Why do those of us with depression feel overwhelmed when it comes to self-care? In this Depression Self-Care Series, we’ll delve into the restorative power of self-care for depression. Along the way, I’ll reveal some insights on the impact depression has on physical well-being and our capacity to nourish mental well-being.
Before we begin, I need you to know the self-care practices I share here are NOT a substitute for diagnosis and clinical treatment.
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Introducing Self-Care For Mental Wellness
It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing your efforts with others, or how things used to be before you were diagnosed with depression. Try to understand that every day is going to look a little different for you and that’s okay.
Letting go of how things are “supposed to be” is something I still struggle with, but the important thing is I’m learning through the process. An important caveat to support you in embracing self-care is to remember your experience will be unique to you, and your practice will change on a day-today basis.
Why Self-Care Means Something Different When You Have Depression
When you have depression self-care is a world away from the decadent imagery flouted on our social media feeds. Beautiful posts depicting air-brushed beauties indulging in a luxurious bubble bath, play into social ideals of perfection. For the majority of people, the time, effort and expense of scheduling these kind of luxury “self-care” activities is not realistic.
But for those of us battling mental health concerns, being encouraged to indulge in this kind of self-care can be extremely deflating, even dangerous.
Clinical depression can significantly impact physical health and well-being. The severity of symptoms, including low mood, low energy and fatigue can make it difficult to carry out the simplest self-care tasks.
Self-care for mental wellness refers to those small, everyday actions and comforts that help us feel nourished and cared for physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
How Self-Care Can Help Combat The Energy Depleting Effects Of Depression
Self-care is important to our well-being for many reasons. When you are feeling distressed, self-care can be a healthy way to self-soothe. When I decided to explore how self-care might be able to help me manage my depression, it wasn’t something I felt particularly motivated to do. But as my symptoms worsened I wondered if adopting a mental wellness approach to self-care might help.
Slowly I began to discover self-care can be a powerful tool for encouraging greater self awareness. I realized, on bad days self-care is difficult. At the same time, I experienced the power of taking tiny steps towards nourishing and caring for myself. So while many people think of self care as an indulgence, I like to think in terms of being able to carry out basic self-care tasks. Tasks like showering, dressing, brushing your teeth can feel insurmountable on a bad day, so if you have the energy to do one or two of these things, you can begin to cultivate appreciation for your efforts.
I understand the ache of being bed-ridden with chronic depression, struggling to get up to use the bathroom. Noticing my own anger and guilt around depression made me realize how these emotions have an immediate and devastating affect on my energy levels. I needed to take a step back from guilt and accept the reality of what I was dealing with. Depression is an illness, and just like a physical illness needs treatment and care. People with diabetes don’t self-blame for succumbing to diabetes, they focus on their care plan because it’s a crucial part of managing their disease.
When blame arises, remember depression isn’t something you can block or resist, it is a serious medical condition. Treat your depression like any other physical illness. Focus on your medical treatment and establish a care plan with your GP or mental health provider.
How The Assumptions arising From Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANT’s) Can Sabotage Your Efforts
The first and greatest act of self-care is being kind to yourself. Bear with me here, because the nature of depression is to tear down your efforts. The assumptions arising from Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANT’s) can trap you into a mental habit of berating yourself. When this happens, breathe and remind yourself that every effort you make, from the smallest, most random activity, has meaning and value.
If all you manage to do is get up to go to the bathroom, acknowledge your effort and relax into resting a little more. Don’t berate yourself for feeling exhausted because your mind is already fighting a silent battle.
You need to know that sometimes self-care means completely surrendering into the overwhelming urge to nap. Pop a glass of water near your bedside, if it’s cold make a hot water bottle. Do what you can to make yourself feel as comfortable as possible.
The thing you need to remember when you are going through overwhelm is that it isn’t permanent, it is a symptom that can be managed. Be aware of the conversation in your head and steer it towards kindness. Every act of self-kindness is in effect, taking your power back. You will be amazed at how much energy this frees up.
How To Create Your Own Mental Wellness Self-Care Plan
Before you plan out your self-care, take a moment to determine why this is important to you. For example, making a self-care plan was important to me because
I want to find a way through the overwhelm, so I have more energy to take care of myself AND reclaim some of the healthy activities I once enjoyed.
Once you have your WHY, write it down as your Self Care Statement. Here’s mine:
Self-care is important to me because I want to move through the overwhelm and have more energy to take care of myself, so I can enjoy those healthy activities that lift me up.
Now it’s your turn. Why is a self-care plan important to you? What is your self-care statement.
Introducing self-care into your experience is about simplifying your daily routine, so you can establish some new supportive habits, one tiny, courageous action at a time.
Remember true self-care is anything that nourishes and supports you, and a good self-care plan includes your essential treatment recommendations from your health care provider.
Here is a self-care checklist you can tweak to suit you.
- take my meds
- attend therapy sessions
- drink water
Each day, pick three self-care activities from the list below.
- practice breath awareness
- eat something nourishing
- brush my hair
- wash my face
- take a shower
- clean my teeth
- go outside
- go for a walk in Nature
- do some yoga stretches
- say something kind to myself and/or write it down
- do something fun
- listen to some music
- smell something pretty (eg. flowers, essential oil)
- wash my hair
- do a creative activity I enjoy (write in my journal, sketching, making)
- do a mindfulness activity (eg. puzzle, suduko, crossword, colouring)
- do a guided meditation
You don’t want to be too rigid, or put yourself under unnecessary pressure, so please use this list as a guide, not a “to-do list”. Start with three things and after a while, if you find you can easily do three things, you may wish choose to do more. But the idea is to consistently do three things a day to help you establish a self-care routine.
Bonus: Instant Self-Care You Can Practice From Your Bed
It’s not an easy feat, but one of the simplest things you can do from your bed is to practice being kind to yourself. When depression pins me to the bed and the voices in your head are telling me “it’s no use”, I like to lean into these words from author, Geneen Roth:
I expand this a little by asking myself, what tiny thing can I do right now to support my mental well-being?.
You matter in this world. Please don’t give up. Depression will taunt you to “skip” the little things that were once second-nature. Be gentle with yourself. True self-care isn’t about social-feed aspirations or reaching some kind of standard, it’s discovering how care for yourself through the ache of depression.
Always remember: depression does not define you, it is a serious disease that can occur at any time, to anyone. While some people are able to manage and have functional days, others may struggle to function at all. Please if you are feeling unwell, seek immediate help and support. I’ve put together a list of numbers you can call here.
Thank you for reading, I hope this inspires you through the challenges of creating a mental wellness self-care plan. If there’s anything I missed, or any thoughts or practices you would like to contribute to this article or series, please do so in the comments below.