Anyone who has spent time on Twitter lately has likely read about #depressionnaps. People usually take these naps to escape emotions, surrender to depression, and temporarily avoid anything negative in your life—and while the connotations are serious in theory, Twitter users have quickly escalated depression naps to meme status.
According to Daniel Amen, MD, a psychiatrist and best-selling author, depression is a common problem among women especially. He says that "20% of teen girls meet the clinical criteria for depression and 23% of women [are] taking antidepressant medication." Admittedly, it is tempting to escape our problems—but is it the right thing to do?
If you have ever taken a depression nap, you are probably familiar with that crushing realization upon waking that your problems are still there. Depression naps can even make the problem worse. Jessica Renz, Psy.D., co-founder and licensed clinical psychologist at MindWell NYC, says that depression naps aren't the answer. They prevent you from actively participating in your life. "These naps feed the cycle of shame, blame, negative self-talk, and inaction that are major symptoms of depression," she says. Plus, they can throw off your sleep/wake cycle and make sleeping harder at night.
Here are seven healthier things you can do instead of heading for the covers when depression strikes.
Photo:Sally Anscombe/Getty Images
It's no wonder that many experts recommend pets for seniors and have therapy pets visiting children's hospitals. Pets are healing. Studies have shown that just petting a live animal reduces anxiety—any animal. Plus, animals like dogs need walking—hey, anything that will get you out the door and in the fresh air, right? If you're unable to own a pet, volunteering at your local shelter is a good way to get animal time without a long-term commitment.
Grateful people are happier people. Renz suggests that you spend three minutes a day writing down at least three to five things you are grateful for. Of course, if you think of more than five things you're grateful for, don't stop there. The more, the better. Starting off (or ending) your day with gratitude will give you the framework for a better day.
Sunlight has been proven to help with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Elizabeth Trattner, an acupuncture physician and doctor of integrative medicine, says that sunlight boosts the production of hormones that help depression and creates endorphins that make you feel better. Wearing sunscreen is still a good idea though and will protect your tender skin against sun damage.
Tackling a big issue or dilemma may make you want to head straight for bed, but breaking your task into smaller parts and taking one item at a time makes your goal look and feel more attainable. Plus, if you’re feeling unmotivated and depressed about what you have to do, Renz says that rewarding yourself after checking off a task can be “a magic bullet in breaking apart the cycle of depression.”
Serving another person or even reaching out to a loved one takes the focus off you for a minute. It is easy to get absorbed in our own problems, but helping someone else with theirs can put things in perspective and give you a much-needed break from your own. Renz suggests that you stay focused on the other person in that interaction as much as possible.
Since the early 1900s, researchers have been interested in the connection between exercise and depression. Exercise is very effective in treating its symptoms. Researchers have concluded that what matters is how often you exercise, not how hard you exercise. Trattner, an integrative medicine doctor, says that the Chinese have been prescribing exercise for their patients for centuries as a way to move chi and make a patient feel better. She says that even a “light walk” will help.
If you're sleeping at night but still sleepy during the day, you might have a problem other than depression. Amen suggests that you should be checked for thyroid problems or exposure to toxins such as mold. Additionally, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) is a serious medical condition that can cause sleepiness, depression, and can even result in death. It's estimated that 22 million Americans have OSA. A physical may help you uncover the cause of your sleepiness and what should be done to treat it.
"The bottom line is that we need to do the opposite of what depression tells us to do. Get out, get moving, and get rewarded," says Renz. It may be funny on Twitter, but frequent depression naps can be a sign that things aren't right in your life. And that's no joke.
This post has been updated by Sarah Yang.