Depression Self-Care Checklist
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I shared a Self-Care Checklist last month.
And the thing is, I noticed a few people hitting that post after searching for depression self-care checklist. Whilst I think that the first self-care checklist I posted is a great starting point, there are some slightly different self-care things you can do that are more specifically helpful for depression.
If you are thinking about suicide
If you are at the point where you are seriously considering ending your life, this post is not for you. Instead, you need to reach out to someone who can help you through this crisis.
You can get in touch with the Samaritans by calling 116 123 (free from any UK phone) or emailing email@example.com.
People in the USA can call 1-800-273-8255 and speak to someone at Lifeline.
I emailed the Samaritans when I was 19 and feeling low. They helped me get through a dark and difficult time without judgement. There are people who care about you. And you deserve to live. No matter what.
Depression self-care checklist
If you can feel yourself sliding into a downward spiral, this depression self-care checklist will help break the cycle.
1. Clean the dishes
When I get depressed the first thing I lose is my ability to clean up after myself.
Unfortunately, when you stop washing dishes, things get out of control fast. Pretty soon you are drinking wine out of a dirty tea cup and crying into a giant pile of laundry because you don’t have any clean underwear.
So. You don’t need to clean your house. But you do need to do your washing-up.
If I had a list of the most important household chores it would look like this:
- clean the dishes
- do the laundry
Yep, that’s it. Those two chores are the foundation. Most other things can slide for a while.
Cleaning dishes is simple. You know how to do it. Put everything else you’re worried about to one side. Forget whatever hopeless situation is swirling around your head.
Just clean the dishes.
Here’s a bonus side-effect: You get to set yourself a small, achievable goal and you complete it. That alone makes you feel better.
2. Eat a real meal
Now you have clean dishes, you can do a great and wonderful thing.
You can eat real food.
Now, I am not expecting you to cook a roast dinner or even boil up some pasta. But you can heat up a can of soup, or you can shove a pre-made veggie burger from the freezer into the oven.
If you’re prone to depression, it’s a good idea to keep a bunch of super-easy but nutritious meals around. Canned soup. Frozen meals. And, if you cook regularly, make sure you always freeze a portion for later.
The thing about depression is that it knocks your basic routines sideways. Depression wants you to lie down and do nothing.
Instead, you need to do as much as you can to look after yourself on a basic level. That includes making yourself eat real food, rather than subsisting on crisps and cheese strings (yes, I have been there).
3. Get some fresh air and sunshine
Look, I know it’s a truism. But, the thing is, going outside helps you feel better about everything.
A ten minute stroll around the block will get your blood moving and blow out the cobwebs. It’s a great way to reset, get away from a stressful situation, or shake off feelings of frustration and anger.
Alternatively, if you don’t have the energy for a walk put a deck-chair or towel outside and just sit in the sunshine for a few minutes. It’s an instant pick-me-up for an otherwise bad day.
4. Take a power pose
Did you know that your mood affects your body language and posture?
Well yes, of course you did.
But did you know that the opposite is also true? That your body language and posture affect your mood?
Lifehacker published an interesting article about the science behind posture and how it affects your brain. The most interesting take away from that article for me?
For example, when we sit up straight, we are more likely to remember positive memories or think of something positive in general.
Depression makes us hunched, small and slow. You can break the self-reinforcing loop by adopting a ‘power pose’. Sit or stand up straight, take a deep breath, spread out your arms and legs.
Take up space! Make some noise!
Try and remember to sit up straight, or stand up and put your hands on your hips regularly throughout the day. If you have a smartphone, set a reminder for every 20 minutes or so to check in with your posture.
5. Write it down
When I get depressed, a thousand things spin around in my head. I am trying to remember what I need to do, I’m beating myself up about what I didn’t do, I’m half-remembering past regrets… and on top of that my brain is tired and I forget what I’m doing half way through doing it.
Trying to remember everything is exhausting. The best remedy is to write it all down.
- Write out your to-do list.
- Yes, you can write your Christmas shopping list even if it’s May.
- Work through your guilty feelings and write your “I’m sorry, Maggie, for stealing your barbie doll when I was seven” apology letter.
- Basically, write down whatever thoughts are stuck on repeat in your brain. And give yourself permission to forget them.
6. Write down three positive things
After you’ve written out the thoughts you can’t get out of your head, it’s time to break the negative thought cycle.
You can do this by writing down some positive things about yourself and your life.
Firstly, write down what you are grateful for. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It can be the cup of tea you just drank, or a text from a friend.
Secondly, describe a time when you were happy. Write down what happened, who was there, the smells, the tastes, how you felt.
Finally, describe yourself the way your best friend would. Write down all your positive characteristics. Write down what you are good at, what you’ve achieved, and why you are awesome (and you are awesome).
The truth is, our brain evolved to scan and recognise problems. That’s what helps us survive. As a result, we tend to focus on and remember negative things much more easily than positive things.
We need to actively work to focus on positive emotions, memories and moments.
7. Clean yourself
Another thing that I stop doing when I’m depressed? I stop cleaning myself. Simple things like having a shower becomes an insurmountable task.
But then, feeling sweaty, greasy and unkempt just makes me feel even worse about myself.
So, in order, depending on your energy levels:
- Brush your teeth (leaves your mouth minty fresh, and it only takes two minutes),
- Wipe your face and underarms with a wet washcloth (quick and easy way to feel less gross),
- Use dry shampoo if you can’t face a shower,
- Take a shower if you can face it,
- Apply some of your favourite perfume/aftershave.
8. Go to a café
When I’m depressed, I don’t want to interact with people. But, as a result, it’s easy to end up isolating myself. One of the things I found really useful was to go to places where I was surrounded by other people, but I didn’t have to talk to them.
- Get a drink at a coffee shop or café. Sit and read a book while you drink it.
- Visit your local library. It’s a quiet place, and you can just look at books for a while.
- Go to a nearby museum and just wander around looking at stuff
- Spend an hour people watching at the park
9. Spend time with animals
True story: spending time with animals reduces tension and improves mood. There are a few ways you can spend time with animals, even if you don’t have a pet yourself.
- Offer to dog or cat-sit for a friend
- Take your neighbour’s dog for a walk
- Visit your friend with all the cats
- Become a volunteer dog walker for a dog rescue centre
- Use a website like ‘Borrow my Doggy‘ to find someone nearby who could use help walking their dog regularly
Look, in my other self-care checklist post I said not to worry too much about exercise.
But depression is different. Depression will make you not want to move ever again.
The only way to beat it? Is to move. Exercise works exceptionally well for people with mild to moderate depression, and is a known mood booster. It releases many of the same neuro-chemicals that anti-depressants do.
It doesn’t have to be hardcore exercise. For me, the only exercise I could face was walking and yoga.
All I needed to do to go for a walk was put on my shoes and go outside.
And, for yoga, I didn’t even need to do that. I did yoga in my pyjamas, on my rug. A lot of the time, honestly, I spent in child’s pose.
You need an exercise that is gentle, easy, and doesn’t require you go to the gym to make it happen.
The Depression Self-Care Checklist – Summary
- Clean the dishes
- Eat a real meal
- Get some fresh air and sunshine
- Take a power pose
- Write out your thoughts
- Write down three positive things
- Clean yourself
- Go to a café
- Spend time with animals
P.S. Read The Upward Spiral
One of the best introductory books I’ve read about managing depression is The Upward Spiral* by Alex Korb. It’s filled with positive actions you can take, and is underpinned by robust science.
If depression is something you struggle with, I highly recommend picking up a copy.
It will help you feel like depression is a manageable thing, and not a terrible curse that sucks away all joy.