It’s quite tough to deal with depression. Regardless of when you first began feeling depressed, and regardless of how the depression developed to begin with, being depressed is universally difficult.
Everything is harder – from performing adequately at work and dealing with the pressures and responsibilities of everyday living to getting up and out of bed in the morning or managing to complete the simplest tasks. As one of the leading causes of disability in the world, depression is a serious mental illness that affects human beings indiscriminately, across races, cultures, and backgrounds.
And while we have come a long way in diagnosing and effectively treating depression, treatment doesn’t always work, and it isn’t always available. Of the reported people who experience symptoms of depression or are diagnosed with depression, only an estimated 20 percent receive consistent help, and an astounding amount of people receive absolutely no treatment at all. That’s over a third of all affected people.
Given roughly 17 million Americans struggle with depression in a given year and depression often begins in the tweens, that means millions of children and adults don’t get the help they need, and struggle to cope on a daily basis. Faced with these realities, it’s clear that self-care is a critical part of helping people survive their depression until they can receive consistent help.
Mental health professionals all across the country have turned to the Internet and have published books aiming to help those who do not get help begin seeking it or find ways to supplement their therapy at home with any number of soothing techniques and methods. It’s an uphill battle, but there are many ways to try and fight depression.
A Primer on Self-Care
Self-care is not a New Age form of narcissism, but an important part of maintaining or improving mental health. For the first time since the beginning of the industrialization, society at large has had the luxury of facing mental health challenges head-on, investing significantly into why these issues exist and how to address them.
This willingness to be open about mental health has also drastically affected the rates at which we perceive mental illness in our population, as cases of depression and anxiety are on a rise in part because we are more willing to acknowledge these issues, rather than trying to hide them.
But there are plenty of other factors at work here – too many to list. The information age has brought about an onslaught of constant data and news, contributing to an increasingly worrying and pessimistic outlook of life. The years spent struggling with the aftermath of a global recession has left both young and old adults anxious and worried about the future, and more susceptible to other factors that contribute to depression.
Furthermore, one hypothesis may be that as countries become modernized and wealthier, depression becomes more prevalent, as inequality rises and paves the way for social isolation, sedentary lifestyles, and a mismatch between modernity and antiquated living.
With too many factors to list, the main point is to illustrate that as we continue to face these challenges individually and as a society, it becomes critical to openly face the problem and help people devise personal and effective solutions. Hence, the rise in self-care.
It’s Supposed to Be Hard
Regardless of whether the overwhelming factors in any given case of depression are internal (genetic) or external (environmental), most cases of major depressive disorder cause patients to struggle with a neurological problem. Our brains regulate everything from automatic functions like breathing, to more deliberate actions like movement, and thought.
Our emotions are in part derived from chemicals that naturally exist and spread throughout the brain, released under certain conditions. Depressed people don’t respond to these chemicals quite as well, and in some cases, struggle not only with happiness or contentment but with organization, decision-making, planning, and focus.
The end result can be observed in people who report being depressed, as well as lethargic, uninspired, demotivated, and prone to procrastination. Often perceived as laziness, the real truth is that a depressed brain works differently, and tasks are much harder to plan and execute. This makes self-care very difficult, because it still requires that you rely on yourself.
The key, then, is simplicity. If a self-care regimen is difficult, it’s unlikely to be followed. If it is ineffective, it serves no purpose. Regimens that allow people to strive for an absolute minimum on bad days and do a little more on good days are ideal, and they must be purposefully crafted for any given case.
The Simpler the Better
Anything that makes you feel better can be a form of self-care, although self-care also describes ways in which you can separate yourself from your condition and examine it critically. Meditation and mindfulness, which often play large roles in helping patients apply some form of psychotherapy on themselves, mainly involve learning to dissociate from depression in such a way that you are able to consider how your thoughts are influenced by the disorder.
Simply recognizing when the ‘depression is speaking’ can help you better understand how it affects you, without necessarily beginning to purposefully address these thoughts and change them. Therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy aim to help people with depression recognize their ‘negative thinking’ and strive to change it, in turn affecting their actions and emotions. It’s a long process but looking inward is a big part of it.
Yet these are hardly simple tasks. Ways to simplify them include shortening the time you spend concentrating on your thoughts. Instead of aiming to achieve breakthroughs or fully separate the depressive thoughts from the more rational ones, it helps to set an achievable goal like attempting to spend at least ten minutes every day trying to listen to your mind and perceive your thinking.
Other common commitments include making plans to exercise daily or striving to work harder. These are also very difficult commitments and require a great deal of motivation to achieve.
Smaller commitments can help you on the path to bigger ones by helping you feel better through everyday achievements, rather than the intimidating and looming goals associated with larger and more long-form types of self-care.
Consider, for example, simply dedicating a few minutes twice a week to a basic skin care routine, or a hair product that helps you feel better about yourself physically. Look for minimalist approaches that don’t cut significantly into your budget and last a long time. Make smaller commitments to physical activity, like taking a few minutes aside to do a chore that helps calm you while listening to a podcast or piece of music to help you get through it.
Rome isn’t built in a day, and depression isn’t treated in a week. Consistency is important here, and that’s very hard to maintain when you’re depressed. It’s alright to begin with small commitments, make progress, and then fall back to small commitments. Ups and downs are to be expected, and steady treatment is not available to everyone. But it can’t be understated that treatment is important.