Depression is something I have battled my entire life. It comes and goes in waves. There are seasons when I am doing absolutely great and other seasons (some very long ones) where I face-plant into the trenches and see absolutely no way of climbing out.
As I look back on the last year and a half, I can say with absolute certainty that it has been a long season of face-plantery. So, when the opportunity to write on the topic of self-care when battling depression first arose, I couldn’t help but think that I was definitely not the best person to write about this subject. At the same time, I knew I had to do it with hope that my messy journey through depression will help someone else out there.
As Covid-19 hit South Africa in March of 2020, our country went into one of the hardest lockdowns in the world. We couldn’t leave our houses except to buy groceries or seek medical attention. My husband’s businesses shut down, we lost most of our income, and by the end of the year we lost our apartment because we could no longer pay our rent. At the same time, I was going through intensive therapy sessions that were bringing up a lot of trauma, and I was also dealing with some lingering health issues.
I saw myself spiraling further and further into darkness and despair and eventually, I hit rock bottom. I cut myself off from everyone and everything. I spent most of my days either sleeping, crying, or binging on Netflix (mostly all 3 of those at the same time). I internally beat myself up for being depressed and ended up becoming very suicidal. At my lowest point, I even explored checking myself into a mental health facility. Unfortunately, due to Covid and the lack of good mental health care coverage with medical insurance, that never transpired. At the very least, I knew something had to change and I started slowly making steps towards trying to take care of myself.
Before I get into my personal tips, I just want to say this: I personally know how hard it can be to practice self-care while battling depression. Your body is using up so much energy already trying to fight off and survive the intense symptoms that come with it. Any act of self-care, even if it may seem “tiny,” is worth it and incredibly beneficial to your mental health.
So, without further ado, here are my personal tips for practical self care while dealing with depression:
How to Self-Care When Battling Depression: 8 Practical Tips
Open up to a loved one or someone you trust.
I opened up to my husband about my depression and suicidal ideation. It was a very difficult conversation to have and we shared many tears, but it was necessary. Opening up to a loved one about my mental health was the first step towards taking care of myself. It’s one of the most effective steps in recovery and wellbeing. Doing this allowed him to create space for me to be seen, heard, and cared for. He stepped in to take care of things I didn’t have the energy or capacity to do myself. He helped ease a lot of the burden off my shoulders and it gave me the opportunity to see that I wasn’t alone in the darkness.
Go to therapy & take your meds.
I also made sure to tell my therapist and psychiatrist about the thoughts and feelings that I was having. It provided a safe space for difficult conversations to be had, as well as other interventions to be put in place like medication and psychotherapy. In addition to my weekly therapy sessions, they checked in on me almost daily to make sure I was okay and taking care of myself. They created space for me to talk about the darkness I was experiencing and taught me the importance of not being afraid of it, but instead, embracing, exploring and learning what was in there.
Learn the word “no.”
Many people recommend focusing on other people and volunteering to take the focus off of yourself and your own problems. While I definitely agree with that, I think it’s important to know what space you’re in and if that is something that would be beneficial for you.
For me, I have been in the space of giving and volunteering for decades. My mind is constantly focused on “how can I help that person.” As a people pleaser and a chronic do-gooder, one of the best things I learned was how to say “no”. I started saying no to extra voluntary projects and events. I stopped taking on extra tasks. I stopped wearing myself out for the benefit of other people and allowed myself to rest without feeling guilty about it. Sometimes the best thing you can do for yourself is put yourself first. ESPECIALLY if you’re like me and you’re constantly putting other people ahead of your own wellbeing. You can’t effectively help other people while you’re busy drowning.
Don’t cut yourself off from everyone.
Isolation is one of the most common things we do when we become depressed, but it can also be one of the worst. I think there needs to be a balance. Personally, I made a point to cut myself off from people that were not good for my mental health. I cut myself off from toxic positivity, from negative people, and from people that drained me.
Instead, I focused on keeping in touch with a handful of people that I could trust. Those that I knew would support me, encourage me, and feed life into me without expecting anything from me in return.
Set small goals.
I started setting small, simple goals for myself. Sometimes my goals were as simple as getting out of bed and getting dressed, or even taking a shower. I celebrated myself for the little victories and stopped putting myself down for not reaching the unrealistic standards and goals I typically set for myself. My body was already putting all of its energy into keeping me alive, so I had to realize that achieving small goals were actually no small feat and they needed to be acknowledged and celebrated.
Take care of your physical self.
Taking care of my physical wellbeing became a priority for me. I knew that if my body wasn’t feeling well, then my mind wouldn’t be well either.
I took steps to sort out my insomnia so I could get better, quality sleep. I took steps to start getting my hormones balanced again because ladies, let me tell you, unbalanced hormones can be one of your worst enemies when it comes to anxiety and depression (amongst other things). I started taking more supplements like Omega-3 Fatty Acids which promote brain health and can help with anxiety and depression, as well as Vitamin B complexes & Vitamin D which can help with mood and levels of serotonin in the brain. I started doing yoga and pilates to get my body moving and to help promote mindfulness. We also made an effort to start eating healthier, more balanced meals and made sure to cut out alcohol
Do something you enjoy.
Doing something you enjoy doesn’t have to be something that takes a lot of effort or uses up all of the energy you have. I started reading again. I love learning, so, when I had the energy I studied something new online. Every now and then, I would sew (I mostly made ridiculous things for my dog, but hey, it made me happy – I’m not so sure he felt the same). My husband made a point to get me out of the apartment every now and then for little drives so I could remember the beauty in the world and breathe in some much needed fresh air. Oh, and laughter is the best medicine. I love a good meme or silly pun, so I made it a point to find them every day, just to have a laugh. I honestly think sometimes it was the memes that saved me during that time!
Atmosphere is everything.
Being in a cluttered space produces more anxiety for me. It causes extra stress and doesn’t allow me to relax. I made sure I had a space that was clean and decluttered. I always had my diffuser running with a mix of calming and uplifting essential oils. Sometimes I lit candles and turned off the lights. I took aromatherapy baths. Know what makes you comfortable and relaxed, and make a point to create a space that allows you to do just that.
Final Thought: Let Go of Guilt
I don’t know about you, but I feel incredibly guilty after a season of depression. I feel guilty for having depression in the first place, but also for time lost, chores I couldn’t get done, the fact that my loved one had to step in to help me carry the weight. I feel guilty for missing out on time with friends or family, for “being lazy,” or for not being able to “just get over it.”
I want you to know that it’s not your fault that you have depression. You didn’t wake up one day and say “eh, I think I want to be depressed. That sounds fun.” Know that you have nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about and most importantly, know that you are not alone. I guarantee you that your loved ones are more concerned with you getting better, not with you getting stuff done.
Oh, and one last thing: you are brave, you are strong, and I am so very proud of you for not giving up. It takes a lot of courage. Keep fighting.
Further Resources on Depression
If you found this article helpful, check out these other resources on depression.
- The Lily-Jo Project’s Low-Mood Resource
- What to Do When You Think You Might Be Suicidal
- Suicide Awareness – How to Help a Friend When They are Feeling Helpless
- Life After Care – A Story from Mark Edwards
- Postpartum Depression: Uncovering the Myths and Facts
More Articles from Alexis
If you enjoyed this article from Alexis, check out her previous articles below:
- Interview with Alexis Horne: 5 Things I’ve Learned About Mental Health
- Continuing the Fight: 6 Practical Tips for Building Resilience
About the Author: Alexis Horne
Originally from the USA, Alexis is living in South Africa and has spent several years volunteering with various organisations; working with youth at risk and young people coming out of a life of crime and gang culture. She is passionate about mental health and is working towards becoming a Clinical Psychologist in the near future.