Depression and Free Time – The Importance of Building Your Own Schedule

I have Major Depressive Disorder, and man, free time is so hard for me to handle.

When I’m at my internship with a list of set tasks to work on and a busy schedule of clients, paperwork, and meetings, I really thrive. My brain doesn’t have time to wander, I don’t have time to be bored, and my parade of cognitive distortions have way less time to make me miserable. But what happens on days like today, when I’m stuck at home because of the weather? Or on weekends when two whole days of free time looms before me like an empty chasm?

Usually, what happens is the following. I wake up with a vague idea of what I want or have to do for the day – Homework, reading, studying, video games, working on my Etsy items or my shop. Then, I do…. Nothing. Because I have no solid, organized idea of what to do (and because I’m a big girl and nobody tells me what to do anymore), I usually end up on the couch staring into space, or in my bed sleeping in until I wake up for a leisurely breakfast and coffee.

“Okay,” you’re thinking. “Not too bad. Everyone sleeps in or procrastinates now and then.” Sure. And I definitely don’t get on my own case about that on the weekends when I have nothing that needs to be done. But when my depression gets in the way is when I DO need to churn out some work, or study. All these “to do” tasks get stuck spinning in my mind like a whirlpool of responsibility. All I do is get caught in the vortex and retreat further into my blankets. And that’s when it helps to have a schedule.

In effect, a schedule is someone (yourself; or more accurately, your responsible self) telling you what to do. Putting something down on paper makes you make more of a commitment to those activities than merely thinking about those same activities. That extra commitment can help you actually get up and get going when you’re feeling less than motivated. I find that for myself I am way more motivated to get up and do something if I write it in my planner as part of a “To Do” list, with little check boxes next to it. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of checking something off a list! I even cheat sometimes – if I just completed a small task that I needed to do, but it wasn’t on my list, I add it and check it off immediately. 🙂 Gotta get that satisfaction when you can!

Planning also helps me stay less overwhelmed when I have a lot to do. Part of what gets me depressed some days is the feeling that I have so much studying to do that I’ll never get it done – so why even try? Breaking up my day into small blocks makes it seem less like a gargantuan wall of impossibility and more like little chunks of annoying (but totally doable) tasks. And if I break down my schedule into 15 minute increments and that still seems too overwhelming?

Well, then I break it down into 5 minute increments. If I still can’t get out of bed? 1 minute increments. I tell myself I just have to get up and do it for 1 single minute, then I can go back to bed. Still too much? I break it down even more. Instead of writing, “Read chapter 12” in my planner, I write, “Open textbook.” Then check it off. Then I write, “Read paragraph 1.” Then check it off. I essentially try and schedule my day in whatever time increments my depression requires, until I’m filling of vast swathes of time that I would have otherwise spent in bed or on the couch.

Not only does planning in and off itself take up time and mental resources (therefore keeping me from ruminating and beating myself up mentally), but it gives me a sense of accomplishment and lets me look back and see everything I’ve completed. What’s more, there are tons of fun planners and journals out there for you to experiment with, so you can even work in some creativity and color into your schedule.

So, if you struggle with structuring your time and getting things done like I do, give scheduling / planning a try. Even if you just plan 5 minutes of your day and go from there, it can feel very rewarding! Good luck and happy planning!

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