I’ve previously written about how much I value taking a day off from life when depression strikes badly. Sometimes you know from the moment you open your eyes that today just won’t be happening for you. At those times, a mental health day to catch up on some rest and practise a bit of self care can be the best thing you can do for yourself.
Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. You’re too busy at work or there’s an important event. Whatever it is, you somehow need to find a way to get through the day.
That’s where I was this week. On Monday morning I could already feel depression lingering around the edges and I then had a particularly triggering event happen and I just crashed. Cue Tuesday morning and I could barely get myself out of bed.
But I also had a particularly busy week at work ahead of me. Looming deadlines and no one to cover me. I somehow needed to get myself there and be on top of my game for an entire day which felt pretty fucking impossible first thing in the morning.
Over the past three years I’ve had more days like that than I can remember and the one upside is that I now know what I have to do to cope with those days. Or at the very least get through them.
Break Everything Down into Smaller Steps
As a general rule in life, it is always more daunting to look at the whole task than it is to look separately at each component of the task. When depressed, that whole big task can be simply getting through the entire day, and thinking about everything that you have to do in that day can quite easily lead to overwhelm.
It helps to break everything down into smaller steps and focus only on one thing at a time. Each step can be as big or small as you want it to be. Sometimes I will focus on specific tasks – having a shower, eating breakfast, driving to work – but on really bad days I have been known to focus on simply getting through the next ten minutes and then the ten minutes after that.
Knowing that you only have to get through the next task or the next stretch of time makes life seem much more manageable.
I recently wrote a post about the spoon theory, which was coined to describe what it is like to live with a chronic illness but is also sometimes used to describe the exhaustion that comes with depression. The basic premise being that when suffering from a mental health condition, you only have so much energy in a day and whatever you use that energy for takes energy away from something else.
On a bad day, you will most likely feel significantly more exhausted than on a good day which means that you might have to adjust your expectations of what you are able to achieve that day.
When I’m feeling like that, I prioritise things in order of importance and make sure that I conserve energy for the things I absolutely HAVE to do.
This week, my priority had to be work. That meant that exercise had to take a bit of a back seat, as did cooking and socialising in the evening. By taking away the pressure to do everything, I felt much more able to invest the time and energy into work, knowing that when I was worn out later, I could just go home and recuperate.
Read more about this – Using the Spoon Theory to Explain Depression
This isn’t something you can actually do ON the bad days to help get you through. But it is something you can do before those days, when you are feeling good. When you are in recovery from depression, you know even on good days that a bad day could be just around the corner; so it helps to make sure you are prepared for those days.
This involves doing anything that will make your life easier when you are feeling like crap. Maybe for you it’s exercising regularly to make sure you don’t feel guilty when you have to take a break or keeping the house tidy so that it’s a nice environment to be in when your depression strikes. For me, I like to meal prep when I am feeling good to make sure that I have easy healthy meals in the freezer for days when cooking isn’t an option.
Make Your Environment as Nice as Possible
Small things can make a big difference to your mood. If you’re feeling depressed, surrounding yourself with nice things might not completely turn your day around, but it can help ease things a bit.
Take the time to notice what makes you happy and the things that help lift your mood on bad days. This doesn’t have to be anything big. It can be as simple as having a photo of your best friend or partner on your desk at work or wearing an outfit that makes you feel super confident.
For me, when I’m at work on a tough day I try to take things a little slowly. I keep my desk tidy, get myself a cup of tea, put my headphones in and listen to a podcast or some chilled out music. All little things that make a bit of a difference.
Eat Well and Stay Hydrated
When I’m hungry I feel like shit. When I’m dehydrated I feel like shit. When I’m depressed and hungry and/or dehydrated I might as well just end the day there.
You probably don’t feel like looking after yourself or don’t really see the point. I get it. But feeling hungry and thirsty is not going to help improve your mood and it certainly isn’t going to help get you through that day.
Make sure you have regular meals and enough snacks on hand to keep you going and sip water regularly. It’s such a basic act of self care but it genuinely helps.
For more ideas of how to take care of yourself check out my post – Everyday Habits I Use to Manage My Mental Health
Don’t Feel Under Pressure to Be Okay
Last but certainly not least, don’t feel under any pressure whatsoever to feel better. Everybody has bad days. It’s just that, as a depression sufferer, your bad days often feel harder to deal with.
We often feel under pressure to adjust our mood to make others feel better. Whilst I’m not saying you should be rude or unpleasant to other people, what I am saying is that it is okay if you are not quite as talkative and smiley as you usually are. It is perfectly acceptable to just put your headphones in and focus on you. You are already under enough pressure without having to worry what others are thinking about your actions and behaviours.
Remember…it’s okay not to be okay.