Today’s depression homework activity is about scheduling and routine. It is a way to find order in the chaos that often becomes our lives when we are depressed. For many people, having a schedule or routine might seem boring or dull. However, it doesn’t have to be. It can give shape to the day, and it has been shown that the majority of people thrive when they have some sort of routine.
Often, when we are depressed, our lives are chaotic. This exercise is about giving some shape to that chaos. It is not about telling ourselves what we “should” do. We hear enough of that. Instead, it is about finding a way to take good care of ourselves when we might be feeling hopeless, like nothing matters, and possibly even self-loathing.
It is hard to do these exercises, but they are an act of hope and bravery. Doing the exercises represents a fight against the darkness. Developing a schedule is finding some order in the chaos and it is an important step towards healing and self-compassion.
You do not have to have every moment of every day scheduled down to the minute to benefit from a routine.
How to schedule your life?
At first, please accept that you may not be perfect at your new schedule and that is okay. Just try to improve gradually.
- Start with a good night’s sleep and sleeping regular hours. This is what has become known as “sleep hygiene”. When we are depressed, we can often tend to sleep strange hours or over-sleep, so the first thing is to plan to get up at a certain time and plan to go to sleep at a certain time.
- Also, try to resist the urge to nap. If you find you cannot resist the urge, schedule in a nap for a fixed 20 minute period and do not exceed your nap time. Many people make the mistake of getting into a deep level of sleep during a nap and that is actually counter-productive because, often, you wake up feeling more tired.
- Most experts recommend that naps do not exceed about 20 minutes. In 20 minutes, you might not even really “feel” like you were asleep, but you reach a light level of sleep that can refresh your mind and body slightly and recharge you to go on with your day.
- Write your planned sleep schedule into your homework notebook and keep track of how well you stick to the schedule. When you do not stick to the schedule, try not to get upset about it.
- Getting upset with yourself just feeds the depression. Instead, try to look at the situation scientifically. What, specifically, caused you to stay up late or sleep in? Write that in your notebook. You may begin to see patterns that you did not notice before and this might help you to make some changes. For example, maybe you have long naps each day to make up for not sleeping at night. If you shorten those naps, would it help you sleep at night? Can you experiment with that?
- Schedule a bath or a shower every day or every other day. This may seem obvious or unnecessary to some people, but others will find it challenging. This is because grooming may not come naturally when you feel depressed, but you will feel better about yourself when your body is clean. If you are already taking good care of your grooming, that is great.
- If not, try planning to begin or end almost each day with a shower or bath. This helps you feel better about yourself, look better, and it lends some structure to the day. Also, it can be very relaxing and therapeutic in and of itself.
- It is interesting how when we are depressed, often we might feel reluctance to bathe, but the act of bathing usually feels good. Write when you plan to bathe/shower in your homework notebook and write how you felt before and after your bath/shower.
- So, start the day, for example. with waking up, a shower, breakfast, and exercise. You can vary the schedule to suit your life, preference, and employment needs. Breakfast is important. Proper nutrition is important. In particular, fresh fruits and vegetables, calcium, and protein. I discuss more about food and nutritional supplements for depression here.
- Exercise is important because it can help to alleviate depression. Some studies have shown that exercise alone for ten weeks can improve depression as much as medication and therapy. So, it is worth giving it a try!
- If you can’t schedule it in the morning, schedule it later in the day.
- Most books suggest that 30 – 45 minutes of brisk aerobic exercise 5 days per week is important for overall physical health. However, always practice non-violence with your body. You can do the 30 – 45 minutes in 3 sessions of 10 – 15 minutes each, for example.
- Or, if your body is really out of shape, start with whatever you can do, and do exercise you enjoy (or at least do not mind).
- For example, suppose you were in such bad shape that even walking around your living room left you out of breath. Then, schedule walking around your living room for maybe 2 minutes, but do it five or six times per day until you are stronger. Also, in such a situation, you might consider a gentle aquafit program.
- Most people are not that out of shape, but start with where you are and try not to criticize yourself. In fact try to enjoy your exercise time no matter what your level.
- Some people hate exercise. How can you enjoy something you hate? Well, if you live somewhere where the weather is nice, you could walk or jog outside and maybe see something beautiful like the ocean or some gardens. Either way, you could purchase an inexpensive mp3 player and listen to your favorite music as you go along.
- Try to choose an exercise you enjoy. Maybe swimming, yoga, tai chi, or biking?
- This is your time for relaxation as well as exercise! Take some time to gently stretch after exercising because it feels good and is good for your body.
- Schedule time during the week to do some laundry because it feels nice to wear clean clothes and use clean towels and to have them ready for you when you need them.
- Schedule time to prepare and eat meals. So many people eat “on the run” and this leads to non-mindful eating. It can lead to overeating or undereating. Either way, it takes the joy out of food.
- If you feel you have no time to prepare meals, perhaps you can find one day a week to prepare multiple meals or prepare them with friends.
- There are many solutions when we think hard enough about these types of problems.
- Depression tends to limit our ability to think clearly about solutions. Hopefully, over time, we can expand that thinking.
- Schedule time to socialize: Make time to see people as well as animals (pets, etc.) you like. Socialization might not be what you feel like, but it is important, especially when you are depressed.
- Schedule time for play. Play will be the subject of a future depression homework exercise.
- Schedule time to work towards important goals in your life such as studying if you are taking a course or doing depression homework or any other important life goals that you have.
- List other important things that need to be in your schedule: work, time with children, etc.
- Are you over-scheduled? This happens when there are no breaks in your day at all.
- Sometimes when you are over-scheduled, this is just a sad fact of your life that you cannot change. For example, if you are poor and a single mother and the father refuses to help or is an inappropriate father (abusive, etc.), and you have no friends who you feel close enough to ask for any help, you are stuck.
- If you are in such a situation, try to find ways to schedule things so that your life will be better. For example, depending on your children’s age and disposition, you might be able to include them in the “game” of folding the laundry or cooking (or cleaning up after a meal) It is important for them to learn these skills and that they are part of the household also so that these will not be big surprises when they are adults!
- Try to slowly gather resources so that your schedule is manageable. You are trying to build a life that you can be happy and excited about.
Having a schedule does several things:
- It keeps you on track with your goals by ensuring that you make time for achieving them.
- It gives you a sense of “sanity” and continuity each day.
- It ensures that the basics of your life such as grooming, eating, sleeping, and exercise get accomplished.
- It provides you with a basic sense of accomplishment.
If you are used to a chaotic lifestyle, it may not be easy to adhere to a schedule. Do not be strict or harsh with yourself. If you are completely unused to having a schedule, try adding one or two things per week to a regular schedule and work your way up from there. Be sure to document in your homework notebook how it feels to schedule yourself.
This is not about doing something because you “should” do it. This is about bringing order to the chaos of your life out of a sense of self-love and self-compassion. This is about taking care of the person that is you. This is about proving to yourself that you are worth the time and effort it takes to take care of you.
So, please do not get bogged down in a feeling of having “messed up”. Instead, celebrate the wonderful things you do for yourself. And if you have a day or two that descends into chaos, remind yourself that none of us is perfect and that each day is a new opportunity to take wonderful care of yourself because you truly deserve it!