Depression is one of the most common mental health issues in America. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 10% of adults experience some form of depression each year. While the severity and duration of depression can vary, there is no question that it can have a dramatic impact on each individual. Many of the symptoms associated with depression are entwined with an individual’s clutter. Listed below are some symptoms of depression and the clutter-related thoughts that can accompany them:

  • Persistent sad or “empty” feelings: It is hard to motivate yourself to work on clutter when you’re overwhelmed by sadness. Efforts can feel pointless. When you start to lose track of why you’re doing things, write yourself a reminder. What are the most important things in your life. Why do you choose to do things? It can be hard to fight the emptiness – it’s a very powerful feeling. Remember: Just because I feel something doesn’t make it real. I may feel sad or empty right now, but that doesn’t mean that my life is really empty.
  • Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism: “I’ll never get anywhere with this stuff.” Why bother tidying up when it feels like it isn’t going to make a difference? When you’re lost in a negative mindset, everything seems to reinforce that outlook. Any piece of positivity gets lost in the gray cloud of negativity. Is it possible to do one positive thing? Every journey starts with one step. I may not be able to see the end of the journey right now, but I can make one choice that will move me in that direction.
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness: “I’m a horrible person for letting this space get so cluttered.” When your depressed, it feels like everything is your fault and things will never change.
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable: “I don’t look forward to using this space for its intended purpose, so why bother trying to get it tidied up?”
  • Fatigue and decreased energy: When you’re so easily tired, it’s much more tempting to stay on the couch or go to bed instead of dealing with the clutter.
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions: How can you make decisions about what to do with your things when you can’t focus on the task at hand? And then to remember what you did before or where you put something? This contributes to a sense of hopelessness (“I’m not getting anywhere”) and a sense of worthlessness (“I can’t even remember where I put that thing.”).
  • Aches or pains, headaches, digestive problems: Sorting, organizing, and decluttering are already challenging. Add in physical pain and it becomes nearly impossible. Physical and emotional states are very closely intertwined. When you are experiencing one form of pain, you’re more susceptible to experiencing the other. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally – eat well, get enough sleep, stay hydrated, exercise. You know, all those things that easily get pushed aside when you’re sad, stressed, and overwhelmed.

Depressive symptoms often worsen during the winter, particularly around the holidays. What is often touted as the “hap- happiest time of the year” is, for many people, a stressful, isolating, and depressing time of the year. Here are some examples of how depression can hit with the holidays and some strategies for managing:

  • You feel overwhelmed as your calendar gets filled up with commitments and obligations. Set limits as to what you will agree to do. Some people will only participate in one activity each weekend, setting aside the rest of their time for personal projects and relaxation. With families, it can be a good idea to restrict weekday commitments as well. Ask each person what one holiday activity they consider to be most important. Make the space in the calendar for those priorities and then let other activities fit in around them where they can. The holidays aren’t about doing everything, they’re about enjoying the things that you choose to do.
  • You’re exhausted just looking at your “To Do” list – how does it keep growing with errands, last minute gifts, and overlooked details? Be realistic about what you can do and how much time or energy it will take to do each thing. There’s no rule that says you have to do everything or that everything has to be done right now. Delegate to others wherever possible.
  • Despite all your efforts, once-cleared spaces are now re-cluttered in the blink of an eye – junk mail increases 10-fold with the boom of catalogs, winter coats take up much more room than fall jackets. With busier schedules, it’s even more tempting to put off those mundane tasks and chores; but with busier schedules it’s even more important to stay on top of these things. Because there’s so much more mail coming in each day, be sure to deal with it right away. Put coats and jackets away so they’re not filling up chairs and banisters.
  • Heck, there may even be a TREE inside your house! (And that’s not even going into all the other holiday tchotchkes and tidbits that get spread around.) Limit the decorations that you set-up in your space. The emphasis is more on accenting your environment, not taking it over.

Another piece of winter depression might be attributed to the shortened exposure to daylight. A decreased exposure to sunlight has been correlated with an increase in depressive symptoms and a worsening of cognitive functioning. Getting exposure to sunlight, either outside or via a light box, can help boost your brain’s production of serotonin and melatonin. Both these neurochemicals are shown to affect mood and cognitive functioning.

Most people report feeling down or blue from time to time. These situations become concerning when the feelings are more intense, last for an extended period of time, or interfere with your ability to do the things that are important in your life. If you feel overwhelmed by your sadness or find that you’ve lost your energy to do things, there are resources available in your community. Please contact:

  • Primary care physician
  • Therapist (Psychologist, Social Worker, Counselor)
  • Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)
  • Friends
  • Family members
  • Religious leaders
  • Neighbors

– Elspeth N. Bell, Ph.D.

This article was originally written for Absolutely Organized‘s blog