Depression can be a fog. At times it sneaks in and changes your whole day. You go from feeling ready to take on the world to feeling like you can’t take a step. Depression lurks before you get out of bed telling you this is how today is going to be.
If you are a creative person, depression can zap you dry. You can go from being on a creative high to having nothing to say (or paint, draw, move to). It can bring on feelings of failure or imposture syndrome. Depression steals what we love. It puts an invisible layer between us and what makes us feel alive.
Ways to navigate depression.
As you consider your depression, consider ways to navigate your feelings and rediscover your creativity.
Take care of yourself.
Often inertia accompanies depression. We find ourselves scrolling mindlessly, binging watching without paying attention, and staring at our art without adding to it. We want to be creative. We want to write or paint or draw. We want to do something that gives us life, yet we cannot pick up the brush or find a word.
When this happens, try doing something to take care of yourself. Start with a shower. Not a rinse off, but a long shower – letting the water hit your weary bones, covering your body in suds, standing under the nozzle. Brush your teeth. If you want, put on some make-up. Put on real clothes. It’s amazing how getting dressed can affect our outlook.
Drink water. Make yourself a cup of tea or savor a glass of ice water. Eat a healthy snack such as fruit, veggies and hummus, or peanut butter and bread. Drinking water and eating healthy food is a way to do something good for you.
Take a bath and make it an indulgent experience. Add bubble bath, turn the lights low, light a candle, and enjoy it. Breathe deeply, trying to empty your mind of the lies depression heaps on you. This is not wasteful; this is soul care. We all need to take care of ourselves and sitting in a bath is better for your overall health than binge-watching TV.
The best thing we can do is take care of ourselves. When you feel depressed, the key is to be kind to yourself. We beat inertia by starting to move. It can come slowly. Take a shower, make some tea, have an apple, and then come back to your art.
Sometimes depression can be more than a fog and it is necessary to talk to someone. If your depression is lingering, it might be time to take care of yourself but asking for help. Our counselors are here to help you find a path through the fog. Please call our offices today.
Do something active.
When you feel depressed, you want to be inactive. You want to hunker down on the couch and watch TV, go back to bed, or do nothing. But what you need is the opposite. Instead of burrowing onto the couch, try going outside. Sit in the park for 15 minutes. Take a walk around the block. Take the dog for a stroll. You can even get your spouse or kids to go with you.
Nature is regenerative. If we spend time in nature with the interruptions of technology it will have a positive effect. Listen to what is around you. Notice the sun on your face, the birds flying by, and the laughter of kids at the park.
Getting outside and disconnecting from technology, even for a few minutes, can do so much for our day. Use an alarm or an app that will remind you to take a break. Do something simple like walk to the end of your street and back, go sit on the back porch and simply breathe, or tend to your flower boxes. Taking time outside without technology will do wonders on the bad days.
Work on something else.
When depression strikes and we cannot work on what we love, that sadness is often compounded with anger or frustration we turn inward. If we are not careful, the inner critic can take a low moment and spiral it quickly into a bad day.
Yes, today you cannot muster the passion to paint or write or code a new app, but you can do something. Try collaging, coloring, tracing a scene, and painting that. You can rearrange a shelf of knickknacks in your house, or reorganize your books. Cook something you love or try a new recipe. Go weed an area of your garden or do some yard work.
Just because depression keeps you from being able to engage in what you truly love does not mean the day (or week, month) is lost. You cannot do what you love, but you can do something. Sometimes our best inspiration comes while we are busy doing something else. Answers come while we are mowing the lawn, making cookies, cutting up magazines, or rearranging our bookcases.
Also, permit yourself to work on something that does not matter. Have a notebook that you paint in without it having to be anything. Maybe you do nothing but sketch animal profiles or draw your version of images in magazines. Write a story that is entirely for you. Who cares if there is no arc and it does not fit into the three-act structure? Simple create for the sake of creating.
Let yourself off the hook when it comes to producing something and have fun. Do what you enjoy without the pressure of having to work on a big project. It’s okay to play and try new things. Not everything has to lead to something we can sell or share with others.
Celebrate the small wins.
It is demoralizing to see a to-do list remain unchanged. To walk past a blank canvas or an empty page only leaves us more discouraged. It is easy to get to the end of a day and feel like we did nothing.
But if we take control (you always have control!) and do small things, we can then choose to acknowledge and celebrate those small choices. It helps us to see a glimmer of light on bad days.
Start an “I did” list instead of a “to-do” list. Write down everything you did that day, no matter how small. Today I:
- Took a shower.
- Walked the dogs.
- Did the dishes.
- Wrote in my journal.
- Re-arranged two shelves of books.
- Listened to music.
- Texted Shelly back.
Once we start celebrating what we accomplish amid our depression, it helps us to combat the lie that we do nothing.
You can also list the things you chose not to do while feeling depressed. I did not:
- Watch TV all-day.
- Scroll on Instagram.
- Cancel my plans with John.
- Go to that meeting.
If you want to take it one step further, list what you did instead. I did not:
- Watch TV all day. Instead, I sat in the backyard and looked at where I could put a garden box and sketched an idea.
- Scroll on Instagram after dinner. Instead, I drew Nighthawks with new people.
- Drink alcohol. I chose to stick with water and I feel less sluggish at bedtime.
- Cancel my plans with John. It was hard, but I went and got him talking about his new job. It felt good to get out of the house.
- Go to that 2 pm meeting I was dreading. I was honest and told Nina I was having a hard day and asked her to tell me what was discussed.
Part of celebrating the small wins, and taking control on the hard days, is speaking up and creating good boundaries. If there is something that you know will be detrimental to your well-being it is okay to cancel. You do not have to force yourself to show up during a depressive fog.
If you choose to cancel, however, be sure to spend the evening doing something good for you. Canceling dinner with friends to sit at home and binge-watch Netflix is not a healthy alternative. Canceling dinner with friends to take a long bath and read your favorite book is a healthier trade-off.
One choice at a time.
Just because you feel depressed does not mean you have to give in to the inertia of depression. Instead, find small things you can do and rest in that. It’s okay if you only take a shower today. Really, it is. It is okay if you colored instead of being creative. It’s okay. It’s okay if you organized your bookcase while listening to 1970s pop songs and did not write one word in your novel.
Be kind to yourself. Depression is hard enough without adding on guilt and more pressure to show up and perform.
Our creative life only suffers more if we force ourselves to show up. If we keep denying we need to take a day for ourselves and instead heap on more pressure to perform, we only prolong the burnout and probably end up with some pretty mediocre art.
Instead, let yourself off the hook, take a day to do small things, and be okay. Who knows where the small choices will lead? Maybe you’ll find inspiration. Or you might spend the day doing unexpected little things and being kind to yourself.
Depression can rob our creativity but we do not have to let it rob us of our day. Choose one small thing you can do today and let that be enough. If you need someone to speak to about what you’re experiencing, we are here to help. Schedule an appointment with us today.
“If Not Now When”, Courtesy of Brett Jordan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Exercise Group”, Courtesy of Gabin Vallet, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Gardening”, Courtesy of Charlie Harris, Unsplash.com, Unsplash+ License; “Shuffleboard”, Courtesy of JOSHUA COLEMAN, Unsplash.com, CC0 License