When you live with depression, you may find it difficult to take care of your personal hygiene, like brushing your teeth or taking a shower.
Indeed, depression can impact multiple areas of your life, including hygiene habits.
Perhaps you want to take a shower, for example, but you have no motivation or feel exhausted. Then you feel bad for not having the energy or will to do it, which makes you feel even worse. Instead of showering, you turn over in bed and resolve to try again tomorrow.
If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. This is a natural effect of untreated depression. But, there are ways you can cope and find relief.
Formal symptoms of depression
Poor hygiene isn’t one of the formal symptoms of depression, but it may be related to some of the other symptoms you’re experiencing.
The formal symptoms of depression include:
- low mood, including sadness, guilt, hopelessness, irritability, and anger
- limited interest in hobbies or low ability to enjoy usual activities
- difficulty focusing or recalling information
- changes in sleeping patterns
- changes in eating habits which may lead to weight changes
- aches or pains
- low motivation
- feelings of worthlessness
- observable changes in how fast you move and talk
- thoughts of self-harm and suicide
Depression can cause fatigue with aches and pains throughout your body, which can all contribute to a lack of motivation to do simple daily tasks.
Living with depression can mean using all the energy you have to just get through the day, says Kali Wolken, a licensed mental health counselor in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
“Imagine that your phone is at 15% battery power. In order to conserve power, you might stop scrolling through your favorite social media feed,” she explains. “Depression can put people’s battery power at low. You may have to conserve your energy to get through the day. This may mean opting out of a shower or changing your clothes because these take up too much energy.”
How to manage lack of energy and motivation
Meeting a goal, no matter how small, can increase motivation for meeting the next goal and then the next, says Wolken. “The first thing I encourage my clients to do is break down any hard task and take small steps toward their goals.”
If getting out of bed is hard, try to start by sitting up in bed. If taking a shower feels impossible, try to start by sitting on the edge of the bathtub, she says. “There is power in intentional choices. Making small steps for yourself can lead to internal reward, which can increase motivation.”
If showering feels like too much, try a bath instead. A 2018 study found that a daily bath was more effective at relieving depression, anxiety, fatigue, and pain compared to a daily shower.
Hopelessness can make starting simple tasks feel impossible. You might think, “What’s the point? It doesn’t matter.”
Depression can be debilitating in this regard, says Dr. Olivia Wedel, a licensed professional counselor in Grapevine, Texas.
“It can truly feel too ‘heavy’ and just too much to exert effort to bathe, for example,” she says. “It is an easier decision, most of the time, to simply stay on the couch or in bed than take care of personal hygiene.”
How to manage hopelessness
You may find it helpful to try one small thing that adds meaning to your routine. Wedel recommends whatever seems the easiest, and doing that one thing several times a week, if possible, before adding on something else.
“I had a client who would go 3 days or more without showering, so they decided that starting with washing their face and using some moisturizing cream was a place to start,” she explains.
Hopelessness can be difficult to overcome without support.
Wedel recommends having a friend or family member to help with accountability. “This can help with encouragement if it’s understood that your support person should not belittle you if plans for a shower or washing hair go awry.”
For some, low self-esteem or worthlessness do not cause poor hygiene but are instead a result of poor hygiene, says Wolken.
“When I talk with clients, they often feel embarrassed, ashamed, or alone. They are fully aware that they aren’t caring for themselves in these basic ways and they fear others will see it too,” she says.
In this case, working with a therapist can provide support without judgment. A therapist’s understanding of depression and what helps can lead to conversations you might not feel comfortable having with a loved one, she says.
“Therapy will evaluate your symptoms and needs, identify steps you may need to take, and provide you the support you need to reach your goals,” adds Wolken.
What does poor hygiene related to depression look like?
Some examples may include:
- covering unwashed hair with hats or beanies
difficulty brushing your teeth
- leaving your hair unbrushed or unstyled
- trouble showering, even when you notice body odor
- using cover-up products, like mints or perfumes
- wearing the same outfit several days in a row
There are several mental health conditions that may make it more difficult to keep up with personal hygiene.
- ablutophobia (fear of bathing)
- bipolar disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- schizophrenia spectrum disorders
For example, a 2018 study found that antipsychotic medications can make motor functions (like brushing teeth) more difficult. This helps explain why those living with schizophrenia may sometimes have compromised oral hygiene, compared to those without schizophrenia.
Depression can make keeping up with personal hygiene difficult. Some challenges to self-care include a lack of motivation, hopelessness, or worthlessness, all formal symptoms of depression.
You may find it helpful to break down hygiene tasks into smaller steps. For example, a bath becomes sitting up in bed, grabbing a towel, turning on the bath, and so on.
It can also help to find one small thing to do per day (like applying deodorant) and asking a loved one to help keep you accountable.
It’s highly recommended to work with a therapist, so you don’t have to do this alone. Untreated depression may lead to more intense and lasting symptoms.
It’s possible to manage symptoms of depression. Treatment for depression is effective and relief can be achieved.