As a woman with bipolar disorder, I’m no stranger to depression. I’ve sunk to some pretty low points just because I have abnormal brain chemistry. Fortunately, due to a combination of medication, talk therapy, and coping strategies, I’ve been stable—and happy!—for the past seven years. So I am willing and able to give you some tips and tricks that may help you recover from the dark pit of depression.
Self-care, defined as actions you take to improve your physical and/or mental outlook, is crucial for recovery from depression. Medication can only help if you take it (which is part of self-care!), and talk therapy is useful, too, but without your meeting your physical and emotional needs on a basic level, there’s only so much the treatments can do.
Self-care is more than just bubble baths and painting your nails. Let me outline some self-care practices below that you can do today to help you recover from depression.
First, there’s the physical side of self-care. Taking care of your body can help you feel loads better and enable you to take on the day—or at least knock some small tasks off your to-do list, like getting the mail.
Physical self-care is an easy and basic way to meet the lowest tier of Maslov’s hierarchy of needs: the physiological section. Without meeting those needs (food, water, warmth, rest), you cannot move on to meeting the next levels of needs on the pyramid.
There are any number of things you can do to take care of your physical body. Hygiene is a big one. I love applying deodorant and brushing my (short) hair when I’m feeling rotten, which takes about 45 seconds.
I’ll outline some hygiene steps below, but please remember that you don’t have to do all or any of these things at first. One step at a time.
The best thing you can do for yourself if you’re at home and safe is take a shower. I know you don’t want to take a shower. I know you don’t want to get out of bed. But if you just can’t bring yourself to endure a full-on shower, at least wash your face.
Maybe from there, you’ll feel good enough that you’ll want to brush your hair. Stop there; if you’re truly in the pits of depression, then you don’t want to overload yourself.
I try to take a shower every night so I feel good when I go to sleep and am ready to wake up refreshed the next morning. It’s easy when I’m stable but a mountain to climb when I’m depressed.
But that mountain is worth climbing. I always feel a little better after a shower, and I’d be surprised if you didn’t, too.
On occasion my legs are itchy because of dry skin, so one of my self-care rituals is to quickly apply lotion to my legs and arms from a pump bottle. My four-year-old daughter enjoys having me apply lotion to her little arms and legs as well! There’s a lot of laughter involved because the lotion tickles her.
You can try to apply lotion, too. A bottle with a pump spigot makes squirting the right amount in your hands easy, so I’d recommend buying one of those. If you take a shower at night, set the lotion on a flat surface near your bed so finding it when you need to apply it before bed is easy.
Brushing Your Teeth
Brushing your teeth takes two minutes. And you can do anything for two minutes. I have full faith in your ability to handle this task. If you want, brush your teeth and go back to bed until you feel you can manage another aspect of self-care.
Physical self-care doesn’t have to take a lot of time, and it doesn’t have to cost too much, either. It means taking care of your body, which is linked to your mind and helps you re-center yourself.
Physical self-care is not an indulgence. It’s a necessity; without taking steps to take care of yourself, you’ll get to the point where someone else has to take care of you.
I’ve been there. My mom drove two hours to my university apartment and washed my hair once because I could no longer function. But after that, I soon started performing self-care and taking my own showers.
I recovered from that depression through a combination of talk therapy, medication, and self-care. Without the building blocks of self-care, I never would have found myself a therapist, which was the beginning of my recovery journey.
You are worth self-care. You are a valuable person who has worth beyond what you produce. And you deserve someone who loves you, even and especially if that person is yourself.
I wish you well.
Stay tuned for part 2 of this post: Emotional Self-care.