Almost 20% of all adults in the United States have experienced at least mild depression since 2019, according to the CDC. As of 2021, an estimated 17.3 million adults have experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year. So what happens when we’re one of those who suffer from “major depression”? We give ourselves permission to do the bare minimum.
When we enter a severe state of depression, our minds may feel unclear and unable to process such information. We may feel extreme fatigue and executive dysfunction (ie. wanting to get up but being unable to get the body moving), and this makes even the most basic tasks seem impossible.
Simple acts of eating, showering, or getting out of bed can feel like a triumph – and during this period, they are. First and foremost, we need to remember that removing ourselves from severe depression takes time. Being frustrated and upset with ourselves for being unable to perform at our full capacity is only going to make us feel worse!
It’s easy to lose patience, knowing what we are fully capable of when we feel great. That’s why it’s important that we are kind to ourselves! Right now it’s time to take a break and lower our expectations for anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.
Cut back work responsibilities
If possible, cut back on working hours, use vacation days, or take some sick days. If that’s not in the cards – try to lean on co-workers for a few weeks, let the boss know what’s happening, and don’t lose hope if silly mistakes start to happen. When depressed, our brains are trying to process too much information, and it shuts down other functions in the meantime. This is particularly true if someone is going through trauma or grief. Major events in our lives can take us a very long time to emotionally process.
Anything is better than nothing
Holding ourselves to very high standards when we are extremely low energy can paralyze us into doing nothing at all! Many normal daily routines suddenly feel like scaling a mountain.
During the depression, personal hygiene tends to be the first to go. In this case, anything is better than nothing. Refreshing ourselves with baby wipes between showers or swishing a bit of mouth wash when we forget to brush our teeth can feel like a small victory during this time.
Fill a bottle of water and slowly sip it throughout the day, do stretches while lying in bed, and stock the nightstand with a variety of granola bars for when finding the energy to cook feels impossible.
On higher energy days, it’s crucial that we don’t let the mountain of chores we’ve accumulated overwhelm us. Take a moment to clean one area – throw away trash from a small corner, take some laundry off the floor and put it in the hamper, light a candle, and open some windows. It’s essential that we don’t commit to massive tasks that require over an hour of our time. We are more likely to get tired halfway through and end up with a bigger mess – or worse – become disappointed with ourselves.
Lean on family and friends
This is often the hardest part, but so many of our friends and family would jump to support us if we just had the courage to let them know we were suffering. Many of them will be happy to walk the dogs, watch the kids, cook a few meals and offer helpful emotional support and a shoulder to cry on.
Use a reward system
Rewarding ourselves often during major depression can help motivate us to get moving a little bit at a time. Taking a shower or actually eating a full meal, going for a walk, or getting some work done are all worthy of a reward! The reward can be anything that makes us feel relaxed or happy – whether that’s lying down for a nap, having a snack, reading a book, playing a game, or watching tv.
In fact, it’s important that we take frequent 15-minute breaks every hour while we’re depressed, so as not to exhaust our already overworked brains! If that 15-minute break turns into 2 hours – that’s okay too.
The key thing to remember is that this will all pass and finding the sources of our depression are best dealt with on high energy days when we feel motivated to speak to our therapists or psychiatrists. For other days? We celebrate the bare minimum and wait for better days!