Sometimes, depression can feel like having a devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other.
‘Get up,’ the angel tells you. ‘Have a shower, spend time with your friends and keep up your hobbies.’
But the devil is much more tempting: ‘Go back to bed,’ he’ll say. ‘Look how cosy and inviting it looks. You don’t want to go outside today, you can barely stand to brush your hair.’
And the worst thing is, you know the proverbial angel is right, deep down, and listening to the devil only makes you feel guilty and even more depressed, but you do it anyway.
It’s one of the most frustrating feelings, so why do we do it?
Why does depression cause us to lose interest in the things we love?
According to clinical psychologist Dr Meg Arroll, low motivation and low energy are two very common symptoms of depression, and they’re the reasons why we give up on the things we usually love when we’re in a particularly low period.
When we have a low supply of energy, we need to focus it on the most important tasks, which often means the things we need to do to survive.
‘We will do what we need to keep a roof over our head to pay our bills,’ Dr Meg tells Metro.co.uk.
‘So that will be mostly spent working on basic care in terms of getting food and having security.’
She likens this state to low-power mode on a phone or laptop device: they’ll stop most unnecessary tasks, like auto-refreshing or keeping your phone screen lit up, but still allow for the most important tasks to be completed, like alerting you of a call.
‘So hobbies and social interaction are some of the first things to go out the window,’ she continues.
‘But these are actually some of the best ways to manage mild and moderate depression.’
How to avoid letting things slip
While it might be tempting to let your depression swallow you whole and give up on the things you know will make you feel better until it passes, you risk getting caught in a vicious cycle.
Instead, Dr Meg encourages people to be both proactive and reactive when it comes to your mental health, especially if you have the self-awareness to know that you’re prone to going through low periods.
Give your loved ones a heads up
When you’re in ‘low-energy mode’, Dr Meg advises giving your loved ones a heads up.
It can be difficult to reach out to friends and family when your mental health is bad, but ignoring them can make you guilty and anxious on top of everything else.
‘Speak to people that you love and let them know that, sometimes, you get low energy and low motivation,’ she says.
‘Ask them to check in even when they haven’t heard from you and tell them that, even if you aren’t feeling up to responding straight away, it means a lot.’
Not only will this make you feel cared for, it will help to maintain the social connections you let slip when you feel down.
Find a middle ground
When it comes to the activities and tasks that fall by the wayside when you’re depressed, Dr Meg suggests attempting to find a middle ground rather than giving up on them entirely.
‘What are the tiny steps you can take towards doing those things?’ says Dr Meg.
‘So, when it comes to physical activity, you could go for a walk around the garden, or if you don’t have the energy to stand for a shower, have a bath instead.’
You could even text a friend or attempt to cook one meal.
‘That way,’ Dr Meg continues, ‘you can say to yourself, “I didn’t feel great today, but I still did that one thing”.’
If you often struggle with low moods and periods of depression, it’s a good idea to prepare in advance, that way you won’t have to think so hard when you’re feeling down.
When you’re feeling good, Dr Meg advises putting some practical things in place to help you through.
‘If possible, have some healthy, pre-prepared meals in the freezer,’ she says.
‘Self care is the thing that goes out the window first, and people then start to only eat what’s convenient, which is often unhealthy and can make you feel worse.’
Another thing Dr Meg suggests is creating a ‘self-maintenance box’.
This should include anything that makes you feel good, or even just comforted.
‘It could be a bad film, it could be some music that makes you feel confident.
‘It’s just a box with your favourite things that make you feel comforted.’
Add things like fuzzy socks, a hot water bottle or your favourite book, put it under the bed and get it out when you’re struggling.