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In my Complicated Grieving post, I shared about my own depression. I believe the loss of a child is such a painful event that depression is almost impossible to avoid.
When we deal with depression and anxiety, the tips we receive are often the same; exercise, eat well, socialize, find activities, seek therapy. However, these suggestions are often easier said than done, and might not be realistic to all stages of depression.
At rock bottom of a depression, we can have all the good intentions in the world, but our body and our environment will not necessarily be ready or able to follow these recommendations. For example, how can I socialize while I am in so much pain, with such limited energy that it is impossible for me to be standing more than 5 minutes without being out of breath? That was my reality. How am I supposed to “eat well” when I am not hungry? You can cook me a delicious dinner, but if I feel nauseous, there is no point in trying to eat full meals.
A healthier approach is to give ourselves time and start with simple actions before moving on to the typical recommendations. In fact, “typical” measures might drain any energy we have left and make things worse.
A very depressed person can get completely discouraged or annoyed by this kind of advice. For example, I remember that so many people, including therapists, advising me to join some “grieving parents” groups. Sounds like a great recommendation when we say it like that, but the reality is that these grief groups can be energy-draining, especially at first. And if we are around someone who is depressed, we must be patient. If the person puts in some effort and makes small progress, that is what matters.
Let us start with the small actions, which can slowly bring back some energy to our body and soul. Once we begin to feel better, we can then move on to the typical recommendations. So, without delay, here are 5 simple gestures I performed daily that helped me cope with the worst of my depression. Since they are simple and can mostly be done at home, these tips can also improve a COVID-19 pandemic depression or any stress related to the pandemic.
5 Small Gestures that Helped me Overcome Depression
1) Open the curtains as soon as we wake up
When Adélie was still hospitalized and I was in the depths of my depression, the first part of my morning routine was to fully open the curtains. As I was opening the curtains, I could feel my eyes absorbing the daylight, which brought me hope that someday things would be better. That may sound like an exaggeration, but it was reality. While gazing outside, it was as if a certain source of energy came to accompany me in my grief. “The light-induced effects of serotonin are triggered by sunlight that goes in through the eye. Sunlight cues special areas in the retina, which triggers the release of serotonin.”1https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/benefits-sunlight#mental-health
2) Get out of the house
This advice is about getting out of the house, as opposed to doing planned activities. Committing to plans, such as dinner plans with friends, can use a lot of energy. As such, it is important to say “no” to proposed activities if our energy level is limited. We must avoid the pressure and anxiety that can come from having too many plans scheduled. To this end, healthy boundaries and knowing how to say no, are important parts of building a stress-reducing foundation for our mental health.
“Remember, when you say no to others and to things you don’t want, you are saying yes to something better – yourself.”https://www.harleytherapy.co.uk/counselling/saying-no.htm
A healthier approach is to start with small daily outings such as walks, gardening, light shopping. These simple activities can be done on our own schedule, when we feel up to them. We have the control to end the activity early if our energy is reduced.
Being busy, doing more cool things and showing off all our accomplishments on Instagram, do not make us any more of a person, or any more worthy. Actions that support ourselves and others help us to be better persons.
As for me, my daily outing was going to the hospital and spend time with Adélie. I had a few organized outings before the pandemic hit, but I kept them to a minimum.
3) Watch television
This may come as a surprise since we often hear about the harmful effects of screen time. However, in my experience, watching television was helpful. Television is an ideal way to distract ourselves, to think about something other than our immediate situation.
Other alternatives, such as reading, can require a lot of energy, energy that I just did not have. Social media is not necessarily better because it reminds us that other people are having fun while we are not; in my case, being in the hospital with a sick child while grieving my deceased child.
TV is not always bad
In contrast, television is an impersonal and passive activity that requires little energy. It gave my brain and my thoughts a bit of a break. Watching television allowed me to forget my cruel reality for 5 minutes at a time. It wasn’t much, but 5 minutes was better than nothing. Without a doubt, it was the easiest and best form of escape. An article, published during the pandemic, explains it well:
“Many mental health organizations have proposed strategies to protect mental health, such as exercising, sleeping well and enjoying nature. This may make us assume that watching TV is ultimately bad for our mental wellbeing. But there is evidence to suggest that watching TV can also be good for us – if we go about it the right way:
- While many of us will be watching more TV during the COVID-19 pandemic, studies have shown these programs may be good for our mental health.
- While binge-watching is not recommended, TV shows that make us laugh or feel positive emotions can counteract negative feelings.
- Finding ways to stay positive and happy is vital.” 2https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/03/watching-tv-lockdown-positive-mental-health
4) Keep those curtains open
I have always been a big believer in the benefits of natural light. A bright house with lots of windows was my number one requirement when looking for a home for our family. And I strongly believe that our sunlit house helped me during my depression, especially once Adélie was back home during the pandemic. Thanks to the sunny built-in window banquette in our kitchen, I could enjoy the sun hitting my back. Sometimes, I would even take naps on the banquette, soaking up the sun. Carl teased me by calling me the “cat” with my naps. The sunny nook also brings in nature and a sense of freedom.
At the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), we were fortunate to have a large window in Adélie’s room. During the 103 days we spent there, I remember receiving the advice that I should go for walks. But it was winter, and I didn’t have the energy to go out. Instead, I took advantage of the natural light by the window. When it was sunny I took the opportunity to open the blinds, look outside and absorb the sunlight. I am sure it was beneficial for Adélie’s recovery as well; she loved watching the birds.
I sincerely believe that natural light helped me tremendously (and continues to do so). Several studies provide proof that natural light increases our energy levels and boosts our morale.
5) Take a hot shower every day
I remember feeling like a big zero, which I’ve never felt before in my life. Not only was my heart totally shattered, but I felt so bad in my own skin, even though I knew the accident was no one’s fault. During this time, one of the only thing that did me any good was taking a hot shower. I took one every day. With the hot water hitting my tense body, I remember feeling slightly better; perhaps a 1 or a 2, which is an improvement over feeling a 0. I recommend this article to read about all the benefits of a daily shower.
That’s it for now! Any thoughts on any of these 5 tips? I would love to hear about your own strategies for battling depression or anxiety in the comments, and what worked for you. I’m also adding here the link to my post about Behavioral Activation if you did not have the chance to read it.
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