The cyclical nature of depression makes it hard to break. It’s hard to know what to do when you feel depressed. You may have days when it is easier to do nothing than even the most basic task. At times the brain feels coated in cotton, unable to form a full thought. One can feel lost in a void. The world can feel like a television show, something to be watched but not fully participated in.
The truth is depression comes and goes. It ebbs and flows like a river. Sometimes it can feel like a raging current. On other days it is barely a trickle. But it always lingers, never fully drying up.
Often the advice for what to do when you feel depressed feels counterintuitive. How are you supposed to do something when you feel like doing nothing? Putting on shoes may feel like too much. Taking a shower may feel overwhelming. Stay off screens. Do one small thing. These are simple pieces of advice, and yet, to begin is sometimes the hardest step to take.
It may feel more comfortable to curl up and spend all day binging on a favorite series. That may be comfortable, yet not productive. It is numbing to get on social media and scroll. Yet, in the end, it leaves a bigger hole. One tends to feel more isolated and more alone since what pretends to offer comfort only makes the issue worse. Inertia lies at the heart of depression. If one stops all movement in a forward direction, it can feel almost impossible to get going again.
What to Do When You Feel Depressed
One of the best things to do is to make choices in the good times that you can hold onto in the bad. Decide on a good day that you are not going to scroll when you feel depressed. Decide that you won’t drink more than usual, reach for ice cream or chips, or sit on the couch all day. Then, when the lull of inertia threats to derail you, stick to what you promised to do. It might be the hardest choice you make but getting unstuck from depression is possible through small choices.
Here are some ideas of what to do when you feel depressed.
Commit to going for a walk – leave your shoes where you can get to them easily. Simply walk the block or go for a 10-minute run. Take the dog out for a walk. Moving produces endorphins, which naturally help you feel better.
Play in the Garden
You can have a whole raised bed or three simple flowers on your windowsill. Buy some seeds to plan or get some pots of herbs you can use in recipes. Playing in the garden inspires your creativity.
It does not matter if you are not good at art; do it anyway, because it will bring out the child in you. Try abstract painting that has few rules. Paint with your fingers if you like. You don’t need the “right paper” – use a notebook. Turn on good music and play.
There are websites that offer fun and easy painting classes. Sign up and do one of the lessons when you can’t think of anything else to do. (Alisa Burke has some fun classes. Samantha Dion Baker does a great book series on drawing your day.)
It may sound silly, but try dancing. Find a list of Disney songs and move like you did when you were young. Make a “happy” playlist on a good day. Search Pandora or Spotify for playlists. Blast the music and move to get those endorphins flowing.
Turn on songs during which you cannot help but raise your hands, songs that let the Holy Spirit intercede for you. Worship through the lyrics when you cannot find the words to say. It will lift your spirit toward heaven.
Keep a daily or weekly journal where you can record your honest feelings. Just start writing and don’t edit yourself – simply spill your thoughts on the page. The truth is not that you have nothing to say, it’s that you have so many feelings inside during depression that need to come out. Getting through the wall of “I have nothing to say” allows for a truer expression on the other side.
If you do not want to journal your own thoughts, get creative. Write a story no one else will ever read. Do not worry about character arcs or plot or tension. Just write. There can be three characters or ten. It can be biographical or historical – you get to choose.
Need inspiration? Modify the script of your favorite television show. Keep the characters you like, invent new ones, and take them on adventures you cultivate. For example, you can create your own Star Trek ship. How would you change your least favorite movie plot twist or ending? Again, it does not have to make sense – just let yourself write. There are no rules, except to have fun.
Eat Healthy Foods
Buy fruits you enjoy. Try hummus with chips or veggies. Drink water or decaffeinated tea. Put good things into your body, like lean protein, nuts, and plenty of produce. Foods with omega fatty acids, like salmon, have serotonin-boosting properties, which can regulate your mood.
Put on Real Clothes
Quarantine has turned pajamas and workout pants into acceptable attire. But studies have shown putting on “real clothes” affects mental attitude. Wear jeans rather than elastic waist pants even when you are just a home. Comb or brush your hair. Wash your face. Ladies, put on some make-up. Wear your nicer shoes rather than slippers while you wander the house. There’s something about putting on lovely clothing and caring for your appearance that chases depressed feelings away.
Make a Craft
Take an empty Kleenex box or coffee canister (the ones from Trader Joe’s are a perfect size). Decorate the outside. Make it fun and colorful! Use paint, collage, or construction paper to give yourself a fresh canvas.
Then take a piece of paper and write out all the ideas you made for what you’re going to do when you feel depressed, such as these:
- Walk the block.
- Walk the dog.
- Eat some fruit.
- Put on real clothes.
- Take a shower.
- Get coffee.
- Write a letter.
- Weed the front yard.
- Read for twenty minutes.
- Sit outside in the sun.
- Make some tea.
- Reorganize a bookshelf.
- Draw a prayer.
- Photograph five things that make you smile.
Tear or cut them into individual pieces of paper. Fold and put them in the container. When you are depressed and need to do something but can’t think of what to do, find the container and draw a piece of paper out. Then do what it says.
These steps may sound easy. Yet, on a bad day, following through with the prompt can feel like the hardest step to take. It is easier to scroll endlessly or binge a season or sleep. But one small step forward will break you free from inertia.
Go outside and intentionally look for five things that bring joy. This will not cure your depression. But for the moment, this act tells depression it will not get the last word.
The greatest lie with depression is “it will always be this way.” Depression lies to you. It wants you to sit down and let it have its way. Depression can be a seasonal friend or a lifelong companion. Those tendencies might always exist, but you choose the response.
You can choose to take a shower, walk the block, or take the dog out again. On some days that will be enough to get your momentum going and the rest of the day will be easier. On other days, it will be coming back to the ideas, again and again, choosing to fight the lie of inertia with a small act of resistance.
The truth is that the choice to do what is good enables you to make better choices later. It helps put things in perspective and gives you a little shot of energy. Some days doing nothing will win out, and that is okay. But other days a small action will be enough to help.
On the toughest days, be sure to reach out for the help you need. A Christian counselor can help you overcome depression. You may need talk therapy to get past the issues that are fueling your depression. Contact us today to learn how Christian counseling for depression can help you.
“Dragging Mr. Lion”, Courtesy of Greyerbaby, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Forest Glade”, Courtesy of Valiphotos, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Hike”, Courtesy of Hermann, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Glee”, Courtesy of Fancycrave1, Pixabay.com, CC0 License