5 Ways to Undo the Damage of a Depressive Episode
One of the most frustrating aspects of depression is dealing with the aftermath of a depressive episode. Long after the episode ends and my joy returns, I find myself undoing the damage I’ve caused as a result of days, weeks or months of pain. Whatever happiness I feel gives way to shame and panic, so the cycle continues. My new goal is to practice the actions below so the habits are ingrained before an episode hits, instead of spending the year doing damage control.
Challenge: I’m an emotional eater and when I’m depressed I can go to town on a bag of chips like it’s my job. I lose the energy and motivation to work out. I don’t make as much of an effort with my appearance. Result? I wake up one day, feeling heavier, sore and with more gray hairs than I realized and I begin to shame myself.
Action: End every meal with a walk. That way, I’m guaranteed a least a little exercise throughout the day, even when I’m feeling my worst. Best case scenario – the confidence boost from those walks helps me devote more time to strength training and cardio. A coworker also taught me about online grocery orders and my life will never be the same. I might not always have the energy to go shopping, but I can certainly log on to choose healthy groceries and pay online and then drive to the store where they’ll deliver them to my car. Easy breezy!
Challenge: The more depressed I feel, the more I isolate myself. But the more isolated I am, the more depressed I feel.
Action: During those bad bouts of depression when I hardly have the energy to leave the house, I call a friend and ask if they’ll come spend a low-key evening at my house. Takeout food and a movie or Netflix binge. When I’m feeling better, I’ll schedule two to three activities each week to look forward to. Often, I need an activity that allows for some time just observing. So movies, concerts, plays and sporting events are my social lifesavers.
Challenge: When I’m depressed, the only things I really care about in my house are my bed, couch, TV and refrigerator. I ignore everything else. Dishes pile up in the sink. A stack of mail remains unopened. Bed goes unmade. Light bulbs burn out. I feel like a mess, in every sense of the word.
Action: If I do nothing else that day, I tell myself to at least make the bed. A sense of accomplishment, no matter how small, sets the tone for the morning. To help combat a deluge of mail, I’ve signed up for paperless billing. (Bonus: My mailbox no longer triggers as much anxiety.) I’ll also set a 10-minute timer, turn on music and do a lighting round of tidying before I leave the house or go to bed. (Bonus: dance party!)
Challenge: At my worst, I lose track of days and forget to pay bills. I impulse-buy to make myself feel better. The high is short lived.
Action: I’ve set every bill to auto-pay so I never have to worry about late fees or, worse, a ringing phone when a collector calls. I’ve also created a weekly splurge (Macaroon Monday!) so I don’t feel deprived, but also don’t search for item after item to fill an emptiness money can’t fill.
Challenge: This is probably the area that gets hit hardest during a depressive episode, even if the impact isn’t tangible. In the depths of depression, I’m the most selfish version of myself. When I’m able to flood some light, I often feel embarrassed that I’ve not been a better friend, daughter, sister or coworker during my darker days. All I can see is life passing me by.
Practicing self-compassion. My mind wants to become a calculator tallying my time deficits. If you spend three months depressed and take another two months to recover, then you’ve lost almost half of the year. My job is to tell myself the dark episodes are not just time wasted. They’re horrible, to be sure, but they’re also opportunities to practice compassion, vulnerability and authenticity. They’re times to be resilient and ask for help. They’re times to grow, move forward and live to fight another day.
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