Depression can completely zap our energy, affecting us both mentally and physically. It can also make everything we do feel more difficult, meaning it takes more energy to undertake even the most basic tasks.
Combined together, these energy drains can prove really challenging. In this post, we share some ideas that can help us cope.
Check in with your GP
There are a range of known physical causes for extreme tiredness. These include food intolerances, vitamin or mineral deficiencies, having an underactive thyroid, or having another disease such as coeliac disease or diabetes. It’s worth checking in with our GP whether there’s anything else going on, on top of depression, which is causing us to be over-tired. If there is, our GPs should be able to help.
Spoon theory is the idea that each person has so many units of energy (or ‘spoons’) available each day, and each task we complete costs a certain number of spoons. When we use all our spoons, our energy is used up and we can’t get any more done.
When we have depression we start the day with fewer spoons than the average person, and each task we do takes more spoons than it might do for others. This is why we might not be able to get as much done each day in comparison to others, or indeed ourselves when we’re well.
Write a list
Writing a list of everything we need to do can be super helpful. It gets everything out of our head and onto paper. Once we’re done we can take stock of what needs doing and start to plan how to get it done.
There are lots of different ways to write lists. Some of us might prefer post-it notes stuck around our house, or we may work better keeping them contained in a to-do list book, a chalk board on the wall, or in our diary. Others may enjoy using systems designed for productivity, such as bullet journaling.
Break it down
Facing big tasks can feel incredibly overwhelming when we have no energy. Breaking down a big task into smaller chunks can really help. Chunking makes the big task feel more possible, and ticking off the mini-tasks off our list gives us a sense of achievement. Additionally, the process of breaking a task down down can help us to work out the steps we need to take to achieve our final goal.
Prioritising urgent tasks helps us to stay on top of the important things in our lives. Some tasks will be more important than others: when we can’t get them all done, we need to choose which ones we’re going to attempt. We can prioritise by starring the important tasks on an existing list, or jotting numbers down the side to rank each task in order of importance. If we’re quite visual, we might like to colour code our jobs.
Once we’ve got the basics down – like getting up, dressed, and having some food – we can begin to look at adding in optional extras, like seeing a friend or replying to our emails.
Spread it out
We don’t have to do all of our jobs on one day: we can spread them our over a week, a month, or even longer. Having a rolling to-do list can really help. We just write a list for the day (or week or month), and anything we haven’t done, we just carry it over to the next list. Working in this way removes the pressure of having to get everything done by a deadline.
Others may prefer to write a list and then assign different jobs to different days. If we use this method, we need to be kind to ourselves if we don’t manage to complete our jobs as planned.
Reduce the energy
Sometimes we can find ways to reduce the energy-suck of a particular task, which helps us to stretch our limited energy a little further. For example, we could do an online shop rather than going to the supermarket. Or, instead of standing in the shower, we could sit under the running water or have a bath.
Rope in help
None of us are meant to function entirely alone. It’s absolutely okay to ask others for help if we need it. We might ask someone we’re living with to cook tea one night or help us with the cleaning. If we’re at work we could ask a colleague to help us out with one or two of our tasks. People don’t normally mind helping if we ask politely, and most are happy to help.
Sleep can be really tricky when it comes to depression. Sometimes we might sleep too much, and at other times we might struggle to sleep at all. Both of these can make us feel exhausted the following day. Getting into a regular sleep routine can help. If we’re really struggling to do that, it might be an idea to chat to our GP and see if they can help us out.
Resting after we’ve been busy can help us to recuperate in time for the next day. When we have a lot to do, it can be hard to stop or to sit down: we feel like we should be doing ‘just one more thing’. But we are allowed to rest, and we’re allowed to stop. In fact, it’s really important that we do so.
To help us relax, it can be useful to have ideas about what we can do if we’ve run out of energy for the day but it’s too early for bed. Our favoured chilling activities vary from person: it might be watching TV, playing games on our phone, knitting, reading a book, or just watching the world go by.
Everything is more fun when we get a reward at the end of it. Bargaining with ourselves can help us get through. We could promise ourselves that if we clean the kitchen we can order our favourite takeaway – or if we do an hour of studying, we can watch an episode of our favourite TV programme.
Depression can knock us off our feet, and be absolutely exhausting. Anything we do manage to do when we’re ill is a real achievement. We need to try and stop beating ourselves up for the things we can’t get done.
And whatever our energy levels, we need to be kind to ourselves. We’re doing the best we can.
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