When Mindfulness Isn't Enough: Navigating Self-Care for Depression

By Jessica Gimeno

The concept of self-care for depression has been surging in popularity over the past few years. In fact, self-care was the biggest app trend in 2018, and the trend certainly isn't over yet.

Self-care ideas for depression include everything from exercise and nutrition to mindfulness and coloring books. Though many people have found self-care to be effective, there are also many frustrated patients with clinical depression who experience little to no benefit. Despite their best efforts, they find that self-care for depression does not alleviate their symptoms.

Hitting the proverbial brick wall after engaging in several self-care activities can be disheartening. If you are seeing little or no improvement after trying some self-care strategies, it's important to recognize this is a common experience and nothing to be ashamed of. Social media makes it seem like improving a bad mood is just a bubble bath away, and that can be true for the occasional bad day or stressful week at work. But when you're struggling with depression, self-care strategies aren't a substitute for appropriate medical treatment. Because depression comes with many physical and psychological risks, it's important to seek out effective depression treatment.

What Is Self-Care for Depression?

"Self-care" has become a ubiquitous buzzword associated with a wide range of activities, such as journaling or performing meditation.

In essence, self-care is about caring for yourself. It's any activity a person deliberately engages in to take care of their mental, emotional, and physical health. Self-care can help people improve their moods, reduce anxiety, and enhance interpersonal relationships.

Still, when it comes to depression, the evidence supporting self-care can vary.

Exercising Into Self-Care

Exercise is one of the most popular self-care activities often recommended. Although exercise has proven effective for many, there are also people who have tried exercise and found limited benefits or no relief. In fact, a recent University of Michigan Ann Arbor study on exercise and depression suggests that women do not benefit as much as men.

Exercise can be associated with lower risk of depression, but its efficacy in moderate to severe depression is not confirmed. Asking someone who is depressed to exercise can not only be unhelpful, but it can add to a sense of shame and guilt that the person with depression is unfairly placing upon themselves.

Generally speaking, exercise is a good idea, but people with depression should look for professional treatments, as well.

Diet & Nutrition: Inconclusive Evidence

Health care professionals often recommend changes in diet and improved nutrition. A few studies have shown a correlation between a healthier diet and improved depression symptoms, but no one has yet proven that poor diet causes depression.

More research is needed to conclusively establish if changes in diet can reliably diminish depressive symptoms. After all, not everyone who changes their diet has the same experience. Many people feel disappointed when their depression persists despite modifying their diet. Good nutrition may be one piece of the puzzle, but further research is needed before considering diet change a treatment on its own.

What About Mindfulness?

One of the most common self-care strategies therapists recommend is mindfulness, which has become increasingly popular in recent years. Mindfulness is about being present; it's about "maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens." Meditation is the most well-known mindfulness discipline.

There are studies that have shown mindfulness is promising and can improve the quality of life for people with depression. Though there are many benefits to mindfulness, such as improving interpersonal interactions and decreasing anxiety, not everyone gets a boost from it. In fact, there are critics who question the "hard science" of mindfulness. For many people experiencing depression, mindfulness does not give them the relief they are seeking.

When Self-Care for Depression Isn't Enough

Self-care undeniably helps some people, but the reality is that not everyone finds it beneficial. Ultimately, when it comes to self-care for depression, there is no one size fits all solution.

In most cases, self-care is most effective when done alongside proven depression treatments, such as talk therapy and medication. If the combination of self-care and medical intervention still hasn't helped, you may have treatment-resistant depression.

What Is Treatment-Resistant Depression?

Treatment-resistant depression, or TRD, is one type of depression. People with TRD have major depression that persists despite trying other common treatments. Patients with TRD have often endured a revolving door of medications, and many have also exhausted a variety of self-care ideas for depression.

Living with TRD can be challenging, but thankfully, all hope is not lost. There are several treatment options available for TRD, including non-medication treatments.

TMS: A Reliable Option for Treatment

In recent years, TRD has received more attention. If you have not found the relief you are looking for despite trying medications and talk therapy, consider looking into other medical treatments, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

TMS is an FDA-cleared, non-invasive therapy for the treatment of Major Depressive Disorder and other mental health conditions. It works by providing local electromagnetic stimulation to specific brain regions known to be directly associated with mood regulation. TMS patients often show significant improvement in symptoms of treatment resistant depression.

If you have sought treatment and tried several forms of self-care but are still facing depression, remember that you are not alone. Self-care has different levels of effectiveness for everyone, and it's not uncommon for it to have limited effect or even no effect at all. That doesn't mean your only choice is to continue trying different medications, though. Treatments like TMS offer another route worth considering.

If Covid-19 and social isolation are heightening your symptoms of depression, Greenbrook TMS therapy may be able to help. At Greenbrook, we specialize in TMS therapy — an FDA-cleared, non-invasive treatment for treatment-resistant depression and OCD without harmful side effects. See if TMS therapy is right for you by clicking here to take a brief assessment:

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