5 Easy Habits That Helped Me Cope with Depression and Get My Morning Routine Back

updated Dec 11, 2020
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Once upon a time, my morning routine often consisted of taking a yoga class or making a trip to my local coffee shop before diving into my work for the day. But when stores closed in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, those plans went out the window, and I realized how closely those early hours were tied to my mental health. Suddenly, tasks like leaving my apartment or unrolling my yoga mat felt insurmountable, and not only has that feeling has gotten stronger as the months went on, it’s often most overwhelming in the morning.

While depression can make it feel like you’re carrying extra weight all day, mornings can be especially difficult for people with depression to navigate, especially because the stress hormone cortisol often spikes when you wake up. As psychotherapist and social worker Elizabeth Beecroft, LCSW notes, the way your depression can mess with your sleep habits might also be partly to blame, and can certainly help explain why you haven’t been feeling refreshed, energized, and motivated to start the day.

Though setting a morning routine can be challenging, there are huge benefits for those dealing with depression. “A morning routine can serve as a kickstarter to your day, helping you get organized and feel prepared for the day ahead,” says Beecroft. She adds that routines can help “boost your mood by allowing you a sense of fulfillment and productivity,” but that you shouldn’t blame yourself if your depression is getting in the way of sticking to the plan.

“Routines are difficult for depressed people because it requires a mental and behavioral commitment that we might not always be able to keep when we are experiencing symptoms of depression,” she says.

More and more people are experiencing new or worsening periods of depression—and if you’re among them, your routines and coping mechanisms have likely been challenged or even tossed by the wayside. Here are five easy tips for setting a morning routine as a way to cope with your depression.

Credit: Minette Hand

Set realistic goals

Take baby steps by setting realistic, easy-to-achieve goals for yourself such as listening to a podcast in the morning or spending some time reading a good book.

Beecroft says it’s important to keep in mind that adhering consistently to any routine probably won’t happen overnight, and it will likely take a lot of trial and error to find what works best. Even so, celebrate the small victories as you discover them. “It’s important to understand that depression can happen in cycles and having acceptance that some days will be better than others,” she notes.

Invest in an alarm clock

It’s not a cure-all, but springing for an actual alarm clock will help your mornings in so many ways. Beecroft recommends finding an alarm clock you like and will set consistently, or if you want to continue using your phone, to put it further away from the side of your bed so you have to physically get up to turn it off. There are plenty of options available, at all price points—try a light therapy lamp if you have a habit of ignoring a traditional bell or alarm system. 

Get organized

Whether you prefer journaling or writing in any notebook, getting your thoughts down on paper can help you plan important projects, schedule your day, write out goals, and brainstorm your routines in order to come up with a plan of action. “Using the calendar app or the reminders app to set alarms and schedule out our activities can be useful in holding ourselves accountable,” Beecroft suggests. Staying organized can feel like an uphill battle when you’re in the throes of depression, but I’ve found that listening to a podcast or scheduling catch up calls with friends can help motivate me to move around and get things done.

Let people help you

A solid support system of friends and family as well as a therapist and an accountability partner, i.e., a friend who knows my boundaries and struggles, can be helpful. I’ve found weekly therapy sessions and conversations about productivity with my designated friend helps me release my feelings. Like a good cry, the conversations also help relieve symptoms that make me feel stuck or unable to fulfill daily tasks. Suddenly that burden doesn’t feel so heavy anymore.

Monitor your progress

Identifying your goals for your routines and monitoring them daily can motivate you to keep going, Beecroft says. Lately, I’ve been scheduling activities for myself using a to-do list or my phone’s calendar app to mimic the feeling of a routine, which helps me feel like there’s a purpose in every day.

This method doesn’t mean I don’t have slip-ups from time to time, however, and Beecroft recommends problem-solving in the moment. “If you encounter barriers, don’t let that stop you in your tracks,” she says. After assessing where your day went wrong, “try again to prevent avoidance,” she adds.

Manage your expectations

No matter your coping mechanisms, it’s important to remember that a bad day or two doesn’t mean you’re necessarily backsliding. It’s more than okay to fall out of a new routine every so often—in fact, it’s normal. It’s important not to be hard on yourself and remember that even people who aren’t dealing with depression fall out of routines all the time. 

“When this happens, take a step back and reevaluate any of those barriers or obstacles and let yourself realign,” Beecroft says. ”Make the necessary adjustments and keep trying.” 

With my brain fog levels changing every day, I’m still figuring out what works best for me—some mornings that’s playing with my cat, others it’s taking a moment to meditate and get grounded for the day ahead. Even when it feels like my progress is slow or I experience a misstep, I’m practicing more self-compassion and I consider that a big win for my mental health that will serve me in years to come.

If you’re feeling hopeless, have lost interest in everyday activities, or have other uncomfortable, persistent symptoms, it may be time to reach out to your doctor. You can also call the National Helpline at 1-800-622-4357.