Depression is as much a somatic (physical) disorder as it is a psychological one. Energy loss is a common somatic symptom. It can easily set off a debilitating cycle that prevents depression from lifting. That’s because the less energy you have, the more likely you are to stay in bed and avoid activities that’ll help you feel better.
One of the first questions clinical psychologist Elvira Aletta, Ph.D, asks her depressed clients is about their appetite, sleep and movement. All three are “fundamental to our ability to function [normally]” and affect our energy levels, which directly affects our mood, said Dr. Aletta, the founder of Explore What’s Next, a comprehensive psychotherapy practice.
Some people unwittingly search in all the wrong places to perk up their energy. For instance, they might drink a whole lot of coffee, which increases energy temporarily but then causes a crash. Or they might attribute their fatigue to lack of sleep. But getting more sleep can backfire. According to Dr. Aletta, this notion is “a real trap, because you can end up sleeping 16 hours a day.” Below, she shares five effective ways readers can lift their energy levels.
1. Take it one step at a time.
Making changes when you’re in the depths of depression can seem overwhelming (and impossible), which only worsens your mood. This is why Dr. Aletta stressed the importance of taking small steps and creating feasible goals at your current state. Before creating any goals with her clients, she asks: “Where are you now?” and “What can we do to stretch that out so it’s achievable?”
If someone is so depressed that they stay in bed all day, a good goal for them is to get up and take a shower. For another person who’s also depressed but makes it to work, their goal might be to engage in one pleasurable activity per day. (An example is spending 10 minutes dancing while blasting favorite tunes.)
Also, remember that making a small stretch, as Dr. Aletta calls it, is a step in the right direction to overcoming depression. Some people berate themselves because taking a shower is a seemingly trivial target. But remember that it leads to another step, which leads to another step. All these steps are simply the building blocks to getting better.
2. Practice good sleep hygiene.