One of the trickiest parts of dealing with depression is that it not only saps your motivation, but it makes you believe things that are untrue–things about yourself and your worth, things about your place in your community, and things about how to take care of yourself.
I like to broach this topic by sharing that I’ve noticed in myself and others that there are depression-promoting behaviours and depression-challenging behaviours. And that the really hard part is that depression makes us think depression-promoting behaviours are in our best interest.
When you’re depressed (or anxious, or triggered), staying in all weekend, not answering the phone, binge-watching TV, and not getting dressed sounds great. It might even sound like “self-care.” And aspects of it can be self-care. But self-care is not just about soothing yourself in the moment, it’s about setting up the supports and structures that let you be okay enough in your day-to-day life. So while depression says “let’s watch Buffy instead of doing the laundry” the reality is that tomorrow you’re going to wake up to clothes everywhere, nothing clean, and one more thing you haven’t done–which will add to the guilt and shame that seem to come hand-in-hand with depression.
On the other hand, depression-challenging behaviours are hard and not fun in the moment, but set you up to a) have small victories (SO important when dealing with mental health issues), b) have some structure and routine in your life, and c) set up the support and structure to let you deal with the root of your issues or cope with issues that aren’t going away anytime soon.
Going grocery shopping and eating enough nourishing food can feel insurmountable, but are going to be a lot better for your mental and physical health than subsisting on what you can get at the gas station at 2 am. Tidying your house and making sure you have clean dishes and clean clothes might feel like climbing Everest but the pay-off is immense (for me, at least, just being around clutter and dirty dishes is stressful). Reaching out to a friend or setting up a therapy appointment can feel like the hardest thing you will ever do, but they provide you the support not only to deal with what’s going on, but to have positive social interactions and, with your friends, to have some time when you aren’t “person dealing with depression/trauma/anxiety” you’re just “person who is hilarious and loves ice cream and action movies.”
I am, thankfully, in a really good place with my mental health, but I have a really emotionally demanding job that requires a lot of self-care, and I need to be mindful that my self-care is actually helping me to be sustainable in this job rather than applying a bandaid to deal with the stress of yesterday. To that end, I have “Self-Care Minimums” that I strive to hit every day, and I encourage my clients to consider if they would be useful for them. For me, my self-care minimums are:
-Sunlight or SAD lamp in the morning
-Emptying the dishrack
-Cleaning the kitchen
-Tidying the living room
-Start bedtime routine at 9:30
-Turn off all screens at 10
These are the minimums I’ve established I need to feel good in my house (waking up to a clean kitchen is so important to my day) and good in my body (getting enough good-quality sleep, moving my body), to be able to show up every day for my clients, and to be able to show up every day for myself.
For some people these minimums may feel like maximums. For someone who’s really struggling their daily minimums might be:
-Talk to another person in person
-10 minute walk
Your minimums will change with your mental and physical health, resilience, and individual life circumstances, but I think they can be a good way to make sure that you are including some depression-challenging behaviours (and/or sustainable mental health-promoting behaviours) in your life when things are hard, not just when things are good.
This piece was inspired, in part, by this great piece called Everything is Awful and I’m Not Okay: Questions to ask before giving up which I have been recommending all over the place.
I am a big fan of lists and especially of lists that give me the satisfaction of checking things off of them. To that end, I used this template to make my Daily Minimums List, laminated it, and stuck it on my fridge.