Taking care of your physical and emotional needs, or self care, is essential to your overall wellbeing. Self care encompasses not only taking care of your everyday needs such as eating, sleeping, and grooming but also attending to your emotional needs. It means taking the time to do activities that keep you healthy and nurture your specific needs.
However, when you are living with depression, self care may seem impossible, yet it is that much more important. You feel like you have no energy or motivation to do anything, much less take some time for yourself. When getting out of bed every day seems like an arduous task, going for a run or nurturing your mind seems that much harder. But don’t despair, self care can help you overcome depression and more.
Neurobiological Reasons Self Care is Difficult When Depressed
Feelings of despair and destructive thought patterns create an endless tug-of-war within, draining you of the ability and even the desire to take care of all your needs. Research has shown that there is a neurobiological reason why you may feel this way. It has to do with an area of the brain known as the frontal lobes.
The frontal lobes are responsible for your executive functioning, the skill set that involves solving problems, judgment and reasoning, and other similar skills. Depression has been associated with dysfunction of the frontal lobes, so it’s not surprising that when you are depressed, self care is complicated.
Signs of Frontal Lobes Dysfunction
Those struggling with depression often have a hard time with certain skills that fall into the executive functioning skill set. When you are struggling with depression, even the decision to get out of bed may seem like an uphill battle. But these struggles could be linked to complex issues that are under the control of your frontal lobes.
When dysfunction of the frontal lobes happens, you may have difficulty with:
- Emotional control and functioning
- Decision making
- Flexible thinking
- Insight Judgement
- Prioritization and planning
- Self-monitoring and willpower
- Working memory
How to Develop a Self Care Program When You Are Depressed
One of the ways to help your depression recovery journey is to develop a self care regimen. This may seem paradoxical, but remember, you don’t have to start big. The first step in creating your self care program is to start small.
Step 1: Start Small
Recognizing challenges helps us overcome them, so start by acknowledging that the symptoms of depression will make self care difficult. Start with small goals such as getting out of bed, getting in the shower, or at least going to a different room, preferably one where you can get a little sunlight or fresh air.
It is not unusual to lack the energy to even get out of bed when you are depressed, so your first small goal might be something like sitting up in bed for a few minutes. These small goals may not be easy to reach, but they will lead to bigger goals.
Step 2: Go from Passive to Active
Accepting that you need to switch from the numbness and inactivity of depression to a more active state is essential to your self care. Small steps will help you get to the point where you can create other movement goals. As you gradually do this, your inactivity will decrease.
Try making a cup of tea or coffee, rather than asking someone to do it for you. Get dressed and drink your coffee in the kitchen or dining room rather than staying in bed. As you hit your smaller goals, add bigger ones to create a chain of successes. These small successes can help lift your depression so that you can be more involved in activities such as yoga or another type of exercise.
Step 3: Feed All 5 Senses
Depression puts you in a state of complete and utter depletion. When you take the time to feed all five senses – see, feel, hear, taste, and touch – recovery can come sooner. Sun on your face, listening to music, breathing in fresh air, and eating comfort foods will help boost your frontal lobe functioning.
If you are so profoundly depressed that you can’t do these things on your own, ask someone to help you. If you feel shaky and insecure, ask a family member or friend to take a short walk with you. Over time, you will be able to do simple tasks on your own, and eventually be able to take on more complicated ones. But remember, this will happen on your schedule and no one else’s.
Step 4: Stick to a Routine
Once your symptoms of depression have receded, stick to a routine to help you maintain your self care regimen. Taking care of yourself is so important in many ways, and one of the best ways to keep depression from taking over. Be protective of your self care plan and enlist family and friends to help. Let them know that the activities that feed you body and soul are essential to your complete wellbeing.
And lastly, be patient with yourself. This may take time, and there is no set schedule. You’ll know when you’ve completed a small goal and you’re ready move on to the next.