Self-Care Tips For When You’re Depressed Or Anxious
If you’re experiencing anxiety and depression, self-care can be a powerful way you can help yourself. Anxiety and depression are two of the most challenging mental health conditions to deal with. (They are also two of the most common mental health disorders. During August 2020–February 2021, the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder was 41.5%.) Not only do the symptoms rob you of your energy and motivation, they also create endless negative thought patterns that can wear you down. In the long-term, talk therapy and medication are helpful treatment options. But when you need fast relief from anxiety and depression, self-care is a good option and a healthy way to support yourself.
What is Self-Care
Dictionary.com defines self-care as the "care of the self without medical or other professional consultation." However, self-care is much more than that. Self-care for moms, dads, children, and everyone else allows you to meet your basic mental, physical and emotional needs. It helps you recharge when you're on empty. It gives you the potential to overcome obstacles and comfort yourself through difficult circumstances.
In our busy world, self-care is often something people forget about. Our attention is pulled in many directions as we meet multiple demands. All too often we focus on the needs of others while forgetting we have our own.
Unfortunately, this pattern isn't workable for the long run. When we go too long without self-care, we can experience something called burnout. Burnout goes hand in hand with increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. Without self-care, we put ourselves at risk for an endless cycle of being overwhelmed.
What Self-Care is Not
Some people have the misconception that practicing self-care is lazy or selfish. Self-care is neither of these things. Although you are taking time out to put yourself first, you shouldn't feel guilty about it. Think about it this way. In order to meet the needs of everyone else, you have to meet your needs first. When you try to give from a source that's depleted, very little can go to others.
Self-care is also not something that only some people can enjoy. For example, you don't have to be rich enough to afford a luxury spa weekend. You can practice it if you have a full-time job or a family. Everyone can work self-care into their life, and it is important that they do. You might have to be creative with your time or budget. Fortunately, many forms of self-care are completely free and can be done on your own schedule.
Self-care is not engaging in behaviors that can temporarily make you feel better but ultimately leave you feeling worse. (For example, drinking a glass of wine with a friend may be form of self-care for some people, but drinking too much alcohol is not. Relaxing before bed can be form of self-care but using alcohol to relax before bed may ultimately interfere with healthy sleep.) Essentially, self-care should ultimately support your wellbeing.
If you are living with anxiety or depression, self-care can be a very important part of your treatment plan, but it’s not a substitute for advice or treatment from a licensed mental health professional or medical professional. So, please seek professional help so that you can get effective, individual treatment that’s right for you. Visiting with a licensed mental health provider or with your primary care physician (who likely has many resources for patients seeking mental health care) can be an important first step.
How to Find the Right Type of Self-Care
Everyone practices self-care in their own way. What works for one person may or may not work for someone else. You can discover the right type of self-care for you through a process of trial and error and understanding how different forms of it make you feel.
Some people recharge by indulging in relaxing activities. Others need high-energy pursuits to refuel their mental and emotional tanks. A personal self-care plan that works for you and your needs will be most helpful. Keep in mind that self-care is important for your mind and body. Meeting the needs of both can help you manage symptoms of anxiety and depression while you wait on long-term treatment to take effect.
If the idea of self-care is new to you or you haven't practiced it in some time, it might be hard to know where to start. There are endless types of self-care and not all of them will work for you. If you're feeling stuck, try some of these popular options that can contribute to your wellbeing.
Take a Warm Bath
Many people find warm baths comforting. For added relaxation, add essential oils or bubbles to your water. Feel free to dim the lights and put on some gentle music. Warm baths are great places for meditation. Shutting out the world for a short time might be enough to quiet anxious thoughts and uplift the spirit if you’re experiencing depression symptoms. It can also help calm you to prepare for better sleep.
Take a Nap
Lack of sleep can make symptoms of anxiety and depression peak. When you need to recharge, take a 15-20 minute nap. Studies show that power naps like these make you more alert and boost your energy. So, if you’re feeling low, a short rest may lift your spirits.
A note about napping: Just remember that napping too much can interfere with restful sleep at night, so try to keep your nap at or under the 20-minute mark. Try not to lay in bed for too long doing other things. While your bed may be a great source of comfort, your sleep quality may be better if you reserve it for sleep at night.
Sleep hygiene and self-care: Practicing good sleep hygiene can be a great form of self-care. Try to relax before bed, limit alcohol intake, make the bedroom dark and cool, and avoid screens and blue light. We may think of bedtime as something that’s for a child, but adults can benefit from going to bed at regular time and getting up at a regular time each day.
If excess fatigue is bothering you, it might be a symptom you want to bring up to your doctor. Anxiety and depression and many other health concerns can affect your quality of sleep.
Journaling is an easy way to unleash your emotions. When you put your thoughts on paper you release them from your mind and allow them to exist in a space where they aren't judged by you or anyone else. If writing your thoughts is difficult that is okay. You aren't obligated to write a novel about how you feel. There are many alternative types of journaling including bullet lists, art journals and mind mapping that you can experiment with. You might try working a simple form of journaling into your daily routine. Gratitude journaling can be particularly helpful for boosting positive thinking. You might also try jotting down just a few of your positive qualities each day, which can be self-affirming.
Visit Or Go Out With Friends Or Family
Although it's not unusual for anxiety and depression to make you feel like you would rather be alone, social connections are important. Take some time out of your busy day to catch up with a friend or family over coffee or dinner. If you can't meet up face-to-face, give them a call. Facetime and Skype are great alternatives to chat with friends who are far away too.
Look at Pictures
Some people find that looking at old pictures or scrapbooks is a rejuvenating activity. Reminiscing about fun memories, laughing at fashion from days past, or seeing old, happy pictures of friends or family can be a feel-good experience. If your pictures are digital, make a slide show to send to friends and loved ones.
Take a Day Off
On days when anxiety and depression are at their worst, don't hesitate to step away from work or school. Everyone needs a mental health day from time to time. No one thinks twice when someone calls in for the flu. Mental health should be no different. However, if you find that you seem to need much longer than a day to feel better, talk with your doctor. An increased lack of interest in going out might point to a change in your mental health.
Listen to Music
Music can help connect you to your emotions and process those that are difficult. Studies show that listening to music can lower blood pressure and improve mood, which can offer good relief if you’re dealing with negative or anxious emotions. You might try creating a self-care playlist made up of songs that help you the most.
Meditation is easily one of the most recommended forms of self-care. It can be done anywhere, it's free and all it takes is a few minutes. If you aren't sure how to get started or if you’re thinking that you don’t know how to meditate, there are many resources available online to help you. Everything from basic poses to guided meditations can be found there without paying a dime.
Outdoor activities are popular self-care options. The choices are endless. If you prefer low-key activities try hiking, fishing or relaxing in the sun at a lake or beach. If extreme sports are your go-to, kayaking and skiing are just a few things you can try. Even simply walking outside to get fresh air might be enough to do the trick.
Art is a powerful healing tool and it is a very successful form of self-care. Think about your favorite artist or get inspiration from art around you and try to create your own. Experiment with different mediums until you find a style that is right for you. Doing a creative project can help you stay in the moment, which can be effective for reducing anxiety and taking your mind off of negative thoughts.
Connect With Someone In Your Support System
If you have a mental health disorder, having a supportive network can be very helpful. Support groups may be organized (groups you can join) or may be more personal (a group of friends who supports you, offers advice when needed, and helps you cope). Your therapist may be able to offer you suggestions for building or joining support groups. Once you have a supportive network, try to contact and connect with them if you need a boost.
Exercise is almost always a go-to lifestyle change for those experiencing anxiety and depression. While many people default to running, any activity that gets you moving can release endorphins, hormones that can help you feel good and fight depression. Try yoga, swimming, biking, walking, or dance. Even light exercise in the comfort of your home can have a positive effect. Regular physical activity can also help you sleep better—a healthy step in a plan to manage depression and anxiety.
Eat a Comfort Meal
While indulging is not something you want to do all the time, eating your favorite sweet treat or savory food can boost your mood temporarily. It's not called comfort food for no reason. If you try this form of self-care, practice mindful eating. If you drink alcohol with your meal, try to keep it moderation and drink mindfully. By consciously focusing on the smells, textures and tastes of your food and drink, you can get even more out of the experience.
Self-care can take the form of activities that set you up for future success. Clean your home, catch up on housework, sort papers or delete old apps and emails. Purposefully getting rid of the clutter can help you hit the mental reset button. A fresh, organized space can be an anecdote to negative thoughts and feelings.
Watch Something Funny
Laughter really can be great medicine. Watching a funny show, movie, or even just short video can take your mind off negative emotions. Research shows the many healthy benefits that can come from laughter. For example, laughter can stimulate the brain to release endorphins can soothe tension and stress and improve mood.
Follow Your Treatment Plan To manage depression and anxiety, which are mental health disorders, working with a licensed mental health professional to find a treatment plan that’s right for you can be life changing. Once you have a treatment plan, following it and prioritizing it can be a best approach to self-care. Treatment may include therapy, medication, or both, along with learning healthy coping and self-care skills.
Talk with Your Therapist
While talk therapy is a form of treatment for anxiety and depression that happens over time, it doesn't mean you shouldn't look at it as a type of self-care. When you're feeling like you have hit rock bottom or are in a downward spiral, don't wait until your next appointment to reach out for help. Contact your mental health provider to get the help you need and deserve. You can speak honestly with your therapist to make them aware of how you’re feeling. They are there to offer you support and help you manage an effective treatment plan. You can talk to them about what treatment options might be best for you. For example, mindfulness based cognitive therapy is an approach that can help some patients diagnosed with both anxiety and depression.
Online counselors, like those available through BetterHelp.com, have far increased availability and flexibility compared to traditional therapy. They can offer you professional therapy and support, and you can connect with them from the comfort of your own home.
Self-care is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves. Needing it doesn't make you lazy or selfish - it is part of being human. Everyone should practice self-care in a way that works for them. Remember that self-care can be any activity that makes you feel recharged or refueled.
Anxiety and depression have a way of stealing from our mental, emotional and physical health. Self-care can help you manage that. If you are struggling with symptoms of these conditions or are unsure how to start a self-care regimen in your life, talk to a professional therapist at BetterHelp.com today.
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