Depression · Life · Mental health

Down day checklist

Once in a while I’ll have a really off day and, before I know it, evening would have arrived and I’d have spent the hours hiding under a quilt and snapping at anyone who comes too close. Sometimes on these off days I’ll wake up and know that things are going to go downhill from there. I’ve compiled a list of things that I’ve found helps on those particular days.

  1. Eat breakfast. I don’t know about you, but I tend to get a major case of HANGER whenever I go more than a few hours without food. Especially unhelpful on a down day, when having breakfast feels like a major effort anyway.
  2. Have a shower. I move like a tranquilised sloth just after I wake up on a down day (like those guys in Zootropolis but more grumpy). I like taking my time standing under the hot water. There’s something in the little self-care rituals I take that makes down days that little bit more bearable.
  3. Put on makeup. I’m lenient on this one cause it’s not really attainable on days where I have to do something in the morning. But this is one of those self-care rituals that I do when I have time. There’s something about allotting a portion of the day to put on makeup: doing something for no other purpose, no other person but me.
  4. Put music on. It’s a favourite one of my mum’s: she’s forever recommending that I listen to more worship music. Sometimes I’m in the mood for Western pre-21st century music. Being classically trained, it’s almost instinctual to dissect the music into its component melody, harmony, texture, structure, et cetera, et cetera. It’s also fun to try to guess the period/composer. I guess little brain exercises like this keeps me in the present rather than ruminating about the past or going into worry-mode about the future.
  5. Practice mindfulness. It’s something I’ve only tried recently (like, six days ago) but it’s another one of these brain exercises that aims to keep me in the present. I am liking what I’ve experienced of it so far.
  6. Take (prescription) drugs. Logic kind of goes out of the window on down days. I just don’t feel like taking the very medication that’s meant to help with the down days (way to go, brain). Sometimes I have to exert special effort to make sure I take all the medication I’m meant to.
  7. Text mum. Dad’s not a big texter, and living away from home it’s always nice to hear from a parent on down days. Since their work and my lecture schedules are all over the place, sometimes calling just can’t happen spontaneously.
  8. Take a walk. The temptation to stay under covers is very, very compelling. However, I’ve found a niche little journalling app that tracks my steps for the day and shows how much my mood varies with the amount of exercise I do. As of today, to my surprise, whatever algorithm they used churned out the figure of -48.2% decrease in mood when I exercise more. In hindsight, though, I can kinda see days where that’s true. I don’t deal with tiredness gracefully, as a rule. Once I ran 5K in the morning and spent the remainder of the day in bed, too demoralised to care about missing uni. So perhaps I should take my exercise in moderation.
  9. Play an instrument. On a down day, I barely have the motivation to find matching socks. When I don’t put in the concerted effort to take an instrument out of its case, prepare it, tune it, and decide what to play, it doesn’t happen on a good day, let alone a bad one. Once I start, though, even on the days I don’t get the usual pleasure out of playing, it keeps my mind busy. Learning a new piece involves so many things: sight-reading, thinking about tone, articulation, dynamics, the shape of the music, the overall feel of the piece, its historical context, its tempo. There’s no choice but to stay in the present. My brain is physically tired after a session learning new music. An hour of non-rumination is a cause of celebration.
  10. Give someone a hug. Down day or not, my brain gets a tiny high when I’m hugging someone. Can’t do any harm, either.

Hopefully this list will grow. You can never have too many strategies that lift your mood.

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