May 16, 2023
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Moving from task to task can be exhausting. Here are some ways to help you reset and stay productive throughout the day.
We all have routines like making a cup of tea, going for a walk, doing laundry, spending time with friends, or engaging in hobbies like baking or gardening. These routines are kind of like bookends that add structure and consistency to our lives.
Without them, it can feel like we’re living through a time loop where one day is barely distinguishable from the next. The trouble is that routines tend to lapse when we have depression or anxiety.
In addition, habits that don’t serve our mental health, like mindlessly scrolling through social media or eating out of boredom, can drain our limited reserve of energy. I know firsthand how hard it is to keep up with routines when my mood is low.
And it doesn’t seem to matter whether it’s a chore like doing dishes or something I actually enjoy, like watching my all-time favorite TV show before bed. It’s “The Golden Girls,” by the way.
Some days, I find myself zoning out as if my brain can’t retain the dialogue I’ve heard countless times. The moments that feel utterly miserable are when I laugh at their jokes more out of habit than genuine enjoyment.
Getting absorbed in a TV show feels impossible when you can’t escape the stream of negative thoughts running through your head. But it’s precisely these moments when routines can be really helpful.
Because it can be difficult to unplug from work or opt out of social activities, routines are important for getting through the day. Transition rituals are specific thoughts or actions that help shift your mood or focus as you move from one task to another. They can also help you conserve energy by providing intentional breaks.
Sometimes, the constant pressure to be productive can have the opposite effect. You’ll move from one task to the next in a fog. You’ll keep pushing yourself to work despite diminishing returns.
Transition rituals are a strategy that helps me in these moments. Here’s some more information about what they are and how they can be helpful.
The signs and symptoms of depression are unique to each individual. Some people experience cognitive changes like fatigue, slowed thinking, and difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
When I’m depressed, the smallest decisions can feel overwhelming. I’ll sit down at my laptop and feel immobilized by the thought of whether to answer emails or start doing research for a project.
It feels like I’m pacing back and forth in my mind and not really landing on a decision. Panic sets in as I think about looming deadlines.
Suddenly, I find myself reading a story about a celebrity or watching a video of my dogs. I used to think this was just a procrastination tactic but now I see it as a transition ritual.
Distracting myself for a few minutes helps me refocus afterward. The mental steps it takes to read a story or watch a video are like a warmup exercise for my brain.
There’s a built-in time limit as I reach the end. Completing a low barrier task helps me ease into being more intentional and productive when I don’t feel motivated to get started.
Depression tends to slow down your thinking and overall functioning. But it’s also common to experience feelings of anxiety and restlessness.
When I have a full day of meetings or a particularly stressful task, it takes a lot of energy to simply show up and be present. Sometimes, people interpret being less talkative or animated as a lack of interest.
Our society tends to reward people who are outgoing and gregarious. As someone who leans toward introversion, being quiet often invites questions and criticism from other people.
They might put me on the spot to participate or grill me about being quiet or disengaged. Since depression can be invisible to other people, they might not see the effort you’ve made to get from one task or meeting to another.
While you can’t change how people interpret your behavior, transition rituals can help you feel more grounded, whether you have an hour for lunch or just 60 seconds between meetings. This can look like stretching, taking a deep breath, drinking some water, grabbing a bio break, or getting up and moving around.
When you’re depressed, you’re more likely to take on other people’s self-doubts as if they were your own. If someone is concerned about your apparent silence, consider that this could reflect their own insecurities about taking up too much airtime.
Celebrating wins is probably the hardest one for me. I seem to have a memory block anytime someone pays me a compliment or sends me a kind message.
Alternatively, if I receive criticism, I can repeat these remarks verbatim. With depression or anxiety, it can feel as though your mind is hardwired to absorb negative input and filter out anything positive.
Transition rituals can help you make it a regular practice to acknowledge positive experiences. And they don’t have to be tied to a source of external validation like praise from your partner or whether you get a job offer.
In fact, it’s better if you can build rituals around internal sources of validation, which add to self-esteem. For example, I’ll practice self-talk by saying:
If self-talk feels strange, you can try other soothing activities like journaling, taking a bath, lighting a candle, or listening to music.
A mental reset can improve your mood and concentration. Rituals work by telling your brain that it’s OK to shift gears and, therefore, counteract negative thoughts, like “I don’t deserve a break until I’ve earned it” or “If I prioritize my mental health, I’ll never be able to get started again.”
Keep in mind that you’re working on creating bookends that bring a sense of order and continuity to your day. Transition rituals aren’t a quick fix for something as complex as depression.
It’s a good idea to try out different rituals and find what works to lower stress. Take stock of the little things that are going right this week, which can be easily clouded by depression and anxiety.
Medically reviewed on May 16, 2023
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