When depression strikes, even the simplest of tasks can feel challenging. Activities we usually take for granted – washing, dressing, facing the day – become obstacles to overcome.
Experience has shown us that although our difficult days may be unavoidable, there are some practical things we can do to help ease us through.
With input from our Peer Support Group, we’ve collated a number of hints and hacks for managing depression, that you may want to try when the tough times roll round.
1. SLEEP & DUVET DAYS
Sleep is vital for maintaining emotional wellbeing and good physical health, yet it’s something most of us struggle with when depressed. Exhausted, we may want to sleep all day – or conversely (and frustratingly) we may have trouble getting any sleep at all.
Our Peer Support Group find that keeping a routine can really help:
When my daughter was a baby, everyone harped on about getting her into a sleep routine, developing cues so that she would know it was time for bed. It worked! With that in mind I created a routine for myself every night. I have a set bedtime – and in the run-up to it I wash, listen to soothing music and have a warm drink. It really helps.
Waking up at the same time each day even if you don’t get up (keeps your sleep routine from going out).
And have tactics that give them the best chance of getting a decent sleep:
When I’m unwell I try and have proper rest breaks throughout the day – it allows my brain to digest things as the day progresses, so I’m less likely to that ‘wired’ feeling when I get into bed.
I ALWAYS turn off my phone an hour before sleep.
Warm drinks help me drop off – I like a milky Horlicks, but you can get special ‘sleepy’ herbal teas too, like the one that came in my BuddyBox.
Of course, some days depression won’t let us out of bed. But we can plan for our duvet days:
Keep something next to your bed (like a colouring book and some crayons, or a science book/mag, or a list of youtubers you like, or writing prompts if creative writing helps, or perhaps candles to light). So on the really bad days where bed is a prison, you can still easily achieve something and get something done 🙂
I like to have a book handy all the time… just whatever will keep my attention for a bit for mindless entertainment to get out of myself. I also have a huge stuffed dog to cuddle whenever my real pooch doesn’t want to snuggle.
2. EATING & DRINKING
We all know how important it is to eat well – good nutrition helps boost our mood. However when we’re ill, keeping ourselves fed and watered can be a struggle: we lack the energy and inclination to prepare healthy food, and even choosing what to eat can be overwhelming.
Our group had hacks for keeping hydrated:
I fill a 2 litre bottle of water up in the morning and drink it throughout the day, helps me keep track of whether I am drinking or not, but also helps on really bad days when even the sink in the kitchen feels like a long way away!
I don’t like the taste of water, so I treat myself to extra nice herbal teas and squash when I’m unwell to try and encourage me to drink.
And hints for staying well fed:
Cooking in batches is good. If you find the oomph to cook then it takes no more effort to double up the portion and freeze/refrigerate some.
If you can’t batch cook (I couldn’t at uni, no freezer space) then it’s always good to have a stockpile of easy stuff in like tinned soup.
Having a stack of (‘healthy’) cereal bars stashed in the cupboard for when I can’t face preparing real food or can’t make a decision about what to eat.
I make breakfast pots in advance so I just gotta take it out and eat.
Plus – if the thought of cleaning up after eating frazzles you, you may want to try this:
Use paper plates/plastic cutlery when you can’t face washing up!
3. KEEPING CLEAN
Personal care is another thing that can go out of the window when depression strikes (our founder and CEO Jayne actually lost a molar when she was really ill because she struggled to clean her teeth). If you struggle with this too, consider these suggestions:
If I don’t have the energy to shower ‘properly’ I just turn the shower on and sit under the water. Conserves my little amount of energy and I still get clean.
Having a bath instead of a shower because it takes less effort than showering.
Shower at night so you don’t have to think about showering and getting dressed at the same time.
Multi-task to make life as simple as possible,like brush your teeth in shower.
And if all that is still too much…
Wet wipes!!! A god send…
4. GETTING DRESSED
Depression can make even the simplest of tasks feel overwhelming. If the effort of choosing clothes and dressing feels too much, these ideas from may help:
For me on dark days comfortable clothes are an absolute must – so my favourite soft pjs and dressing gown if I’m not going anywhere, or loose tops with over sized jumpers and jeans if I have to go out.
I set out some fave comfy clothes the night before to entice me out of bed the next morning – if they are already waiting all I have to do is have a wash and put them on!
Get some lounge wear! Basically the perfect mix of pyjamas and actual clothes, so you can be comfy but not have to change to leave the house.
And the ultimate getting-dressed-but-not hack:
If you can’t face getting dressed, change your PJs!
5. GETTING OUT
For some of us, leaving the house is a very real challenge when depression strikes. Here’s how some of our group manage their inclination to stay inside:
I try and get out every day – even if it’s a five minute walk round the block.
I get a bit hermity so I try and make tasks for myself so I have to leave the house, so I only buy vegetables for a meal or two so I have to get more, I don’t renew library books so I have to take them back etc.
Sitting in the garden in the sunshine. It’s calming and feels like you’ve made an effort to go out when you’ve not gone very far. Also the sunshine helps to top up vitamin D levels so it’s healthy.
6. BOOSTING BRAINPOWER
Depression can have a significant impact on our memory, concentration and ability to process information. If your brain is getting burnout these hacks may help:
Write a list in yor diary of your morning and nighttime routines (get out of bed, clean teeth, get dressed etc).
Get a pill box for when your cognition is crap (ask the chemist to donor for you if you’re really stuck).
Having a boxset of DVDs on the go for easy watching. I’m currently watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but my favourite is Friends. Something that you don’t have to think about or ‘decide what to watch’ that’s simple and doesn’t require a huge amount of brain space (CSI used to be my go to, until brain fog happened).
Write everything down!!! Mushy brains need help.
7. DEALING WITH PEOPLE
We all have relationships with others that need nurturing, but depression makes us want to retreat into ourselves.
This desire can be healthy, as it helps us save energy:
When I’m ill I cancel visitors because they will take too many of my spoons.
But it’s also important not to withdraw completely:
I’m always the first person to help other people, but when I’m ill I retreat from the world and don’t tell anyone what’s going on. I do this because I can’t be arsed with the questions and the fuss, but keeping my depression secret makes those feelings of loneliness and isolation even worse. And that really doesn’t help.
A balance is probably the best approach. Hold back from unnecessary social contact, but try and reach out to people you trust. And remember – you don’t have to deal with this alone:
Accept help from others (or explain to your OH/family/flatmates that you really can’t face washing up or cooking your own dinner).
Exercise is an important act of self-care that many of us struggle with – even when we’re not depressed! However even a small amount of exercise can be really beneficial to our mental health. Here’s what our group suggests for getting moving:
Each morning I push myself to do some form of exercise to release my endorphins.
Make exercise fun – so it’s less chore more something that helps me feel better.
I set aside 3 half an hours a week to exercise myself in any way you want to – aerobics, running, swimming or for me its my crossfit exercise machine. I put on loud music and go for it! That helps knowing I can let all the anger and frustration out during my exercise routines.
I find it hard to leave the house when I’m ill – so running or classes are a no-go – but I’ve found some videos on YouTube I can use and take at my own pace. Even ten minutes of yoga can boost my mood.
If you’re just starting out with exercise, know that every little helps…
Exercise has helped me enormously – even if it’s only a brief pootle around the garden.
9. GETTING STUFF DONE
Although depression can make us want to do nothing at all, there are going to be times when we really need to get stuff done.
Our peer support group talked about the power of the to-do list:
I have a set to do list chore wise so I know what’s coming each day and what’s already on top of (or not!).
I set myself a #todayIwill challenge.
As a to do list can be overwhelming sometimes I write a done list. I still tick stuff off but it reminds me what I have achieved even on a bad day.
And the power of breaking tasks into chunks:
I found the 5 minute rule from CBT helpful – think I will do 5 minutes of X, and if I’ve had enough or I’m not enjoying it, then I’ll stop with no judgement to myself. Found it helps with cleaning – it’s amazing what you can actually achieve in 5 minutes, but also for getting in to hobbies you may have been neglecting – it doesn’t matter if you find you can’t do it for more than 5 mins, at least you have it a go.
Do things in twenty minute blocks and then reward yourself, it breaks things up and sometimes prevents you from getting overwhelmed thinking about big tasks by breaking things into chunks.
Do something easy or something you like doing first. When you finish it, you feel accomplished without having had to put in too much effort/stress.
e.g. My bathroom was absolutely gross when I was in the darkest stage of my depression. One day, I thought I’d just pour bleach in the toilet.
When I went back to the toilet later, seeing a clean toilet motivated me to wipe down the taps…in a week, I cleaned the entire bathroom but in small easy chunks.
You might want to try rewarding yourself:
Allow yourself the little victories and set up some rewards in place for it, for example, getting out of bed even if it’s just to sit on the sofa, you moved! Have a nice coffee or tea because you deserve it.
I set myself stupid goals that I know I’ll achieve so I get to eat that entire block of chocolate, or I get to spend an hour scrolling through facebook and surfing the net.
e.g. Currently, I have to prepare for an interview.
After 15 mins of researching and note taking, I came onto facebook for 15 mins.
My next task is make and eat breakfast, then I’ll probably spend 30 mins on the internet.
The next task is to get ready, then maybe watch some TV.
Then spend another half hour making sure everything is sorted and ready. My treat? Knowing I can come home and snuggle under a blanket and watch crap TV.
I work on guilt. So, if I’ve done something nice, I will try and do something I HAVE to do.
If I do it, I go all out and reward myself.
And planning ahead:
Pre-plan things when you are feeling ok. So sort out what to wear the night before. And the route to take. That way you have fewer decisions to make in the morning. (Flip if you are a morning person!).
When you have a good day really take advantage, that way when you have a bad day you can think ‘ok I can’t do more than get out of bed today but it’s ok I did a load of stuff on weds’ ‘ok I can’t do more than splash water on my face today but it’s ok I did a full facial routine on thurs’ etc.
But mostly importantly, remember to give yourself a break:
I cancel anything that requires me to ‘adult’.
Sometimes I delegate tasks to ‘well me’. Well me can deal with that at some point in the future so I don’t have to worry about that now. I also try to do what ‘well me’ would tell me to do, e.g. ‘well me’ would buy potatoes cos you know you’ll eat potatoes so buy potatoes – rather than worrying about not feeling hungry and not being able to decide what to buy.
It might not work for everyone and isn’t a great permanent coping strategy but I find it helps me in short-term things. It also helps me remind me that ‘well me’ is still there, just a bit squished down and covered up.
10. EMOTIONAL CARE
Finally our Peer Support Group identified a KEY aspect of managing depression, that so many of us overlook: allowing our feelings.
Remember, it’s OK to be depressed. We didn’t choose it, or bring it upon ourselves.
Accepting where we are, and finding positive ways to process our feelings, really really helps:
Yesterday was major freak out day. I didn’t get dressed and allowed myself the day to my feelings. I managed to do one bit of cleaning by putting my anger etc into what I was cleaning and imagining I was healing that. It actually helped and I felt proud of myself for cleaning something. I
also painted a mixed media painting of all I was feeling and thinking. So my thing for the really bad days is basically doing what ever it is you can and speaking to yourself in encouraging and gentle ways. I kept telling myself it was ok. I listened to my fave music. I wrote out what I felt.
A good cry can sometimes be very cathartic – like a release.
I journal each day if I can. If something bad happens, I try to put a positive, brave or neutral spin on it. Especially if I ruminate.
I try to write down everyday 3 things that I’m grateful for. It could be something as simple as the cat say with me or I made it through another day.
Key for me is to stop beating myself up for just needing to sit. Repeat after me…sitting is ok, sitting is ok.
I also try to just ‘go’ with my bad days, rather than fight them, because fighting depression is exhausting.
Over to you
We hope you’ve found these hints and hacks for managing depression helpful. If you’re willing to share, we’d love to hear any additional ideas you may have too.
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