Those of us with depression know how easy it can be to spend the entire day in bed. Especially during the daylight saving time of the winter months when the days get colder and darker much earlier, finding the motivation to get up and face the day is that much harder.
That’s why identifying helpful morning habits or establishing a routine can be so essential. We spoke with nine people who deal with depression about how they get out of bed and stay motivated to meet the day’s challenges — no matter how big.
Occupation: Healthcare professional
“For years since I discovered Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, I would always run back to it. I think it has a lot to do with the story and the women portrayed in it having to simply find a way to survive because of their various circumstances.
“Similarly, I kind of saw myself in that way because of my depression. I’m often simply finding a way to survive because that’s all I can do on some days. So, reading a page or two in the morning on days when I’m really struggling has brought a sense of calm and familiarity (kind of knowing that I’m not alone even though the characters aren’t real people I know or can interact with).
“Having these ‘friends’ to remind me that today’s struggle doesn’t always mean tomorrow’s struggle has allowed me to wake up many times with a much more positive mind.”
Occupation: Freelance writer and writing instructor
“So, you can download the Alexa app and create routines. These routines can be set off by different inputs or actions such as the time of day, when an alarm is dismissed, or when a specific command is given to the device, e.g., ‘Alexa, start my morning pages routine.’
“I put a glass of cold brew coffee on my nightstand to drink first thing in the morning too, to cut down on the effort it takes to get me motivated and up and at ‘em.
“Part of my morning routine is stretching my body. I’ve found that if I get out of bed and do this right away, it’ll help me to stay active and not succumb to my ever-present desire to lie back down and spiral.
“I throw on an album while I do this and choose something in the proto-metal genre since the stereotypical ‘calming’ music has the opposite effect on me. The music and the coffee on-hand really help me to stay out of bed, which is the ultimate goal.”
“It almost feels too simple, but the process of making a cup of pour-over coffee is the mental cue that tells my brain it’s time to start the day. A few years ago, I started my mornings with the full (admittedly, perhaps mildly pretentious coffee-snobbish?) routine of weighing out beans, heating water to the right temperature, and methodically pouring to make a cup.
“Sticking consistently to the practice of doing this and then getting on with the morning on the good days helped build the habit. Now, the almost reflexive mental association with that process and me starting my day helps me break through some of the haze on the [tough mornings].”
Occupation: Full-time mom, homemaker, novelist, part-time playwright, and comedian
“My routine is my devotional, vitamins, inspirational music, and a cuppa tea. I started this when my first kid was born because first thing in the morning before I got out of bed was the only time I had to read my bible. I’m autistic, so I positively thrive off routines, especially what I like to call Starter Routines, aka executive function hacks.
“Part of the reason I started doing the devotional first thing is that it replaced the social media digest that was previously the first thing my brain engaged with. Starting instead with a bible passage was super clutch because it got my brain off myself and the drudgery of human existence. It also often served as a reminder to be thankful for at least one thing every day which was an invaluable tool.
“For me, this particular routine is just enough time to engage my brain on really rough or dark mornings. The reliability of it all is enough to make me at least start whatever the task is on my list.”
“I use an alarm so that I’m up in time for work, but some days when the sun is up in the morning before my alarm goes off, I wake up with the sun, which is always nice.
“My routine on sunny mornings always includes a (masked, of course) run in the park to get my much-needed serotonin boost. If it’s raining outside, I’ll try to do a home workout on YouTube. I do try to get some exercise every day, preferably as early in the day as possible, since I know it’s something that makes me feel better.
“I’ve been trying to make my bedroom as much of a sanctuary as possible these days since I’m spending so much time there. I’ll light a candle and give my plants some water as I get ready to start my day. I make my bed because seeing an unmade bed makes it easier for me to want to crawl back into it and avoid the world.
“I also make a cup of Earl Grey tea and, if I need a little extra caffeine, a cup of coffee, too. I feel like all of those things are really meditative for me — seeing the candle flicker, distributing water to each of my plants, letting my tea bag steep. I take a lot of solace in doing those things with a lot of intentionality and presence.”
Occupation: Digital media coordinator
“On the whiteboard by my desk, I have ‘Discover the Intrinsic Value’ written out in marker. [What it means] is there is an intrinsic, self-motivated aspect of my work, and that is what I need to connect to in order to have a successful day.
“Since I work in communications, I’m always connected to social media and the politics of the day — so I have to be mindful in order to identify and isolate the personal value in the work. I like to set that pace through my morning routine — getting all the NPR news blasts and social media checks out of the way when I’m showering, dressing, and having breakfast in the morning.
“Then, I can safely sit at my desk, put my phone aside, turn on some background music, and get in the zone without FOMO or notification anxiety.”
Occupation: Law student
“For whatever reason, my mood is usually the worst in the morning, so I do my best to both push myself and be gentle with myself to get going. No matter how bad I feel, I always try to make my bed. I’m not talking about a perfect pristine situation. But if I can manage just to throw back my blankets and pillows in a way that looks passable, I feel that I’ve accomplished something small.
“Next, I usually make myself an iced coffee, which during quarantine, has become a very delicate and thoughtful ritual. I lay out the glass I want to use the night before, so I don’t have to do as much work in the morning. Watching the coffee and cream mix spill over the ice, the weight of the glass, as well as the first jolt of caffeine in the morning is something I look forward to daily.
“I pause and just patiently sip my coffee in candlelight for a few minutes, just breathing and doing my best to be in the moment and calm my nerves. Finding a sliver of time for myself in the morning is absolutely what keeps me sane.”
Occupation: Writer and researcher
“I accidentally bought 7.5 pounds of steel-cut oats in June instead of rolled oats — and so the time needed to make the ‘everyday’ breakfast went from 5 minutes to 30 minutes. Now, I can’t just sleep in until the last minute anymore. But I can listen to podcasts or music and actually enjoy the morning. Plus, it’s fun to make seasonal varieties of oatmeal. We’ve been using The New York Times pumpkin spice recipe, which makes me feel so accomplished in the a.m. while I still definitely have morning brain.
“I typically love cooking and especially making fancy breakfasts. But before the fun oatmeal discovery, I wouldn’t eat anything at all. Oatmeal, steel-cut oats in particular, has been absolutely perfect because even the fanciest of recipes just call for 20 to 30 minutes of waiting and occasionally stirring.
“I now have a delicious breakfast for weekdays (weekends are still for pancakes) that I can look forward to, and I have ensured that my mornings are never rushed and stressful. Knowing that the first thing I do every day is the same, simple, and gentle on brainpower helps getting up feel more manageable.”
Occupation: Freelance romance editor
“An author I love has a Discord group where there are about 1,000 members with different channels. We have a mental health channel with plenty of subgroups where I hang out a ton. It’s so helpful knowing that there are other people who struggle with depression or chronic illness and understand what you’re going through. But more than that, everyone is so genuinely kind there.
“I suggested a few weeks ago that we start a subchannel for accountability. It’s really just us listening to what we’re doing for the day. Our amazing moderators created cheering emojis so we could just cheer each other on.
“Having depression is really isolating — and we find that it can be challenging to do certain things. Being accountable to others who can relate, just makes it easier. And at the end of the day, we update each other about what we’ve done. I check in there during the day to cheer people on as well.”