Taking care of yourself
Depressed behaviour often includes lethargy and neglect of basic self-caring tasks. Consciously aiming to take better care of yourself is another important first step in resisting depression.
Self soothing not self bullying
Self neglect and having an uncaring attitude towards yourself are very common results of stress or feeling low – and this in turn contributes to further low mood and low self worth.
“I have learnt to respect myself. This began in action rather than an inner conviction, and through this became something I actually believed in. Initially I made myself physically take care of myself, and keep myself safe, and this grew into an awareness that I was actually worth taking care of.” – Mina
Feeling low and being in the habit of self criticism or self blame also encourages a neglectful and uncaring attitude towards yourself, which in turn contributes to low mood and low self-worth. Building up a programme of self caring habits interrupts this vicious downward spiral.
This means identifying the things that calm you down and soothe you, and taking a more caring attitude towards yourself. Constructive ‘self-soothing’ strategies are an important skill for modifying stress levels and dealing with difficult feelings like anxiety and anger.
Don’t wait to feel like you ‘deserve’ it or are ‘worth it’ – just give it a go! Try these strategies:
Make a programme of basic self care tasks
Give yourself basic self-care goals for the start of each day: getting up and having a shower (and shave, if relevant), eating breakfast, getting dressed into outdoor clothes even if you don’t plan on going out. Give yourself recognition for achieving these tasks in the face of the lethargy that depression brings.
Increase body awareness and physical self care
Use your daily washing ritual as an opportunity to focus on your body. Be gentle and soothing when soaping yourself. For example, pat on after-shave instead of slapping it on. Give yourself a regular ‘pamper’ session. Take a relaxing bath instead of a shower. Rub in lotion from head to toe, taking your time and doing it with gentle care. See ‘Practising relaxation’ for more daily relaxation strategies.
Pay attention to your ‘home space’
Make an effort to tidy up your room. Do it a little at a time – it can be a good distraction technique. Or if it feels like too big a job, get a friend to help you. Make your room a comfortable, welcoming place. Put up posters of calming natural scenery. Get a few brightly coloured cushions for your bed. Get a plant. Put up photographs of family and friends to remind you of your support network. Include some photos of you having a good time. Likewise choose nature scenes or photos of friends for your computer screensaver or desktop.
Benefit from massage
Soothing touch can be powerfully restorative and healing. Massage can increase ‘feel good’ brain chemicals, contributing to a reversal of the depression habit spiral. Some doctors or counselling services can make referrals for massage. If you can’t get a referral or afford a professional massage, then swap foot or shoulder rubs with a friend. Self massage can also be very effective: gently and slowly squeeze along your shoulder and neck as you breathe deeply in and out; massage each hand in turn.
Get out into natural surroundings
Most people recognise the sense of ‘rightness’ or inner peace that can be found in connecting with the natural world: watching a beautiful sunset, listening to a babbling brook, breathing in the smell of new-mown grass on a summers evening. Modern lifestyles can mean that these experiences are all too rare. Do what you can to get out into natural surroundings as often as possible – even if it’s an urban park or canal tow-path.
Soothe yourself via all five senses
The ideas listed so far have focused on soothing via sight and touch, but you can expand your self-soothing habits by thinking about soothing all five senses. Listen to uplifting music or calming natural sounds, use aromatherapy oils or scented flowers to breathe in soothing smells, make yourself a healthy tasty meal using different herbs or spices.
Learning self compassion
Are depressed thinking habits getting in the way of your trying these self care exercises? Check for self-bullying and perfectionism in particular (See ‘Self bullying’) . These strategies for starting to treat yourself with care and respect are the foundation for the longer-term strategy of learning self-compassion.
Addressing self harm
In the context of an intensifying spiral of self neglect and self bullying physical self harm can become entrenched as a destructively addictive ‘coping mechanism’. See the ‘Checking suicide and self harm’ section to understand this better and for more on ‘Coping with self harming urges’.
Building a healthier lifestyle
Self-neglectful behaviour like poor eating and sleeping habits and self-destructive behaviours like binge drinking can be a strong contributor to the downward depression habit spiral. The ‘Healthier daily routines’ section focuses on ways to build healthier habits of daily life.
The common depressed habit of withdrawal and rumination contributes powerfully to the downward spiral of depression. The next page looks at simple distraction techniques to help prevent you getting caught up in negative thinking and rumination.