I’ve been living with depression for so long that I feel like I’ve gone through every symptom the condition has to offer.
Hopelessness, check. Fatigue, check. Insomnia, check. Weight gain — and weight loss — check and check.
Living with depression is hard, no matter what symptoms you’re experiencing. Sometimes, just the act of getting out of bed can seem like such a major hurdle that you’re not sure how everyone does it every day.
And if you’re like me, sleep disturbances are a common symptom. I’ve even managed to simultaneously experience insomnia and hypersomnia (sleeping too much).
Although I’m using medication, working with a therapist, and practicing other helpful techniques that get me through the day right now, sometimes the biggest undertaking is starting the day.
Here are some tips I’ve collected over the years to pull myself out of bed (and out of deep depression).
Many people — myself included — get stuck in a routine of dragging themselves out of bed to get to work… and that’s it. We barely have time for breakfast in our routine. We’re just trying to get out the door.
But if you create a morning routine worth waking up for, you may have a different outlook for your morning.
1. Start slow: Sit up
Start with the basics: Just try to sit up. Push your pillows up, and maybe have an extra pillow stashed nearby to prop yourself up.
Sometimes just the act of sitting up can get you closer to getting up, getting ready, and starting your day.
2. What’s for breakfast? Start thinking food
Thinking about food or your first cup of coffee can be great motivation. If your stomach starts grumbling enough while you’re forcing yourself to think about eggs, bacon, and French toast, you’ll be more likely to pull yourself up.
This doesn’t always work, though, especially if you’re experiencing a loss of appetite from depression. Still, know that eating something in the morning — even if it’s just a slice of bread — will help you get up.
Plus, if you take medications in the morning, it’s usually a good idea to have something in your stomach.
3. Don’t disregard the classics — try an alarm
Go back to the classics. Set an alarm — or a whole slurry of annoying alarms — and put your phone or clock out of your reach.
You’ll have to get up to shut it off. While it’s easy to just climb into bed again, if you have multiple alarms set, by the third one you’ll probably just be like, “FINE! I’M UP!”
4. Focus on what’s around you
Paper and pens may seem old-fashioned, but the affect they have definitely isn’t. Consider writing down something you’re grateful for every day. Or even better, do this at night and reread your gratitude in the morning. Reminding yourself about the positives in your life can start your day a little better.
Another option is to focus on your pets, which have shown to provide many benefits. They can be a great motivation for waking up in the morning, whether it’s feeding, walking, or cuddling with them.
Spending just a few minutes being unconditionally loved by your pet can have an overwhelming positive effect on your mood.
5. Get yourself motivated with routine
Don’t rush yourself to get up and get ready and take all the pleasure out of the morning. You can also try using other forms of motivation to get up, like your phone.
Let yourself check your email or watch a cute animal video to start your day. Just to ensure that you’re not staying on your phone all morning in bed, set a timer. Keep it around 15 minutes for phone time. Another option is to place your phone out of reach so you have to get up to use it.
Remember, give yourself time to create a routine you’ll enjoy
If you start to look at your morning in a more gentle and positive way, you may not just think of it as having to get up and do this or that.
Small enjoyable acts
- Make a cup of coffee or tea and sit outside for even just 10 minutes.
- Do some gentle yoga stretches.
- Use a morning meditation to start your day in a more peaceful and mindful way.
- Eat your breakfast while listening to music that makes you feel more positive, awake, or calm.
Learn to enjoy your morning self-care. It’s just another thing you can do to help manage your depression and get through your day.
Everyone’s different. But the thing that really turned me around from someone curled into a ball of depression and hopelessness to sitting up in bed was light therapy.
Bright light therapy (aka white light therapy) is often recommended for people with major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern (aka SAD) or sleep disorders.
More research is still needed, but it may have the potential to help people with depression and have antidepressant-like qualities. My psychologist, and a few other experts I’ve met, also recommend these lights for people with other types of nonseasonal depression.
Sitting in front of the light for a few moments is necessary to get your “dose,” meaning there’s no need to jump out of bed immediately. As my eyes fight to even open, I usually lean over, turn on the little box of sunshine in my room… and it’s sort of impossible to close them again.
I can check my phone or grab a cup of warm tea and come back to face the light for 20 minutes while still in bed. By the time that’s over, I’ve found I’m ready to get up and start moving. My boyfriend (who I live with and who doesn’t enjoy 12 alarms in a row) also sits with me and says he feels more awake when he does.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the typical recommendation for seasonal depression is to use a 10,000-lux light box 16 to 24 inches from your face. Use it daily for about 20 to 30 minutes, preferably early in the morning after first waking up. Find a light box online.
If your depression is more severe or not being able to get out of bed is becoming a chronic problem, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Do you live with someone? Do you have a friend or co-worker on the same work schedule as you? Don’t be afraid to ask them to be a part of your routine.
If you live with someone, ask them to come in and wake you or maybe sit with you. It can be anything from making coffee in the morning or making sure you’re out of bed before they leave for work.
Or reach out to a co-worker, if you’re comfortable with that. Someone on the same work schedule may be able to call you when you need to get out of bed in the morning. Five minutes of encouraging wake-up chatter can put you in a better mood for the day ahead.
Most people are compassionate and open to helping. You don’t have to share your entire mental health history for them to understand something is going on. Just acknowledging it’s a difficult time can be enough.
It can be hard to ask for help initially, so remember this: You are not a burden and those who love or care for you will likely be happy to help.
Another form of help can come from a mental health professional. They can assist with medications, techniques, or alternative therapies. If you’re unable to get out of bed and do your day-to-day activities, then it’s probably time to adjust or switch your treatment plan.
Even if you know your medications are causing your sleepy (or not-sleepy) side effects, you don’t have to persevere just because it’s mentioned on the label. Don’t feel like it’s silly to tell your healthcare provider that the effects are bothering you. They can discuss adjusting the dosage or the timing of when you take them.
For example, if a medication is activating, your doctor may recommend taking it first thing in the morning. This can help you get up and help you avoid insomnia.
Pro tip: Water yourself! Since I need water to help the medication go down, I like to keep a glass of water by my bed. This helps me get rid of any excuse to not take meds, especially when I don’t want to get up. Plus, a sip of water will really help wake the body up.
However, for medications with sedating effects, make sure to only take them at night before bed. Many times, people may take a medication in the morning and find they’re exhausted, not realizing it’s having a sedating effect.
There’ll be days when you just don’t think you can get up. And that’s OK to have every once in a while. Take a mental health day. Take time for yourself.
Sometimes, I’m just so exhausted, overworked, and overwhelmed by my depression and day-to-day activities that I just can’t get up. And as long as I know when to seek help for a crisis, I know my job won’t explode while I’m away.
My mental health is just as important as my physical health
If I’m feeling especially depressed, I can take the day off as if I had a fever or the flu.
Don’t beat yourself up. Be gentle with yourself. Allow yourself to take the day off if you need to.
Some people just aren’t morning people — and that’s OK. Maybe you’re just someone who takes a lot longer to get up and get moving than others. That’s OK, too.
Much of the issues with depression stem from a negative thought cycle. Feeling like you can’t get up in the morning doesn’t help. You may think, I’m lazy, I’m not good enough, I’m useless.
But these aren’t true. Be kind to yourself the same way you’d be to others.
If you start breaking the cycle of beating yourself up, you may find getting up in the morning is a little easier.
Jamie is a copy editor who hails from Southern California. She has a love for words and mental health awareness and is always looking for ways to combine the two. She’s also an avid enthusiast for the three P’s: puppies, pillows, and potatoes. Find her on Instagram.