Let’s talk about self-care. This is another buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, but I want to break it down a bit into something more practical than the vague advice to “take care of yourself.”
Ideally, we should be engaging in self-care all the time. Should. But when depression creeps up and tries to take me down, I’ve got a kind of emergency checklist that I go through, with very specific things to do so I can own the depression, rather than letting the depression own me. Let me preface all of this by saying that these aren’t done in any particular order, but they are all important.
Drink a glass of water. Not soda. Not alcohol. Water. Dehydration adds a ton to the physiological effects of depression, to include headaches and sluggishness – which no one really needs. If you’re like me and struggle to drink water sometimes, use liquid or powdered flavoring specifically designed to make water easier to drink.
Eat something quasi-nutritious. By “quasi-nutritious,” I mean avoid the processed junk food. I say that as someone who has a sweet tooth eight miles wide and never met a carb I didn’t like. I’m also an acknowledged emotional eater, and if I’m eating my feelings in the form of a carb-fest, I’m only going to feel worse. So I try to get some protein in there. I’ll snack on nuts or a protein bar. Fruits and veggies are also good; I’ll grab a banana or those little bell peppers to munch on. Bottom line: I don’t feel like prepping much, so I go with what I can grab easily – but I consciously avoid the slippery slope of indulging in my comfort foods. Even if I tell myself that I should have those comfort foods – because, hey, I feel like crap! – there will be regrets later.
This one is tough…and I love a good workout. But when I’m depressed and have no energy and everything hurts, the absolute last thing I want to do is lace up my shoes and workout. So my goal is to simply move. Maybe I take my daughter on a walk outside, and I talk myself into getting to the next stop sign…then the next tree…then the next light pole. Maybe I turn on some music and have a dance party. Maybe I message a friend and say, “Hey, I’m struggling right now and absolutely don’t want to workout but absolutely need to. Can you meet me?” Maybe we’ll lift, maybe we’ll run on the treadmill, maybe we’ll just walk around the track and talk about life. Honestly, in this case, it doesn’t matter what you or I do, as long as we move.
- Brush Your Teeth
Yes, it takes energy, but no one feels worse after brushing their teeth. This is just good for you.
Take a shower. I will feel a million times better once I’m clean…but it can be so difficult to find the energy. Try anyway.
Backup plan: Soak in a bath. Throw in some soothing Epsom salts. Light some candles. Treat yourself.
Backup backup plan: Use some refreshing cleansing wipes, deodorant, and some dry shampoo. If you’ve got some lotion that smells great, put some of that on too. That will get you only halfway there, but if you’ve got zero energy, it’s a step in the right direction.
- Get Dressed
If I’m already clean, it’s time to put on clothes that are not the same comfy pajamas I slept in. That doesn’t mean I get to opt for a clean set of comfy pajamas…unless it is already night time and it took me all day to get to this point on my checklist. I need to put on clean clothes, and they should be clothes that I feel great in, that give me a confidence boost. (Clothes that make me feel like a busted can of biscuits should probably be removed from my wardrobe anyway, just on principle.)
- When Did I Last Do Something I Enjoy?
If it has been awhile, either go do something you love or schedule it – and tell a friend about it so you are kept accountable to doing it. Maybe it’s golf. Or playing guitar. Or hiking. Or painting. Or woodworking. Or writing. Whatever it is, give yourself permission to do something that you enjoy, and go do it.
- Speak Up
This one is really difficult. Depression already makes me feel isolated, and I tend to believe that no one wants to be around me anyway. But it is important to speak up. On one hand, this could mean setting up an appointment with my therapist if I haven’t checked in recently. On the other hand, it could mean reaching out to friends and saying, “Hey, I need some help here.” It should be so easy, but it isn’t. It’s like the Bible story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet; they would have been fine washing His feet, but some of them freaked out about Him washing theirs. In the same way, we’re eager to help friends in distress, but we get really weird about allowing those same friends into our messes, into the less-than-perfection that is the struggle with depression. Where we see weakness in speaking up, however, there is strength. When you’ve told a friend you’re struggling, also letting them know that you got out of bed and took a shower gives them the opportunity to celebrate with you in that victory. Speak up. Ask for affirmation. Ask for a hug. Heck, ask a friend if you can pet their dog, if that is something that works for you. Ask.
I think that one of the most admirable examples of this was back in May of 2015, when Jared Padalecki (where are my Supernatural fans at?) was in a difficult place and asked his Twitter followers for some messages of love. His fans were quick to respond, reminding him to #AlwaysKeepFighting. We are bred to believe that reaching out like this is selfish, attention-seeking, and akin to fishing for compliments. It isn’t; it’s asking for what you need at that moment. Do it. Speak up, and speak up courageously.
Take a minute and focus on breathing. This does not require becoming a yoga master, a jedi master, or any other kind of master. In fact, there are a ton of apps you can download to help with this if you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. This helps me to focus and get past the persistent fog that depression creates around my brain.
If I do this right after meditating, I’m normally in a pretty solid place to pray and journal through the thoughts and emotions I’m experiencing. This is also when I specifically read Bible verses that counteract the junk Depressed Me wants to believe. Psalm 139:13-16, Isaiah 41:10, Isaiah 43:4-5, Zephaniah 3:17, Malachi 3:17, Galatians 3:26, Ephesians 2:10, and Romans 5:8 are some good go-to verses. I will also use this time to listen to praise music, although I may crank it up and sing until I’m hoarse, because that is good for the soul too.
What am I thankful for? It can be really tough to be thankful for anything when depression is weighing me down. For that reason, I keep running list of things I’m thankful for, and I reference it when I need to. Gratitude has a funny way of taking the edge off of depression, if only for a while.
We’ve all seen the Break Glass In Case of Emergency signs, normally covering a fire extinguisher. I keep a Break Glass In Case Depression Is Kicking My Butt kit, but I just call it the Break Glass kit for short. I put this together on my good days to be ready on my bad days – and this is really important. Self-care requires that you be proactive; it requires that you be prepared. Part of owning depression and not letting depression own you is being ready to deal with and overcome whatever that creepy monster wants to throw at you. Putting together a Break Glass kit is a large step in becoming an active fighter in this, rather than a passive victim – and that helps to create a better mindset overall. Once I’ve decided to fight, I’ve been known to whisper, “Screw you, depression, I’m going to go take a shower.” Suddenly, that thing that felt so difficult and so draining is now a victory dance and flipping off that depression monster that wanted to take you down.
What’s in my Break Glass kit? A bottle of water, some flavoring packets/liquid, a protein bar, a snack pack of almonds, my iPod with a dance party playlist and a praise music playlist, refreshing cleansing wipes, dry shampoo, nice smelling lotion, a journal, verses I’ve picked out ahead of time, and my growing list of things to be grateful for.
I keep this by my bed, ready for the next fight – a fight to take care of myself when everything in me would just rather not.
As a final thought, if you know someone who is struggling with depression, and you want to support them but just don’t know how to do it in a meaningful way, consider putting together a Break Glass kit for them. Maybe you could include reasons why they matter to you, and tell them why you are grateful they are in your life. It’s a concrete way to fight alongside someone in this struggle and demonstrate that they aren’t alone.
Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves! 😉