Self-care is often the last thing on your mind when you’re struggling with depression. It takes energy and “a sense that you want to be around tomorrow” to tend to your needs, said Therese Borchard, author of Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes.
But the very nature of depression is draining. “A depressed person is exhausted, hopeless, and usually not all that concerned about the future.”
Deborah Serani, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist who’s experienced depression since childhood, described the fatigue as a “knuckle-dragging, heavy-limbed, bone-weary, energy-zapping exhaustion.” Depression also causes groggy and slow thinking, “which makes it hard to kick-start problem solving skills.”
But, as both experts stressed, self-care is a salve for depression.
According to Serani, author of the book Living with Depression, “tend[ing] to your mind, body and soul is vital for healing depression or any illness for that matter.” Self-care “shortens the time between relapses. In fact, it makes relapsing less likely,” Borchard said.
Self-care gives you the strength and the foundation to start applying the necessary tools to treat your depression, Serani said.
These are several simple but meaningful ways you can practice self-care, even when that’s the last thing you want to – or can – do.
Your Holy Trinity
Borchard suggested starting with three basics: sleep, diet and exercise. She referred to these as her “holy trinity.” She goes to bed at the same time every night and sleeps for the same amount of hours. (She needs eight hours.) “Diets full of protein and omega-3 fatty acids promote mental health,” she said. So her diet includes salmon, dark green vegetables and whole grains. “Exercise has antidepressant capabilities, plus you are essentially telling yourself that you intend to get better. I think sometimes we have to lead with the body, and the mind will follow.”
Feed Your Senses
Whenever Serani feels her “depression looming within,” she focuses on nourishing her senses. “Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness” by J. Karat is packed with studies showing how feeding your sense of sight, smell, sounds, taste and touch produces dopamine, serotonin, melatonin and oxytocin – feel-good neurochemistry that helps heal depression.”
There are many ways you can supply your senses. Serani suggested opening up the windows to let sunshine soothe you; sipping a warm cup of tea or coffee; wrapping yourself in a blanket; listening to soft music; and lighting a candle.
Self-care requires preparation, Serani said. That’s why it’s important to keep the things that soothe you by your side and in your home. It makes moving into self-care mode much easier, she said. “Stock up on comfort foods, teas and coffees, store scented candles or incense nearby, pre-program radio stations to soothing music you like, drape a velvety blanket on a couch or chair.”
Practice Self-Care Daily
Self-care also requires regular practice, Serani said. She encouraged readers to avoid waiting until you’re drained or depleted to attempt self-care. “Use [the above] sense-oriented techniques often so there’s an ease that comes from their use.”
Self-care is critical for healing depression. As Borchard said, “You get well faster and stay well longer.” But some days, self-care will feel especially far away. On those days, “Be easy with yourself.” Beating yourself up only makes you feel worse and stops you from getting better, she said. “Consider yourself a good friend, and speak to yourself as such.”
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