Have you made your goals for the New Year? Make sure self-care is on the list! Looking after yourself (self-care) is critical to your physical, emotional, and mental well-being. Most often we read about practical self-care practices that keep us healthy, like balanced eating and good sleeping habits. But it's also important to identify and make time to do things that really nurture you, like connecting with friends and family, doing hobbies, or just sitting still with a good cup of tea.
Living With Depression Can Make Self-Care More Difficult
However, when you live with Depression (sometimes called Major Depressive Disorder), the idea of self-care may feel like adding another burden to your already heavy load.
And here’s why. Depression is a clinical mood disorder that affects how you feel, think, and behave and can lead to a variety of other problems if left untreated. It’s defined by the medical community as “feelings of sadness intense enough to interfere with functioning and/or a decreased interest or pleasure in activities”. You can find the symptoms of Depression here. And it’s not uncommon - Depression affects an estimated one in 15 adults in any given year, and one in six people will experience it at some time in their life.
Often, Depression leaves you feeling like your physical and emotional self is “running on empty”, and so you’re drained of the ability to look after yourself. Self-care takes a back seat. And to complicate things, when you start to feel better, you may even ditch certain self-care habits - thinking you don’t need them anymore. It’s common when people start to improve, to get relaxed about therapy and treatment plans, and before you know it, you’ve suffered a relapse.
Scientists say there's a neurobiological reason for this. The frontal lobe region of our brain is responsible for executive function—a set of skills that involves judgment and reasoning. The issue is that Depression is associated with dysfunction of the frontal lobes, so it's no surprise that people with depression find it hard to judge whether they need self-care or not.
Skipping Self-Care Is A Slippery Slope To Relapse
But There Are Ways To Prevent it
As a whole, the best thing you can do to stave off a relapse is to stick to your treatment plan and create a healthy environment with basic self-care goals. Try not to think of self-care as a big, burdensome project, but rather a series of small choices that add up to a healthier lifestyle. And set realistic goals for yourself - don’t aim so high that your goals are unattainable or you may end up disappointed.
Here Are 5 Attainable Self-Care Goals To Try In The New Year That Can Help Manage Depression:
Stay tuned to your body. Mental illness doesn’t impact our brains alone; it’s physical, too. Depression can decrease energy, make you feel exhausted, and experience body aches or headaches. Start by noticing how you feel – both physically and emotionally – on a daily basis. Watch for physical symptoms that may provide clues as to what is happening in your brain. Noticing symptoms early can help you practice better self-care and potentially stave off a full-blown episode.
Attend your therapy sessions consistently. Even if you’re tempted to skip a session or two, trust the process and attend them all. Consider discussing your reluctance with your therapist. He or she may be able to spot some faulty reasoning on your part. Or, if indeed you are better and changes are warranted, you and your therapist can make those necessary adjustments together.
Take your meds as prescribed. Missing a dose can interfere with the medication’s effectiveness, and symptoms may return. Always talk to your behavioral health provider about stopping or changing doses. And remember, alcohol or drugs can also interrupt the efficacy of prescription medications, so avoid them.
Learn deep-breathing or meditation and practice it every day. Scientists say this is one of the most effective self-care methods. Even though it seems unnatural at first, taking a series of deep breaths can help slow down racing or irrational thoughts. The act of slowly and deliberately inhaling and exhaling increases circulation releases endorphins, and relaxes muscles. And do this throughout the day - even just for 30 seconds - not just when you start to feel anxious or depressed. It will make a big difference in the way you feel.
It’s the little things. Finally, self-care doesn’t have to mean fancy spas, big vacations, or running a marathon. Taking better care of yourself can happen at home. Making time regularly to take a walk, read a book, play with an animal, chat with good friends on the phone, watch a movie, or practice a hobby can help you cope with Depression more effectively. If you’re lonely, volunteering can be a great way to meet people and feel better about yourself - and again, it doesn’t have to be a big time commitment - maybe it’s just one or two hours every couple of weeks.
Do You Recognize Any Of These Signs Of Depression?
You can access licensed psychiatrists, psychiatric nurse practitioners, and therapists who provide treatment for depression from the convenience of your home. Click here to find your current insurance provider and request an appointment today!
CDC: Mental Health and Coping with Stress During the Pandemic
CDC: Taking Care of Your Emotional Health
NIH | National Institutes of Mental Health: Self-care for anxiety and depression: a comparison of evidence from Cochrane reviews and practice to inform decision-making and priority-setting
NIH | National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health: Meditation in Depth