10 things to avoid while recovering from depression [+ free printable worksheet]

10 April 2016

I'm still depressed more than I'd like to admit. The small stressors of life can easily swallow me up, and the depressed side of me is fast to react.

I repeatedly stop doing the very things that can help me, and I end up doing the things that perpetuate and worsen my symptoms.

Self-sabotage at it's best!

When you fail at your recovery regiment and find yourself with all your symptoms flared up, it is hard to get back to it especially with the feelings of guilt and thoughts of criticism but the longer you wallow in your failure, the more you delay getting better.

Sooner rather than later it's time to acknowledge the failure, allow the feelings of guilt, sadness, pain without the thoughts dwelling on them and then say: “Fine, I failed this time. It's okay. Time to restart.”

Restarting takes commitment, self-discipline, and dedication. Simply put it takes a lot of effort, and depression is known for exhausting effort with a lightning speed.

It also takes a certain amount of knowledge about oneself and the things that are best avoided when pursuing recovery.

1. Avoid keeping it to yourself

When the mood shifts, the stress piles up, or you feel something is not quite right, the clock starts ticking. Depression can creep up on you without you noticing but from there it can spiral pretty fast.

The worse thing you can do is keeping quiet and isolating yourself.

Having a stable friend, the best one may be a therapist, who you can rely on and go to in times of crisis can prevent the downward spiral.

Having that one person who you keep talking to regularly may be helpful with monitoring your state of mind, perhaps they can notice things soon enough and encourage you to take action in the right direction.

Depression is not something anyone should battle alone, support and positive encouragement is vital to our recovery.

And although the internet is a great place, it cannot replace the real people in your life. You need friends, family, doctors, and anyone who is near and you can talk to.

Nothing is as dark as depression makes it, it's imperative that you reach out and seek help!

2. So you never ask for help?

Asking for help can be excruciating especially when your thoughts are constantly nagging you about your worthlessness.

But it's not the only reason why we have trouble asking for help.

It takes courage and vulnerability. And that's not easy to do if you don't feel safe.

It also requires sucking up our pride and letting go of false beliefs, such as “I should be able to do this myself.” “I cannot believe I'm so useless.” “I don't want to bother anyone.” “Surely nobody has time for this.”

Unfortunately not asking for help can bring more stress into the body and make recovery so much harder.

Find that someone – a medical professional, a friend, a parent or a partner, someone you feel safe with and ask for help. It can be anything a medication adjustment, small or big tasks around the house or help with the children.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, we all need a little nudge every now and then.

3. Ditch the bad sleeping habits

Depression affects sleep in the strangest ways, and it goes the other way round too.

I find it almost impossible to get undisturbed whole night sleep and wake up refreshed in the morning which makes me tired and sleepy during the day.

And then there are days when I'm so exhausted that I can sleep two days in a row.

But we can still do some things to get better and more regular sleep. The usual advice is no caffeine, no alcohol or drugs, exercise regularly, at least, three times a week, eat a healthy diet, make your bed a designated place for just sleep (and sex unless depression stole your appetite too), and most importantly have a sleeping routine.

Have a set bedtime, know what works for you and be unapologetic!

I usually go to bed between 10 pm and 11 pm anything after this time, and I'm set for a disaster. I try to wake up every day at 7 am but sometimes I sleep a little longer which comes with consequences like guilt and may be a migraine.

It takes some time to change sleeping habits, be kind to yourself and be patient.

And know yourself, I can't stress this enough. You already know what is best for you and how much sleep time is your ideal, the hard task is to adjust your life accordingly.

To find what's best for you track your routine with Optimism Online.

4. Refuse to neglect yourself

Skipping meals, forgetting to brush the teeth or floss, not taking a shower or staying in pj's all day I know I'm done in when this happens.

Nothing can perpetuate depression more than stopping personal care in this way.

I know, I've been there. And it is so hard to get out of the bed and do all these things when depressed but be aware that neglecting yourself doesn't help you get better.

One solution to this problem is to plan going out of the house every day and make it a habit.

It's easy to stay in all day when you're unemployed or working from the house.

I don't have any easy fix for you other than just do it. Step by step. Minute by minute. When it's too hard, refer to a friend.

My four legged friends really helped with that. But if you can't have a dog it's fine just get an accountability body.

Someone who won't mind to regularly check on you and kindly nag you, maybe make you feel a little guilty, so you get up and do what's best for your mental health.

Do you want an email nagging body? Contact me.

10 things to avoid while recovering from depression

5. Say no to staying in a house that is too cold/too dark/too messy

Everything seems more gloomy when the apartment or house you live in isn't at its best.

I currently live in the coldest apartment I've ever lived (there is no central heating apart from our little electrical heater). It's great in the summer... and in the winter I can forget to unload my shopping, and the fridge items don't get spoiled.

And although I like the space and all the light from the large windows we have here, I am not planning on spending another winter in this apartment. The winter was long and the temperature indoors was far below the ideal 21 °C (70 °F), and it took a toll on my well-being and productivity.

Another thing is clutter.

When you have to move things around to accommodate any activity that you need to do, it can add to the feelings of overwhelm and de-motivation.

I'm just in the middle of de-cluttering, perhaps a minimalistic way of living can make life with depression a little more bearable.

6. Restrain from running away from your pain

How do you deal with your pain and all the uncomfortable feelings?

We all have certain coping mechanisms which we are either aware of or not so much. Avoiding, numbing or running away from the negative feelings is the worst thing we can do to ourselves.

Thinking and emotions go hand in hand. The stories we tell ourselves inevitably influence our emotions. The stronger the emotions the more our mind try to justify them.

It takes a lot of practice to tame these elements of the human nature but we now know that it's possible.

Learn more: Emotions: All you need to know and how to use them in your favor

7. Avoid waiting for motivation

Depression kills motivation, but it's imperative to keep living and do the things that help your recovery.

When depressed, everything requires a lot of effort this means that your willpower which works a lot like a muscle gets exhausted pretty fast. So when you finally get out of the bed and get dressed perhaps you can't do much more, or perhaps you burn all your willpower on the things that need to be done instead of self-care and the things that you enjoy doing.

It's also natural to lose interest in things that you once enjoyed which makes finding motivation challenging.

Accepting that motivation might not come is key to starting any tasks in your day.

A good idea is to set a goal to do things just for the sake of doing them, set yourself for success by setting the bar low, and shed any high expectations, and most of all be self-compassionate.

8. The trap of not having a plan

One of the biggest mistakes to make while depressed is not having a plan and structure to your life.

Having a plan and structure for all your days is essential to a steady recovery. Knowing what to do and when eases anxiety and frustration about what you should be doing right now.

By doing the things on your list fast without thinking about them, you outsmart procrastination and save a little bit of your willpower.

I have two plans. One for the time when I feel good and can manage my days relatively well and the second one for when I feel overwhelmed, stressed or exhausted.

I don't put too many tasks on my list to avoid adding to the overwhelm instead I keep it simple and manageable.

On top of the tasks which need to be done like work or cleaning the house, I also incorporate the things I enjoy like any creative activity, and the tasks important to my well-being like social activities, journalling, constructive and reflective time alone, or walk in nature.

I usually schedule my plan in advance, and I keep in mind that although some tasks are regular, at times life can come in the way, and it's important to remain flexible. But in saying that I'm also learning to stick with what's priority and say no I'm sticking with my plan when needed.

On my emergency plan are just 3 activities - meditation in the morning, exercise in the afternoon and journalling in the evening. They are a priority, and I know I'm in trouble when I stop doing them.

Click here to download your printable daily activity worksheet.

Daily Activity Diary worksheet

9. Stop hesitating in making small decisions

Depression turns decision making into a painful torture.

Since decisions making is such a big part of our lives, we can become completely paralyzed and overwhelmed by all the small decisions that we have to make every hour of our day.

And when we do commit to a decision, we may start to analyze it and think that it was a mistake which makes it harder for deciding the next time.

I have a terrible time making decisions but I'm learning to trust myself and don't analyze what could have been, and when I'm unsure I stick to my plan.

Although it's helpful to make the small everyday decisions fast, don't make any big life decisions while depressed.

10. Avoid devouring self-help books/articles

I'm so grateful that you're reading this article and got all the way to this point but even though reading about improving your life is great, I often forget that the essential part of learning is practice (I hope you're not like me).

I love to learn new things but like a butterfly I go from a flower to flower and have a problem with sticking with one thing before I start to learn another.

Applying the things you learn is a lot harder but so much more enriching than reading more and more.

I'm off to fill my plan with ticks, how about you? Is there anything you avoid doing while struggling? Let me know in the comments.

You may also like: 
Why letting go of control feels like dying but can save your life


  1. I'm definitely a "don't get dressed for days" kinda junkie. That's why the selfie is such good therapy for me. It forces me to have to get dressed and do my hair and makeup, and then since I'm done up, I might as well go out for lunch with my husband, and while we're out, I might as well go shopping...I have to say this post is so THOROUGH. You really put so much time detailing it, and I love the worksheets!

    1. Thank you Sandra. That's such a awesome way to get the motivation to go out. You're such a great writer, I wish I had at least a bit of your wit in my writing to make it a little less dry - well something to work on for the future ;) (hence the worksheet but psst ;)).