Depression and Your Basic Needs | Counseling | Therapy

Depression and Your Basic Needs

Challes Foley — Intern therapist

Depression and Your Basic Needs: depression therapy image

If you’re someone who lives with depression, you might find that caring for your basic needs can become very difficult during your depressive episodes. Essential and routine tasks like eating, bathing, and getting dressed every day might suddenly feel out of reach when you’re depressed. You might start to notice changes in your habits like eating less, skipping showers, or wearing the same clothes for several days at a time when you’re feeling depressed. If these difficulties are something you are dealing with, know that this is a common experience for many people who live with depression and that there are many ways to help ease the challenges of caring for basic needs when depressed. As it might feel hard to imagine ways to cope with these difficulties, scroll down to find some tips for caring for basic needs when depressed.

Why Depression Makes Caring for your Basic Needs Difficult

Depression is generally characterized as a disturbance to one’s normal mood that causes people to feel sad, irritable, or empty and changes the way they function in various aspects of their lives. Lasting for weeks, months, or sometimes even years, depression lowers people’s moods and causes them to experience changes like exhaustion, diminished interest or pleasure in normal activities, altered eating habits and sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, and feelings of worthlessness.

With all the ways that depression impacts a person, it’s not surprising that caring for basic needs when depressed is often the first thing to be skipped. Though tasks like eating, bathing, and getting dressed may seem like simple and easy things to keep up with, depression disrupts our ability to complete these tasks in the ways that we’re used to.

The impact that depression has on people’s lives can often lead to them feeling emotions like shame, frustration, and embarrassment towards themselves. Firstly, it’s important to know that it is perfectly normal to feel these complex and difficult emotions about how you experience depression. People often feel these emotions because of the difference between how they function when they are depressed and how they function when they are not depressed or because of the expectations that they or others may have for their behavior.

When navigating depression, it becomes especially important to practice self-compassion. It’s important to remember that your brain and body are doing their best to help you survive. Though you might feel shame about not being able to care for your basic needs in the way that you do when you’re not experiencing depression, reminding yourself of your humanity and your inherent self worth is key to practicing the self-compassion you need and deserve when depressed.

With the lack of motivation and exhaustion that people often experience during depressive episodes, you might find that you need to make adjustments to how you take care of your basic needs so that you can sustain yourself through your depression. Below are some tips to help you eat, manage personal hygiene, and get dressed when you’re depressed.

Eating when Depressed

When you’re depressed, eating is one of the main basic needs that might become difficult to manage. We cannot survive without eating, so it’s important to modify your routine to accommodate how your mood and energy levels shift when you’re depressed. You might find that there’s limited types of food that you have interest in eating when you’re depressed. Maybe you only feel like eating foods of a certain texture, foods from a certain fast food restaurant, or foods that are simple. Give yourself permission to eat those foods more than you otherwise might, as eating something is always better than not eating.

When you’re depressed, you might realize that you don’t have as much energy to cook. Buying frozen meals and pre-prepared meals can help keep you fed on those low energy days. On days where you do have some energy to prepare food, using pre-chopped ingredients and making meals with few steps can make it easier to cook when you’re depressed. If cooking is an activity that is particularly enjoyable and rewarding for you, taking these steps can help you to continue engaging in this pleasurable activity and continue caring for basic needs when depressed.

Personal Hygiene when Depressed

Personal hygiene can be really challenging to maintain when depressed. To care for this basic need, you might need to modify the ways you complete hygiene tasks. On the days when you don’t have the energy to take a full shower, washing up the ‘hot spots’ like your armpits and private parts with soap and water in the sink can be an easier way to freshen up. On the days when even that feels inaccessible, using skin cleansing wipes can be an even simpler way to maintain your personal hygiene. If you don’t have the energy to fully wash your face, even just rinsing your face or using skin cleansing wipes can help you care for that basic need when you’re depressed.

If you’re used to brushing your teeth twice a day but feel like that is too much to manage when you’re depressed, try just brushing them in the beginning of your day or before you need to leave the house. There’s no one right time to brush your teeth, so if you find that you’re able to do it once in the middle of the day, then that’s when you should brush your teeth. If you’re used to brushing your teeth for 2 whole minutes but find that difficult to do when you’re depressed, even just 30 seconds or a minute of brushing your teeth is good. Using mouthwash, mints, or gum can also help freshen your mouth when you don’t have the energy to brush your teeth.

Getting Dressed when Depressed

Getting dressed when you’re depressed can feel like a chore. Maybe you’re used to spending a lot of time coordinating your clothes, makeup, and accessories to prepare yourself for the day. Many people also take great pride in their presentation. Their daily routine for getting dressed might even be a source of joy for them. Depression can make accessing these small, daily pleasures difficult, so you might need to make changes to accommodate your current capacity. If the only clothes you’re comfortable in are your house clothes or pajamas, give yourself permission to wear those clothes. It might seem strange to spend more time in those clothes than you’re used to, but providing yourself that extra comfort when you’re depressed can help ease your way through this challenging time.

Along with wearing clothes that feel comfortable, wearing clothes that are as clean as possible is important for managing your daily routine for getting dressed. Try to change your underwear and socks daily to help you feel clean. When laundry is too hard to do yourself, rubbing a dryer sheet on your clothes or throwing them in the dryer with the dryer sheets can help them to smell cleaner until you’re able to launder them. If doing all of your regular laundry is too hard, try focusing on the garments that need the care the most, like your underwear, socks, and shirts with sleeves. For the clothes that are somewhat clean, try to keep them separate from the clothes that are the dirtiest so that you can rewear them as needed.

External Support through Depression

When you notice that caring for your basic needs is getting more difficult, this might signal that you need some external support. Although it may not be the first thing people think of as a sign of a change in their mental health, struggling with eating, personal hygiene, and getting dressed can be an indicator that you might be entering a depressive period. In those times, reaching out for therapeutic support such as an individual therapist or a support group can help you to meet your needs and cope with your depression.

Though there are many ways we can individually help ourselves through our depressive periods, we often need help from our support systems in order to care for our basic needs when depressed. Support systems look different for everyone and can include friends, family, partners, roommates, neighbors, and other community members. Since reaching out to the people in our support system when we’re depressed can feel overwhelming, it can help to communicate early on with those people about your needs and the signs that you’re depressed. Whether you experience changes in your ability to focus, increased irritability, avoidance of social activities, or changes in your eating or sleeping patterns, letting those close to you know what your depression looks like can help them be better equipped to support you when the time comes. When those in our support system are equipped with the knowledge to recognize the symptoms of our depressive periods, they are better able to lend a hand with reminders to eat or wash up, keeping you company as you complete basic tasks, or providing you with food or other supplies necessary for caring for basic needs when depressed.


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