How Much Should You Push Yourself With Depression?

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“How much should you push yourself with depression?” a woman asked me the other day. “How do you know what your limits should be?” She wanted to know whether or not she should scale back to part-time work or continue to slog through her full-time job.

I hear this question a lot in the depression community I host and I’m always asking it myself. It seems as if what pushes me to health one hour can drive me toward illness the next. I keep going back to the Serenity Prayer:

God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

The courage to change the things I can;

And the wisdom to know the difference.

I’ve written about how much to challenge yourself with depression before, but I think it’s important to address again, as I’ve been conducting an experiment with it.

You will find experts that say that hanging in there and not letting depression disrupt your life is best, that you should keep on working as much as you can. Positive psychologists like Martin Seligman, Ph.D. claim that using your signature strengths and contributing to society are antidotes to depression; the sense of accomplishment you get from going to work or volunteering or doing anything productive, even though you feel like hell, will ultimately propel you to better mental health. I believe this is very true.

I have always erred on that side—pushing myself. I mean, I was editing my spirituality column from the computer in the community room of Johns Hopkins Inpatient Psychiatric Unit. My therapists and friends have always applauded me for going forward as much as I could during depressive episodes. And yes, it did make me feel like I hadn’t totally fallen apart and boosted my damaged self-esteem, which was probably worth something.

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