Self-care is the ability to take care of your biological needs like eating, sleeping and grooming and also those personal needs that help you nurture your mental well-being like listening to music or doing art. Self-care is vital to physical, emotional and mental well-being and should be as simple as cooking yourself a good meal if you are hungry.
Unfortunately, when someone is going through depression, these vital patterns are disrupted and many find themselves struggling even to shower or get out of bed. Depression can make you feel as if your vital energy is drained and your ability to look after yourself is affected. Why?
The science behind depression and lack of self-care
The part of the brain called the frontal lobes does not function well during depression. Research has explored at length how depression is the result of this brain structure not working well. Just like when we experience a physical trauma like a burn, that body part does not function well until it heals. Hence, the brain which is composed of different structures that affect our thinking and reasoning, the way we perceive the world around us and our behaviour, is compromised when we are going through depression.
Our frontal lobes are responsible for the way we solve problems, control our emotions, make decisions, hold insight and judgement, plan, prioritize and execute behaviour and also regulate our willpower, attention and memory.
It is not your fault
In scientific terms when someone is affected by depression, the frontal lobes which are responsible for the executive functions listed above are affected, thus it is no wonder that self-care becomes very difficult. In these circumstances, it is important to stress that depressed people are not lazy or weak but simply manifest one of the symptoms of depression. Once depression subsides and the brain starts healing, self-care and other actions become easier.
Simple ways to foster recovery from depression.
During these times, even the most basic things like getting out of bed can be very hard, so starting with small things you can do can be big accomplishments for someone going through a difficult time. For example, sitting in bed, rather than sleeping all day, or taking a shower and making it a point to go out in the sunlight even for a few minutes a day.
With time and as healing occurs, these functions will become easier and you can keep adding more steps in your routine to healing where you push to be more active. Family members and loved ones can be there to support you when you feel shaky about taking the next step.
It is important to note that healing can happen in many ways such as eating good comforting food, doing moderate exercise when you feel you have the energy for it, walking in the sunshine and breathing fresh air near the sea or simply being close to nature. These activities can all foster healing. Reconnecting with things that make us happy like listening to our favourite music, or rekindling a hobby can also help.
On a final note, depression is a condition that can severely affect both us and our loved ones. If we notice that the situation is deteriorating, it is advisable to seek professional help.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Sonya Galea is a family therapist with Willingness Team. She works with families and couples experiencing couple relationship issues and parenting struggles.
Gavurova, B., Popesko, B., Ivankova, V., & Rigelsky, M. (2022). The Role of Self-Care Activities (SASS-14) in Depression (PHQ-9): Evidence From Slovakia During the COVID-19 Pandemic. Frontiers in public health, 9, 803815. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2021.803815
Raypole, C., Wade, D. (2021, Jun 28) 10 Self-Care tips when you have depression. PsychCentral. https://psychcentral.com/depression/self-care-for-depression
Serani, D. (2017, Feb 6) Why self-care is hard for Depressed Individuals. Psychologytoday.com. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/two-takes-depression/201702/why-self-care-is-hard-depressed-individuals