How to Survive a Bad Day When You Have Depression
I've struggled with depression for most of my life, and only in the past few months have things gotten better. I'm on a good medication, I learned valuable coping strategies in therapy, and I've been feeling stable for the first time in years. Even so, I still have bad days on occasion.
Recently I had a few of those bad days. It's been more like a bad week, really. I'm still in it, but I'm doing my best to make my way through it. In the past I would have curled up in bed and lay there, sometimes for weeks on end, only rising to eat once or twice a day and to go to the bathroom. I would simply wait until circumstances forced me to leave my bed. Now, though, I have a few coping methods to help with the bad days. They don't make things better, exactly, but they keep me active enough that I don't fall deeper into depression. Here are a few of those coping methods.
TAKE A SHOWER
This might seem simple enough. Obviously you should bathe yourself. But when you have depression, showering just doesn't seem necessary, not when you have such precious little energy and motivation. There's a lot of crossover between our mental and physical wellbeing, though, and cleaning your body will help clear your mind. Staying in the same clothes for days on end, letting your skin and hair get oily, only makes your mind feel muddled. Cleaning your body helps clear your head. At the end of my shower I like to sit for a while, hug my knees to my chest, and let the water gently massage my back. If you don't feel like taking a shower, baths are pretty great, too.
Lethargy is a common symptom of depression, and, while it's not a particularly dangerous symptom, it can be one of the hardest to deal with. When you're lethargic, you don't have the energy to help yourself, even if you want to. To combat that tiredness, try moving a little bit every hour, even if that means just taking a lap or two around your house. I use my Fitbit for motivation. Much like I enjoy crossing things off of lists (any list really), I love seeing the dots on my Fitbit app light up when I've walked 250 or more steps in an hour. If you don't have a Fitbit, try keeping your phone in a different room, so that whenever you want to check it you're forced to get up and move. You could also set up a reward system where if you walk a certain amount you get a reward.
I've written before about the healing powers of being outside, and it really is one of the best ways to improve your mood when you're depressed. Just last night I went out on the porch with my dad to have a cigar, listen to some podcasts, and enjoy the singing of the cicadas. After just a few minutes outside I felt better than I had all day. Spending too much time indoors can be just as bad as spending too much time in a sedentary position. Most of the time you don't even realize how stuffy the air is or how icky you feel until you get outside and breathe the fresh air. You don't have to smoke a cigar, but grab a drink or a snack, maybe a good book or your laptop, and enjoy the outdoors. Take your dog for a walk or ride you bike if you feel up to it. Just get outside.
SPEND TIME WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY
When you have depression, isolating yourself is one of the best ways to make your depression worse. I love my alone time just as much as the next introvert, but being alone when I'm depressed only makes things worse. It's the typical depression paradox: You don't want to be around people, but being alone makes you feel like you have no one. Luckily, there's a pretty good compromise. Ask a friend or family member to come over and be with you, but let them know you might not want to do anything or even talk to them. Tell them you just need someone to be there. You can always watch tv or read a book or, like me and my dad, listen to a podcast. I like to think of it as being alone together. I don't have to socialize or interact with whoever's with me, but I know they're there for me all the same.
Depression sucks. It is the absolute worst. But it is manageable. It takes a lot of time and effort to figure out what helps, but when you do figure it out, stick to it. Living with depression is hard and messy and painful, but as long as we're living with depression, we're not dying from it.
If you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness, To Write Love On Her Arms has a comprehensive list of resources to help. If you are at risk for suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (273-8255).