If you’re going through depression, then your daily routine may have fallen by the wayside. Many people with depression find themselves sleeping during the day, withdrawing from their friends, and dropping out of hobbies.
But not having a daily routine can make depression worse. Here is how to build a daily routine that helps you deal with depression symptoms and live an overall healthy life.
Why is having a routine good for depression?
If you live with depression, you may have lost your daily routine. Depression can make you lose interest in things you used to enjoy as well as cause fatigue. This means that even if you used to have a healthy daily routine, it may have disappeared when your depressive episode started.
This is a problem for people with depression because it can get you locked into a self-perpetuating cycle. Having depression can make you lose important parts of your routine. For example, you may stop exercising on a regular basis. You may no longer have a regular sleep schedule (and start sleeping either too much or too little). You might eat too much throughout the day, or forget to eat altogether.
But not having a routine can also make your depression symptoms worse. For example, sleep deprivation has been linked in scientific research to a higher likelihood of depression. Physical exercise can improve depression symptoms, and you could feel your symptoms worsening if you stop working out.
To put it simply, depression can make it difficult to maintain a healthy daily routine. But not having a routine can make depression worse. Which makes it even harder to maintain a routine — and so on.
This is why maintaining a daily routine is so important if you have depression. Making sure you stick to healthy habits like restful sleep and exercise could help you manage your symptoms.
Research suggests that sticking to a daily routine can improve overall mental health. Having a daily routine can also have other benefits, like:
- Reduced stress
- Healthier sleep patterns
- More time for leisure and play
- Planned time for self-care
- Coping with mental health challenges like substance use disorder and bipolar disorder
What is the best routine for depression?
Although there are some evidence-backed suggestions you should follow, there may not be one “best” daily routine that works well for every person for depression.
Depression is incredibly common — around 280 million people around the world live with it. Each of these people is unique, and what works well for one person may not work well for you. For example, one person with depression might benefit from seeing a friend every afternoon, while for someone more introverted, this may feel exhausting.
With that said, there are certain healthy habits that have been proven to lessen the symptoms of depression. We’ve compiled the key things to include when building a daily routine for depression for you to consider.
Have a set sleep routine
It’s well-known that not getting enough sleep can quickly lead to depression or make your existing symptoms worse. But research also shows that having an irregular sleep schedule can have just as big of a negative effect on depression as being sleep-deprived.
If you live with depression, you might sleep for 12 hours on some nights while not being able to sleep at all on others. You might even sleep all day long on some occasions. These are all common experiences for people with depression.
But going to sleep, and waking up, at the same time every day can help you regulate your sleep patterns and manage your depression. Set an alarm, and wake up by it every day — yes, even on the weekends.
Practice mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness is an ancient practice rooted in Eastern spirituality, but it’s currently practiced secularly in the West. Mindfulness invites people to pay non-judgmental attention to each present moment. Mindfulness meditation is a common way to practice mindfulness, but you can be mindful at any point in your day.
Research shows that practicing mindfulness every day can be very beneficial for people with depression. For example, one review found that mindfulness-based interventions for depression were more beneficial than other treatments like health education.
Start incorporating a short mindfulness practice into your routine every day, and you may see these benefits for yourself.
Move your body
The research is clear: getting regular physical exercise is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. Studies have found that exercise can boost mood and alleviate symptoms of depression.
Find healthy and fun ways to move your body every day if possible. If not, strive for at least 90 minutes of moderate physical activity every week.
Some fun and easy ways to move your body include:
- Playing frisbee with your dog
- Going on walks with friends
Eat nourishing meals
More and more, we’re finding out (with the help of research) that what we eat plays a big role in how we feel. One of the symptoms of depression is changes to eating habits; you might be eating more or less than usual. Fatigue is also a common symptom of depression, and eating an unhealthy diet can make you even more tired.
By making sure you eat regular nutritious meals throughout the day, you can build a food routine that nourishes you (instead of making your depression worse).
Some foods that could give you a mood boost include:
- Whole grains
- Seafood, especially fatty fish
- Flaxseed, walnuts, and other foods rich in omega-3s
- Leafy greens
Meet your social needs
Social connection is one of the most protective factors against depression. But living with depression can make it hard to want to connect with people. You might feel too tired and withdrawn to reach out to loved ones. Or you may wish you could connect with others, but depression can cause negative self-talk that prevents you from doing so.
Everyone has different social needs. Extroverts may need to spend time with large groups of people often, while introverts may only wish to spend quality time with one close friend every week. Since each person with depression is so unique, we can’t tell you how often you “should” be spending time with others.
The most important thing is to ensure that depression isn’t getting in the way of healthy social connection. When you live with depression, it’s easy to want to self isolate or push others away. Although it’s easier said than done, try to make sure that you are meeting your own social needs.
It could be helpful to build social connections into your daily routine. For example, maybe you can spend an hour responding to text messages, or schedule a weekly call with your friend.
Get some sunlight
Research shows that some people have a disrupted circadian rhythm, which can contribute to symptoms of depression. This may be particularly true if you live with the type of depression called seasonal affective disorder.
One thing you may want to consider building into your daily routine is getting some sunlight, especially in the morning. Light therapy is a treatment method for seasonal affective disorder, which guides you to get natural light first thing in the morning for several minutes. People who live in dark or cloudy climates can use a light therapy box, a type of lantern that mimics natural light.
On top of treating depression caused by seasonal changes, light therapy can also help you to get more restful sleep — which may benefit you if you live with depression as well.
Gratitude is an underrated practice, especially if you live with depression. Research shows that people who intentionally practice gratitude every day have a lower risk for depression, as well as an overall better mood and quality of life.
Find ways to work gratitude into your daily routine. You may want to consider starting or ending your day with a gratitude journaling practice.
- What do you feel truly grateful for today?
- What was the best thing that happened to you today?
- What’s one thing, however small, that you’re looking forward to?
- Who’s one person in your life whose presence you’re thankful for?
Build a solid bedtime routine
Not getting enough sleep is one of the worst practices if you already live with depression. Sleep deprivation can make existing depression symptoms worse, and can even trigger a depressive episode in some people who are already at risk.
But having depression also makes getting enough restful sleep very difficult. You might start to feel like you’re trapped; you know you need to get sleep for your depression to get better, but your depression prevents you from getting the sleep you need.
You can practice good sleep hygiene habits to increase your chances of getting restful sleep every night. One of the most important sleep hygiene habits to incorporate into your daily schedule is to build, and stick to, a good bedtime routine.
Start getting ready for bed at the same time every night. This will train your body that it’s time to start winding down. Include only relaxing and non-stimulating activities into your daily routine, like:
- Taking a hot bath or shower
- Practicing meditation or gratitude
- Drinking a warm, non-caffeinated beverage like hot herbal tea
- Turning off all electronic screens about an hour before your bedtime
Even if your bedtime routine doesn’t work right away, stick with it. It may take some time, but it should eventually help you fall asleep at the same time every day. If you continue to experience insomnia or other sleep problems, tell your healthcare provider so you can talk about next steps.
Depression treatment at The Center • A Place of HOPE
Although having a healthy daily routine is important if you live with depression, we also understand that depression itself can make it extremely difficult to build a routine in the first place.
If building and sticking to a daily routine at home has been a challenge for you as you navigate the symptoms of depression, then it may be helpful to enter into a residential treatment program. In a residential treatment program for depression, you’ll be surrounded by a supportive team who will ensure your daily routine includes healthy habits that help you overcome depression instead of keeping you stuck in it.
The Center • A Place of HOPE has been voted a top 10 facility for depression treatment in the United States. We have decades of experience helping people just like you overcome their depression symptoms and build a healthy and happy life — one day at a time.
If you’re ready to make a big commitment to improving your mental health, give our admissions team a call today.