Depression is a serious, complex and multi-factorial condition that affects millions of people globally. The symptoms can vary from one individual to another and others may experience less common symptoms that are not always associated with depression.

What many people don’t know is that depression can cause feelings of extreme despair, helplessness, and low self-esteem, which make it challenging to prioritize self-care. Managing depression is difficult but the importance of self-care in depression is a time-tested tool for coping with the symptoms and improving overall mental and physical health.

Self-care in depression

What is self-care in depression?

Self-care is a set of intentional activities and behaviours that a person can engage in to promote their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. This means taking care of oneself both physically and mentally to maintain optimal health. Self-care does not necessarily cure depression, but it helps to manage the symptoms and improve the overall quality of an individual’s life.

Here are the ways in which self-care can be useful to manage depression:

1. Prioritizing Sleep

One of the key symptoms of depression is altered sleep patterns. Getting adequate and restful sleep is essential for good mental health. It is important therefore to practise good sleep hygiene and establish a regular sleep routine by going to bed and waking up at the same time, each day, even on weekends. Individuals suffering from depression must be mindful of creating a conducive sleep environment and avoiding stimulants like caffeine or depressants like alcohol. 

Some other ways to improve the sleep routine include limiting screen time and engaging in relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation before bedtime to induce relaxation and reduce stress. Experts also suggest limiting screen time to at least half an hour before bed to promote good sleep hygiene.

2. Exercise 

There is a strong connection between exercise and depression. In fact, numerous studies indicate that regular physical activity can improve overall mood and well-being, and reduce the symptoms of depression. This is also because exercise stimulates the production of endorphins which are natural chemicals in the brain that improve mood and reduce feelings of pain.

In addition, regular exercise can also improve self-esteem and self-confidence which is useful for individuals struggling with depression. Another spin-off benefit is that exercise improves the quality and duration of sleep which is crucial for managing depression symptoms. 

Here are some tips on including exercise in a depression management plan:

  • Start small: Take baby steps and gradually increase the duration and intensity 
  • Pick activities that you enjoy:  Choose activities that come to you easily such as dancing or cycling.
  • Set realistic goals: Don’t be too hard on yourselves. Track progress and start from where you left off. 

3. Nutrition

A growing body of evidence suggests that nutrition plays an important role in the development and management of depression. Eating a healthy diet is essential for good mental health. A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can help boost energy levels and improve overall well-being. Chronic inflammation has been linked to the development of depression and a diet high in sugar-rich and refined foods can contribute significantly to inflammation.

Similarly, there is a direct link between depression and gut health. A diet that supports healthy gut bacteria can reduce the symptoms of depression. Additionally, certain nutrients and micro-nutrients can improve brain function and a deficit can sometimes lead to depression. For example, omega-3 fatty acids, and B vitamins are known to protect the brain against depression. Deficiencies in micro-nutrients like iron, zinc, and Vitamin D have been linked to an increased risk of depression. 

You can work with your physician to design a diet that supports optimal mental and physical health.

4. Mindfulness

Mindfulness often sounds like just another buzzword when it comes to emotional and mental health. However, mindfulness and meditation are powerful tools that help reduce stress and anxiety and can help individuals cope with the symptoms of depression by encouraging them to be present at the moment.

Meditation practice and mindfulness can help people suffering from depression to recognize and change negative thought patterns, improve self-awareness, encourage positive emotions, and promote greater self-acceptance and self-compassion. It is important to note that consistency is key to experiencing the benefits of mindfulness and meditation practices.

5. Social connections

Last but not least, social support is crucial to navigating this difficult time in a person’s life. Spending time with family, friends or the larger community, joining forums or seeking out professional help can bring a sense of connection. 

It’s important to note that self-care should not replace professional treatment for depression. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it’s essential to seek the help of a mental health professional. Self-care can complement therapy or medication and can help to improve overall well-being.