Self-Care for Depression Sufferers
While you're getting help from others for your depression, it's also vital to encourage and nurture yourself as well. I'm not going to suggest banal things like "think positive" and "find your happy place"--this is REAL advice that has helped me through my lapses thus far. These bits and pieces may not help a lot individually, but taken together they just may help you make it through.
Give yourself a break.
Our darkest thoughts during depression often run toward fearing that we're worthless or a waste of space, that because we're not being "productive members of society," we shouldn't exist. GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK from this mentality.
If all you did today was lie in bed and watch Netflix, THAT IS OKAY.
If all you did today was pet your cat or dog, THAT IS OKAY.
If all you did today was cry, THAT IS OKAY.
Keep negative people at arm's length, as much as possible.
Something I have learned through all my lapses: judgmental, "tough" love does not heal depression, but only makes it worse. Fake friends that flake on you all the time make depression worse, too. Keep the truly kind, supportive people close by you, and keep the judgmental fake people at a distance, at least until you're well enough to deal with their BS.
This is admittedly very hard to do if the judgmental or fake people are members of your family or friends you once were close to. But remember, depression is a disease, and judgmental/fake people are unwitting carriers who can worsen your symptoms. You can still love them, but you need to focus on your own healing, and you can't do that when they're acting selfish, spoiled, critical, etc. Surround yourself with love, even if you don't feel like you deserve it--because you do deserve it.
Expose yourself to natural light and/or outside air.
This is especially true for people who suffer Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I believe all depression sufferers can benefit from this. Allow as much natural light into your home as possible, or use a good many lamps (including sunlight-simulating lamps) if getting natural sunlight is not feasible. I used to think this was a really dumb piece of advice, but I was astonished at how much more motivated I felt by simply being in brighter light. It takes about 30 minutes to an hour to feel the effects, but being in a brighter environment DOES make my depression retreat a little, and it may work the same for you.
Alternatively, being in fresher air (outdoors, preferably around a lot of trees) can help you too--the more oxygen in the air, the better for your brain, which can even benefit your mindset if you're exposed to it for long enough. Plus, when you're outdoors, you may also get the benefit of natural sunlight as well. If actually being outside is not possible, however, opening a window or getting an air-cleaning plant for the room you spend the most time in can provide you with at least a little clearer, cleaner breathing environment.
Basically, the goal here is to surround yourself with as much basic physical comfort as you can; when you're in physical discomfort or pain, depression can take a stronger hold.
Fully experience the pleasure of eating.
Depression can make all food pretty much taste like ashes. I know, I know. But hang with me a minute--if you can get back the joy of eating your favorite flavor of ice cream, a childhood favorite food, etc., that's a small spark of joy you didn't have before.
For me, it was cookies 'n cream ice cream, my favorite since I was three; I consciously took the effort of feeling the texture of soft yet still vaguely crunchy Oreo bits, tasting the delight of crumbly chocolate flavors mixed in among smooth vanilla. I even managed to enjoy the chill of the dessert on my tongue. For a few moments, as I nibbled at the ice cream, I didn't feel that horrid nothingness anymore.
Of course, when I finished my dessert, the nothingness was still there, but somehow, it didn't seem QUITE as empty and dark as it had. It was like lighting a match in the darkness; after the match extinguishes, you can still smell that a fire was lit, can still sense the heat.
Actively enjoy breathing.
Depression can lock you in mind-prison quicker than just about anything, keeping you trapped behind the bars of negative thoughts, isolating you from the world. Sometimes it literally feels like your very skin is numb!
To combat this, what helped me was to take a moment and just enjoy breathing--enjoy the silken feeling of air drawing into your body and being released. I'm not talking about meditation or anything really specific; just the primal need to breathe is what's being satisfied here. Even if life looks like one big pile of excrement, there's something to be said for breathing! Feel the slight chill of the air rushing into your body; feel your belly expand and settle, again and again. You don't have to think about anything except what you're sensing.
If dark thoughts start coming in, like "this is stupid, why should I be wasting air on myself" or "I'm useless, why do I continue to breathe", mentally flick them aside. This is not their space and ain't nobody got time for them. You're breathing, and that means you're winning.
Take a little teeny-weeny itty-bitty shower.
Let's be real here. When depression hits, baths are the first thing to go. (Or maybe it's just me? LOL) The LAST thing I feel able to do while swathed in depression is to bathe, because bathing feels absolutely useless--I end up thinking things like "why spend time making myself clean anyway? I'm a waste of space and other people need the water more."
But bathing regularly does have its benefits of comfort, too. After not bathing (and especially not changing underwear) for a while, things get horribly itchy and uncomfortable, y'know what I mean? And that just adds to the spiritual and emotional discomfort you're having and makes you feel more useless and disgusting.
So, I devised the tiniest of showers, what I call the "Essentials" shower:
- Put hair in shower cap (because especially if you're a long-haired depression sufferer, ain't nobody got time for washing and drying that every day)
- Wet entire body--turn around once or twice under shower spray
- Lather up soap and scrub just armpits, belly button, entire private area, and between butt cheeks
- Rinse well, using wet washcloth to get rid of all suds (because suds that don't get washed off right feel awful and sticky later)
- Dry off; I use a towel to dry off most of the way, then either sit in front of a fan or use a hair dryer on Low to quickly blast away the rest of the water off my skin
DONE! It literally takes 5 minutes or less, and your skin feels SO much better afterward.
If you can muster up the oomph to wash your hair even once as part of this, that's great, but if not, cornstarch or baby powder works to absorb scalp oils. Just sprinkle it at least on the crown of your head, let it sit in your hair for about an hour (or even sleep with it on), and then brush it out really well. If you have long hair, pull it back in a ponytail to further disguise oil; a ponytail can also be the solution if you've washed your hair but don't feel able to dry it.
Even when I was at my worst in terms of depression, having at least a few bits of me clean and wearing clean clothes (especially underwear!) did start to help me feel some better. It's not a full shower, I know, and some people might still find this disgusting, but depression is a war, and wars aren't fought while looking pretty.
Quick-change your bedding.
This sounds super-weird, I know. "What does bedding have to do with depression?" Actually, quite a bit! Dirty sheets and blankets begin to smell after a while, and there's just something about lying on a clean sheet that just feels cool and relaxing. Being able to enjoy those kinds of simple creature comforts mean a lot when you're depressed! Since depression often flattens you into the bed anyway, it makes sense to try to make the bed as comfortable as possible.
But while you're suffering depression, everything takes too much effort, including changing your bedding. It feels so pointless to yank off that fitted sheet and/or flat sheet, pull off the pillowcases, bundle up the blanket, and take it all to be washed and dried, then put it all back on...especially because it's just gonna get dirty again. UGH. Trust me, I know.
SO! Here's my quick 'n dirty (or not so dirty!) solution:
- Get a clean flat sheet.
- Toss blankets and pillows aside.
- Spread clean flat sheet atop dirty sheet; don't worry about tucking it in.
- Put pillows and blankets back on bed.
- Spritz pillows and blankets with odor neutralizing spray (optional).
DONE! Takes about a minute, and feels SO much better underneath you. Plus, you can change that flat sheet a lot quicker than you can change a fitted one, so it'll be easier to manage later.
Spray your favorite scent in your room.
(Disregard if allergic to scent)
Scents are a part of our daily lives that we can often take for granted, but they can quite literally lift our mood, even if it's just temporary. Being surrounded by disgusting or musty smells can drag even the most positive person down, and with depression, those negative scents can keep us down longer. Even if you've become inured to scent, either because of depression or because you've been in the room for a while, a new good scent can at least be something positive to focus on.
For me, vanilla, lavender, and jasmine are my most favorite scents--I have a fairly cheap bottle of vanilla Body Fantasies spray that I use to give myself a little boost. (Bonus: after a while it smells like cake baking!!) I just spritz a little around my room, enough that I can smell it without it overwhelming me. Even at my worst, the vanilla scent reminded me of my favorite ice cream and cake baking in the oven, and it reminded me that there was still life around me.