My Life // Setting up a Routine with MDD

I have major depression, or MDD, and while I’m not shy when it comes to talking about it, it’s always a difficult subject.  Major depression is a little different for everybody who has it. Some people get a single episode in their life, which may sound nice, but what if that episode lasts years? That happens. Some people, like me, get recurring episodes. This means that after one depressive episode ends, we go back to a normal state, but after some time, we’ll go into another depressive episode. It’s an ebb and flow.

I could talk for days about depression (and other mental illnesses, too), but this isn’t the place for that. My depression is relevant because it impacts my ability to form routines and create habits. For the longest time, I had absolutely no established pattern. My work hours varies, my class schedule varied, I didn’t have a bed time, I didn’t wake up at any certain time, I didn’t even brush my teeth on a regular schedule. Kinda gross, I know, but that’s just how depression can be. You can want to do something- or at the very least, think it’s something that probably should be done- and just not bring yourself to actually do it.

To me, routines are built around habits. They’re a bunch of habits that you string together. A habit might be something like brushing your teeth when you wake up, washing your face in the morning, checking your Facebook or tumblr while eating breakfast, etc. But when you string them all together, you get a routine like: Wake up, brush teeth, wash face, cook breakfast, check social media, head out the door. Or maybe you prefer to eat first, then brush and wash, apply makeup, and then out the door. The order may differ, and some of the activities may differ, but the base of a routine is in habits.

So, here’s how I try to set up a routine in my life:

  1. Establish one habit. This actually has a whole host of steps to itself, and this takes longer for me. If you already have at least one habit established, you can skip this step, obviously, but if you have trouble with building habits as I do, you may need some help.
    1. Choose a habit: Choose something that’s relatively easy, something that requires minimal effort. Good morning habits to start out with if you have pretty bad depression or a disorder to impacts your motivation levels include: setting an alarm for a specific time of day (wake-up habit), going to the bathroom as soon as you wake up, drinking a glass of water in the morning, taking a vitamin, or brushing your teeth. Night time habits can be similar: put on pajamas,  Choose, of course, based on your own level of motivation and energy.
    2. Create reminders: I will put these in different places so remind me that I’m trying to create a habit. You might have additional alarms around the same time to force yourself awake, you might put sticky notes on the door, etc. You may even want to make a sticker chart (yes, I’m a child at heart) to reward yourself- sometimes that’s all the reminder you need.
    3. Know that you only need to do this one habit: By getting up in the morning, you aren’t obligated to get dressed. Sometimes I get so stressed out by the thought of everything else that I can “freeze up” and do nothing. Don’t. Only do one step at a time. You can go on with other things once you’ve done whatever your habit is, but don’t feel like you need to when you’re still establishing one habit.
    4. Give it time. There’s some saying that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. This isn’t actually a scientific fact- no actual studies have concluded that 21 days is a magical number. You may get the habit within 7 days. It may take you a month or longer. You have to give it time for the habit to sink you. You’ll start to feel compelled to do the habit- you won’t even really have to think about it too much. This is the goal of creating a habit 🙂
  2. Write down what you want your routine to be like, or what components you want to include. This may be like “I want to have a routine where I brush my teeth, wash my face, and moisturize every night.” That’s three components- brushing teeth, washing face, and adding a moisturizer.
  3. Choose one component to work on, and “tie” it into your established habit. This actually looks almost the same as forming a habit, but the difference here is that it will be much easier because you are tying it to another habit. So once you’re done with your established habit, do the second component to work on. Again, set reminders (maybe on your phone, or sticky notes where you do the habit already. Make it convenient to do the second thing right after the first. For instance, if your established habit is to brush your teeth, and you want to add in washing your face, keep a facial cleanser right by your toothbrush and toothpaste. What happens is that your previous habit cues you to do the second thing. Eventually, you associate washing your face with brushing your teeth, so after you brush your teeth, you’ll start washing your face.  Even if you move your cleanser to the other side of the bathroom, you’ll still feel compelled to wash your face.
  4. Continue linking new habits to your established habits. This forms a chain of habits- which is a routine! For each new habit, tie it in with the other. Put your moisturizer next to the face cleanser. Put a note on the cleanser that says “remember your sunscreen!” However you do it, the key to having a good routine is to make the previous habit into a cute for the next.
  5. Enjoy your new routine 🙂

This way of “habit linking” is the most effective way I’ve found to create a routine- or even just add a few new habits to your day. If you have some motivation issues and tend to get overwhelmed, I think it’s very important to only add in one thing at a time. Even if you typically don’t, you might be surprised at how much better your habits stick when you add them in slowly. You can even add bits into the routine in the middle- just choose which established habit you want to link it to. It’s all about creating cues. Kind of like training a dog 🙂

Currently, I’m working on building a morning routine. My routine currently hinges on brushing my teeth: I brush my teeth, gentle rinse my face, apply a sunscreen lotion, and then add my BB cream. Lately, though, with my dry skin, I’ve been needing more moisturizing- and ideally that would go after my sunscreen (I use a chemical sunscreen). So, I have my tub of moisturizer by my sunscreen lotion, to remind me to use it.

What methods, tricks, and tips do you use to establish routines?


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