Feeling like you’re “not doing enough” because of your depression?
Depression is a complex mental health condition that will affect 1 in 10 people in their lifetime. Among the various emotional challenges faced by those with depression, one common struggle is a pervasive sense of guilt and shame over their perceived lack of productivity.
This self-imposed burden can exacerbate depressive symptoms and hinder the healing process, creating an unhelpful pattern of thinking that keeps depression going.
Let’s dive into depression guilt – what triggers it, how it affects mental health, and how to overcome it and regain a sense of self-compassion.
Where does depression guilt come from?
Depressed individuals frequently experience an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame, even when their circumstances do not warrant it. But why does it happen?
This guilt can arise from a variety of factors, including societal expectations, personal beliefs, and distorted thinking patterns.
Many individuals with depression feel immense pressure to meet high standards set by themselves or others. They may compare themselves to others who seem to be functioning better or how they used to be before they started feeling depressed. This can lead to feelings of inadequacy and guilt.
The societal stigma around mental health can also play a big role, further contributing to a sense of shame for not being able to "snap out of it" or "be productive."
The vicious cycle of guilt and depression
Let’s be honest: guilt and shame have a knack for making our lives more difficult. When it comes to people with depression, these feelings can have a profound impact on mental wellbeing and create a vicious cycle that perpetuates and deepens their depressive symptoms.
When people with depression feel guilty for not being able to fulfill expectations, they often withdraw socially, isolate themselves, and engage in self-criticism. They don’t feel like they deserve the good things in their lives, because they can’t reciprocate the energy they feel they receive.
These behaviors can intensify any negative emotions and zap someone's motivation. This creates a vicious cycle where someone does less, feels guilty, and thinks bad things about themselves.
6 tips to overcome guilt and shame in depression
So, what can you do to break the vicious cycle of depression and guilt? Here are a few strategies you can try to overcome feelings of guilt and shame about your depression.
Recognize the illusion of control
Remember that depression is an illness, and it is not a result of personal failure or lack of effort. You wouldn’t feel guilty about being bedridden because of a bad flu, would you?
For this user, letting go of this illusion of control is the biggest challenge: “I get so frustrated with myself for not doing what I know I should be doing. I feel like I have no reason to be depressed and it makes me feel so guilty for being down. The frustration and guilt just drain me of all my energy so the pile of laundry just adds up and the dust accumulates on the shelves…”
Try to change the narrative you’ve created in your head about depression being “your fault”. Accept that you cannot control everything and focus on what you can manage within your current capabilities.
Challenge negative thoughts
Practice cognitive restructuring by questioning negative self-talk and distorted beliefs. Replace self-critical thoughts with more realistic and compassionate ones, for example:
Replace “I’m lazy” with “I’m trying my best”
Replace “I’m a burden to others” with “I’m grateful for having great people around me who love and support me”
Remind yourself that everyone has limitations, and it's okay to prioritize self-care and recovery.
Don’t be afraid to seek support
Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional who can provide understanding and empathy. Sharing your feelings with someone who can offer support can help alleviate guilt and shame.
They’ll be able to help you see your own situation with a more neutral point of view, helping you practice self-compassion and acknowledge the efforts you’re already making to get better.
Set realistic expectations
Take things little by little. Break down overwhelming tasks into smaller, manageable steps. Focus on accomplishing one thing at a time and celebrate each achievement, no matter how small.
In her TED Talk “How to do laundry when you’re depressed”, therapist and author KC Davis talks about the importance of shifting our perception about doing things “the right way” when it comes to depression and self-care.
It’s ok to do a little and take shortcuts when depression gets overwhelming. Progress is not linear, and recovery takes time. Be patient and compassionate with yourself. You deserve it!
Be compassionate with yourself
Cultivate self-compassion by treating yourself with kindness, understanding, and patience. Practice self-care activities that bring you joy and relaxation, and remind yourself that you deserve love and care, even in difficult times.
It can be helpful to make a list of some of the activities you used to do or might want to do, even if the idea of it doesn't sound very appealing right now. You might pick one to get started, and see how you feel afterward.
Learn about depression
Learn more about depression, its symptoms, and treatment options. By educating yourself, you can challenge societal misconceptions and reduce the shame associated with mental health struggles.
We have in-depth self-directed learning modules available in the Wellness Center to help you better understand depression and break the stigma around it. Share your knowledge with others to promote understanding and empathy!
Feeling guilty for "not doing enough" is common for people with depression and can significantly hinder their journey toward recovery. Remember, healing from depression requires patience, self-care, and acceptance.
By letting go of guilt and embracing self-compassion, you can take crucial steps toward reclaiming your life and finding hope for a brighter future.