Man drinking from water bottle

"Start by picking a simple and small habit that can fit within your existing routine."

A major part of fighting depression is learning how to develop healthy and sustainable habits.

Unfortunately, the common reference that it only ‘takes 21 days to form a new habit’ often sets us up for unrealistic expectations and failure. The truth is each person forms habits at different rates.

  • The average time it took volunteers to form new habits in one study was 66 days.[1] This may sound daunting, but it also shows that forming new habits isn’t impossible – we just need to be realistic with our hopes and timelines. 

Below are examples of simple, yet powerful habits that can help in the fight against depression. 

It’s important to start small. Once you’ve picked out a couple habits to try, check out our guide to creating healthy habits, which can help you break habits down into goals, and work toward long term sustainability. 

1. Have a serving of fruit or veggies with breakfast

A healthy diet is key to fighting depression and fruits and vegetables are often overlooked by lots of guys. 

This could mean adding some berries or a banana to oatmeal, cereal or waffles, having an apple with peanut butter, making a smoothie, enjoying chopped veggies and hummus, or eating ‘ants on log’ (celery, nut butter, raisins or other dried fruit). 

By having a couple options we like, we can mix them up so we won’t get bored and letting the habit fall away.

Adding this habit to breakfast or an early snack helps us start the day by knocking off a simple “to do” as part of a daily healthy diet. 

Take a look through our guide to healthy eating if you’re interested in learning more about how you can use diet to fight depression.

2. Maintain personal hygiene

Depression can zap your energy levels to the point of never wanting to get out of bed. But not looking after daily responsibilities like regularly showering or bathing, brushing our teeth, and cleaning laundry makes it hard to build new habits that will help lift our mood.

  • For example, if you haven’t combed your hair or changed your sleep clothes, you may be less likely to go out for a walk or meet up with a friend for coffee.  

Even if it’s the only thing you have the capacity to do, it’s important to try to maintain good personal hygiene habits. 

Whatever you normally do to maintain your look and feel more confident, try to do it regularly and not let it slide because of other priorities. Your health and wellbeing are always top of the list.

3. Create a morning routine

Having a morning routine is a great way to add structure into our lives.

For example, a morning routine could look like:

  1. Drink a glass of water
  2. Make yourself a cup of tea or coffee
  3. Make a healthy breakfast (including a piece of fruit or vegetable)
  4. Check your schedule for the day (or make a schedule for the day)
  5. Shower
  6. Change clothes
  7. Comb hair
  8. Remind yourself of something you are looking forward to that day

Unless you are expecting an important message, it can be helpful to delay looking at your phone, as it’s a tempting distraction that can take up our time and interfere with staying on task.

Learn more: Creating Daily Habits and Routines to Manage your Mental Health

4. Set aside some ‘worry time’

When we have something particularly stressful going on that we know might get stuck in our head all day, setting aside some time to allow ourselves to intentionally think about it can help free us of the stress caused by having the issue stuck in a worry loop in our heads all day. 

During your ‘worry time’, it can also be helpful to make a list of items that are causing you stress. For items which are in your control, spend some time making a plan to resolve the issue as best you can. For items outside of your control, consciously acknowledge that you can’t control or change the situation/issue and instead turn your attention to the things that you can influence. 

For example, if you’re having ongoing family stress, try to say to yourself “Okay, I am going to set aside 15 minutes in the morning to think about this and then park it for the rest of the day”, then use this time to think about it. Afterwards, whenever it pops back into your head, stop yourself and remember that you already spent enough time on this for one day, and you have time set aside to think about it again tomorrow if need be. 

This can sometimes help to put worries aside before bed, as you know you’ve already spent time thinking about something and don’t need to carry the worry to bed.

Learn more: Stress Management for Men

5. Go for a lunchtime walk and start taking the stairs

Try taking a break to go for a walk during the day. Even a 5 -15 minute walk will help. Tying a walk to an activity that is already in your schedule (e.g., a lunch break) will make the habit easier to remember and stick to.

Taking the stairs (if possible) is another simple way to incorporate more physical activity into your day. 

If walking or using stairs are not possible, there are many quick, seated arm exercises that can also be helpful.

Learn more: How to Use Physical Activity and Exercise to Fight Depression

6. Make time to laugh

Laughing activates the release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, the same brain chemical targeted by common types of antidepressant medications.

It’s easy to get bogged down in stress and prioritize other things over ourselves, but try setting aside a few minutes each day to do something fun or funny. 

  • Maybe it’s watching a favourite show each night (half an hour or less) before bed. 
  • Maybe it’s following a feed on Instagram with funny memes that you check at lunch time.

Find something that makes you smile and make time for it each day. 

Setting aside a longer period of time once or twice a week to watch a funny movie, enjoy a stand-up comedy special, or meet up with a friend who shares the same sense of humour as us can also help. 

Schedule time in your day and week for laughter, similar to how you might schedule time for physical activity. 

7. Deep breathing

Some guys may shy away from the idea of meditation. But by doing so, they miss out on developing a potentially useful stress management skill. Even if you’re not interested in learning about full meditative practice, there are useful techniques that can be borrowed from it.

One good habit to form is the ability to use the ‘box breathing’ technique when we notice we are starting to get stressed. This means breathing in, pausing, breathing out, pausing, and repeating until we feel more in control, all to the count of 1, 2, 3, 4 for each step. 

These are similar breathing exercises that are used by top athletes and even Navy SEALS.

“Box breathing is a technique that helps you take control of your automatic breathing patterns to train your breath for optimal health and performance…it was instrumental in saving my life several times in crises, I was able to remain calm and focus clearly.”

– Mark Divine, former US Navy SEALs Commander, NYT bestselling author of The Way of the SEAL and founder of SEALFIT (Forbes)

Learn more: Managing Depression with the Help of Meditation

8. Journaling

Research has found several benefits to keeping a journal. One study found that expressive writing (the technical term for “journaling”) can reduce rumination and depressive symptoms.[2] Many mental health professionals recommend it as a way to fight depression.

Journaling is very personal and is not done the same way by any two men. For some, it can be a quick 5-minute process done daily. Others may choose to write longer reflections once or twice a week. It’s important to experiment and find what works best for you.  

  • A quick journal entry after dinner can help you recap your day and set some “to-dos” for tomorrow.

If you choose to journal during your nightly routine, different types of journaling may be more effective than others. One study found that spending 5 minutes writing a very specific to-do list helped with falling asleep at bedtime more than journaling about completed activities.[3]

Learn more: How to Journaling Can Help Combat Depression

9. Build a sleep routine

Around 90% of people with depression have issues with sleep, but it’s often an area we overlook or don’t prioritize.[4]

Having a regular sleep routine – going to bed and waking up at the same time each day – is one of the best things we can do for our sleep quality. This allows our body to optimize our sleep cycle and restore our energy. 

An example of a sleep routine:

  1. 30 minutes before sleep: Shut off all electronic devices (blue-spectrum light from electronic devices is known to impede sleep).[5]
  2. 20 minutes before: Lay out clothes for the morning, brush teeth, wash face.
  3. 10 minutes before: Calm your mind and body down with some deep breathing (see notes on this above).
  4. Time to sleep: Turn your bedroom into a cave – minimize noise and light.

Learn more: How to Improve Your Sleep to Fight Depression

10. Keep up with household chores and clean up after yourself

When we spend less time caring for the space we are living in, it can translate into us caring less about ourselves. 

Some guys only clean up when they have guests coming over, but we need to value ourselves just as much as others. We can take pride in cleaning up our living space for ourselves

  • One example is to set up a routine where you vacuum once at the start of each week, or clean your bathroom and bedroom every Sunday, etc.

11. Schedule time to get ‘in the zone’

Getting “in the zone” means getting caught up in enjoyable activities which takes us away from the negative thoughts we are having. 

  • Some examples include playing sports, gaming, music, swimming, dancing, woodworking, drawing, cycling, photography, gardening – find what works and make time to do it.

If we set this time aside, say every Friday evening after work, it can also help give us something to look forward to during the week.

12. Get into nature

As the world becomes more urbanized and developed, it’s getting harder for people to find places where they can comfortably connect with nature. Studies have shown that consistent exposure to greenspace – or a lack thereof – has a large impact on our ability to manage depression, anxiety, and stress.

Being in nature can promote the production of important neurochemicals that assist in the regulation of mood. Finding time to get out and immerse yourself in nature, even in small spaces, is a great way to de-stress, re-energize, and re-centre yourself.

This could mean:

  • Taking a slow walk to really look around and enjoy the space
  • Going for a hike
  • Reading a book while breathing fresh air
  • Bird watching
  • Boating or fishing
  • Simply sitting and relaxing

Learn more: Using Nature to Fight Depression

13. Practice gratitude

Shelter, sleep, food, water, and clothing are bare necessities we need for life, but how often do we acknowledge having these needs met. How often do we acknowledge the people we value in our lives, or the work we put in to better ourselves, or the progress we’ve made on our road to recovery? 

Gratitude is about slowing down to acknowledge the positive things in life we often take for granted. 

There are two main ways to practice gratitude. 

The first way is to note the people and things in your life you are grateful for. 

In the past, practicing gratitude was built into many people’s religious or spiritual prayers and routines. Whether you are religious/spiritual or not, practicing gratitude is an important habit for everyone to build. 

  • This could be a morning journal exercise after breakfast listing the things in your life that are most important to you.
  • Or a quick saying of thanks for what you have and the people in your life before dinner. 

The second way is to express your gratitude to others. When we thank others for their time or efforts, we signal to them that their actions were important and valued by us. This can also give the person an opportunity to share things they value about us that we may be underappreciating (which can be very easy to do while fighting depression). 

  • Next time someone does you a favour, even if it is a small thing like holding a door for you or posting a comment on your social media, try to make sure you don’t just say ‘thanks’ without thinking about it. Instead, truly be grateful for the fact that they just went out of their way to do something nice. 
  • You can also try to think of larger favours a friend did for you in the past that you didn’t fully appreciate at the time and reach out to let them know (without the expectations of hearing back). 
  • Or, you can do something kind for people in your life, like making dinner for friends or grabbing coffee or tea for a co-worker.

References

  1. Lally, P., Van Jaarsveld, C. H., Potts, H. W., & Wardle, J. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European journal of social psychology, 40(6), 998-1009. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.674
  2. Gortner, E. M., Rude, S. S., & Pennebaker, J. W. (2006). Benefits of expressive writing in lowering rumination and depressive symptoms. Behavior therapy, 37(3), 292-303. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.beth.2006.01.004
  3. 4. Scullin, M. K., Krueger, M. L., Ballard, H. K., Pruett, N., & Bliwise, D. L. (2018). The effects of bedtime writing on difficulty falling asleep: A polysomnographic study comparing to-do lists and completed activity lists. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 147(1), 139. https://doi.org/10.1037/xge0000374
  4. Nutt, D., Wilson, S., & Paterson, L. (2008). Sleep disorders as core symptoms of depression. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 10(3), 329-336. https://doi.org/10.31887/DCNS.2008.10.3/dnutt
  5. Chellappa, S., Steiner, R., Oelhafen, P., Lang, D., Götz, T., Krebs, J., & Cajochen, C. (2013). Acute exposure to evening blue-enriched light impacts on human sleep. Journal of Sleep Research, 22(5), 573-580. https://doi.org/10.1111/jsr.12050

For more tips on forming habits, see our guide to Building Healthy and Sustainable Habits to Fight Depression.

THIS IS MEN'S HEALTH WEEK | JUNE 10-16TH, 2024

Men's Health Week takes place annually in mid-June, during the week preceding Father’s Day. The week is not just a campaign, but a call to action for men to take better care of their health and for communities to support men in this endeavour.

Men's Health Week 2024