Why staying in bed all day is NOT 'self-care'
I have seen several social media posts encouraging behaviours like spending all day in bed, not answering the phone or responding to texts, and eating junk in the name of “self-care”. For those of us who have experienced clinical depression, or currently struggle with it, this is very bad advice! Here’s why:
Sloth-like behaviour mimics depression. Withdrawing from family and friends and stopping activities you previously enjoyed are two of the symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder (DSM-5). People with depression often sleep too much, and in severe cases, they may lack the motivation and energy to shower regularly, brush their teeth, and eat regular meals. Cognitive-behavioural theory teaches us that our behaviour affects our thoughts and feelings, and vice versa. When we mimic the behaviour of depression, we are on a slippery slope to thinking more negative thoughts and feeling worse. We also need to expend energy to gain energy, so inertia just makes us feel more tired.
Isolation also breeds rumination, another characteristic behaviour of clinical depression. Overthinking about problems while not actively problem-solving is a negative spiral. Get out of your own head! This is much easier to do if you engage with another person or leave the house.
If you are not vulnerable to depression, a day of extreme rest might charge your batteries and serve as a useful reset. If you are susceptible to melancholy, however, be suspicious of your desires to spend all day in bed or to block out the world. This is likely the voice of Depression talking to you.
Once you have experienced depression, your brain is imprinted with a pattern that you are forever susceptible to falling back into. For those of us with a depression history, self-care means being vigilant about challenging the voice of Depression and doing the opposite of what that voice is telling you.
We need to rest and be gentle with ourselves AND we need to push ourselves to keep going with healthy routines, especially when we don’t want to or think we don’t have the energy. This is how we develop and maintain strength and resilience.
(If the advice in this article feels overwhelming, and you don’t even know where to start, please consider reaching out for professional help. There is a CBT treatment called Behavioural Activation that is very effective at treating severe depression; you don’t have to do it on your own.)