We’ve all heard things like “People who work out are happier.” or “Just do this one thing every day.” It’s all billed as being so simple! It’s as if the advertisers are saying “What’s wrong with you?” We see social media of vacations and happy holidays and think “Why can’t I do that?”
Well, to be frank, they can’t either. What we see in the very carefully curated images that people present online are not real lives. Also, there are enough do-this-one-thing suggestions out there to take up easily more than 24 hours a day and that doesn’t leave time for sleep or work. Where is the line between depressed and lazy?
I’ll make it easy for you. I don’t personally believe in laziness. While there is absolutely such a thing as a lazy Sunday or not wanting to do something because we feel lazy, it is just that a feeling. It passes. What happens when the snow lasts too long? We go stir crazy. Taking it easy is only fun when you have something to contrast it against. I don’t personally believe that people wake up one day and genuinely say “I’d like to go nowhere with my life.” What is far more likely is that we have good days and bad days and we have a lot of unreasonable expectations for ourselves and the people around us.
Depression can make you feel lazy, useless, incapable, alone, and hopeless. It zaps all your energy and then tells you that you are a bad person because you can’t keep up. You don’t have the energy to clean your house, then you feel awful every time you see what a mess, you’re living in. Then it gets really tricky. It makes you forget to eat, or overeat, or outright binge on things that are bad for you. You find that you want to sleep for 20 hours a day, but it’s not restful; or maybe you’ve got insomnia. Once you’re not sleeping well, you’re not keeping your brain in its best health. If you’re sleeping too much, you’re losing stamina and cleaning the house with no stamina is a no go. The eating disruptions are keeping you from a nutritionally varied and healthy diet. Now how can you distinguish the symptoms of poor nutrition and sleep from the depression?
Depression turns into a vicious cycle that feeds on itself. There are many aspects to look at and no one approach works for everyone. You have to find the intervention that works for you by working with professionals. But while you are getting started, here are my big five recommendations for people struggling with depression.
1. Rule out other issues. Maybe your first stop should be your GP. Talk to your doctor to make sure you aren’t struggling with something physical before you assume you’re struggling with clinical depression or anxiety. Sometimes people have a virus and don’t realize they are actually fighting off physical illness and their body is trying to tell them something by feeling awful. Anemia and Hypothyroidism can both present with symptoms that look a lot like depression. If there is an underlying condition the first step to feeling better is treating that.
2. Break it down. You can’t eat an elephant in one sitting. You just can’t. It is not written anywhere that you absolutely must clean the entire kitchen at once. If you clean one corner and come back later for the next, so be it; one percent is always better than none percent and chipping away at the mess is better than just living in it. Then once you have completed something, instead of thinking about how there is so much more to do, think about how you got 25% done and you’re doing great so far!
3. Celebrate the little victories. Yeah, just getting out of bed might not seem like a big deal to some people, but for others it’s a real achievement. Maybe you’re celebrating eating a healthier meal at least once per day. Maybe you’re really excited that you left your house on your day off. Change clothes every morning and every night, even if you don’t have anywhere to be, and give yourself a pat on the back for that. Not because it was super hard, but because you genuinely did not have to do that.
4. Be ok with meal replacements. If you don’t have the energy to cook, don’t guilt yourself about it. Poor nutrition can make depression worse. If you aren’t getting what you need to make the neurotransmitters, run your body, and fuel your brain, no number of prescriptions is going to help you. Look into simple meal replacements like Soylent and Ample. Be careful of products that are geared towards specific goals like protein heavy or diet shakes. You just want to get a simple balanced meal replacement. The goal is to feed your brain and body instead of running on empty. Often when we forget to eat for too long, then we binge, which creates a dopamine rush, but doesn’t actually fuel us in a sustainable and healthy way. Keeping meal replacements around are a great alternative to skipping meals so we don’t binge later.
5. Be ok with supplements. A lot of people benefit from simple over the counter supplements. Talk to your doctor to see if you might be deficient in Vitamin D3, an essential component in the production of neurotransmitters. See if Melatonin could help you sleep. New research suggests that B12 can help reduce anxiety. There are a lot of things to research on your own or talk to your doctor about. A big one is get tested for the MTHFR Gene and see if you are getting adequate Folic Acid and Methyl Folate. This gene is a game changer. We’ve known about it for a while but recent research is finding connections to everything from depression, to macular degeneration, to dementia, to heart conditions. It’s being included in Gene Site testing for psychopharmacology already.
This of course is only the beginning. It comes down to working with your therapist to identify underlying negative cognitions and changing the way you think. Some people really benefit from seeing a psychiatrist for psychopharmacological treatment that cannot be replaced by any number of over-the-counter options, tips, or tricks.
The moral here is that it’s never as simple as what we should or should not be doing. In fact, 9 out of 10 therapists agree that you just plain shouldn’t use the word should. If you replace it with could, would, or need, and the sentence feels less true, then you are just trying to make yourself feel bad about something you already know you are not going to do. Focus on what you can do. Take advantage of phone apps like Finch, Habitica, and Daylio (and many, many more) to track what you are doing; and how you are feeling. Be willing to give yourself a pat on the back for something seemingly small because maybe it was kind of big to you. Besides life’s just too short to feel guilty about household chores all the time.