Do you ever have those days when it seems that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to get yourself out of bed and start your day? Or, if you do manage to drag yourself out of bed, you find yourself struggling deeply with motivation and productivity?
Trust me, as a person who struggles with depression, I FEEL you. Over the years, I’ve worked on developing coping skills that have gradually lessened the power depression holds over me; things that, while not completely eradicating the depression, help me maintain a decent level of day-to-day productivity, even when I’m feeling the lowest of lows. Here are some tried-and-true weapons I keep in my arsenal to fight the crippling effects of depression. Take them with a grain of salt– what works for me main not work for another!
Ok, so I’ll be the first to admit, on down days (and even on up days) I haven’t been the greatest at sticking to my exercise regimen. There’s nothing easy about exercising, period, let alone exercising when depressed. Dragging myself to the gym and exerting mental willpower is the LAST thing on Earth I want to do, when I’m feeling so beaten down psychologically. Ironically, exercise is one of the most effective ways to boost your mood and, if not eliminate depression, at the very least mitigate its effects. Sometimes, I think back to my competitive gymnastics days, and wonder why, in spite of all the difficulties of being a high-level athlete, I never struggled with depression. Now, there could be a whole host of reasons– for one, the onset of depression and other mental illnesses usually manifests during puberty, and most of my gymnastics career was spent in the innocent pre-pubescent realm. At that time, I was also constantly working towards my long term goal of making the US national team, which was reason enough to wake up each morning, inspired. Regardless, I think a big part of why I was able to keep the depression at bay while a gymnast was because I exercised regularly. Not simple exercise where you barely break a sweat. I’m talking intense, hardcore training– training that left you dripping in your own sweat shower, muscles trembling from overexertion, head spinning, ears ringing, eyes seeing stars. Of course, I’m not saying everyone needs to exercise with the intensity of a competitive athlete in order to stop depression in its tracks, nor am I arguing that exercise is the sole solution to combating depression. All I’m saying is, at the end of those grueling days at the gym, even though my body was battered, my mind was as clear and strong as ever. My veins filled with endorphins. As I’d stand in the shower, letting the hot water heal and rejuvenate my torn muscles, I’d always feel one thing– pride. I’d be proud of myself for pushing myself to my physical limit. Good, focused training always left me feeling proud and happy of what I had accomplished, which gave rise to other positive thoughts and emotions. Depression, I DARE you to take one step near me, when I’m on that post-training emotional high. So, long story short, exercise is your number one not-so-secret weapon when combating depression. Biologically, you WILL feel in greater spirits after physical exertion of any kind– doesn’t need to be like the kind of training I described earlier. How do you get yourself to go to the gym, when depressed, though? Like I said, I haven’t quite mastered the trick just yet. There were times in the past when, during a bad bout of depression, I’d lug myself to the gym, and, in the middle of a very mentally-taxing yet non-productive workout, break down crying. I know how hard it can be to try and push yourself, mentally and physically, when your willpower has been completely drained by the depression, and you have no fight left within. It might not be a bad idea, in these cases, to get a personal trainer, or join a fitness group. It’ll be MUCH easier to get yourself to exercise, if have a coach helping you push through those mental walls. I had many down days as a gymnast– days in which the last place I wanted to be was at the gym. In those moments, having a coach to push you when you couldn’t push yourself helped. tremendously. Thus, I plan on getting a GroupX fitness pass starting in August; I have a good feeling that, in going to these weekly group fitness classes led by professional trainers, both my physical and mental health will improve, and it’ll become a positive cycle—hit the gym, feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally, be more motivated to keep up the progress and stay in this positive, inspired state of being, and continue to go to the gym. Regular exercise will quiet the depression.
Create Life Structure
The worst thing to pair with depression is a lack of day-to-day life structure. It’s not easy, but trying to keep busy with a set routine will, at the very least, help you maintain productivity when you’re feeling absolutely down. That way, when the depression does strike, you won’t be faced with the mountainous task of deciding what the heck to do with your time… because, if it were up to you, you would most likely choose to spend the day cooped up in your room, underneath your covers, locked out from the outside world. And that is the last state you want to be in when depressed, for being in such a vegetative state will only feed into the depressive cycle. If you have a daily structure, the effects of depression on your life will be less profound. You’ll have a concrete idea of what needs to get done each day, and clear instructions on how to go about achieving these daily goals. When depression strikes, many people report feeling “lost” without direction. Sticking by a routine, no matter how difficult it may be, is sure to take away that “lost” feeling, and in turn may mitigate some of the depression. So, weapon #2 for fighting that depression: set a daily structure to stick by, in the best of times and the worst of times.
Quiet the inner critic.
When you’re depressed, your whole life basically feels like a big dark cloud of negativity. Our inner critic THRIVES off such environments. It’s easy to fall into the toxic cycle of self-blame, and call ourselves “weak” or “worthless” because of way depression makes us act and feel. One thing I’ve been working on lately is quieting that self-blaming voice of negativity and treating myself kindly when I know I’m in such a psychologically vulnerable state. If, despite my best efforts, I really can’t get myself to finish my one hour at the gym, I won’t see myself as a “weakling” or a “failure”. I’ll tell myself that this is my illness talking. Don’t get me wrong—it’s dangerous to start using depression as a crutch, and to blame everything you do or can’t do on your depression. If you start doing this, you are letting the depression run your narrative and slowly take over your life. It’s important to distinguish between who’s talking—healthy you, or the you struggling with depression. I refuse to let myself stop trying to achieve my daily goals, when depressed. I will ALWAYS try my hardest to function productively, depressed or not. However, I know that achieving goals when depressed is about a hundred times harder to do than when healthy. So if it so happens that, in my depressed state, I fall short of my goals, I won’t beat myself up over it. I won’t call myself names or internalize what’s happened as a huge failure or negative reflection of character. I will accept it as largely the depression talking and promise myself that things will get better, once the cloud of depression lifts.
Clearly, I don’t have a black belt in combating depression. I still have a lot to learn for myself. And a lot of the advice I’ve given to y’all in this post, I still struggle to incorporate in my day-to-day. It’s a process. The whole thing is a process. I just want you to know that, if you are out there struggling with mental illness, be it depression or something else, I AM WITH YOU. You are not alone. And it’s so important for you reach out for the help you need… few can rarely overcome mental illness alone. The advice I’ve offered in this post may act as a temporary bandage to depression, but certainly does not constitute an effective cure for this debilitating illness.
Anyway, it’s 8:50pm right now. I should wrap up soon, so I can engage in my own self-care night routine.
Take care everyone,