According to the National Institute of Health, about 21 million adults in the U.S. have experienced a major depressive episode (2023). In fact, depression is more common in people who give birth - 1 in 10 people who are pregnant or just given birth experience depression (WHO, 2023). Let’s face it, these statistics are accurate and the numbers are helpful, however, what’s really going on with depression?
As a therapist, I wake up every morning around 5am (5:04 to be exact), start my morning, water my hibiscus (saving them from the Texas heat), and head to the gym. For the last several years, I’ve always believed that the coping strategies that are encouraged such as working out to increase dopamine and finding balance as well as routine and structure are helpful to the brain and to achieve stable mental health. However, when COVID hit there was an immediate shift - gyms were closed, people were stuck in their homes and isolation was something I had never experienced before.
Throughout the pandemic, many individuals struggled to connect with other humans - many people did not see family, or have human contact aside from the virtual benefit of telehealth, Zoom, or additional platforms. As I was writing this blog, I researched how many people throughout the three years of COVID did not see family or relatives and was shocked to find out that almost 22% of the population still have not reconnected with their family due to sickness or financial strain.
So what does this have to do with depression? Here’s the reality - the continued focus on “check on your friends”, and the statements of “know the symptoms” - let’s be honest here:
DEPRESSION LOOKS LIKE YOU AND ME!
Depression isn’t the sad mom laying on the couch, with a dark cloud above her and her lack of motivation to make lunch for kids (although yes, this is a glance at what depression can look like).
Depression DOES look like you and me. It’s someone who is getting up every day, working out, trying to scoot kids off to daycare and the bus stop, showing up to work, and functioning dysfunctionally.
Depression DOES look like someone who might be more irritable than before, someone who may disconnect or isolate because the brain’s negative stress response levels are convincing us that “we don’t want to be a burden” to someone else in our life.
Depression DOES look like that feeling of almost just floating around Target and not even realizing we’ve passed the aisle with what we were in the store for.
As I went to the gym this morning, I noticed that many people are simply just existing - scrolling aimlessly through social media, sitting on the gym machine, and really not sure of what is happening. Depression isn’t necessarily this overwhelming feeling of sadness, sometimes it’s the feeling of not being sure why we aren’t feeling at all or if we are feeling why we feel what we do feel. Why don't we have the motivation to call someone? Why is it really difficult to actually not get out of the “zero fuck” attitude and be able to get the tasks done? That’s what depression looks like. It’s not always staying in bed with the curtains closed, hoping that a little pill will relieve the symptoms, the sun will shine, and the world will become less annoying.
Tips for Depression
So here are some tips for Depression, if you’re experiencing mental health symptoms or are interested in educating yourself more on Depression:
Remember, sometimes a gentle push can feel like a shove when someone is experiencing depression: Many times the common statement of “check on your friends” (the happy or the sad ones) won’t work. With depression, let friends and family know that they have support, but coming over, and pushing boundaries, can sometimes feel like a “shove”. Although we have good intentions to support one another, allow someone to own their feelings and communicate them in a way that they feel comfortable. Sometimes just letting someone know you have the mental bandwidth to take on their stress or emotions is more valuable than we realize.
Set realistic (like actually realistic) goals - the higher the expectations on the depression ladder, the harder the fall: Listen, we all want to get up and go to the gym 3-4 days a week, have dinner on the table, and be present for our kids. Is this a reality? Not always. Focus on the small things that you can do that contribute to the goal. For example, if you want to go to the gym, perhaps it’s just putting on spandex pants and sneakers - that might be the only thing you do and you might not actually get to the gym or work out - BUT your brain connects sneakers and workout clothes with going to the gym. Taking some small steps, maybe sitting in the gym parking lot, might be a closer step than actually going inside (and let’s be real, there are times we just need to visualize ourselves going) and that might be good enough for the moment.
Celebrate your wins! I remember when I signed up with a fitness coach and was frustrated that I managed to lift the same amount of weight and do the same few reps, but couldn’t go further. I emailed him and told him that perhaps this wasn’t the program for me and he said “What are your wins? - you’re going, you keep trying, but why are you assuming it’s a failure?” When I started to look at the “wins” of actually getting to the gym, putting shoes on, and doing the workout as a win, it changed my perspective of what I was capable of doing at that moment.
Sometimes “GOOD enough is GOOD enough”: This is a hard mantra to accept and swallow, but one that is really helpful. Good enough might mean that your kids have chicken nuggets for the third time this week and you just can’t manage to prepare something more than that. Good enough might mean that getting up and getting to work, but not doing your makeup or wearing something nice is as much as the world may get from you. We tend to believe that we have to show up for others, but sometimes we do not have the bandwidth to do that -and why isn’t that okay? Allow yourself to be SELF-full and take some time for yourself. When you are able to give yourself to others, they’ll be there, but sometimes it’s okay to give what you can to yourself.
Focus on the HOW not the WHY: With depression, our brain can force us to focus on how we got depressed. Was it the break-up, the new medication, the last few weeks of not going to the gym, or the Venus retrograde that we read about on Instagram? Depression can be biological, situational, or just because - when we focus on how we became depressed, sometimes we overlook the different ways of HOW we can work on setting small breadcrumb goals (scroll up to number 2) and how we can make small steps to moving towards feeling better. Allow yourself some grace - sometimes we’re sad and that’s okay. We don’t always need to co-sign, the toxic positivity of “you’ll feel better if you go to the gym”. Truthfully, no we might not. But if we are there for about 15 minutes, maybe that’s 15 minutes where we aren’t thinking about all of the things that we haven’t done. Consider allowing yourself to focus on the ways that you can show up for yourself and give yourself permission to experience the emotions that you are feeling.
Want more information about Depression? Do you need support and are you interested in exploring more about this: 988 is the National Crisis Line; for more information please visit our resource page on our website at www.thenourishednest.com.