It feels good, doesn’t it?
I know the feeling well. When your place is an ungodly mess and it’s stressing you out, but you can’t bring yourself to clean up. When your hair is greasier than the two-day old McDonalds remains littering the floor (because you definitely didn’t feel like cooking) but the distance from the couch to the shower may as well be a marathon. When the list of things you’ve been putting off is getting longer and longer, and at this point it seems so insurmountable that there’s no point in even starting…
Isn’t it tempting to just roll yourself into a comfy, fluffy blanket burrito, lay in the dark for a few hours, turn your brain off and sleep your problems away?
Don’t answer that; I know. I’ve lived with chronic depression for years. It’s exhausting. I know all about the mind-numbing relief a good long depression nap can bring, especially when you’re in the middle of a depressive episode and you’re feeling so overwhelmed that you just need to hit pause for a while.
And then comes the guilt. Why did I just sleep for six hours when I promised myself I would clean the house today? At this point I would normally resign myself to my misery and sink blissfully into another depression nap.
Thus, the vicious cycle begins.
In my experience, depression naps are bittersweet. While it does feel nice in the moment, here’s the thing–your depression will still be there when you wake up. In fact, according to Better Help, depression naps are a symptom of hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness), which is experienced by up to 40% of young adults living with depression. Hypersomnia can seriously mess up your sleep schedule and make it more difficult to fall asleep at night. And although napping is generally healthy, using it as an avoidance tactic can make your depression symptoms worse.
Luckily, there are ways to break free. Don’t worry, I’m not talking about the typical ‘solutions’ (I use that word loosely) you tend to hear, like “go for a run!” or “take a shower.” Or worst of all: “just think positively!”
Are you freaking kidding me?
Yes, I’ve read the articles and blogs offering non-solutions by people who have obviously never experienced the fog of chronic depression. For people like us, solutions made for people with healthy brains are no more helpful or realistic than growing wings and flying away from our mental illness.
I’ve found the only way to stop the cycle is this: when the urge to take a depression nap strikes, do literally anything else instead.
5 Things to Do Instead of Taking A Depression Nap
1. Wash your face
Like I mentioned, forcing yourself to shower while you’re in the throes of depression can be daunting. But although you might not consciously realize it, letting the grime build up really does a number on your mood. To that end, I present you with a simpler, more realistic alternative.
If you can’t bring yourself to endure a full shower, giving your face some much-needed TLC is the next best thing. Work with me here–let’s at least scrub off the top layer of crust, shall we? Depending on how you’re feeling, this can mean anything from a full facial pampering session to simply splashing some cold water on your face. With minimal effort, washing your face wakes you up and makes you feel more alert. Not to mention, it can make you feel more confident. Trust me, you’ll feel a difference.
If you’re able, take five minutes to cleanse, exfoliate and moisturize. And if you’re feeling really fancy, why not try a face mask if you have one on hand? If not, there are tons of easy homemade recipes you could whip up in less than five minutes. These recipes all have 3-4 ingredients you can find around the house.
But if you’re not feeling up to a whole skincare routine, don’t worry about it. No pressure.
At this point your skin should be feeling refreshed. Now it’s time to get that greasy hair out of your face. Always keep an elastic on your wrist for this, or if you’re rocking short hair, make sure you have a headband nearby. Out of sight out of mind, right?
2. Take a few minutes to learn about meditation
The jury is back in. It’s official, meditation helps curb depression.
It can be difficult to clear the clutter from your mind, and a cluttered mind is depression’s best friend. I know for me, when my thoughts start racing, that’s when I usually start thinking about taking a depression nap. This is where meditation comes in. Meditation helps break the toxic connection between the two regions of your brain that feed off each other to cause depression: the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala.
Full disclosure–meditation can take years to master, and it can require a fair bit of mental stamina at first. This can be difficult during a depressive episode, so I’m not saying you have to become a guru overnight.
But what I am saying is that there’s no harm in doing a bit of research. Instead of spending your day napping and/or scrolling aimlessly through the same three social media apps over and over again, why not take just a few minutes to do something educational instead? It’s a high-return investment in yourself that requires very little effort.
To start, light a candle or some incense, dim the lights and take a few deep breaths. Even that can take a world of difference. If you come to the conclusion that meditation may not be the right solution for you, perhaps you can pick and choose certain elements of the practice to incorporate into your daily routine. At the very least, you can say you’ve learned something new.
If you’d like to learn more about meditation and its benefits, I’ve pulled together a quick list of resources for beginners that helped me on my journey when I was first getting started:
- MEDITATION 101: TECHNIQUES, BENEFITS, AND A BEGINNER’S HOW-TO (Gaiam)
- How to Meditate – Meditation for Beginners Day 1 (Youtube – Part 1 of a series)
- Headspace (Free meditation/mindfulness app for beginners)
- Evenflow (Free meditation app combining insights with specific subjects to target stress points in real time)
- Dharma Mind Worldly Mind (Ebook PDF by David Smith on Buddhist meditation)
- Exhaler (Five minute web-based breathing activity)
- Do Nothing for 2 Minutes
- Meditation for Beginners: 20 Practical Tips for Understanding the Mind (Leo Babuta – ZenHabits)
3. Start a journal
As a writer, getting my thoughts down on paper has always been one of my favourite ways to map out my emotions, identify triggers and develop constructive coping skills. I’ve had many journals over the years, and they vary from fancy art journals to dollar store notepads and even wrinkled pages of loose-leaf paper scattered around my apartment.
If a “Dear Diary” format turns you off, remember that your journal is for you and you alone. There’s no need to feel bound to a specific format or style. My journals often include everything from song lyrics to grocery lists, doodles, bad poetry, dream recordings, word vomit, quotes, affirmations and everything else under the sun. A friend recently turned me onto bullet journaling, as well, which has been helpful for tracking things like my mood, my water intake and even my menstrual cycle (which can be affected by depression) throughout the month.
If nothing else, journaling is a great way to get things off your chest, especially if you don’t have a reliable support network. Writing down all your crappy feelings is sometimes more cathartic than therapy–although journaling should never be used as a replacement for professional healthcare.
4. Do something nice for your wallet
Real self-care takes many forms. For a lot of people (including me) financial stress can be a huge trigger for depression. Taking baby steps toward something that will make or save you money can be a productive distraction when you don’t have the energy to dive head-on into work or other financial matters.
Going online and finding coupons or other deals on things you need is a great way to do this without even leaving your couch. Hip2Save, Smart Canucks and Extreme Couponing Canada are all popular resources for finding coupons. If you have a newspaper lying around, clipping coupons not only helps save you money but also gets you working with your hands.
Another option would be to go on Amazon and find a great deal on something you need, but might have been putting off buying. It’s online retail therapy without the guilt, especially if it’s something you needed anyway. And you can do it all in your pajamas!
If you aren’t in a position to spend money, another quick and easy way to be nice to your wallet is to create a budget. Even if you don’t end up following it, there is catharsis in the activity itself. It’s a small and relatively painless step toward better financial security. There are dozens of free budget templates available online for download.
5. Take a catnap
This suggestion comes courtesy of my partner, who reminded me of a hard truth: sometimes the temptation to sleep your responsibilities away is just too powerful to ignore. That might seem counterintuitive, but hear me out.
If you feel like you’ve sunk so deeply into a negative headspace that there is absolutely no other option, taking a 15-30 minute catnap can curb the urge without sacrificing your entire day. It can also refresh you without completely messing up your sleep schedule. In fact, according to Mayo Clinic, opting for a quick power nap over an hours-long depression hibernation also reduces the likelihood of sleep inertia, which is that icky post-nap groggy feeling.
My partner is the king of quick catnaps. Honestly, I don’t know how he does it, but they seem to work for him. His method is to settle down somewhere you will be less tempted to fall into a deep slumber, like a chair or a couch. Having some background noise, like Netflix or a podcast, is another way you can make sure your nap won’t go from a snooze to a coma. Make sure you set an alarm, or that there’s someone nearby who can ensure you’ll actually get up. If you’re one of those people who has a tendency to hit the snooze button, set multiple alarms.
My partner says, when his alarm goes off, he usually grabs a glass of water or a quick snack to resist falling back asleep. The most important thing is to stand up and stretch your legs right away, even if it’s just for a trip to the washroom. Continuing to lay there scrolling through social media on your phone lets the negative thoughts gather energy in your mind and traps you in that dreaded sleepy fog.
When it comes to dealing with the symptoms of depression, everyone has a different process. These are just some of the simple little things that help me personally.
Whether you decide to try one of these things, all of them or none of them, just remember that doing something is always better than doing nothing at all. No matter how minuscule, even the smallest step toward directing your energy to something productive will make you feel good.
Next time the dark clouds are looming and you want to just fall back into bed, remember that everything making you feel depressed right now will still be there when you wake up. Resist the urge. Instead, let’s get up, wash our damn faces and invest that time in ourselves instead.
© Victoria St. Michael 2021
Check out my previous post: A Case Against ‘Strategic Voting’ (And Other Election Stuff)