Managing Depression: Hacks and Hints for Difficult Days

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.

Managing Depression

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.

BuddyBox

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).

8. EXERCISE

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.

Sharing is caring: please share this post to help others, you never know who might need it. 

  • Becca Louise Hunter

    I wrote a post about how I deal with my own difficult days. I try very hard to listen to my body and what it needs and that usually involves rest. However, sometimes I can become more depressive if I lie in bed staring at the walls or just watching reruns on Netflix. I try at keep my wellbeing as a priority and have a ‘healthy duvet day’ which coincidentally entails a great number of tips and hacks from this post. I will openly admit that I don’t always manage it and I do sometimes give in to Netflix binges or staring at a wall but this is what I strive for.
    http://www.gentleclimb.co.uk/2017/07/how-to-have-healthy-duvet-when-you-need.html?m=1

  • Hi everyone. Some of these ideas require sticking to routines. Everyone’s different but my depression makes it impossible for me to stick to routines. In fact, it makes it impossible for me to really ‘remember’ that healthy practices are worthwhile doing. When I have bad days, which is about 4 or 5 days a week, I tend to scrap any healthier routines I might have started on the good days and just bombard my body with unhealthy things such as junk food, staying in bed, staying inside, not drinking water etc.
    Routine is something I don’t have in my life at all. I have a part time evening job which isn’t regular or timetabled – each week’s hours are different – and other than that I am at home and I have to create a day for myself each day. I’m sure a lot of you will understand how exhausting that is to do living with depression. It’s not often that I’m successful in making a day out of it, and I hardly ever leave the house because I live in the middle of nowhere. I have to drive 20 minutes to get to the nearest shop, there are only 16 houses in my village, and the nearest city where anything happens is an hour’s drive away. I can’t actually afford to drive anywhere in particular at the moment, either. So, I’m physically isolated. My few friends are at uni, miles away, and can’t come home regularly so the only people I see are my Dad and sometimes my brother.
    Sorry if this is an overshare on this article, but I just wondered if anyone had any similar experiences with ‘bad days’ when every day is as empty as mine before I fill it, and how to structure days that are endlessly almost empty when you have depression?

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  • Sarah Todd

    Does anybody else look at this and think … that looks terribly ambitious? As in, if that’s what you can do on a difficult day, I haven’t had a day that wasn’t difficult since … 1993? Do know that depression is different for everyone but am feeling somewhat alone right now.

    • Lyn Williams

      You’re not alone Sarah. I’ve just read all these and whilst I can see they might help I can’t imagine attempting any of them. It’s almost like I don’t want to help myself. I’ve been really good until last couple of days and now just can’t stop crying. I allow myself time to sit and just watch the box but cry non stop. I cry at happy things, sad things, funny things, anything. I can’t seem to stop for more than 10 mins and its exhausting. Hope we both feel better soon.

  • Alethea Pedersen

    I love all of these tips and will use many of them myself. I also figured out I have sensory differences than many. For example I’m sensitive to humidity, once I figured that out a fan and especially the vent in the ceiling in the bathroom having those on made a huge difference. I am also somewhat claustrophobic and can’t brush my teeth in the bathroom, if I walk and do it or do it while checking email etc I will get it done but I won’t do it if I have to stand at the sink and do it..just no.

    I’ve scheduled this article to appear on my little FB page on Saturday 9/10 I hope it will help more folks. https://www.facebook.com/ToothpickWarriors/?ref=page_internal

  • Fiona Lawrence

    I’ve started being very blunt about how I’m feeling. So when someone asks how I am I say “actually, I’m not great at the moment”. Sometimes I give more detail but other times I then just ask how they are. It feels good just admitting that I’m not feeling well. I think it’s also really important to accept help. I found this really hard at first, feeling like you’re burdening people. But now I realise that it actually makes the other person feel good too because they are helping. Things like, getting my friend to come over rather going out for lunch and asking them to bring some food with them. You can always give them the money by bank transfer if you feel guilty about that. It just means you make yourself eat, don’t need to get dressed or make effort and you get to see your friend. Having someone to “do nothing” with is important as it helps the isolation.

  • Rudi Affolter

    Thank you. I shall try some of these myself.

    • The Blurt Foundation

      You’re welcome Rudi 🙂

  • Isabella Cullen

    I use an app called Wunderlist to keep track of errands and tasks. I find it very satisfying ticking them off on there and can look back on my achievements.

    • The Blurt Foundation

      We love Wunderlist! Such a handy little app 🙂

      • Lyn Williams

        Google Keep is good too

  • Bengdrums

    “A good cry..”?
    If I could have one of those it would be a considerable breakthrough. I consider ‘depression’, as I understand and experience it, to be an absence, blockage or shutdown of emotions, for whatever reason, therefore if I could genuinely cry I would be expressing something, which as I said, would be a major breakthrough for me. I haven’t genuinely cried for years and I wish I could!

    • The Blurt Foundation

      Completely understand this effect as well – depression varies so much from person to person. So sorry it’s left you feeling so flat twinkletoes, and hope you’ve had some brighter days since leaving this comment.

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  • Helen Wilson

    Ooh! Filling the kitchen sink with hot soapy water while making food makes it more likely that you’ll wash up. As does getting rid of everything except one set of crockery, cutlery and glassware per person.

  • Helen Wilson

    When I first go to the lavatory after waking up, I tell myself that all I have to do to get back to bed is clean my teeth. That triggers auto pilot and I find myself in the shower – even if I don’t wash my hair, I wash the joins.

    • The Blurt Foundation

      Two fabulous tips here Helen, thank you!

  • NnoNno

    Doing the easiest things first only gets the easiest things done…over and over. I just wait for the right amount of energy and go as far as I can with the obvious needs. Sometimes I can get everything done. Washing the dishes is primo…it makes me feel better to not see a mess when I turn on the light.

    • The Blurt Foundation

      Us too. It can become a bit of a cycle with the easiest tasks coming first, but if that’s all your body can manage, that’s enough for the day.

  • Natalie Schramm

    I’m so busy at the moment trying to convince everyone around me that “I’m ok” that I’m actually just exhausted. Some of these tips might be helpful. I know it can be hard to try something new when you’re already overwhelmed.

    • The Blurt Foundation

      Absolutely Natalie. Just the act of covering depression up can drain everything we have. We really hope you get some real rest and self-care time soon, and that things get brighter for you.

  • Kris Hughes

    I you are alone in the house, putting a song you like on, and dancing around to it, is a way to get your body moving and get grounded, work out emotions, etc. Even if you just wiggle a bit while making a cup of tea in the kitchen, or whatever.

    • The Blurt Foundation

      Absolutely! We love putting on Heart Radio and just going with it 😉

  • Karen Corradi

    Thank you for these tips. Guilt often strikes when I struggle to get up, showered and dressed most days but I will continue to see these small everyday actions (for some) as an achievement in my battle with depression. Another huge challenge is work. I quit my care support job some weeks ago as it was wearing me out bith physically and emotionally and I’m trying to set up as being self-employed so I can work around the hours that suit me best. I hope this may help others in a similar position. I have to work another 6 years, which is a really scary thought and I can’t quite see how I’m going to make it any other way!

    • NnoNno

      There are many, myself included, that will always work. My depression depleted my nest egg.

    • The Blurt Foundation

      It’s so tough to think that these small tasks take so much out of you Karen, totally understand where that guilt comes from. We like to look at this as your body taking a total break from life to regenerate – like a dead phone battery being charged up. You’ll get back to full charge when you’ve replenished your reserves for a while <3

      As for going self-employed, well done you! It's a big brave step in the right direction, we're sure of it 🙂