Depression is a foe that I have danced with for as long as I can remember. The common misconception about depression is that this mental illness is only found in the suicidal, can’t get out of bed or shower group of unfortunates – this couldn’t be further from the truth. I have battled with depression for years and some of my closest friends never knew. I didn’t get sober and miraculously cured of the insidious presence of my depression and anxiety. However, I have been equipped with the tools and resources to mitigate the symptoms of my underlying mental health conditions.
Here are a few effective self-care strategies to ease your depression.
Be Selfish with your self-care.
I know, this sounds like a total oxymoron. However, prioritizing self-care is one of the most important actions you can take to combat your depression. Self-care is the kryptonite to depression. Depression is a motivation-killing mental illness that feeds into the very spaces in your mind that tell you to absolve yourself of taking care of your own needs. There are a few specific self-care strategies you should always be selfish about:
- Keep a daily gratitude list: It may seem lame but keeping up with a daily gratitude list has been my saving grace on my most depressive days. Take the time each and every day to write down at least three things you’re grateful for. I will have five years sober in June, and this is a requirement of my sponsorship family – we exchange our daily gratitude lists in a group chat.
- Discover what sets your soul on fire: Depression is all-encompassing. It can make you feel as though you have lost your zeal for life – don’t let this happen. Whether it’s people, places, hobbies, or passions – find what sets your soul on fire and do a little bit of that each and every day.
- Treat yourself: Whether it’s a massage, manicure, new shoes, or a hot bath – it is essential that you take time to treat yourself every now and then. I used to be completely horrible at this. On days when I’m feeling the most depressed, getting out of bed to do my make-up seems like an absolute chore but turns out to be the little missing piece needed to spark a little motivation.
Connect with your community
Depression is a mental illness that thrives in isolation. Connecting with your community is a great way to ease feelings of depression. Spending time with other people who can relate to feelings of depression and getting outside of isolating can make a significant difference in how you feel. Creating a community of supportive family and friends is vital to mitigating feelings of depression and anxiety. There have been numerous studies that back up the importance of human connection and overall mental wellbeing. I can tell you that when I am in the middle of the Fellowship, my problems and depression seemingly disappear as I get involved in helping others and spending time with the people I love the most.
Take care of your physical needs.
I am continuously amazed at how intricately connected our physical wellness is to our mental wellness. We cannot have one without the other. Regular physical activity and making healthy lifestyle choices (such as staying sober) can boost your mood, improve your self-esteem, and reduce the effects of depression. Here are a few things you can do to take care of your physical needs.
- Try and exercise every day: Daily physical activity boosts the “happy chemicals” in your brain and improves mood. If you aren’t keen on picking up the dumbbells, you can simply go for a nature walk to induce the same effects.
- Get adequate sleep: Depression is known to impact one’s sleep negatively, but there are a few things you can do to help. Avoid napping and try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day to establish a healthy sleep routine.
- Make healthy food choices: The food you eat can directly impact your mental health – hence why we tend to gravitate towards junk foods when we are depressed. Foods rich in folic acids such as avocado and spinach can help ease feelings of depression.
- Fake it ‘till you make it with your hygiene: This may sound silly, but depression can absolutely wipe out any desire to take care of your physical appearance. Small steps like showering, brushing your teeth/hair, and getting dressed can make a significant dent in your depression.
Avoid addictive distractions
For those of us in recovery, drugs and alcohol were our solutions until they weren’t anymore. The presence of an underlying mental health condition and addiction is also known as a dual diagnosis. The combination of self-medicating with an untreated mental health condition can exacerbate the symptoms of both disorders. While drugs and alcohol bring temporary relief, these substances actually worsen the side effects of depression.
When it comes to self-medicating and distracting ourselves, I think it would be fair to say we are not limited to only drugs and alcohol. For me, chaotic relationships, shopping, codependency, and even social media can become problematic – especially when I am depressed. I often find myself reaching for anything/everything that can fill a void, but it is always temporary. Rather than seeking something to distract yourself from your depression, talk about how you feel with the people you trust and do not avoid your feelings.
Get outside, move your feet
In an unprecedented time, such as this COVID era, quarantine has ignited the mental health conditions of so many people within our community. Humans were created to be in a community with other humans and interact with the world around us.
Research shows that spending time in nature, especially lush green settings, can reduce symptoms of depression and increase critical thinking abilities. Taking a walk outside, gardening, stopping by the beach for some meditation, or even just sitting outside has been proven to improve overall mental wellness. The mornings that I wake up and spend 20 minutes meditating outside by my lake are by far my best days. I seem to wake up with a clear and patient mind. When your depression feels overwhelming, move your feet and get outside for some fresh air and vitamin D – I promise you won’t regret it.