There is a line of thought that if you're depressed, you need to "fake it 'til you make it"; that eventually, you'll feel normal again. That might seem like sound advice, but how far do you go with "faking it"? And when does being gentle with yourself—instead of pushing yourself—make more sense?
According to Therese J. Borchard, Associate Editor of Psych Central, a study published in August 2007 in The Journal of Neuroscience showed that "there was a breakdown in normal patterns of emotional processing that prevented depressed and anxious people from suppressing negative emotions. In fact, the more they tried, the more they activated the fear center of their brain—the amygdala—which fed them more negative messages."
In dealing with our depression, we need be aware of our stress levels and pressure points or weaknesses (e.g., self-loathing, negative self-talk, etc.). "Stress is the ultimate pressure point. It compromises almost every biological system in our bodies," says Borchard. When deciding if you should push harder or not, consider your stressors and reactions to them. For example, if you know that working more than 50 hours a week contributes to your depression, rather than quitting your job, try speaking with your boss to find a compromise in your situation—a temporary arrangement that allows you to work while giving you the time and care you need.
It's also important to be flexible with yourself. "...even though pushing made sense yesterday it might not today," says Borchard. "Trust yourself as much as possible. Don’t force progress if it doesn’t feel right. Instead, step aside and enjoy the view until you can get back into the race."
There is also a helpful assessment which Borchard recommends: "When I have a cold, I push through and go to work. When I’m sick with the flu, I stay in bed and rest. Might it be the same with depression? Once we assess the severity of our symptoms we can determine if we have a cold or the flu."
According to Borchard, "there’s no set rule on when to try harder and when to go easy with depression. Each situation requires careful discernment, assessing the severity of our symptoms." Through it all, it is important to treat yourself with self-compassion and kindness; dealing with depression is hard enough.