🌼6 Daily Choices That Keep Me Productive in Depressed Periods
Navigating life with mental illness
First things first, I feel the need to clarify two things.
1. None of these habits will cure depression. None of these actions can replace therapy or getting the appropriate help. These are things to do alongside the work on your mental health; these are extra boosts. These are habits, and can in no way cure a mental illness, merely help you to find a balance in life.
2. You don’t have to be productive when you’re feeling depressed. I know that a lot of guilt comes with a lack of productivity, but please know it’s okay to need time off. I live with depression, and I likely always will, thanks to my Borderline Personality Disorder. Given that a lot of my days involve unstable moods, I’ve had to find ways to optimise myself, and that’s where these habits come into play.
I’m not going to diminish how difficult it can be to live with depression. You can’t cure it with a daily walk, a warm shower or journaling. But small steps can help you to keep going and see through the fog, they can provide brief moments of relief in the larger struggle. If you want to learn more about depression or other mental illnesses and relevant treatments, I recommend checking out MIND.
Now that we’ve clarified this, I’m ready to share the five daily choices I use to manage my depression. As mentioned, I struggle with depression a lot of the time, sometimes for a day at random, and other times for continuous weeks or months. I’m a writer alongside my day job, so I need time in my week to get everything done. So over the years, I’ve developed these ways of managing my depression and finding productivity on dark days.
1. Getting out of bed earlier
When I’m struggling with my depression, I feel constantly tired. Because of this, I used to always sleep more during these times, moving my alarm further and further away. I’d get up fifteen minutes before I had to start working and then feel rubbish and unfocused.
But I’ve come to realise that no amount of sleep will make me feel less tired during these times. Instead, putting my alarm an hour earlier will do more good for me. This gives me enough time to catch up with myself and reset before my workday starts. I can take a walk, take a warm shower, dress nice, or whatever else it takes.
Sleep is important, but it’s better to go to bed earlier rather than get up later. Instead, avoid being rushed and hassled in the morning, which will only worsen symptoms, and try to seize your mornings for yourself.
2. Reminding myself
I have never been one for affirmations, I’ll be really honest. But it felt like every podcast, article and book was raving about them. I still struggled to do them, feeling a bit silly, until I found the Perfectly Happy app. This app turned out to be exactly what I needed.
On this app, you can set your own affirmations and match them with images that elicit the same feeling. They have categories for each area of your life, so you can completely personalise it while also getting inspiration if you feel stuck. Alternatively, you can write your own affirmations. Then you set a time twice a day to be reminded to check your affirmations.
Alongside this, the Perfectly Happy app also has a space for goal setting and tracking moods. The only thing stronger than my depression is my ambition. My writing is the most important thing in my life, it’s the thing that keeps me going, and it’s why I live and breathe. So in the moments that I don’t want to get out of bed, I remind myself of my writing goals and why I need to get to my desk and type away.
There’s also a space to track moods, which I find helpful with my Borderline Personality Disorder. BPD comes with unstable moods, so it’s useful to track the highs and lows and what instigated them. Even if it is often very superficial things, it helps me to work out my triggers and what helps.
3. Walk, walk, walk
I have always been a runner. I’m not a very good one, I’ll be honest, but I love running. It used to be the salve to my depression, and I used to just run until I could quieten my mind. But then, out of nowhere, it stopped being my solution. It became another tiresome thing, something I forced myself to do. I kept waiting for that runner’s high, the adrenaline that used to help me get on with my day, but I couldn’t find it.
I found myself running less and less, and sleeping more and more. But then after a night of tossing and turning, consumed by my anxiety and dark thoughts, I got out of bed and went for a walk. I went for a long walk, and it felt like exactly what I needed. I started going on long walks each morning, forty minutes or more, and it’s been amazing.
If you decide to try getting up earlier, I really recommend going for walks. It’s a great way to reset and feel good in your body. I know a lot of people recommend listening to nothing as you walk, but I’m not that good at being alone with my thoughts, so I listen to podcasts or music.
If you struggle to find the motivation to walk, find a goal for it. Walk to a cafe and get a coffee, and then enjoy it on your way home. Walk to the furthest away post office for your package. This is also a great way to explore where you live better.
4. Staying out of my bedroom
As mentioned previously, at the height of my depression, I want nothing more than to snooze away. But it never helps. Instead, leaving my bedroom from morning to evening is way more beneficial. I work from home, but I’m fortunate to have an area outside of my bedroom to do this. So throughout the day, I resist the urge to crawl back into bed, or even to just lie on my bed with my phone or a book, as I know my mood will only plummet from there.
If this isn’t possible due to your WFH situation, avoid getting in your bed. Ensure you’ve made it up nicely — the more pillows, the better! — so that you’re less tempted to mess it up. And definitely don’t bring your laptop to bed.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t take more rest during these difficult times. Rest is important. Don’t run yourself ragged, and feel free to cancel plans. But avoid the black hole of your bed. Instead, go to your couch or make another cosy nook somewhere. Go there and read a book or watch a show.
5. Small wins
Everything can feel so overwhelming when you’re struggling with your depression. I can barely climb out of bed, so how am I supposed to do an entire day of work?
Trying to run a marathon when you can’t jog 3km will never work. You need to break it down into small wins. Don’t try to go to a morning workout, work 8 straight hours, buy groceries, cook a healthy meal and then meet friends for drinks. Instead, focus on one small win at a time.
I got out of bed early this morning, even if I don’t do anything before work and just read my book, I did that. I managed to go for a morning walk, I’m proud of that. I’m going to put my phone away, put on my favourite music, and try to work hard for 30 minutes so I’ve finished a few tasks. If I need to rest after that, that’s okay.
Whittle down your day into small wins, and allow those to be enough. These smaller tasks also allow you to develop a sense of pride when you accomplish them. Because you should feel proud! Living with depression is so difficult, and you managed to send some emails or go for a walk or buy groceries.
Don’t aim for mountains, but focus on the little hurdles and build them up slowly. Take pride in each step rather than frustration at everything you’re not doing. Look at what you can remove from your day and whittle it down to the core requirements.
6. Finding tiny moments of joy
I am a big believer in tiny moments of joy. If I had a religion, it would be the religion of tiny moments of joy.
When the days are dark, you need to find small lights within it. You need to make these small lights for yourself. Because your brain will be reminding you of the awful things and how terrible of a person you are, you need to arm yourself with tiny moments of joy.
Either add something lovely into your day or stay aware of when they happen. Here are examples of my tiny moments of joy in the last weeks:
Saw a rabbit on my morning walk despite living in a city.
Lit a candle while I was writing and admired how nice it smelled.
Took a picture of the pretty sky.
Bought myself a delicious cookie when I went to get groceries.
Took a walk to get a yummy coffee.
Received a picture of my sister’s adorable dog.
Played my favourite Taylor Swift album on repeat.
Life is shit. Depression is shit. I can’t put it more eloquently than that. But that’s why we need to be more alert for the good in all of the bad, and when it arises, we need to take a moment to appreciate it. Tiny moments of good are happening all around you, and to you, but you need to make sure you’re conscious of them, as we need those to fight the bad.
Every day after I make my to-do list, I write down three things I’m grateful for. My sister got me started on this, and I was resistant at first. Some days, I sigh, and I struggle to find something to write. But other days, I think of the friend who checked in the day before, the colleague who gave me positive feedback, my family who loves me and bothers to read my writing, the pink morning sky that reminds me of my dad, the warm coffee that feels like a hug, and so much more.
Depression is exhausting and isolating, and no amount of daily habits will cure it. But with support from the right people, you can manage it, you can have good days as well as bad days. You have to find what works for you, whether that’s micro habits, learning more about it, or taking a mental health break. You are so much stronger than you think, so find what strengthens you and what weakens you, and design the life you need for it.
Contributed by Fleurine Tideman
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