Depression: Coping With Particularly Difficult Mornings

Mornings can be particularly difficult when you have depression. We wake up, and it can feel like moving is impossible – our limbs feel heavy, our heads are particularly foggy, and energy levels are at an all-time low. The day stretching ahead can feel foreboding, we struggle with all the decisions that present themselves; what to wear, what to eat, what our next steps are. Going back to sleep feels like the only attractive option.

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The Science Bit

The technical term for mornings being worse than afternoons is ‘diurnal variation of mood’. People with depression often have a disrupted circadian rhythm – something which impacts our sleep. Part of this rhythm is the way our bodies release hormones like cortisol and melatonin which also impact our sleep – cortisol is released to keep us alert during the day, and melatonin is released at night to make us sleepy. When the circadian rhythm is disrupted, the hormones can get released at the wrong times, which can contribute to depression, and make mornings particularly difficult.

Sorting Your Sleep

Unsurprisingly, one of the things which can help a morning is having a good night’s sleep the night before, but we know that’s often easier said than done!

Some things that can help with a good night’s sleep are:

  • Exercising a little during the day
  • Eating regular meals throughout the day
  • Trying to get into a regular bedtime routine – going to bed and waking up at similar times each day, and trying not to nap during the day
  • Avoiding too much caffeine and alcohol, particularly close to bedtime
  • Sleeping in a comfortable environment – the level of light, temperature, and number of blankets you find works best for you

But What About Mornings?

Even if you have the best night’s sleep you’ve ever had, mornings can still be hard.

Some ideas of things which could help on a morning include:

  • Get your clothes out and your bag ready the night before – this one may prompt strong memories of year seven, but when our brains take a little while to get going, and everything feels overwhelming, it can be helpful not to have to think about things like clothes. If you struggle with food on a morning, get that out too – pop the cereal box and a bowl on the table in front of you (or any other food that takes your fancy).
  • List it – write a list of the things you need to do each morning, and pop it in your diary or stick it on your bedroom door. It can help remove the panic of forgetting things and reduces the amount you have to think about when you first get up.
  • Brain dump each morning – have a notebook next to your bed with a pen, pencil, or colouring pencils, and ‘brain dump’ onto a page each morning, through writing, drawing, or just scribbling. It can help to get rid of the initial ‘everything is awful’ feelings.
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  • Mindfulness – some people find that starting the day in a mindful, or more gentle way, can help mornings feel a bit more manageable.
  • Give yourself time – waking up five minutes before you have to leave for work is stressful at the best of times. Set your alarm early enough to allow enough time to let your brain wake up a little, get dressed and eat breakfast. Depression can slow everything down so you might need to set your alarm a little earlier than others in your household.
  • Have something to look forward to – maybe it’s your favourite cereal, popping a CD you love in your car to make the commute more bearable, or arranging a lunchtime coffee date with a friend. Try to add something that you enjoy into your day.

We hope that some of these ideas are helpful. We’d love to hear any ideas you have, too, for managing difficult mornings.

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