The Perfect Routine for Depression and Anxiety + FREE Printable!

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Routine is KEY when it comes to recovering from depression and anxiety! Without structure in your day, you allow your depression to let you lay in bed far longer than you should, and you give your anxiety time to run rampant.

That’s why I’m currently working on building morning and night routines that work for me. Working from home, it’s difficult for me to stick to a set schedule — but I’m challenging myself to take this time to myself morning and night, regardless of when I wake up and go to bed, to focus on self-care and healthy habits that will kick my depression and anxiety to the curb.

In this post, I’ll be sharing the habits I built into my morning and night routines to help alleviate depression and anxiety, as well as a FREE printable version so you can hold onto each of these routines if you want to try them for yourself!

My Morning Routine

Meditation

You’re probably sick of hearing the benefits of meditation by now, so I’ll just list one: according to the magazine Mindful, mindful meditation relieves anxiety by helping you sit with difficult emotions without over-analyzing them. Apps like Simple Habit and Insight Timer have dozens of free meditations to help you switch off the anxious part of your brain.

You can meditate morning or night, but I like morning meditation because 1) I’m not in danger of falling asleep! and 2) it turns off that feeling of “morning anxiety” I sometimes get when I wake up. (You know, when you feel a sense of dread in the morning for no reason?) Just 5-10 minutes is enough to start feeling the benefits — so really, you have no excuse not to try it!

Yoga

Why should you exercise in the morning? Because in the words of Elle Woods, “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy!” Once you get used to moving first thing in the morning, you’ll find that it helps you wake up and face the day with a higher mood and more positivity. (In case you’re still not convinced, check out Cosmopolitan‘s 15 reasons to exercise in the morning!)

At least 10-15 minutes of yoga each morning is a must to boost happy chemicals in my brain and combat my depression. I follow along to videos from several YouTube yogis, but Yoga With Adriene has been a longtime favorite!

Breakfast

If you ever experience brain fog due to depression, then you’ll understand why I swear by eating a full breakfast each and every morning. Well, okay — not every morning. I am human, after all! Point is, I’m trying to get better at eating a “real” breakfast, but when you’re in a pinch, a yogurt or a fried egg still does the trick.

Eating breakfast is almost always better than eating nothing at all, since breakfast jumpstarts our cognitive function in the morning to improve memory and concentration. When depression already impacts your concentration, the last thing you need is hunger pangs distracting you further. So, eat a balanced breakfast, darn it! I like to also enjoy my morning coffee during breakfast, as it gives me something to look forward to.

My Night Routine

Planning

Every night, I draw out my daily bullet journal spread, which includes gratitudes, to-dos and habits for the next day. I also fill in the day’s habit tracker and gratitude list before moving onto the next day. I find that sitting down and planning out my day helps me feel more organized and less anxious when I’m falling asleep. Instead of worrying about all the things I have to do the next day, I can rest easy knowing that I’ve made a list of my priorities for the next day — and that I haven’t forgotten anything.

Don’t forget to schedule positive activities into your day, too: I talk a lot about behavioral activation for depression, which is the idea that you should schedule pleasant activities that you enjoy doing to force yourself to engage in self-care. The idea is that you may not always feel motivated to start, but once you get past the initial dread, you’ll actually find yourself enjoying the activity!

Skincare

I can’t prove that having a skincare routine helps with depression or anxiety, but we do know that self-care — and specifically self-soothing — does help with difficult emotions. To me, having a skincare routine is part of that self-soothing ritual. As I’m rubbing all my various lotions and potions on my face, I find myself actually slowing down and taking time to notice how I feel. It’s a quiet moment that allows me to get in touch with my emotions and focus on doing something positive to take care of myself.

If you struggle with body image issues, a skincare routine can also be beneficial — after all, it’s a way of showing your body some love. You may not love every feature on your face or body, but taking care of your skin sends a subliminal message to your brain that you’re willing to take good care of your body anyways. These small moments of self-care may not seem like much, but they have a positive ripple effect that carries through into every aspect of our lives. The more you engage in self-care, the easier it becomes, so I recommend building at least one type of self-care (whether that’s skincare or otherwise) into your nighttime routine to give yourself some much-needed TLC.

Journaling

I talk a lot about journaling on this blog — because I’m obsessed with it! I’ve long believed in the power of journaling to help you get in touch with your emotions and learn more about yourself. I believe this act allows you to get to the root of why you feel anxious or why you feel depressed, which empowers you with the information you need to start making small, but positive changes in your life.

I believe in the power of journaling, but I also know how difficult it can be to start when you aren’t sure what to write. Lately, I’ve been loving guided journaling for that very reason! The exact journal I use is called Getting to Good by Elena Welsh, PhD and uses principles of CBT and psychology to guide you through journal exercises that improve your mental health on bad days. I highly recommend working through this journal if you are someone who’s new to journaling, found yourself in a journaling rut or wants to try something new in their journal routine!

Tips for Starting a New Routine

Before I share your FREE printable version of my morning and night routines, I want to take a moment to remind you that it’s always okay (and even encouraged!) to start slowly when it comes to implementing healthy habits. It’s better to focus on building one habit at a time than to try to upheave your entire morning and night routines at once.

It takes anywhere from 18 days to two months to build a habit, so it’s okay if you don’t feel settled into your new routine for awhile. If you can add just one healthy habit into your routine to help combat your anxiety and depression, you’ll be better off than not setting any goals at all. Plus, working toward a goal is a proven part of treatment for depression, so always having something to look forward to may actually help improve your mood!

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How to Find Purpose When You're Depressed

One of the most debilitating things about having depression is that it robs you of a sense of purpose. I’m the kind of person who needs to be working toward something at all times to feel fulfilled — yet my depression makes me feel aimless, like I’m wading through an endless swamp with no final destination.

Depression impacts our ability to make and stick with decisions, removes the sense of pleasure from activities we used to enjoy and challenges us to find our motivation to get out of bed, let alone work toward a goal. That’s why behavioral activation is a major part of depression recovery: scheduling pleasurable activities into your day helps you rediscover that sense of purpose again.

But what about purpose on a grander scale? No one talks about how depression makes us question our life or career choices, wondering if we can trust ourselves to know what’s best for us. Or, how depression affects our decisions, leading us to stay in unhealthy relationships or at a job we hate for far too long.

Depression presents the following question: how can you find and work toward the life of your dreams when you can barely summon the will to live? I firmly believe that discovering your life path and feeling like you are consciously working toward a life you love is an essential part of recovering from depression.

Although it probably feels far-fetched right now, I believe you CAN discover your purpose when life itself feels purposeless — and here’s how to do it.

Discover Your Greatest Strengths

When we feel depressed, we often lose sight of all the wonderful things about ourselves that other people love. That’s why recognizing your strengths can help bring meaning back into your life.

To discover your greatest strengths, you have a couple of options. Firstly, you can try taking a test like the High5 Strengths Test, which will give you a list of your top five greatest strengths based on your instinctual answers. Or, if you don’t have the attention span for a long quiz, try keeping a brag book filled with all the compliments you receive throughout the course of your days.

If you’re really stuck, try asking your therapist or a loved one for help discovering your greatest strengths. Depression distorts our worldview, so sometimes, all it takes for us to see ourselves more accurately is a little shift in our perspective!

Build Meaningful Activities into Your Day

I’ve talked a lot about behavioral activation on this blog before, but never the theory behind it — which is that behavior actually precedes motivation. While you might be waiting to feel “motivated” again before getting back to your daily activities, researchers have found that small actions actually motivate us to do more.

When you’re clinically depressed, it can feel challenging to fill your days with meaningful activities when literally nothing feels meaningful. In this case, it helps to look at a list of pleasurable activities (such as this one) and circle the ones you used to enjoy, way back before you began to feel this way.

Even if the last time you remember feeling true happiness was when you were a child, ask yourself: is there something you used to do as a kid that would bring you a tiny spark of joy now — for example, coloring in a coloring book or sucking on a popsicle until your lips turn purple?

Then, print out a behavioral activation schedule (such as this one) and start to fill it in with a handful of small actions you can take to bring meaning back to your days. You might be skeptical that doing any of these things would actually bring you pleasure — especially when pleasure feels like such a foreign concept — but often, all it takes to begin feeling better is to bite the frog and take that first step, even when you don’t quite feel like it.

If You Can’t Live for Yourself, Live for Others

From Oprah Winfrey to Jim Carrey, the history books are full of people who worked their way up from humble beginnings by turning their pain into passion. Oprah was abused; Carrey was homeless — yet both went on to become wildly successful. How, exactly, did they do that, despite facing tremendous odds?

So many people find their passion by discovering an outlet for their pain. Many people diagnosed with chronic illnesses find meaning by advocating for others with their disease (like me!). Others are able to turn their pain into beautiful art through drawing, painting, dancing or songwriting — and in turn, their art brings meaning to others who might be going through the same things.

When you’re in the midst of depression, it’s difficult to imagine this devastating disease ever having a positive effect on your life. But if you are able to turn your pain into passion, if you are able to turn your heartbreak into a means of connecting with or helping others, depression can actually become one of your greatest assets. It’s about working with, not against, your depression to create something meaningful and constructive.

If you want to turn the pain of depression into a meaningful life experience, volunteering with a mental health organization is a wonderful place to start. For example, signing up for the Buddy Project takes little effort, yet can save someone’s life if you’re able to build a real connection with them over social media. Or, get yourself a BuddyBox, which costs only 12 British Pounds a month and benefits The Blurt Foundation, an organization spreading awareness of depression in the UK.

Expand Your Social Network

Above all else, depression is a disease of isolation — which makes sense! After all, social connections lend meaning to our lives. Human beings are not meant to be islands, yet today’s virtual world can feel lonelier than ever. Nowadays, we can connect with hundreds of people online every day while still feeling like we have no true friends.

One of the things that helped me most during the worst of my depression, which I’ve talked about a lot on here, was attending an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). IOPs and other support groups encourage you to be social, open up to others and make new connections with people in the same boat as you. If you’re anything like me, this probably sounds freakin’ terrifying — but you’ll never reap the benefits if you never give it a chance!

Or, if you don’t feel motivated to leave the house, try apps like Meetup, Vina or Bumble BFF, which allow you to make social connections from the safety of your couch. While a lot of these apps can result in conversations that don’t go anywhere, I still think it’s better to make connections of any kind than to isolate yourself when you’re suffering from a depressive episode.

And, if all of this feels impossible, I encourage you to consider whether social anxiety could be contributing to your depression. If social situations give you panic attacks or unreasonable levels of anxiety, including physical symptoms (i.e. shaking; sweaty palms), you might consider seeing a therapist who can help treat you for social anxiety disorder.

Seven Things That Helped My Depression

Controversial opinion: I don’t think depression is a disease that can be “cured.” Instead, I view it as a chronic illness that requires constant management.

If you don’t stick to your self-care routine, depression can creep back into your life and rear its ugly head again. That’s why I’m sharing seven things that improved my depression.

While I don’t think you can magically “cure” your depression, I do think you can actively work to manage it and keep it at bay. Of course, that takes work — which is why you should work these seven things into your routine (or as many of them as serves you!).

I went to group therapy.

If you follow me on Instagram or read my blog regularly, you know I was in an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) for my depression and anxiety. A big part of IOP is regular group therapy sessions. At first, I was afraid to speak in front of other people about my deep personal issues — but after awhile, I became more open to the idea of group therapy. Once I was willing to give it a fighting chance, I got a lot out of it. I think a big reason why is the idea of social support: when you’re fighting depression, you tend to isolate. Group therapy forces you out of your bubble. Before you know it, you’ll be giggling along to each other’s jokes and making plans to go to brunch.

I learned not to believe everything I think.

When you have depression, your thoughts go a little bit like this: “My friend cancelled on me. She must not like me. I have no real friends. No one loves me. I don’t deserve love. I’m worthless.” If you believe everything you think, of course you’re going to feel like sh*t — your brain is straight-up bullying you! When you’re at the mercy of your thoughts, you naturally feel out of control. But once you learn to reframe your thoughts in a more positive way (and not to believe everything you think), you wind up back in the driver’s seat of your own brain. To get started with challenging your unhelpful thoughts, check out this helpful worksheet from TherapistAid.

I cut out emotional vampires.

Have you heard of the term “emotional vampire?” Like a bloodsucker, emotional vampires drain all your energy, leaving little left for yourself. They take the form of demanding “frenemies” who constantly gossip about others behind their backs, bosses with unreasonably high expectations and family members who feel the need to exert control over you. In the middle of a depressive episode, you can feel stuck dealing with people like this — but once you reclaim your power, you realize that you do have the power to change. Break up with that abusive partner. Say goodbye to bad friends. Set boundaries with family members who suck you (emotionally) dry. These types of choices can feel impossible in the throngs of depression, but don’t forget that they are real, viable options.

I stopped binge drinking.

I’ll clarify this point by saying that I’ve never had a drinking problem or felt dependent on alcohol. However, this point still stands for people like me who don’t identify as someone with a substance abuse issue. Back in college, I would go out drinking maybe once a month — but when I did go, I would drink four or five drinks until the details of the night started to get fuzzy. The problem? The next day, I suffered from much worse than a hangover: my depression would get worse, too. That’s because alcohol is a depressant. So, if you’re going to use alcohol while depressed, use it sparingly — don’t make yourself vulnerable to emotional distress by binge drinking. Better yet, only drink when you’re in a good mood, because when you start at a higher point while using a depressant, your lows can’t get as low.

I started dance classes.

Moving your body is so important. I say “moving your body” versus “exercising” intentionally, because I don’t believe you have to go to a gym and pump iron to reap the benefits of movement. Instead of forcing yourself to work out, you should find something you love to do that doesn’t feel like a workout. For me, that’s dance. I’ve been a dancer since I was in elementary school, so going to dance class just feels natural. Growing up, it was my safe place — and I still get that feeling when I walk into a ballet studio today. So, find the type of movement that makes you feel that way, too. Those endorphins are a natural high that even the strongest antidepressant can’t replace!

I found my purpose.

Stuck in the “rat race?” If you’re stuck in a job you hate, take this as your sign to leave and start doing something more meaningful. As someone who quit her job to start her own business, I can truthfully say that finding your purpose can change your life. I used to dread going to work every day — and now that I work for myself, I officially never feel that way anymore. Now, I look forward to waking up and working on my projects, because I know that helping people improve their mental health (whether that’s through marketing therapy or studying to become a therapist myself) is what I was put on this earth to do. Once you figure out what you’re meant to do, change your life and start working towards that. I know it can be difficult to find enough motivation to take a leap of faith, but taking that leap might just be what gets you out of that depressive funk.

I got dressed.

This seems so simple, yet it’s so transformative: try getting dressed in the morning. And by that I mean, try putting on an outfit that makes you feel good about yourself, instead of the sweats and hoodie you feel like wearing. If you’re feeling ambitious, maybe even put on some mascara and throw your hair up in a cute messy bun. It’s not that I’m vain, although seeing your reflection in the mirror will certainly put some pep in your step, but rather, it’s the fact that forcing yourself to do something you don’t feel like doing will make you feel damn good. Once you see yourself looking good, you’ll realize that you can do anything if you simply put your mind to it. The skill is called “opposite action,” and it’s something I learned in my DBT group that’s worked wonders on me.

Learning to Be More Assertive

If you or someone you love is having thoughts of ending their life, I encourage you to contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741-741 to chat with the Crisis Text Line.

Disclaimer: I am not a certified mental health professional. My advice is based solely on my experience as a psychiatric patient and my research/personal interest in mental health. Please consult a doctor or therapist for qualified treatment if you suffer from mental illness.

Those of you who follow me on Instagram know I have been taking part in an IOP, or intensive outpatient program, designed to aid in my recovery from depression and anxiety.

I’ve talked a lot about my experience with eating disorders on this blog, which I think is part of the reason my depression has become so bad this winter: I haven’t been sharing as much about this part of my life, even though blogging is a cathartic activity for me. So, I’ve decided to blog about some of the things I’ve learned (and challenges I’ve faced) as a patient in an IOP for mood disorders.

The IOP program I am in uses DBT, or dialectical behavioral therapy, which you can learn more about by clicking here. Even though DBT was originally created to treat people with borderline personality disorder, it’s now used to treat all kinds of mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, bulimia and anger management issues.

DBT teaches four main skills to help people recover from mental illness: Goal-Setting and Mindfulness, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Emotional Regulation and Distress Tolerance. Today’s topic, learning to be more assertive, is something I learned in Interpersonal Effectiveness — basically, a skill that helps you improve your relationships with others, leaving you happier and mentally healthier than before.

So, what is the key to becoming more assertive? If I had to choose one thing to work on, it would be setting healthy boundaries in my relationships with others. In this blog post, I’ll talk about how setting boundaries has helped me become more assertive and how I improved my assertive communication using the DEARMAN and GOAL FAST skills from DBT….

But first, let’s talk about why it’s important to be more assertive in the first place, and how training your assertiveness skills can make you a healthier, happier person, both mentally and in your relationships with others.

Why Assertiveness Matters

Ever been called a people-pleaser or pushover? You may have wondered why those terms are derogatory. After all, what’s wrong with wanting to make other people happy?

Truthfully, nothing is wrong with wanting to please others — except when it gets in the way of your own happiness. What’s NOT okay is lying to others about your wants and needs, or staying quiet when it’s important for you to speak up, because you’re afraid of retaliation from family or friends if you tell them what you really think.

Constantly holding in our true thoughts, feelings and desires isn’t healthy: in fact, it increases stress, depression and anxiety. Living for other people won’t make you happy, and neither will living in fear of creating a conflict. If you want to get what you want in life, you have to ask — and assertiveness is the skill that will help you make your needs heard.

If you’re not an assertive person, you’ve probably already noticed how it has made you unhappy or resentful in the past — but what about the benefits of being more assertive? In order to change, the benefits of being assertive must outweigh the costs…. and they do! Here’s how:

Benefits of Being Assertive

  • Building honest relationships with others. If you’re constantly bending to others’ whims to make them happy, you’re not showing your loved ones who you truly are. You run the risk of becoming codependent, or living your life to make another person happy.
  • Boosting your self-esteem. Constantly giving in to others’ desires, while ignoring our own, sends the message to our brains that what we want doesn’t matter. This is a negative thought I constantly use to have: “I’m not important. What I want doesn’t matter.” But you do matter — and when you start to act like it, you will also start to believe it!
  • Appearing more open to new relationships. When you are passive or aggressive (rather than assertive), you come across as distant and closed-off. However, when you’re assertive and learn to communicate more — and more effectively! — others view you as an open and honest person, which in turn makes them want to build a relationship with you more than they might otherwise.
  • Getting what you want more often. Ever wished that someone would “read your mind” and know what you wanted deep down, without you ever having to say it? This is a passive person’s favorite fantasy for a reason! When you lack the skills to be assertive, you rarely get what you want, because you never ask for it. Alternatively, when you learn to ask for what you want respectfully, rather than demanding in an aggressive style, and to come up with compromises that are pleasing to everyone, you’ll find yourself getting more of what you want far more often.

What is Assertive Communication?

In order to understand how to be assertive, we first need to understand what it means to be assertive — and in order to understand how to be assertive, you need to understand what the alternative styles of communication are.

To make this more fun, below, I’ve explained the four styles of communication — aggressive, passive, passive-aggressive and assertive — with check-boxes beside them, so you can see which communication style you most strongly identify with. Go ahead: copy and paste (or print) and play along!

Passive Communication

__ Failing to express their thoughts or feelings; opinions

__ Allowing others to infringe on their rights (deliberately or not)

__ Speaking softly and apologetically

__ Poor eye contact and slumped posture

__ Often feel anxious, depressed and/or resentful

Aggressive Communication

__ Dominating or humiliating others

__ Low emotional tolerance; high impulsivity

__ Use “you” statements

__ Interrupt frequently

__ May not listen well

__ Overbearing, intimidating and/or alienated from others

Passive-Aggressive Communication

__ Avoid confrontation; have difficulty acknowledging their anger

__ Use sarcasm and/or denial

__ Appear cooperative while doing things to deliberately annoy others

__ Use subtle sabotage to “get even”

__ Remain stuck in a position of powerlessness

Assertive Communication

__ State needs and wants clearly, appropriately and respectfully

__ Use “I” statements

__ Feel relaxed and connected to others

__ Respect others and accept their differences, without the need to control or dominate

__ Confident in themselves and prioritize their needs, wants and rights

Still unsure what type of communicator you are? Take this quiz from Amy Castro to find out!

How to Be More Assertive

So, you know where you’re starting from, and you know where you’d like to be — now what? You may not be communicating assertively now, but assertiveness is, thankfully, a skill that can be developed over time. All it takes is a little bit of practice!

Here are some exercises to try that will help you develop your assertiveness. And always remember: if your communication style is causing significant distress or problems in your life or your relationship, there’s no shame in seeking help from a qualified therapist or counselor in your area.

  1. Develop self-awareness. The first step to communicating assertively is developing self-confidence — believing that you deserve to be heard! Assessing your strengths and developing self-awareness can help. Try this Personal Strengths Inventory and/or Values Questionnaire to get a better sense of who you are and what you feel is worth standing up for (and being assertive about!).
  2. Use “I” statements. When communicating, do you focus on blaming or accusing others of what they’ve done wrong? Do you read others’ minds and put words into their mouths? These types of statements often take the form of “you” statements — i.e. “you made me do this!” or “you didn’t ask me how I felt.” Instead, shift your perspective and try phrasing statements using “I” — as in, “I felt sad when you chose work over me” or “I felt angry when you yelled at our child.” These types of statements encourage you to take ownership of your thoughts and feelings, rather than affixing blame to others.
  3. Try the “broken record” technique. One technique I learned in DBT during our interpersonal effectiveness training is to be a broken record. This is especially helpful if you’re someone who has difficulty saying no or voicing their opinions. Decide what you want to say in advance, phrase it as a simple statement — such as “I can’t take on any more work right now” — and repeat it until the person you’re speaking to gets the message. To see how this works IRL, a sample conversation can be found on this page.
  4. Notice how you respond to feedback. Feedback, whether positive or negative, can teach us a lot about ourselves and how we relate to the world — and so can how we respond to it. For example, if you’re someone who doesn’t take a compliment well, you may struggle with low self-esteem and possess a passive communication style. Or, if you’re someone who’s resistant to criticism, you may be passive-aggressive or aggressive, and may also suffer from self-doubt. Next time you receive feedback, good or bad, try filling out this Feedback Matrix worksheet from Mindtools — it will help you process your feedback in a healthier way, and determine whether your gut reaction is conducive to an assertive communication style.