The Benefits of Routine

Adolphe Borie: Girl Meditating

Adolphe Borie: Girl Meditating

I’m not a routine-y person. I’ve liked to think that I allow subtle differences in my mood or context to affect my actions instead of categorizing the situation and fitting a predetermined set of actions on top.


During a recent visit to a friend with a one year old, I was struck by the benefits of routine, for parents, kids, and depressives. When it comes to recovering from depression, there seem to be two major upshots to routine. The first is that it reduces the amount of decision making energy you have to expend. (Check it out: New research implies that we tire of decision making and get worse at it throughout the day.)

Those of you who’ve been depressed have probably experienced this – even small decisions can be exhausting and completely deflating.

When I’m in my routine, I don’t have to worry about whether or not to eat or meditate. I make just one decision every morning – to do the thing I promised myself I’d do: stick to my routine.

The second cool thing about routines is that you get to perfect them over time. If you notice that you feel particularly tired on Tuesday afternoons, you can build in extra sleep on Monday nights. You get caught off guard less often because your routine includes all the really necessary activities like eating, sleeping, and resting.

The tricky thing, as with trying anything new while depressed, is the possibility of failure and the disproportionate disappointment that can come with. I recommend introducing just one activity at a time. Once you do that thing every day without struggle, introduce another. Try to be patient with yourself. You’re beautiful and complex, and this shit ain’t easy.


Photo by freeparking on Flickr

Farting is Good for You

A good friend of mine was recently doing some things that depressives like me do all the time: she was worrying about things she couldn’t control, making plans and contingency plans for situations that would never come to pass, and generally freaking herself out.

We settled on this little strategy, which I think could be helpful for a lot of us.

1. Pick a little mantra for yourself, something you want to remember several times a day. Maybe it’s to be kind to yourself, to rest, or to think of someone you love. Maybe it’s to remember that you can’t control everything, or that you will get through this. My friend decided on “Not everything is a big deal.”

2. Pick a bodily function that happens often, one that you always notice but can’t control, like a ringing in your ear, or feeling the urge to fart. Concentrate hard on associating that bodily function with the mantra.

Bam. Free, consistent, daily reminder of that good-for-you thing that’s just out of reach.

Bam. Farting just became good for you.




Photo cropped from a photo by Ludovic Burton on Flickr.

To Rest or Not To Rest?

Be EasyWhen my brother was about to be put in “time out” as a kid he would face his palms up to my dad and wave them around, saying gently, “Be easy Daddy. Be easy with me.” Judging from the smile on my dad’s face when he tells the story, I think my brother’s pleas worked – Dad melted a bit and went easy on the guilty toddler.

Depressed people are told to be easy on themselves all the time. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t worry so much. Don’t take on more than you can handle. It’s good advice.

Unfortunately it’s in direct contradiction to the second refrain we’re constantly hearing – that of “contrary action.” Contrary action is the thing you’re supposed to do when you don’t want to get out of bed, don’t want to shower, don’t want to feed yourself or answer your phone. You’re supposed to act contrary to those urges. Fake it until you make it they say. You must not give in to those urges, because they’ll make you more depressed in the long run. Also very good advice.

So… um… which are we supposed to do?

Two Paths

I get that I’m supposed to wash my hair occasionally. But what about sports events? What about things I used to enjoy that I simply don’t anymore? How often can I fake it before it starts making me more miserable? And if being easy on myself means doing very little? Is that ok?

The internal debate is NEVER ENDING because when you’re super depressed, it applies to almost everything.

I don’t have an answer here. I’m looking for suggestions. Am I thinking about it wrong? Do these two types of advice actually complement each other? Is one just bullshit? Help end the ongoing argument in my struggling head-bag. Hit me up at or click through to leave a comment. Thank you!


Top photo from Regan76 on Flickr.

Bottom photo from William Ward on Flickr.

Three Signs You’re Getting Better

A-OkWe often don’t notice when we’ve improved. We focus on how much further we have to go without noticing how far we’ve come. The “mean voice” finds new ways to criticize.

Here is a short list of signs that you might be getting a little better, and some encouragement to help you feel good about them.

Your interests broaden. It occurs to you to go to a meditation class, a support group or just out with friends. It occurs to you to order a book or call your grandmother. This is a great example of the weird tailspins depression can cause. Instead of noticing your newfound interest in social or intellectual pursuits, you might (like I was) be overwhelmed by the fact that you still lack the motivation to pursue them. See? You can’t do anything. You’re so sick you’ll never start doing the things that could make you feel better. All you can do is stay at home – like the depressed person that you are.

When really you’re a huge step closer to doing lots of things. A little motivation and you’d be there, at that gathering, taking that class, reading that book.

You email people you haven’t seen in a while. That friend from high school who’s now a neighbor, that old work friend – you remember them fondly and now you feel like knowing what they’re up to. You might do this in the most noncommittal way, you might give yourself trouble for not answering their reply for days or weeks, but you’re taking steps to engage other people. For the first time in a long time, it seems like people have something to offer.

The good feeling lasts a little longer. Restful activities used to make you feel better in the moment, and maybe for part of the walk home. Now that good feeling lasts just a little longer. Maybe you make it the whole way home before the worries flood in. Maybe it’s a whole afternoon, a night, a day. Your body is more restored than it used to be by good, calm moments. Your mind is more able to hold them.

These are things which might seem tiny to people unfamiliar with depression. To us, they’re monumental. Being interested in people and things, having positive experiences actually affect your mood – these are significant improvements. These are signs you’re getting better.


Photo by Wonderlane on Flickr.

Letter to a Loved One

Morning letter

Morning Letter by Boldini

I’ve heard a couple versions of this tip for depression. The premise is that depression makes us treat ourselves pretty awfully. We avoid bathing, we have a mean, critical voice in our heads, we isolate and blame ourselves for things we can’t control.

Treating yourself poorly hurts, and it gets in the way of feeling better – but it’s really really hard to change. So here we’re aiming for just a glimpse of what it would be like to be kinder to yourself.

It’s a simple tip – think of someone that you’ve always felt tenderness for, someone with whom you have a relatively simple, loving relationship. Younger relatives are good candidates. Imagine that it’s them who feels the way you feel, and write them a letter.

What would you tell your younger sibling, your childhood friend, your favorite aunt if she were mired in depression?

When it works, this exercise helps my mind to rest. It lets me spend time in a loving place and helps me glimpse a kinder, gentler interpretation of my suffering – even if I can’t always stick to it.

Here’s to your health.


Photo by ErgSap on Flickr