Self-care is engaging in daily activities to care for our physical wellbeing and health, as well as activities to mitigate emotional stressors. Self-care is so important, but It can be difficult to practice when depressed. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, when a person experiences depression, they may experience symptoms of appetite loss, fatigue, sleep irregularity and/or loss of interest in activities that once brought you pleasure. These symptoms can make practicing self-care when depressed difficult. In the past, when I experienced a depressive episode, it was difficult for me to practice self-care. My depressive symptoms would cause me to become so annoyed with myself and engage in negative self-talk about how “I am just not good at life.” My journey to mental wellness through therapy and self-help books has helped me learn to have grace with myself and practice modified self-care when depressed. Continue reading to read my favorite tips for practicing self-care when depressed.
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The Effects of Depression
I can still feel the empty void of being at my lowest point while in undergrad. My depression drained my energy, and I was overwhelmed, trying to balance a social life, work, and school. During these depressive episodes, I would fall into a cycle of oversleeping, poor self-care, and disorganized chaos. Chronic fatigue left me struggling to get out of bed, so I would either miss classes or worse fall asleep in class. My desire for perfectionism fueled me to silently struggle as I kept a packed schedule of coursework, a part-time job, volunteering, and socializing. This push to do it all while I silently struggled, made it hard to prioritize self-care. My personal space fell into disorder with dirty laundry spilling over onto the floor and everything out of place. I had no energy to put myself together each day, cook, or clean. On the flip side, I would look at everyone, and it felt like they were able to do it all effortlessly. This false belief led me to talk down to myself about not being able to handle it all. To comfort myself I would binge drink on the weekend, overspend on ordering takeout and online shop. Unfortunately, lack of self-care and negative coping skills only drove me deeper into depression.
How I Started Practicing Self-Care When Depressed
It wasn’t overnight, but through reflective therapy and self-help reads, I have finally found self-care solutions that work for me. In 2015 I worked with my last therapist to create “daily minimums,” which are the essential activities to maintain self-care when depressed. These are the activities needed to maintain physical, emotional, mental, social, and spiritual wellbeing. At first, I looked at daily minimums as everything I wanted to achieve each day to feel accomplished. Once I started to put daily minimums into practice, this perspective shifted. I realized that daily minimums were the small things I needed to incorporate into each day to feel grounded. My daily minimums include daily prayer, two meals a day, being vulnerable with my inner circle, tackling one task at a time, and taking walks. Practicing self-care when depressed became more manageable once I began to implement daily minimums. These activities help me to maintain overall wellbeing even during times when I feel completely overwhelmed by life.
Tips for Practicing Self-Care When Depressed
1. Give Your Self-Grace!
You are not designed to be perfect! Stop measuring yourself against who you think you should be, and start loving yourself for who you are. You are unique, loved, and irreplaceable. When you are not able to be at your best, remind yourself of all you have done and are doing. If you are looking for practical tips for having grace with yourself, I recommend reading Grace Not Perfection by Emily Ley. Emily Ley is the creator of the Simplified Planner. In Grace Not Perfection, Emily provides practical wisdom for busy women. This book gave me tips to simplify my daily routine and have grace with myself when I fall short. Since reading this book, I have made a conscious effort to choose grace over negative self-talk.
2. Simplify Your Week with Meal-Prep
When you are going through a depressive episode, it can be daunting cooking and tempting to eat out. Unfortunately ordering takeout often can hurt your financial and physical health. When I was in college, I cooked, but I also coped by ordering my favorite food. The cost added up, and my waistline did too. It is easy to overspend on eating unhealthy takeout and just as harmful to skip a meal to avoid the hassle of cooking. When I started graduate school, I got serious about meal prepping. If I wanted to survive financially, it was a must, but it also helped me reclaim time for myself. Now, meal prep has become a staple self-care routine for me. To make it fun and ensure I eat what I cook, I choose my favorite Pinterest recipes to tryout. There are a few ways to meal prep. You can cook twice a week for last 3-4 days or spend a few days cooking a month’s worth of freezer meals. Another way to meal pre is to use one day to prep for the week’s meals, so you can effortlessly cook during the week.
3. Have an Emotional Outlet
For me talking a peaceful walk alone grounds me. It is a time for me to walk off the stress of my day and regroup. It is also vital to let out your feelings through meaningful connections. Get vulnerable with your inner circle and let them know to give you regular check-in calls. We were not designed to make it through life alone, so don’t feel afraid to ask for support.
4. Prioritize Your Energy
Life can feel like it is going a million miles a second with endless things to get done. When I would feel this way, I would shift between an all or nothing mode. I would prioritize it all equally or shut down and do nothing. In those moments, it is crucial to prioritize your obligations and tasks. Determine the things that are most pressing and essential to your wellbeing and life balance. Prioritization is helpful because taking non-essential tasks off your plate can make the essential tasks feel more manageable.
5. Have a Routine
Having a routine will give your day structure and help you smoothly transition through your day. Set times to do the necessary things and time to do the things that bring you joy. On my best weeks, I meal prep on Sunday, have quiet time after work, and take walk breaks throughout the day. Having a routine helps to ensure that my mood does not control my self-care. When creating your routine, consider your daily minimums, a well as the most stressful/challenging parts of your day. For me getting up in the morning to get to work is very difficult for me. I am always tempted to extend my stay under my covers. To overcome this, I have created a routine of showering and selecting an outfit the night before to make waking up more manageable. It is also helpful for me to establish a consistent time to go to bed. Even if I can’t fall asleep, I lay in bed around the same time each night or read.
6. Start with Small Tasks
If something like getting out of bed is too challenging because it will lead to more tasks, start with simply choosing to wake up. If showering is just TOO MUCH, begin by simply washing your face. If laundry seems endless and daunting, opt to wash a small load. Some days you will be able to work your way up to higher-level tasks and some days you won’t. Depression can be completely overwhelming at times, so this is ok. The goal is to give yourself grace, and meet yourself where you are at at the moment.
7. Low Maintenance Hairstyles
Many days the small things like picking an outfit, cooking or doing your hair can consume your day. Many of the suggestions on this list are designed to make life easier for your future self. One of my favorite ways to simplify my day/week is having a low-maintenance protective hairstyle. My quick go to are to french braids pinned into a halo braid. French braids are a simple style that I can wear all week and rock as a braid out on the weekend. My all time favorite styles are rope twists, box braids, and ANY crotchet style. These style last long, are easy to maintain and easy to take down. Just remember to wear your bonnet or satin scarf to keep your style looking fresh.
Do you have to accomplish all of these? NO. However, each one you implement may make practicing self-care when depressed more feasible. Self-care is so important because it can help you maintain a sense of normalcy when experiencing a depressive episode and more quickly overcome. If you are suffering from severe depression, please find a qualified therapist. A trained therapist can provide you with a diagnosis and help you develop an appropriate treatment plan.
**This blog was last edited 08/17/2019**