For many people living with depression, sometimes the most difficult thing to do is something most take for granted every day: getting out of bed.
Many people who are suffering moderate to severe depression report that just waking in the morning and climbing out of bed – the only safe sanctuary for them – feels like a challenge, the biggest and most excruciating task of the day. Experts call this hypersomnia, or excessive sleep; while it’s less common than insomnia, which is the inability to sleep, it’s still a typical symptom of those suffering with depression. Hypersomnia appears in several mood disorders, not just depression – it’s a major feature in bipolar disorder and seasonal affective disorder too.
Evelyn, who has experienced depressive relapse three times in the last five years, says her biggest challenge when she’s in the midst of a depressive episode is sleep. “I read all these blogs and books and articles on exercising and eating right and meditation,” she says. “You know what I’ve read the least about? Sleeping. I would get so angry because I just wanted to yell at someone and say, ‘Well, good luck getting me to a yoga class considering I have no way to get myself out of bed!’”
Evelyn further explains that it’s more of a psychological challenge than a physical one. “It’s not that my body is broken or my legs won’t move… it’s just that I know that as soon as I get up, I have to do stuff. I have to brush my teeth. I have to get dressed. I have to go to work. I have to talk to people. I have to pay bills. I have to meet demand after demand after demand, and when I’m depressed, I have zero interest and no energy to do any of that. So I just go back to sleep. I don’t have to think about it then.”
Mental health professionals report than hypersomnia is linked to avoidance, which is exactly what Evelyn has described. Avoidance, a negative coping mechanism, makes you feel like a victim who just can’t cope with the day-to-day requirements of life. This kind of escapist behavior digs you deeper into depression and pushes you further away from recovery.
If you are living with depression and are staying in bed all day because of it, here are five tips on how to get up, get moving, and get on the road to recovery.
1. Take action and get up.
Regardless of how you feel, the first step – getting up – is the hardest. Healthy people can hit the snooze button once or twice without it having a detrimental effect on the rest of the day; you hitting that same button may cause you to stay under your duvet for an undetermined amount of time.
We’re not going to sugar coat this. It’s not going to be easy. But you know, even if your depressive state, that waking up – just waking up – is a way for you to become productive, and gives you that edge over your illness. But there are some things you can do to help you get out of bed when you’re depressed.
Try one of the following:
Set your alarm and stick to it. We know – setting your alarm isn’t some magic spell, and just because you’ve set a time doesn’t mean you’ll adhere to it. But make a promise to yourself that this is the one thing you’ll commit to for the entire day. If you can’t brush your teeth today, fine. If you don’t want to wash your hair today, that’s okay too. But set your alarm and get up.
Here’s another little tip: search a retailer for a unique alarm clock that is designed to help you get up beyond just delivering an irritating, blaring sound. Some alarm clocks mimic rising sunlight over 20 minutes, so it makes you feel like the day is slowly starting. Other alarm clocks are on wheels and roll off your night table and onto the floor, so you have to get up out of bed, chase it around your room, and turn it off. Ingenious, right? That should work, but make sure you don’t turn it off and crawl back under your sheets.
Ask a friend to keep you accountable. Instead of an alarm clock, ask a friend (preferably one who’s an early riser) to call you every morning. He or she can cheer you on in the morning and remind you of all the great things you’ll be accomplishing today (even if that’s only to get dressed and have three well-balanced meals). Besides your friend being your human alarm clock, it’s just nice to hear the voice of a supportive friend, especially when that voice represents the start of a new day.
“My sister is my wake-up buddy,” Evelyn admits. “When I’m having a really tough morning, she’s gentle and firm, but she always manages to get me up. On less difficult days, she’s really cheerful and we talk about how when we were little girls and what our morning routines were then.
“It’s important to have a friend who gets you, who’s not going to frustrate you when they’re supposed to be helping you. My sister recognizes what I need the minute she hears my voice. Maybe it’s intuition, maybe it’s just kindness, but whatever it is, it works. Even when I’m not depressed, I’m grateful for that call.”
Give yourself an awesome reason to get up. If you’re going to bed the night before dreading the morning, it will definitely be a challenge to get out of bed. Think of something you can look forward to -when there’s something pleasant attached to your waking hour, you’re more likely to want to stick to it. When you have a fun, exciting reason to get up, you’ll be less likely to avoid waking up and getting out of bed. We know this is going to be a challenge too, but we’re not asking you to climb any mountains or anything extravagant. What is something you used to enjoy? It might be hard at first to get back into it, but chances are you’ll fall in love with it again… and you’ll be really happy you got up to do it.
2) Don't focus too far ahead. It’s a suggestion made in many support groups – take it one day at a time. If you focus on the current day, as well as the goals you have for that day, it’s much more likely that you won’t feel so overwhelmed. Taking it one day at a time enables you to cultivate the skills to manage what’s going on at the present moment, instead of feeling exasperated or scared of the future, or regretful and sorrowful about the past. If you want to simplify even further, focus hour by hour. This will give you structure and helps you move through the entire day in bite-sized chunks. As you complete a goal per hour (it could be that by 9 a.m. you would have taken a cool, invigorating shower, or made an appointment for a therapy session by 10:30 am), you’ll feel successful and active.
“When you’re depressed, it feels like everything is just too much, all the time,” shares Evelyn. “I can’t even wrap my mind around what I’m going to do on the weekend if it’s a Tuesday and I’m laying in bed staring at the ceiling. But if I think, ‘Okay, it’s Tuesday, and today my goal is to take the dog for a walk,’ it doesn’t feel so big and scary. It feels doable. It is doable.”
Mindfulness – the act of being conscious or aware of the present – is a powerful tool to combating depression. It helps you be aware of your current state and your current feelings, and helps you tune in to the now instead of returning to the past or picturing the future.
3. Sleep with the blinds and windows open. For insomniacs who are unable to sleep, it’s recommended that they draw their curtains and buy blackout drapes to keep out any kind of light. For someone like you, who has no difficulty sleeping, it’s a good idea to do the exact opposite. Buy sheer curtains that let in the moonlight, and block out none of that brilliant sunshine during the day. If weather and safety permits, consider keeping your windows open, so that when you wake in the morning, you can hear the happy noises of life – birds chirping, lawnmowers starting, and children laughing on the street – come into your room and into your consciousness.
“One of the recommendations made to me when I’m having an episode is to volunteer where people need me,” says Evelyn. “The point of that is to take the focus off yourself and realize that other people either have it worse off than you, or are struggling like you. But the point is that that works because it reminds you that there is life outside of you and your pain.
“Sleeping with the windows open so that you can wake up to the sounds of life outside seems so trite, but it’s really not. It reminds you that the world is still turning. There’s joy, there’s stuff to do, there’s movement and living and something more than a bed and your fear. This point is really hard to get to, and from one depressed person to another, I’m telling you it’s not easy and you might need a whack of therapy and pills to get there. But life does go on, and you’re part of it.”
4) Take a bath or shower. Cleansing yourself first thing in the morning will allow you to start the day off with a sense of accomplishment. Feeling clean and fresh at the start of the day will leave you feeling just that – refreshed and new.
There are several scents that are said to promote a heightened mood and better productivity. Look for soaps, shampoos and body washes that contain lemon, jasmine, cinnamon or peppermint; these smells are reported to encourage energy and alertness.
Some experts also suggest investing in a new showerhead. Some showerheads provide a soft, steady stream of water, mimicking a waterfall, while others push out a harder flow, which can feel like a massage.
Evelyn says that as difficult as it was to get out of bed, sometimes it was equally as hard to jump into the shower. “I’d think about getting my hair wet, having to turn a knob, having to figure out what wasn’t too hot, or what wasn’t too cold… ugh,” she says. “It was too much!
“But once I was in there, it really did feel like the best place to be. So I started pretending, with every shower, that I was washing away my hurt.”
5) Focus on your responsibilities. Think of the people who depend on you. Think of the people who love you. Think of your coworkers who support you. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) teaches us to change our patterns of thinking, and in so doing changes the way we feel. When we are depressed, we tend to forget that there’s a world that exists outside of our sorrow.
When we’re supportive of others, we turn our attention away from ourselves and what we’re going through. By helping others and being compassionate for others, you’ll find relief from your sadness and improve not only your relationships with other people, but also your relationship with yourself.
A simple, effective, and wonderful trick is when you find yourself wallowing or thinking too much about yourself and your pain, take a pause. Pick up the phone and call someone you love. Ask them about their day. Encouraging someone else and supporting them will not only make them feel good, it’ll make you feel more alive too.
If you’re depressed and are having difficulty getting out of bed, contact us today to get in touch with a supportive, compassionate mental health professional.