When depression strikes it’s exceedingly hard to do anything. Merely getting out of bed is a chore, let alone get dressed and put yourself together. It can feel like you’ve just run a marathon after being awake for only a few hours. Your body hurts, your chest is heavy, and every single task feels like the weight of the world. And that’s just the physical aspects of depression.
Let’s talk about what your mind is doing! Sometimes it’s like the lights are on but nobody’s home. There are cobwebs upstairs and you can’t get anything to work. It can feel like your brain is broken. Then in the blink of an eye, you begin feeling like the world’s worst human. For no reason at all, you may begin to think you’re a burden to everyone, believing that anything you do or say is just turning people away and no one really likes you. You may begin to feel hopeless, like there is nothing to look forward to. Like looking into a dark hole.
Depression is a very very dark and painful place to be. I say place because that’s exactly what it is. It’s a place that your brain and body go – the opposite of your “happy place” – and you have to navigate through it like a dark tunnel until you’re out of that place. Studies show that when we depend solely on the “chemical imbalance” theory of depression, we have worse prognosis and the depression perpetuates.1
So.. when you’re feeling like you want to eat an entire chocolate silk pie for lunch (been there, done that) and it’s feeling impossible to even pick your head up off the pillow to go help your kids get ready for school and then actually doing it just makes you want to scream because it physically hurts and your mind keeps telling you to give up – WHAT DO YOU DO?!
The short answer : Keep Moving.
The long answer: Keep Moving.
Seriously. To keep moving when you are depressed is a super loaded statement. So let’s explore it. (The rest of the long answer)
What does “keep moving” look like?
FIRST it’s a decision. While decisions are very hard to make when you are depressed, they are still necessary. You have to decide what’s important. Not what you feel like doing – but what is important? We find the time, money, and energy for things that are important priorities for us. Maybe you need to have someone hold you accountable or walk you through the decision making process. Ultimately, though, you have to decide whether you want to stay where you are or get out. If the answer is “get out” then you have to decide to be willing to do what it takes.
Second, you have to act. That means you have to take that first step.
If you can’t fly, then run.-Martin Luther King, Jr.
If you can’t run, then walk.
If you can’t walk, then crawl,
but by all means, keep moving.
One of the hardest lessons that took years for me to figure out – as ridiculously simple as it sounds – is that no one can do it for you. I know, kind of a no brainer but you’d be surprised. I would go to counseling expecting them to fix me. I needed saving. I expected them to wave a magic wand when I cried and make everything okay like my fairy godmother.
It doesn’t work that way though – you have to do the work. You have to get up, put one foot in front of the other, and actually pull yourself out of bed, to the shower, to the sink, to the dresser, to the door, and out into life. Even when you don’t feel like it. Change your physiology!
Pull your shoulders back, lift your chest, lift your chin, and stand/sit straight. You’ll be amazed at what this small little movement can do for your mood and confidence!
When depression sets in, the chemicals in our brains change. We generate less dopamine and serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins which are the 4 “happy” chemicals in our brains.2 Because the presence of these chemicals trigger us to do a lot of moving, but they are being suppressed, we generally have a lot less energy than before. It’s up to us to push and get the train moving. Once it starts moving and positioning ourselves physiologically for success and happiness, though, momentum begins to build up and we can cope much easier.
Once you’ve taken those first literal steps and have begun to move even when you don’t feel like it, those chemicals can actually start pumping.
Third, we have to address your mental gears. Our brains want to shut down and stop working. Like the gears are no longer moving. Just like rusty or dirty gears on any machine, we have to lube them and clean them up so they can start turning again! So do something that requires some thinking but not a lot of critical thinking. Reading a book may be too much or it may be just enough. Art therapy, music therapy, journaling, a large piece small puzzle, etc. Find something.
You may also find that normal every day tasks give you anxiety because they require so much energy. You look around and start to feel worse again because there’s “so much to do.” You can move, but you just don’t have the energy to do much and you feel like you can never do it all! So do something that you find easy and doesn’t require a lot of energy or thinking. Reading a book may be too much or it may be just enough. Walking around the block may be perfect, or it may be daunting. Washing dishes may seem like a looming mountain or you may decide to wash literally just one dish. Cook an easy meal – heck do cereal if you have to!
Fourth, you need to do one thing you enjoy – doesn’t have to be huge, just something that used to make you feel good, but don’t over do it – keep the energy expenditure doable. Walking around the block may be perfect, or it may be daunting. Knitting, crocheting, painting, drawing, fishing, playing with the dog, singing, dancing (or boogying, whichever you prefer!), stretching, yoga, writing… even if you don’t want to – choose something you used to love. It gets those endorphins moving again. You will bring the pleasure of it back once you start but start small.
Fifth, be kind and loving to yourself. Say nice things. Pour in positivity with encouraging music (KLove is a great source if you don’t know where to find any). Write love notes to yourself and paste them places you’ll see them. Drown out the hateful attacks in your head with attacks on *them* – show yourself some love and grace. God doesn’t make mistakes, and he doesn’t do anything without a purpose. You were created therefore you have a purpose. He says “do not defile anything I have proclaimed to be holy!” So if he loves you, you deserve to love yourself! Claim that, own that, and use His word as a light unto your path and a lamp unto your feet (Psalm 119:105) – a Light Inside The Tunnel TM!
- Dunlop, Kelley, et al., 2012, “Depression beliefs, treatment preference, and outcomes in a randomized trial for major depressive disorder.” Journal of Psychiatric Research. Volume 46, Issue 3:375-381. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jpsychires.2011.11.003
2. Bao, Ruhé, et al. 2012. ” Chapter 8 – Neurotransmitters and neuropeptides in depression.” Handbook of Clinical Neurology. Volume 106:107-136. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-444-52002-9.00008-5