6 Ways To Take Care of Yourself When You’re Depressed - Kris Vallotton

April 12, 2019

Depression sucks! I know this first-hand. In 2008, my family went through a terrible crisis that lasted more than two years. In the midst of trying to help my family weather the storm, I found myself in my own personal battle for survival. What began as a couple of months of sleepless nights soon became a full-on emotional breakdown.

I laid on my couch in a deep depression for six months; every day was a living hell.

The truth is that I ignored all the warning signs leading up to my crash and soon I was physically, emotionally and spiritually a basket case. I had known stress, anxiety, and warfare before, but this was so intense that I could not will myself off the couch no matter how hard I tried!

If you are dealing with depression today, I know it can feel scary, shameful or even taboo to speak openly about your experience with others in the church. As we talked about last week, unfortunately, there is a religious peer pressure in many Christian circles that silences those who are in pain.

Today I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone and that you don’t have to hide away in shame about your struggle! The truth is that I dealt with anxiety since I was 19 years old and learned great tools and coping mechanisms, but those didn’t all translate into my journey with depression. I had to learn new ways to cope as I began to climb this new mountain. I hope that my experience helps you to feel less alone, to have hope in the face of hopelessness, and to have the courage to take care of yourself through this process! You are worth it!

We are Tri-Une Beings

In my season from hell, I learned that our spirit, soul and body are so intricately intertwined that it’s impossible to affect one part without influencing the other two parts. We often talk about the spirit, soul and body as if they live in separate boxes, but the reality is that life does not really happen that way. Problems can originate in one dimension of our being, but before long, we experience resulting symptoms in all three realms of our personhood.

I can look back on my crash from many years ago now and understand that although my depression affected me emotionally and spiritually, unlike the demonic attack that I experienced years earlier, this crash was actually rooted in the physical dimension of my mind and body.

People from all over the world prayed for me and encouraged me, but until my body chemistry stabilized, I could not function.

Antidepressants in the Church

I have to confess that I had never believed in taking antidepressants. When I preached, I actually made light of people who used them. I still do not think they are a long-term cure for many people, because if used without doing soul-work, they can often mask deeper issues in our lives. However, medications that aide mental illness or mental stability can have a role in helping people function. My son Jason says that sometimes antidepressants make the fight fair, and I know from my own experience this is true.

Some people who suffer from chronic neurotransmitter deficiencies are helped tremendously by such medications. Many healthcare professionals believe that either due to brain injury or genetic predisposition, some people do not have the physical ability to regulate brain chemistry levels normally.

If you think about it, we would never tell someone in the church who has diabetes that if they would just spend more time with God or pray more, they could stop taking their insulin (unless of course, God heals them). Yet that is what we suggest to people whose chemical imbalances have a physical cause. We view mood disorders that are rooted in our physical being, (our brain is an organ just like our pancreas), in a much less accepting manner. Why the double-standard?

Sometimes we need to give people permission to take medication if they need it—which, by the way, is a huge no-no in many Christian circles. Often people are made to feel ashamed for taking such medication. As a result, they wait far longer than they should to get a doctor’s help, and they delay their healing. I know because I am one of them!

We need to extend more grace to people in this area! I was encouraged by caring, well-meaning people not to take medication, but after months of hell and hundreds of hours of research, I decided I needed more medical attention. You really cannot understand how intense depression and anxiety can be unless you have been there yourself. Thankfully, for me, the season of needing medication was short.

Practical Ways to Practice Self-Care When You’re Depressed

My goal is to help you better understand our triune being and how each of our three parts affects the others so that if you find yourself in a place like I was in, you can seek out the kind of help you need and be made whole. My advice to anyone who has been dealing with high levels of depression, anxiety, and exhaustion for long periods of time is to take action! I know that can seem impossible—it did to me. As I said, I hardly moved off the couch for six months. But you can do some things that will help you through.

Visit a respected healthcare professional and have a complete physical, including blood work that incorporates hormone tests. If the physical part of your mind that regulates brain chemistry is malfunctioning, medical intervention is a necessity. Again, there is no shame in taking medication to get some help!

I highly recommend From Panic to Power: Proven Techniques to Calm Your Anxieties, Conquer Your Fears, and Put You in Control of Your Life by Lucinda Bassett (Harper, 1996). The second book I love is “Who Switched Off My Brain? Controlling Toxic Thoughts and Emotions” by Dr. Caroline Leaf (Thomas Nelson, 2009). I have given away at least fifty of these books. They really helped me in my darkest hour. They contain a wealth of information about brain chemistry and how to detox your thought life.

Thirdly, I recommend “ReNew: Breaking Free from Negative Thinking, Anxiety, and Depression” by Julie Winter (Destiny, 2017). And lastly, I recommend “When God Becomes Real” by Brian Johnson (Bethel Book Publishing, 2019).*

I’ll also mention that I’ve written about some of my own personal struggles with mental illness in my book, Spirit Wars. I’ve received a ton of great feedback on how this book has helped people!

Take care of your body now more than ever. Do what you have to do to sleep. If you don’t have a regular rhythm to your sleep, it creates anxiety and depression. I personally took melatonin and natural supplements and it didn’t help me so I had to take sleep medication for about a year. I totally get that it’s not fun to take pills but it could be worth it to catch up on sleep and give your brain the rest it desperately needs.

Additionally, force yourself to exercise even when you do not feel like it. Eat healthy food even when you are not hungry. Stay completely away from sugar and caffeine. Get as much sunlight as possible to increase your serotonin levels.

Work hard at cultivating upbeat moments, too. Proverbs 17:22 says, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” Watch funny movies or shows that make you laugh a lot. Laughter is natural medicine and it produces dopamine, a happy chemical, in your body. Surround yourself with good friends who will support you in these troubled times. Believe the positive things they say about you, even if their words do not seem real to you.

If you are dealing with anxiety, torment, fear, low self-esteem, depression or any other negative emotion, it is very likely that you have forgotten that the Creator of the universe loves you. Do not entertain the enemy’s questions about how valuable you are. Refuse to watch the “what else could go wrong” movie in your mind. Remember that the fear of what could go wrong is often worse than something going wrong. And lastly, guarding your mind may mean taking a break from negative people. Losers may make you feel better about your bad situation, but they won’t help you be a winner.

When you’re depressed, it doesn’t feel like you want to do anything. Push past that feeling and find a project that you enjoy. Better yet, do something extraordinary and radically generous for someone else!

Be Encouraged Today

The things that you need to do when you’re depressed are often the things you don’t want to do. But I propose that this lack of desire to take care of yourself may be keeping you stuck on the couch.

I want to encourage you by letting you know that this will pass! Hold onto this promise from Luke 6:21 which says, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

In the last few years, I have met hundreds of people from all walks of life—including several world-famous people—who have passed through this kind of thing at some point in their lives. I know that when you are in the middle of it, your worst fear is “Am I going to live like this my entire life?” The answer is no! This always passes. You will be fine! I’m praying for God to heal you today!

What do you do to take care of yourself when you’re depressed? What do you think about this subject? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below!

*Resource list updated on 4/13.

Topics: All TopicsFreedom