Depression, for me, looks and feels like an incredibly intensified bout of laziness at times.
I know that the way I feel when I am depressed is not laziness. I know that the numbness, the lack of motivation, and the general lack of movement is a biological and cognitive predicament, not a character flaw. However, depression does inhibit me, causing resistance in even the smallest to-do list items.
So I’ve been forced to make an arsenal of morning habits that, for the lack of a better word, lazy-proof my day. I find that the way I start my day has incredible sway on the attitude and productivity level of the following hours. Here are some habits I find helpful. (Note: I sometimes totally fail to do these habits, and that’s okay. If you don’t do these things, or can’t do these things, don’t feel bad! It’s just something I try to do, when I’m able, that really helps set a positive tone for the rest of my day. Just try your best to be kind to yourself!)
Habit One: Make Your Bed
Make your bed every morning. I have depression, and I know that just getting out of bed (much less making it) is a huge accomplishment. But, if at all possible, I would encourage you to try. Even if company isn’t coming. Here are a few of the perks for people who make the bed:
- They are happier than non-bed-makers, according to Psychology Today. Gretchen Rubin, #1 New York Times best-selling author of the Happiness Project, says that in her research, “people cite the modest ‘make your bed'” as the biggest difference in their happiness.
- A higher percentage have jobs, stay active, and consistently feel rested.
- They sleep better than non-bed-makers, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
- They have a greater sense of accomplishment and pride.
Why is making the bed so powerful? Possibly because a more organized environment equates to a better mental state. Making the bed is a habit known as a “keystone” habit, a simple habit or routine that spills into, so to speak, later habits during the day. Making your bed may be the catalyst that causes the rest of your daily habits to flourish.
My pastor was the first person to tip me on the importance of making your bed in the morning. Making the bed, he said, is a tiny way to live out the gospel first thing in the morning.
Little things matter. William McCraven, former Navy Seal and leader of the raid on Osama Bin Laden, thinks making the bed is a crucial habit to build:
“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed. If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed.”
You can watch his commencement speech here.
Habit Two: Start The Day With Your Most Challenging Task
It is in our nature to put off the most difficult or dreaded task until the very last minute – as evidenced by the many stop-procrastinating-now articles swimming around the internet. The problem with procrastination is that the most important items on our lists end up unaccomplished… until tomorrow…. or the day after that. The remedy? Knock the hardest item off of your list first things first. As Mark Twain famously said,
Eat a live frog first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.
The feel-good-feels that occur after accomplishing your hardest task will motivate you right through the rest of the items on your to-do list.
Do you dread doing the dishes? Start your chores as soon as you are finished getting ready for the day. They’ll be done before you know it.
Again, I know that this can be difficult or verging on impossible for people with intense depression, so please remember to just do the best you can and feel proud at even the smallest accomplishments!
Habit Three: Make a Tomorrow List
This may not work for those who have night anxiety, but it really helps me because my anxiety is worst in the morning.
The “tomorrow list”. Grab your phone or planner before you crawl in bed for the night and make a list of things that need to be done the next day.
I would recommend listing the three biggest things you would like to accomplish. If you list too many items, you may start to be limited by the bad kind of stress. Nobody needs any more bad stress!
As I mentioned, my anxiety and depression are quite intense first thing in the morning, which makes it hard for me to wander out of my fog for long enough to decide what needs to be done – much less actually do it. Making a list the night before allows me to start accomplishing tasks quickly and successfully the next day.
Habit Four: Add Kindness to Your To-Do List
Benjamin Franklin woke up asking himself “what good shall I do today?” This is an excellent mindset to choose in the morning and all throughout the day. It is difficult to feel down when you are creating colorful schemes to bring joy to others.
Depression is, by nature, a selfish illness. It causes normally outpouring, lively individuals to feel limp, numb, and isolated. Fight the illness with a dose of kindness; finding something “good” to do will lace your day with a brighter outlook. It helps me a lot.
Habit Five: Wake up, Dress up, Show up
I have a hard time in the mornings. I am not a morning person to begin with, and then my mental state is also kind of a mess in the morning. It’s really hard, but I find that if I can start my day by taking care of myself, it really helps me stay healthy.
Don’t sleep in too much. Shower. Wash your face. Brush your teeth. Put on an outfit that makes you happy. Get moving. The movement will help you push past whatever may be weighing you down.
I know how difficult this can be, particularly if you are struggling with mental illness, general fatigue, or a physical ailment. It’s important not to beat yourself up if you can’t follow the “wake up, dress up, show up” rule on some days. DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP. However, I find that taking care of myself in this way is good medicine. You may be surprised by how refreshed and positive you feel after an action as simple as changing clothes.
Try picking up one or two of these habits to “lazy-proof” your day and overcome procrastination, despondency, and depression – one little moment at a time. Even if you can’t do it every day, do it when you can. Hope it helps you (: