain’s dopamine system, which plays an important role in motivated behavior. Low levels of dopamine are tied to lack of energy and apathy.
How can I improve my self-care?
START SMALL. Knowing that depression makes self-care very difficult, aim for small successes that you think you will be able to achieve. Depending on your current state, that might be taking a shower or simply leaving the bedroom to sit in a different room with some sunlight or fresh air.
I remember when my depression was at its worst, I slept for hours on end, hardly moving my body at all. I set a goal of just turning over from one side of the bed to the other, then trying to sit up in bed for a while. Those goals were not easy to reach, but they paved the way to bigger ones. Within days, I was out of bed.
CHALLENGE INACTIVITY. The key to self-care is accepting that you need to move from the hollowed numbness of depression to a more active state. Build on your initial small steps by adding other goals, like links in a chain, so that your inactivity lessens.
See if you can make a cup of coffee yourself instead of asking someone to get it for you. Get dressed in clothes instead of staying in your pajamas. Gradually you will be able to follow small achievements with bigger goals. As your depression lifts, you’ll be able to do more structured activities like exercise or yoga and tend to issues around the house and at school or work.
FEED YOUR SENSES. I’m a big believer in sensory enrichment when you live with any chronic illness. Depression is a state of complete and utter depletion, and recovery comes sooner when you take the time to see, feel, hear, taste and touch.
Things like getting out in the sunshine, listening to music, taking in a lungful of fresh air, getting a hug, or eating rich-tasting foods all help to soothe you and relieve stress. Even more meaningful is that they help boost frontal lobe functioning.
If your depression is so intense that you can’t makes those kinds of experiences happen on your own, ask someone to help you. I remember taking short walks with my sister during my recovery because I felt shaky and insecure. As time went by, I was able to do this simple task alone—then weeks later, I was driving again and functioning independently, something I didn’t believe could happen months earlier.
Printed as “Our Of Bed, Into The Bath & Beyond”, Summer 2017
via Esperanza – Hope To Cope
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