My mental health has always been a roller coaster, and the past few weeks have definitely been tough.
I can’t sleep because my brain won’t shut off. So I spend hours in bed replaying situations in my head, worrying about every little thing, and putting myself down. Then you get stuck in a loop.
What if I hadn’t done this? What if I did that? I should have said something. I should have kept my mouth shut. Over, and over, and over.
I’ve been letting depression rule my life, and I’m feeling trapped.
I’ve realized that a lot of things I do daily are habits that make depression worse. So, I’m going to try and be more aware of them, and change as much as possible. I know it will be difficult, but hopefully this can help make a difference.
Reaching for comfort foods
Study after study after study confirms this, yet we keep reaching for comfort foods (I’m definitely not innocent here either). Research seems to revolve around two main issues: saturated fats and excess sugar.
In 2015, a study on rats published in Neuropharmacology found that rats fed a diet filled with saturated fats developed changes in their neural chemistry. Particularly, a lower response to the chemical dopamine—the right balance vital for both physical and mental well-being.
And it’s not just rats.
The University of Michigan studied a group of 12,000 people in Spain and found that those with a higher trans fat consumption were more likely to have depression—42 percent more likely than those who ate a small amount of trans fats.
A dietary pattern comprising vegetables, fruit, beef, lamb, fish, and whole-grain foods (traditional) was associated with a lower likelihood of depressive and anxiety disorders, whereas a dietary pattern comprising processed and “unhealthy” foods (western) was associated with a higher likelihood of psychological symptoms and disorders. Better diet quality, as measured by the diet quality score, was associated with a lower level of psychological symptoms. Associations were apparent after adjustments for a wide range of possible confounding variables, including age, socioeconomic status, education, physical activity, and other lifestyle factors.Association of Western and Traditional Diets With Depression and Anxiety in Women
Let’s not forget sugar.
Another 2015 study looked at over 70,000 women who weren’t experiencing depression. Those consuming a diet of foods with a higher glycemic index—including those rich in refined grains and added sugar—had a greater likelihood of depression.
Researchers couldn’t pinpoint an exact mechanism, but one thought is that overconsumption of sugars is a risk factor for inflammation and cardiovascular disease—both linked to depression. It could also lead to insulin resistance, which has been linked to cognitive defects—similar to those with depression.
Too much (or too little) sleep
We all know that a lack of sleep can have a negative impact on our mood (cut to me snapping because a fork is in the wrong spot or having a meltdown because my shoe won’t stay tied). In fact, the inability to sleep is one of the most defining symptoms of depression.
But some of us often suffer with the opposite issue—staying in bed and sleeping the day away. Simple things, like getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, and getting dressed can seem impossible. And sometimes, they are.
Depression can impact sleep, but sleep issues can also trigger depression. Poor sleep is another of the habits that make depression worse.
Physical or emotional trauma and metabolic or other medical problems can trigger sleep disturbances. Poor sleep can lead to fatigue. With fatigue, you exercise less and that leads to a decline in your fitness level. Eventually, you find yourself in a vicious cycle of inactivity and disturbed sleep, which causes both physical and mood-related symptoms.WebMD
Depression can make you want to curl up in bed in a dark room and sleep the day away. Unfortunately, this robs you of much-needed vitamin D, which has been shown to be beneficial in treating depression. Plus, sunlight is a natural mood booster that triggers your brain’s production of serotonin.
If you can’t get enough sun, you might consider investing in a Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) lamp. I’ve been tempted to try this, so let me know if you have any experience with them.
Avoiding physical activity
Depression can make the simplest of tasks seem impossible—showering seems like climbing Everest. It can make you seem lazy, when that’s just not true. Depression weighs you down, making you feel chained to your couch.
It might take all of your energy, but sometimes just a five-minute walk can make a huge difference.
If I’m feeling like it might be a tough day, but I’m not completely weighed down yet, I’ll put on some good music and take Atka and Kiska out for a quick walk. Most of the time, I come back with a more positive outlook.
Start small and set goals. Feeling okay after walking for five minutes? Add another five!
When things are overwhelming, it’s natural to want to crawl into your little dark hole and hide from the world. Plus, if you’re dealing with a chronic illness, you already feel like a burden on your family and friends. But these are the times we need support the most.
A study on social support and stress showed that social isolation is associated with increased morbidity, start and relapse of depression, mood disorders, and several medical conditions.
In contrast to low social support, high levels appear to buffer or protect against the full impact of mental and physical illness. The relationship between good social support and superior mental and physical health has been observed in diverse populationsSocial Support and Resilience to Stress
It may be tempting to withdraw from the world, but don’t. It’s just another habit that will make depression worse.
Oh, the rumination trap.
Have you ever spent hours replaying the same situation over and over in your head? Sometimes, you’ll even dwell on it for days or weeks.
I struggle with this a lot. It is really difficult for me to let things go—my mind is constantly running.
At its core, rumination is all about problem-solving, which is essential when trying to overcome a problem. The problem lies when you just can’t let it go. When you’re still thinking about the problem after already developing a plan.
People who ruminate are much more likely to develop problems with depression and anxiety, and those problems are hard to overcome for someone who fails to change ruminative thought patterns. Rumination is also connected to many different forms of self-sabotagePsychology Today
So, how do you get through the rumination trap? It’s easier to say than do, but you need to find an activity that fully occupies your mind. Some days, this is really, really difficult.
I can be happily reading a box and suddenly feel myself slip back into the trap. There are times that I’ve been ruminating for several minutes, but it takes me a while to fully realize.
Neglecting personal hygiene
Some days, taking a shower takes everything out of me—especially days I wash my hair. I won’t lie. There are times I’ve gone several days without a shower because I just didn’t have the energy
When you’ve struggled with an eating disorder or body image issues, showering can also be a trigger for those negative thoughts. Some days, it’s easier to stay in your sweats.
Do you have habits that make depression worse?