Serani
Source: Serani

Living with depression is an exceedingly difficult and depleting experience. Many who struggle with this mood disorder can find themselves adrift, feeling numb and fatigued a good deal of the time. If you've been recently diagnosed or in the midst of a serious depressive episode, one important aspect is to create a daily structure as you recover. 

Casually speaking, we call this a routine - a detailed way of moving through your day. More clinically speaking, the habits you use to structure your day are called agency.  

When recovering from depression, or any chronic illness, routine creates purpose. And purpose creates meaning. And the rhythm that comes with purpose sets into motion physical, emotional and spiritual awakenings that significantly aid well-being.

Having a daily routine of getting up at the same time and going to sleep at the same time, helps to synchronize your body clock, also known as circadian rhythym. Taking medication at predictable times keeps your neurochemistry running at its optimal best, and eating healthy foods at scheduled meal times keeps you nutritionally sound. The structure of these daily habits also supports your mental functioning. Our minds depend on a system of patterns and behaviors, and having predictability helps stave off anxiety and depression.

Tips for Deepening Purpose

In the beginning, you'll find it very hard to keep a routine. It's likely that your depression will make it hard to get out of bed, let alone, get dressed, eat or work. But once you've tended to a simple routine and begin feeling better, adding more purpose to your life will take you to the next level of recovery.

What I've found in my practice with patients, as well as for my own self when I had to recover from depressive episodes, is that purpose needs to be detailed. Having a general goal like, "I'm going to go out today," "I want to feel happy," or "I will take care of things in the house" can actually overwhelm instead of inspire. And research agrees, saying the more we break goals into small, detailed steps, the less apathy depressed individuals experience. More specifically, studies say that purpose needs to be target-specific. Findings suggest that depressed individuals tend to set generalized goals because neurobiological differences in brain functioning interfere with more realistic problem solving. Then when they set out to attain these goals, they can't, and it worsens the symptoms of depression. The initial feeling of purpose falls flat, leaving a wake of self-doubt, despair and hopelessness.

Try these 3 tips when creating purpose.

1.  Ask yourself if your goal is too general. If it is, it could create feelings of self-defeat. Instead of saying, "I'm going to go out today" perhaps, "I'm going outside to get the mail today" is a more realistic goal. And with small successes come feelings of confidence and strength. 

2. Once your goal becomes target-specific, see if you can achieve it. Remember, we want purpose to feel meaningful. So, the phrase, "I want to feel happy" could be reframed more specifically as, "I will find something positive in my day, today." Then you can celebrate the moment.

3. Remember that routine and structure are meant to be purposeful. Doing too much in a day can overtax your recovery. "I will take care of things in the house" could be structured into a more do-able, "I will get the laundry to the washing machine."

The take-away here is that target-specific rather than generalized goals are key for reducing depression. And that keeping a routine and schedule will bring purpose and meaning to your life as you recover. 

Dr. Deborah Serani is a psychologist and author of the award-winning books, "Living with Depression," "Depression and Your Child: A Guide for Parents and Caregivers" and “Depression in Later Life.

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