When you’re depressed, caring for yourself often goes against the grain of what comes naturally. Part of depression can be neglecting yourself, lacking energy for self-care, and maybe not even feeling like you deserve it. But even small mental shifts oriented towards self-care can make a big difference in beginning to turn the tide of depression. And it doesn’t have to involve big amounts of effort. It just takes some intention to make self-care a priority when you’re depressed. Know that although it may not feel intuitive, with some intention and practice, you can build neural pathways that start to change the way you feel, and may even start to change your depressive tendencies.
Consider these small but effective mindset shifts for self-care when you’re depressed
1. Become aware of the way you talk to yourself
Self-talk is the running commentary that occurs in your mind that you are often not even aware of. People who struggle with depression have self-talk that is full of criticism, guilt, and shame. Become aware of the way your talk to yourself. I’ve had clients who have humorously assigned names to the overly critical self-talk in their minds. I love this idea because it starts to create awareness of the self-talk and it also starts to create some distance between yourself and the critical voice. When you can begin to notice the way you talk to yourself, you can begin to challenge it.
2. Reach for small moments of pleasure
“Pleasure? what is that?” you might think. Depression obscures feelings of joy so it can be hard to imagine finding pleasure in life. But there are small pleasures in daily life that you can notice and savor. Don’t reach beyond what you actually find pleasurable or this will feel forced. But what about the warmth of your cup of coffee in the morning? The way the warm water in your shower hits your skin? Do you like listening to a certain song? Is there a show or movie you enjoy watching? Is there a friend you find pleasure in talking to? Even if these are small moments in your day, find a way to notice them and enjoy the experience.
3. Stay Present With What Is
Stay in the present with whatever feelings and sensations that arise. Notice all the stories your mind tells about those feelings and sensations that take you out of the present, and cause more distress than necessary. Your inner dialogue might go something like this if you notice feeling exhausted: “I shouldn’t be feeling this way. This is terrible. If I feel this depressed and exhausted, how am I ever going to accomplish anything in my life? I’m a terrible parent. It’s always going to be this way.” These are all commentary about the feeling you might be experiencing in the present, but they really take you away from the present experience of what actually is. In this instance, what actually is is that you simply feel exhausted.
4. Get in Touch with Your Body
Depression affects the psyche and the body. It’s common to feel things in your body like lethargy and heaviness, body aches, exhaustion, headaches, and muscle tension. When you tune into your body, it cues you into what’s happening for you emotionally. For example, when you notice you feel a heaviness in your chest or knotting in your stomach, your body is communicating something to you, perhaps a wave of grief or dread. Tuning into your body can help you take care of yourself instead of allowing the emotions to swell to an overwhelming level.
When you breathe deeply, you release tension in your muscles and oxygenate your cells. When depression or anxiety become heightened, inhaling and exhaling deeply can help you move out of spiraling thoughts and into a meditative space. But don’t wait until you are experiencing difficult emotions. Practice deep breathing periodically throughout your day. This trains your body to stay oxygenated and easily move into calm when you call upon it. What’s great about breathing is that you can do it anywhere and everywhere.
6. Take Breaks When You Need To
During your work day or in the midst of social interactions, you may just need a break to find your center when you notice yourself overwhelmed. Don’t wait until your feelings reach a critical stage. Practice self-care and prioritize yourself by taking a few moments for yourself. These breaks don’t need to be long. Even a few minutes can be effective in regaining a sense of grounding and peace.
7. Practice Self-forgiveness
People who are depressed are very hard on themselves. That’s a part of what keeps depression in place. If you struggle with depression, you may not even be aware of how self-critical you can be. At the end of the day, can you let of all the things you failed to do and all the ways you think you fell short? Can you instead remind yourself that you made it through the day, even if it was a hard day? That in itself is an accomplishment when you struggle with depression. Can you forgive yourself for what you perceive as your shortcomings and just know that you are doing the best you can?
You will find what works best for you in learning to take care of yourself. Some of these suggestions will resonate with you and others may not. However, self-care is a choice. You must choose to prioritize yourself. You are worthwhile. Reach out for support as you need it through therapy, friends, and sources of self help.