When Depression Strikes
Sometimes life can feel like everything is going in slow motion. It can be challenging to push through days that feel like walking through mud when you experience feelings of depression. Even taking care of the basics feels daunting.
For some people, depression brings life to a halt. It can mean wanting to stay in bed all day because the demands of life feel too overwhelming. It can mean ignoring hygiene, eating, and daily care. It can impact relationships with others, cause sick days at work, and result in letting go of responsibilities. Depression comes in many forms- some of which are circumstantial (like the loss of a loved one, a job, etc.), stress from changes, and even biological reasons (as seen in clinical depression.) No matter which type of depression you may have, it is important to keep on top of taking care of yourself.
Many studies have shown that one episode of depression may leave us prone to future episodes. While this does not sound promising, there are ways to combat the impact of any future feelings of depression. For some of us, making small changes may be enough to alleviate some of the symptoms. If feelings of depression linger for too long, you may want to discuss it with your doctor to determine if symptom management may require medication to help. Whichever form of depression you may have, it may be helpful to work on self-care. Let’s look at some basic things that may help guide you through a depressive episode.
Develop a Routine
It’s important to develop a daily routine, whether or not you are in the midst of a depressive episode. It helps build a framework of responsibilities to keep depression from worsening. Some suggestions to include in a daily routine:
- daily shower
- brushing teeth
- eat 3 meals a day
- drink plenty of water (even mild dehydration adds to feelings of sadness)
- put on clean clothes each day
- regular sleep schedule (set times for sleep and waking)
It is not uncommon to feel low motivation when feeling depressed. Something as basic as brushing teeth can feel like too much. Let’s explore how to push through that urge to skip the basics.
Talk to Yourself - Step-by-Step
That lack of motivation and sadness will do everything in its power to keep you from getting well. You may wake up in the morning and feel compelled to lay in bed rather than get anything done. The key is to set your goals low and focus on one step at a time. You might feel overwhelmed just by the thought of getting dressed when you are still in bed. Why? It feels like too many steps to get there so you are already overloaded and overwhelmed. Make your goal more basic. Start with the goal of sitting up in bed. Talk yourself through it- “My goal is to sit up in bed right now.” Envision yourself sitting upright. Once you completed that goal, focus on getting your feet on the floor. Continue each step until you head into a new task.
When you allow yourself to work on one goal at a time, you keep your mind present-focused. It is a very good way to practice mindfulness. Being too focused on future events can create overwhelm, lead to anxiety, and cause us to start avoiding (because we are too flooded with thoughts.)
Change of Scenery
Consider a goal to get yourself out of the house. Sitting at home staring at the 4 walls of your room leads to boredom and feeling under-stimulated. Getting out helps your brain process new information which ultimately impacts your mood. Even if just for a few minutes, you are doing your brain some good. Here are some options to consider:
- step outside for some fresh air
- set a timer to take a walk outside (2-3 minute walk in one direction, then turn around)
- take a new route- walking or driving, bring some variety to the usual route
- visit the library and browse the magazine rack
- visit a bookstore or coffee shop
- instead of leaving outgoing mail in the mailbox, drop it off at the post office
- visit a park and study nature
- take a walk at a nearby mall or plaza
Do some simple stretching to get the blood flowing in your body. (Talk with your doctor about exercises you can do at home, such as gentle or chair yoga.) Getting your body moving will help increase the neurotransmitters in your brain to be more motivated and will help improve your mood.
Schedule Commitments in Your Calendar
It’s important to stay connected with the outside world. Too much isolation will reinforce depressive thoughts. It can be overwhelming to think of following through with a commitment, so start out with one task in a week that is realistic. (Use the step-by-step method above if you start talking yourself out of it!) If you attend a doctor appointment, use that as motivation to include an extra activity while you are out.
- schedule a meeting with a friend (start with a phone call then upgrade it to in-person)
- find a free workshop or talk to attend (check out your local library, event pages, etc.)
- if you are religious or spiritual- make a plan to attend services at a church or synagogue
- adjust shopping habits (instead of getting all your groceries in one trip, break it up into two)
- consider a one-time volunteer opportunity
- plan to attend an exercise class (yoga, cycling, etc- check with your doctor on what is okay)
Stick to Healthy Eating
This is one of the more important things to be mindful of when experiencing depression. One significant reason is how different types of food will impact your mood. Sugar, for example, is processed very quickly which creates a spike in your blood sugar and increases dopamine in your brain. Dopamine is that connection to the pleasure center of your brain so kicking it up a notch is like a party for your mood. (Who doesn’t want to feel a boost when you are feeling depressed?) However, much like gravity, what goes up, must come down. Then the cycle begins- you’re up, you’re down- now you’re all over the place and (the wrong) food becomes your go-to for a mood fix.
Not only is this bad news for your mood, it sets you up for things like weight gain, that comatose-I-want-to-sleep mode, and long-term health issues (dental caries and Type 2 diabetes). It is common for people with depression to reach for excess sugar to combat the low mood. If you are not sure what constitutes a healthy diet, talk to your physician, or registered dietitian. At the very least, avoid refined sugars, frozen foods (you know, those microwave meals), excessive starches, avoid alcohol, and opt for fresh foods when possible. Some food choices you may want to consider:
- fresh vegetables (frozen/canned are still good options- check with your doctor to be sure)
- balanced meals (consider protein and vegetables as part of each meal)
- limit starches (in example, too much potato and bread feeds into the sugar spike/dump cycle)
- eat throughout the day and include healthy snacks (cheese, nuts, yogurt)
- be mindful of portion size
- drink water! (Sometimes our body is thirsty and not hungry.)
*disclaimer- the above information is not intended to replace professional or doctor recommendations. Check with your doctor or professional to determine the best choices for your needs before making changes.
More serious signs of depression include detachment of your feelings (numbness), inability to get out of bed, neglecting basic hygiene, and isolating yourself. In more severe cases of depression, suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself or others. If you have been making changes in your lifestyle and depression continues to cause problems in your life it may be time to seek professional help. Contact your doctor or work with a mental health professional to help find out reasons for your depression. Whether it be a medical or circumstantial reason for feeling down, getting someone involved may be the key to alleviating your symptoms if you have not been successful on your own. You are worth the investment in your care. You don’t need to suffer, get help now.
If you have been thinking about suicide, it’s time to get help now. Contact your local suicide prevention line by dialing 1-800-273- 8255 (1-800-273-TALK). Or chat with someone now at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/ Options for deaf or hard of hearing, contact 1-800-799-4889 or use the chat option above.
If you are a veteran in crisis and need support, contact the above number and press 1 or text the Veterans Crisis Line by texting: 838255.
Rochester Art Therapy is a mental health service in Rochester, NY. If you are looking for help from a counselor in the area, contact us for more information.
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Sheilagh is an Artist and Art Therapist who believes in healing with art and creativity.