For example, we might find that other people in our life are a source of stress: we can talk to them about changes they might make but, unless they identify the issue as a problem for themselves and are willing to put the work in to make things different, then the chances of change remain quite small.
We can often put a lot of time and energy into wanting things to be different but, on reflection, realise that we have little personal agency to make that change ourselves. While the message here is not about giving up on the difficult things, it is about being focused about the things we might want to change, setting realistic and achievable goals for ourselves. It is unlikely we will achieve everything we want in one go, particularly if we are struggling with depression and anxiety, making each step feel harder.
Identifying Areas for Change
A useful starting point is taking a piece of paper and writing down as many things in your life you wish were different. Don’t try to be too organised at this stage: simply write down words or phrases that come into your mind.
Then, organise them into four main groups:
Making a Start
Being kind to ourselves is important here. It is like building a house: it is critical to spend time on laying down secure foundations to enable us to make progress later on. Putting some important things in place is the first step, which will enable you to reflect more accurately on the other things in making your plans for change.
Self-care in the mornings
First thing in the morning is often a particularly difficult time when your mood is low. If you are finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning then making yourself a clear, self-caring plan for the first half hour of the day can help you start the day as well as possible. Try to set yourself the target of getting up out of bed within 10 minutes of waking up.
Example: When I wake up ____ I will get up straight away if I can, or else have the alarm set to give myself one 10-minute snooze if I want one and then get up.
Straight after getting out of bed I will ____ put on the light or open the curtain and take a few deep, relaxing breaths
Then I will prepare myself for the day in a self-caring way by ____ having a shower and getting dressed and eating something nutritious for breakfast
If I am finding this difficult to do ____ I will be kind to myself and recognise how hard it is to do this when I am feeling so low. I will encourage myself to try anyway, because I know it will make me feel better in the long run. If it is a particularly difficult day I will let myself go back to bed for half an hour before trying again.
Making a soothing ‘home space’
Is your room a welcoming, comfortable place to be? Does it offer you a soothing place to rest and re-charge, as well as an environment conducive to study and concentration? Some aspects of this might be outside your control, but what can you do to improve your home environment and make it a less depressing place to be?
Consider five simple things you can do to make your room a more pleasant environment in the form of a set of intentions.
Depression and anxiety can narrow your perspective and work to keep you looking inward. The more negatively introspective you become, the firmer depression takes hold and the more you get sucked into depressed thinking and tunnel vision.
Using purposeful distraction is a powerful way to resist this depressed ‘rumination’ habit. So, one way to choose useful activities for your list is to look at how well they might distract you and engage your mind in something purposeful or meaningful.
My ‘focusing outward’ ideas
If you are feeling very low, then very simple distractions are all you need to aim for – as long as they are reasonably constructive. You can build up towards more meaningful ways to engage your time, energy and hope. Look at the suggestions under ‘Focusing outward’ and make a list of activities that you can refer to when you need ideas for something to distract
you from depressive rumination.
Think of three simple distractions I could use if I am feeling particularly low: eg. watching a light-hearted TV show, cooking myself a nice meal, asking someone else to hang out or play a video game, getting my washing done or tidying up my room…
Think of two ways/places I could regularly get myself outdoors, into natural surroundings.
Think of three ways I could continue to break isolation and distract myself through contact with other people: eg. making the effort to get out of my room and hang out when others are watching telly or cooking a meal; joining in with an activity at the SU or a club or society; making contact with friends in other places via Facebook or texting; doing a group exercise or yoga class; perhaps even joining a ‘penpal’ scheme to make a new contact with someone in a different country or setting.
One creative activity I could try as an outlet for my feelings: eg. writing, drawing, making music, model-making, dancing
Think of one idea to aim for doing something useful in the wider world: eg. getting/keeping a part-time job to earn money, doing something for a friend, volunteering for a charity or project
Think of one idea for how to use my uni/college work as a distraction: Identify aspects of your subject or course that you might be able to enjoy just immersing yourself in, rather than focusing on assessments etc – eg. finding out more about a specific topic you’re really interested in.
My focusing outward plan
Choose one of the ideas you have listed above to plan to put into action this week. Write an intention statement to help you make a clear, focused goal.
My focusing outward intention statement:
This week I will ____ take a break and start filing the pile of papers on my desk ____ (what) ____ if I notice that I am feeling low and can’t concentrate on my work ____ (when) ____ (in my room) ____ (where)____ I will do that for 30 minutes and then get back to my work ____ (how/long)