Depression Self-Care Checklist

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I shared a Self-Care Checklist last month, and 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.

Important! 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 jo@samaritans.org.

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.

If, however, you’ve just find yourself suffering a ’bout of the blues’. If you’re tired, unfocused, a bit irritable, struggling to motivate yourself and finding yourself uninterested in things that used to make you happy, then the depression self-care checklist is a great place to start.

Depression self-care checklist

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 stop doing is cleaning 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. (You’ll notice most of the things on this depression self-care checklist are small, achievable goals).

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.

Fish pie, about to go in the freezer
Freeze a portion of food as a back-up for when you are too depressed to cook.

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 re-set, get away from a stressful situation, or shake off feelings of frustration and anger.

If you don’t have the energy for a walk then just put a deck-chair or towel outside and 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.

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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 feeling sweaty, greasy and unkempt 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,
  • And finally, 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.

Some suggestions:

  • 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

10. Exercise

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 – Printable Checklist

Download a printable PDF of the Depression Self-Care Checklist.

  1. Clean the dishes
  2. Eat a real meal
  3. Get some fresh air and sunshine
  4. Take a power pose
  5. Write out your thoughts
  6. Write down three positive things
  7. Clean yourself
  8. Go to a café
  9. Spend time with animals
  10. Exercise

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.

Pin the Depression Self-Care Checklist for later

Depression Self-Care Checklist

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20 comments

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  • This is a beautiful post – so kindly written and really inspiring ideas. I once saw a video by a navy seal to some graduating students and he said you should always make your bed – similar to your washing the dishes point he says that it starts the day with an achievement. Thank you for this – I think it will be so useful to many people. X
    https://youtu.be/yaQZFhrW0fU

    • Making the bed is a really great thing – I think of it as doing something nice for my future self (aka the person coming to bed that night!) Thanks for sharing the video 🙂

  • It’s like you’ve looked into my brain, and plucked out a post I have been planning on writing myself!
    These are amazingot simplistic but actionable steps that anyone with mild to moderate depression can do.
    Thank you, I am after share! Xxx

  • Shared this on pinterest, facebook and twitter. This is so important. When we are depressed it’s so hard to remember what to do to help you out. Having this list will help you move forward, to get to a better place. Thank you.

    • Hi Suzan – I didn’t make it into a printable, as I wasn’t sure how many people found the last one useful! But give me a couple of hours and I’ll get one up for you 🙂

      EDIT: It’s now linked in the post 🙂

  • Thank you so much for this. I can do these things. Most often what I’ve heard for ‘making you feel better’ from other blogs, Pinterest, and people in my life; they say to go do something for yourself—pamper yourself. Haircut, manicure, etc. but that doesn’t work for people like me. I don’t wear makeup, I don’t do my hair, I hate the feel of nail polish. ‘Pampering myself’ actually makes me feel worse.
    But THESE! I can follow this list. I’ve been in a downward spiral for about a week, each day becoming harder to get through. I’ll have to print this out and put it on my wall or fridge so I can work on it now and remember it for next time.

    • Hi Bradie,
      I am so glad you found the list useful! And I am also not a manicure and haircut person, I think those things are great if they make you feel good about yourself but they definitely aren’t for everyone. Hope you break that downward spiral.
      ~Suzie

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