Spring is (sort of) upon us. For most people, this brings upon joyous anticipation of sunshine and warmer weather. For a lot of people with seasonal depression, there seems to be a kind of sigh of relief that we can resume our life with a greater degree of normalcy than we were able to accomplish through most of the winter.
I have these same feelings of relief.
I also have a certain degree of caution. I know it’s not actually over yet, nor is it ever, really.
Spring can often be the hardest time for me to deal with depression actually. Maybe it’s just because I’ve exhausted all my energy getting through the winter, maybe it’s because I let my guard down, so to speak, in thinking that I will never experience another bad feeling ever again now that the equinox has come.
It’s a kind of bad habit, and also a difficult balance. I often hate feeling like I constantly have to be on guard, looking out for signs of mental illness slipping into my life. Sometimes when I’m feeling good, I just like to think that I am always going to feel that good. I also know that this can be a dangerous line of thinking.
Preventative self-care has been a huge factor in helping me cope, especially during times when I know I’m especially vulnerable to depressive feelings, but it’s also really hard. Constant preventative maintenance can sometimes be just as exhausting as mental illness itself…
which is also exactly why self-care is so important and is going to look different person to person and even day to day. This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of advice that everyone can follow to a tee and expect results. I know that there is no simple solution. I know that some days you do everything “right” and still feel like a huge pile of crap. I also know that being gentle with yourself and feeling like you are giving yourself the level of care you deserve is often just enough to at least get you through the day.
My main piece of advice (and this is what I tell my husband all the time as well, because partners of people with depression also need help in knowing how to help us)
Don’t do nothing
Silence, inactivity, staggering voids; there’s nothing worse for a busy (and negative) mind than to have a blank canvas upon which to churn up problems that may or may not have even existed in the first place. This is always the most important thing for me. I cannot leave my mind unoccupied long enough for it to start spewing out unnecessary anxiety simply out of boredom. That is my default, and it takes a great deal of effort sometimes to not let it go to that place.
Something is almost always better than nothing but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to do ALL the things. Something can be really simple. Putting on clothes. Washing your face. Coloring. Petting your cat. Making food. Sweeping the floor. Whatever you can manage is going to be good enough. Often just the act of doing anything at all is enough to get a bit of momentum going, and that’s all you really need to get a snowball rolling.
Connect with other humans
This is also the hardest thing for me to do. I am an introvert down to my core. This is fine– until I start feeling crappy about myself and desperately need friends who will make me laugh, support me, validate my emotions, or at the very least distract me. It is when I need people the most that I want to see them the least. Funny how that goes. I know how hard it is to reach out to people when you are feeling crappy, but it is so important. Sometimes that can mean even just sending a text, or calling someone long-distance if there is no one in your immediate area to talk to or hang out with.
Even just going to a coffee shop and having a two line conversation with the barista is enough sometimes. Having those deep conversations about your feelings are often helpful and cathartic, but sometimes you feel a lot better just talking to a stranger about how their day is going. I used to be super against those kinds of mental distractions. I figured if there were bad feelings in me, the only way to get them out was to experience them, feel them, work through them. While this often true, there are also times where you just need the simplest of distractions to get out of your own head. Because spending too long in your own head can be just as harmful as anything.
I get it, I live in a tundra that gets approximately two hours of sunlight per month. It’s not exactly everyone’s ideal climate for playing outside in, but a big factor that contributes to seasonal depression is a lack of fresh air and sunshine. Maybe this is just me, but I find the cold air to be SO refreshing! I’m also a huge tree hugger so I always feel better after I’ve connected with nature, even if it is 10 degrees outside, even if it’s just walking around in my neighborhood.
There is just something nice about bundling up and getting some crisp feeling air on my face. Sensory experiences are also known to have a soothing effect on anxiety and depression. (which is maybe why I spend so much time annoying my cats) Movement is another really helpful aspect of going for a walk. If you really, really hate being outside in the cold, maybe going to a hot yoga class would be just as helpful. Movement releases endorphin, which helps you feel good. Free drugs. Yay.
Practice gentle self-talk with your inner Self
A common and helpful trick that I’ve heard of is talking to your inner Self as though they were your little sister, or a small child you were caring for. You wouldn’t talk down to her or make her feel guilty. You would feed her, make sure she got enough sleep, make her feel loved and worthy.
Practice treating yourself with the same degree of care.
Often, when children are acting out is when they most need love and attention. Your inner Self can also function in a very similar manner. This is how I view self-care always and it has been so helpful in making sure that I check in with myself and make sure that I’ve been giving myself what I need. If I have been neglecting my self-care practices, it usually shows in much the same manner as a child acting out. My thoughts get mean, cranky, and tantrum-esque, searching for attention.
Go back to basics
I think we can often get so caught up in thinking of self-care as out-of-ordinary acts that we might not practice on a day to day basis, but this isn’t necessarily the case. We can turn every day acts into self-care simply by changing our mindset around them. Taking a shower, brushing your teeth, eating food, drinking water, sleeping at night… these things can and should be celebrated, especially when they feel like monumental tasks. Some days I complete these tasks mindlessly and they don’t feel like self-care– they’ve just part of my daily life. Other times I do these same things with such a degree of care and mindfulness that I feel so nurtured just by doing these things for myself.
Are you a list person?
Of course you are. What I mean is, everyone benefits from list making in one scenario or another. I’m not a list person in the sense that I don’t really ever make grocery lists or even to-do lists on a regular basis.
When I’m feeling bad, and everything seems like a struggle though, list making is a wonderful tool. This can be incorporated into the “everyday tasks as self-care” tool as well. Most days, I don’t put “take a shower” on my to-do list (mostly because I don’t keep a to-do list most days) but if taking a shower feels like a really big undertaking… I like to make a list of things I would like to accomplish that day. Usually they are those simple things that I would normally do anyhow, but crossing them off a list makes me feel like they are real accomplishments– because they are! There is something so satisfying about crossing something off a list. It makes me feel more organized and put together, and sometimes that is just enough to get me out the door in the morning (or whenever I get around to leaving the house)
My “little things” to-do list usually looks something like this:
- Pick up clothes off the floor
- Make the bed
- Eat lunch
- Make tea
- Wash face
- Diffuse oils
- Play with cats
You may feel silly at first, but remember that no one needs to see this list and taking care of yourself is anything but silly.
It’s okay to not be okay
This has been the most important realization for me, and also the hardest one to internalize and know. I used to go crazy trying to do anything that I thought might get rid of my feelings (but without actually having to experience them or work through them of course because feelings are gross and work is hard). I think that often the pressure I feel to maintain the impression that I’m a fully functioning human being 100% of the time is more stressful than mental illness itself. Which makes the mental illness worse. Which makes functioning harder. Which creates stress… I can tell you without a doubt that the most freeing experience of my life was giving myself permission to be a mess. Sometimes, that is the most important form of self-care we could possibly practice.
I also still feel the expectation that good self-care practices are always going to make me feel better. Sometimes they don’t. It doesn’t mean I did anything wrong, it just means I can’t vinyassa my way out of mental illness. This is also important to note.
You may do everything on this list, or on your own personal list, and still feel awful. It happens. It’s okay. There is absolutely no reason why we should expect to feel good all the time. No person does or should. Often, the only thing we can do is wait it out.
The good news is this; nothing is permanent. Maybe it’s depression or maybe it’s just my dramatic nature, but I have a tendency to think that whatever my current state is will be the way I will feel for the rest of my life. This obviously isn’t true, and it’s important that I remind myself of this. Everything passes and so will this. It can be super hard to make your peace with the natural ebb and flow of life, especially when it comes to things we have little to no control over. It’s also super important to practice.
Give yourself permission to be a mess. Know that you’re not expected to be “on” all the time, nor is it possible for you to be. Be gentle with yourself, and above all, take care of yourself!