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I wrote this 10 things to do when you’re feeling down post before Coronavirus caused chaos and isolation across the globe. Given the current scenario we are all in I thought now would be a good time to share it. Coronavirus or not these 10 things are very helpful to help guide you to productivity on difficult days.
It is tempting to lie in bed and watch Netflix or sleep all day when you are feeling down or depressed. While it is important to give yourself a break every now and then it is also critical to your health and well-being to not cycle into periods of unproductive depression. For people, like myself, who have more difficult days than easy, productive days, slipping into the depression vortex is a constant reality and fight.
I developed the depression vortex term/theory a few years back based on the ecological ‘extinction vortex’ theory.
What is the Extinction Vortex?
The extinction vortex describes the forces that combine to drive a species or population to extinction. For example, habitat loss (man-made or natural such as from a storm) reduces the population size. Small populations are more prone to genetic issues such as inbreeding which further minimizes genetic variation in a population. Lower genetic variation makes the population less adaptable to change, lowers disease resistance and reduces fitness (‘fitness’ in biological terms basically means how many babies you have). Because of all these factors, the population shrinks even further.
This even smaller population is now more vulnerable to environmental changes that potentially cause death and make it harder to breed. These factors keep cycling around and around, each factor makes it more difficult for the population to recover until eventually, it goes extinct. There are all sorts of factors that can stress a population, too many to list here today but to give you an example these could be anything from a virus or bacteria to pollution, natural predation or a large scale natural disaster like a flood or fire.
A Collective Immune System
One way to think about it is like a collective immune system. A healthy population can handle one factor that knocks them down. One is OK, they will recover. But the more things that attack their immune system, the harder and harder it gets to recover.
So, What is the Depression Vortex?
Ok, so you may be wondering how this relates to depression and the mind. Well for starters if you think of your resilience and your mind like the large population either going back to when you are born or before depression set in. At this point the mind full of potential, joy, curiosity, wonder, everything is possible!
In this state of high resilience, one upsetting thing happens you shake it off, get back on your feet and keep going with ease. Two things might be fine, three- you’re Ok, four – now you’re a bit stressed, five – getting difficult, six – you’re really struggling and so on.
This is the depression vortex. With each knock, your resilience gets reduced. If you fail to get back on your feet before the next thing knocks you down it becomes harder and harder to pull yourself out of a spiral into depression. But don’t worry, harder doesn’t mean impossible! Since you are dealing with the mind you need to just pull each piece apart and work on them one at a time
Avoiding Slipping into the Depression Vortex
I’ve always found that by teasing apart the big issues I’m struggling with into small pieces it helps to reduce overwhelm and build resilience. What is one little thing you can do today to help induce a change in your life? Action leads to progression. Even if you only make the smallest of actions.
Once you start to peel away each of the factors that are driving you down into the extinction vortex you make it easier to reverse the spiral and work on making the next stressor easier to manage. Little by little, if you put the work in you will pull yourself out of your depression vortex and build resilience back up to full strength.
I also remind myself of this theory to stop myself from falling back into this spiral. If I know something has triggered me and I can feel my resilience is low I take action to ensure I start to build it back up before the next thing strikes me. My ‘do it even when I’m feeling low’ resilience-building routine helps me to feel that I have taken action to progress towards one of my goals.
Sometimes this routine is enough to boost me into doing other productive things. Sometimes it makes me feel energized, resilient and ready to take on the next task. Sometimes I feel just as lethargic but I can go to bed that night knowing I haven’t completely wasted my day, something that is a major trigger for me slipping further down the vortex.
Avoiding Comparison Mindset
The number of things that set you down the depression vortex doesn’t matter. Everyone is different. Everyone’s resilience levels, like everyone’s immune systems, differ. One person may feel overwhelmed when they struggle with two things. Another person may reach the same state at twenty things.
The types of triggers differ between people. The types of triggers and the number of triggers vary for everyone between days and between years. Think about how different the things you stressed about are now compared to ten years ago.
For this reason, it’s important to not get trapped in a comparison cycle. Take every day as it comes. Always strive to do your best that day. Your best today may be completely different from your best yesterday. And that’s OK because you’re human living a human life.
While it’s not always easy to escape the comparison cycle, especially with social media constantly bombarding us with people’s ‘perfect’ lives, it is essential for you to work on avoiding the comparison mindset, simply because if your best changes daily how can you even begin to compare yourself if the person you are comparing yourself with also changes daily.
“Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.” –Louise L. Hay, You Can Heal Your Life
Using The Difficult Day Productivity Checklist
Below is my basic list of things I do when I wake up and I know today is going to be a challenge for me. I don’t always get through them all but that’s OK. Be compassionate. Compassion builds resilience, self-criticism spirals you further down the vortex.
The exact tasks under each of these headings differ for me from day-to-day and year-to-year depending on my interests.
Use each of the broad categories in this checklist to create your own personalized difficult day productivity checklist and see how achieving each one makes you feel. I’m a list maker and there is definitely something satisfactory about putting a big tick next to each thing I achieve, on both good and bad days!
This list is also helpful for anyone trying to generally achieve more in their daily life or form new habits. When first starting to incorporate new activities into your daily life start small then build on it when you feel you are ready. By starting small you give yourself evidence you can do something. This helps combat any negative feelings of self-doubt.
For example, if you want to walk a marathon but currently only walk from your house to the car then from the car park to work, don’t leap right into walking a marathon! Start by walking for 10 minutes around the block, then 20 minutes and so on and so forth until you know you are ready to smash out that marathon.
Basic Difficult Day Productivity Checklist
This list isn’t (entirely) in any particular order but I do my best to put a check mark into every box. You can also adjust the timing of each activity to better suit your day.
If you’re in for a long-busy workday try to squeeze in a 10-minute exercise session and 5-minute meditation. If you have more time a 40-minute gentle Yin Yoga session and a 30-minute Yoga Nidri meditation may be helpful to work through some of what you are struggling with.
Celebrate your achievements, no matter how big or small.
1. Get Out of Bed and Get Dressed
This is fairly self-explanatory but depending on how far down the depression vortex you are this can seem like a difficult chore in itself. Getting out of bed, showering, and getting dressed is necessary for the rest of the activities on the list. Even if you don’t plan on leaving the house it is a simple thing you can do to boost your mood.
Opt for something cozy or put on something that makes you feel confident. It doesn’t matter. Many people find it helpful to put on exercise clothes as motivation to exercise. Once you have them there is less barrier to exercising. It helps change your mood and mindset about what you are going to do today.
If you want to even go as far as putting makeup on if it makes you feel good. In the words of Coco Chanel: “If you’re sad, add more lipstick and attack.”
Your body needs to be hydrated to be healthy. Your mind and your physical health go hand-in-hand, it’s the same body after all. One of the things you can do to build your resilience is to go back to basics and ensure you are physically as healthy as you can be right now. One of the basic life necessities is water. So get drinking water and hydrate yourself.
Herbal tea is a great way to help you drink more fluids without adding sugar or caffeine into the mix. If you’re new to herbal tea, get excited there is a wide range of flavor options from warming chai to refreshing peppermint and sweet berry. There are many tea blends specifically designed to help boost moods and combat depression, look for tea with St. John’s Wort.
Note: Those on hormonal contraception or certain medications should be wary of St. John’s Wort that it may affect their effectiveness however so do some homework before you try it.
If you like bubbling water mix herbal tea with plain fizzy mineral water. If you are a sweet tooth try adding a healthy sugar alternative such as stevia, xylitol, erythritol or monk fruit. If it’s a hot day simply add ice for a refreshing iced tea. Explore, be curious and aim to drink at least two liters of water a day.
3. Eat Healthily
Opt for healthy, low carbohydrate, low sugar, vegetable full meals. For the same reasons as above, building your physical health will in turn help to even your hormone levels and give your mind more room to find clarity and raise energy levels. Eat a healthy meal that you enjoy to give yourself that level of comfort.
Creating a clean, clutter-free environment helps clear the mind. It also boosts your feeling of productivity by checking something off your weekly to-do list. Cleaning can be as simple as making your bed, doing the laundry, vacuuming, cleaning the dishes or if you feel up to it tackle one of the bigger tasks like going through that stuff drawer you have been putting off, throwing out anything you don’t need and organizing the rest.
Get moving to boost endorphins and stretch out any sore spots. This goes back to being something that builds your physical health. Choose something you enjoy and start small if the thought is dreadful.
Even just taking 10 minutes out of your day to go for a walk or do gentle yoga will do you a world of good. Often once you start you will find space to keep going and do a longer session. If not, no worries, you checked exercise off the list.
Meditation is focused on improving mindset and finding space. If you’re not currently a meditator this is one of the things I personally have found to combat my depression. It provides a space to calm the mind and find new insight into the things you struggle with. Start with short 5-minute guided meditations and build up to longer sessions. There are many different types of meditation to explore.
If you want a quick read to the science of meditation and why you should start I recommend Hurry Up and Meditate: Your starter kit for inner peace and better health by David Michie.
7. Talk to Someone
If you are far down the depression vortex this should be higher on your list. If you have thoughts of suicide make this your #1 priority! There are so many people available to help. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to friends or family then see a health professional or call your local help-line.
If you are just having a low day you don’t have to necessarily talk about how you are feeling, though this is recommended. Simply reaching out to someone and saying ‘Hi’ can help you break any bubbles of loneliness. Even just hanging out with your cat or dog will help give you a social boost.
Humans are social creatures. It is important for us to connect with other people. Loneliness is one of the biggest causes of depression.
8. Be Kind Ritual
Make your own ‘be kind’ ritual. If you are into crystals then place an affirmation on one of your stones. If you like journalling then write in your gratitude journal. Is there a specific smell that makes you feel nice? Smell it!
Do you have a mantra you repeat? Say it! Don’t have any of the above? Explore and find what works for you. Have something else that isn’t on this list? Please share it below. Your ‘be kind’ ritual can be anything as long as it involves telling yourself something positive.
9. Create Something
Create anything that you love to create! Write, design, craft, paint, cook, learn a new language, read, do anything that you are passionate about. It doesn’t have to be something useful or goal-orientated.
It could be something you used to love but haven’t done for years. If could be something brand new. Creating something with your hands helps you get out of your head and gives you a sense of achievement.
Again this is personal. Take a bath, put on a face-mask, self-massage, read a book or simply make sure you do the standard wash your face, hair and moisturize routine. Self-care means something different to everyone at different moments in time. The key here is to ensure you do something that makes you feel good about yourself.
Related: Self-Care on Bad Days
Doing the Difficult Day Productivity Checklist
How easy you find getting through this list will depend on how many of these things you already do in your routine and how far into the depression vortex you are.
I have been working on building this list for many years now. At the start, I just had the very basics such as get out of bed and get dressed, clean the house, cook dinner. As time has gone on I have added more personal development tasks such as meditation and create something.
I offer this list to you as a general guide for you to make it your own. You can combine some. For example, create a healthy meal or use a positive mantra during meditation. Remember it’s all good, be compassionate with yourself and do your best for you today, tomorrow will be different.
Often the things we are depressed about are things that we don’t have or don’t feel we have control over. The things on this list you have control over. Taking control over the things you can and changing them for the better helps build resilience against those unexpected things that life throws at us.
You are not alone; people are here to help you, but no-one can pull you out of your depression but you.
It is up to you to learn what tools help you in your journey. No-one is happy all the time. Good comes with the bad and without low times we cannot truly appreciate the beautiful, joyous moments life has to offer.
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