Understanding Self-Care: Navigating the Thin Line Between Self-Care and Depression

May 29, 2024

4 mins

Jackie Rosu

SUMMARY

Self-care is not indulgence in unhealthy behaviors. It feels good to binge drink, overeat, or shop for a little while. But these activities give people a chance to delay actually treating problems. Worse, some “self-care” is an unhealthy coping mechanism with lifelong consequences. 


Some people justify bad behavior by calling it “self-care.” “If it makes me feel good, it’s self-care, which makes it good for me.” 

They’re wrong. 

Instead, they should ask themselves: “Is it self-care, or am I depressed?” Mindless indulgence doesn’t treat depression. And “self-care,” done this way, might even make it worse. 

Proper self-care elevates quality of life for people with anxiety and depression. People with these mood disorders have a lower quality of life than people with other chronic conditions like pain and lung disease. 

These people deserve to live better. But living better takes hard work, time, and practice. Recontextualize self-care as “taking care of myself” or “investing in myself” instead of “doing the things that make me feel good now.” 

Self-Care For Anxiety and Depression: What it Isn’t 

Self-care is not indulgence in unhealthy behaviors. It feels good to binge drink, overeat, or shop for a little while. But these activities give people a chance to delay actually treating problems. Worse, some “self-care” is an unhealthy coping mechanism with lifelong consequences. 

Splurging 

Drowning bad feelings in drugs, alcohol, and food damages physical and financial health. Weight gain, credit card debt, high cholesterol, and insolvency are all terrible consequences of this misapplied “self-care.” 

Food and Alcohol 

Binge eating drowns out painful emotions and ignores signals for fullness and hunger. The guilt and shame from overeating trigger more overeating, creating a vicious cycle. People who overeat often gain weight, which impacts both physical and mental health: 

  • Low self-esteem and worthlessness already associated with depression intensify 
  • Higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke 

Alcoholism and depression are “comorbidities,” meaning they often occur together. The short-term risks include sexually transmitted diseases, alcohol poisoning, seizures, and fatal car crashes. Sustained alcohol use raises blood pressure, weakens the immune system, and causes learning and memory issues.

Spending 

The high from buying little treats is fleeting. “High” is the accurate term as shopping addiction is real and very dangerous. Given depression’s link with poverty, patients must avoid financial damage or self-medicating through reckless spending. 

The Only Way 

Self-care won’t beat mood disorders alone. People with severe mood disorders should always consider medical intervention. Patients succeed in cognitive behavior therapy (especially when supported by medication) for good reason. Always consider these options when circumstances allow.

Easy 

Self-care needs willpower, which doesn’t come easily to people with depression. A depressed brain struggles to think ahead and motivate. Proper self-care, therefore, takes enormous effort. But it is a worthwhile endeavor.

How to Start Healthy Self-Care that Actually Helps 

Binge eating, spending, and oversleeping all feel good…and are easy. Starting a self-care routine feels like an exciting way to turn over a new leaf. Remember to avoid a complete life overhaul. That approach falls into the same pitfalls as New Year’s resolutions—a big, sudden change that won’t last. 

Start Small 

Low impact means low effort, which matters when depression limits motivation. At the very start, choose a few small bad habits and try to stop them. It’s much easier not to do something than to start something new. 

For example, a strict diet and exercise routine is hard. Not stopping by the store after work to buy a bag of chips is easy…but still healthy. 

When adding activities, escalate slowly. To get more exercise, take a walk after work every day rather than run a mile and a half at 6 AM. Work up to that more involved, and more intense, exercise. And make sure to do it at the same time every time. 

Maintain A Routine 

Consistency builds habits. Eat a small breakfast at the same time every day. Set an alarm, even on weekends. Choose one good habit, assign a time to it, and do it at that time every single day. Before long, self-care becomes automatic. 

Work Towards Health 

The best self-care habits seem small and boring. Overall health improves, one day at a time, as good habits compound. With time and consistency, the body feels better…and the mind follows. Be patient; beginners must start small to avoid burnout or injury. 

Exercise 

Remember that “any exercise is better than none.” People with no history of exercise can do a few jumping jacks or walk for a few minutes. Experiment with new anaerobic or aerobic exercises and branch out as strength and stamina improve. Follow what feels productive and doable. 

Exercise improves cardiovascular and mental health and is often associated with weight loss. Fortunately, depression-caused undereating won’t become worse when exercising. Weight changes happen in the kitchen, not the gym.

Diet 

Depression interacts with appetites in strange ways. Patients should learn their bodies’ calorie needs and stick to them—neither over- nor under-eating. They should also get plenty of vitamin D, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin B12. Many delicious foods, particularly seafood, dairy, and meats, have these nutrients. 

Reduced alcohol and caffeine intake is a form of self-care. Alcohol is an unhealthy coping mechanism and limits B12 uptake, and caffeine intensifies anxiety. If nothing else, drink plenty of plain water and avoid junk food. 

Socializing 

Socializing makes life better for many. Depression limits social energy and, in extreme cases, keeps people from leaving the house. Fortunately, there are alternatives in these severe cases. 

Look into supportive online communities. The right ones will challenge their members to do better. Avoid “echo chambers”—places that encourage bad habits and insist their members can do no wrong. The right social circles will promote wellness and growth, even when it’s hard. 

Specialized online support groups designed for this dynamic, like Never Alone Recovery, are a fantastic option. 

Combine Self-Care and Therapy With Programs Like Never Alone Recovery 

Self-care makes a world of difference, but it can’t beat mood disorders on its own. Therapy is also a form of self-care and involves both at-home self-guided therapy and more involved assistance from mental health professionals. More specialized treatment becomes necessary when dual diagnoses like substance use disorder enter the picture. 

However, people with addictions and depression have options. Never Alone Recovery meets with patients and connects them to substance use treatment programs all over the country. Services offered by the Never Alone program’s addiction recovery consults include insurance verification, travel arrangements, and online support. Contact us to get started down the road to recovery. 


depression, self-care

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