I’m big on personal development, and one of my favorite PD concepts is the Slight Edge Principle, because it helped me recover from depression.
The Slight Edge Principle begins with the premise that every day, we’re all faced with relatively simple decisions to make. Then, it goes on to say that successful people make good simple daily decisions, because they realize that in the long run, doing so will result in them prospering. On the other hand, it states that unsuccessful people don’t make good simple daily decisions, because at the point of making them, they either don’t believe they matter, or they make excuses not to make them. As such, the crux of the Slight Edge Principle is that these simple daily decisions do matter, because compounded over time, they either lead you to success or they lead you to failure.
I think it’s particularly important to pay heed to the Slight Edge Principle when you’re trying to recover from depression. It’s critical that you build healthy daily habits into your lives – habits that in the short run may not yield spectacular results, but in the long run can be the difference between recovering from depression and forever being plagued by it. So without further ado, here is a list of six healthy habits that would greatly improve your mood over time if you adhered to them each day.
1. Exercise for 30 minutes
There were times when depression made me feel so exhausted that exercise was the last thing I wanted to do – but I’d always push myself to do it, because I knew that after exercising, I would feel better. Now exercising for one day may not make a huge difference, but research suggests that regular exercise can increase the level of brain serotonin and brain endorphins, both of which have “mood-lifting” properties. It’s also important to note that exercise doesn’t even have to be that rigorous to be effective, with studies suggesting that even a brisk walk each day can make a noticeable difference.
2. Read 10 pages of a quality self-help book
Again, this is doable, isn’t it? It doesn’t take very long, and you can even do it in bed. Now, will reading 10 pages one day make a big difference to how well you can handle your depression? Probably not. But if you read 10 pages every day for a year, that’s 3,650 pages – which is 10-15 books. Do you think reading 10-15 self-help books will arm you with some valuable skills to help you combat your depression? Undoubtedly. To start with, I’d recommend Feeling Good by Dr David D. Burns, Authentic Happiness by Dr Martion E. P. Seligman, and The Mindful Way Through Depression by Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal and John Kabat-Zinn.
3. Eat healthily
This is vital to good health – including mental health – but it’s something a lot of people with depression don’t adhere to. When you’re trying to recover from a mental illness, it’s critical that you eat a balanced diet, and – I can’t stress this highly enough – lay off the drugs and alcohol. When it comes to substance abuse, the Slight Edge Principle is perhaps at its most applicable – if you drown your sorrows in alcohol or drugs once, then it’s not the end of the world. But if you’re always doing it, then it’s going to have a significantly negative impact on your mental health over time. It’s one of those awful habits that will forever keep you trapped in depression.
4. Do your best to get a good, regular 7-8 hours of sleep
If you don’t think getting a good night’s sleep will help your mental well being, then just try it for a few months. It’s amazing how much of a difference it can make. If you find it very difficult – or ‘impossible’ – to get a good night’s sleep, I’d recommend educated yourself about sleep hygiene. Getting good sleep when you have depression is a science in and of itself, and there are numerous self-help books exploring the subject that should be able to help you. This is something I really used to battle with, but my therapist taught me some skills that have worked wonders.
5. Do half an hour of online therapy
Given that many people with depression can’t afford therapy, the availability of free online therapy is something that isn’t publicised anywhere near enough. There are some great programs out there run by some of the best universities in the world, and building it into your day is likely to do wonders over time. The one I recommend using is MoodGYM, which is run by the prestigious Australian National University.
6. Do something you enjoy
Whether it’s playing with your pet, talking to a friend, watching your favorite TV show, going for a walk, reading a book, listening to music or something entirely different, be sure to work something you enjoy doing into your day. Try to do so more than once – ideally, spread a few of these moments out between the morning and the night. Making sure you work these simple pleasures into your day gives you things to look forward to, and helps remind you that there is still joy in life no matter how miserable you feel.
Like I said, you may not see a huge difference early on, but if you work these six healthy habits into your daily routine, you’ll be streets ahead of where you would’ve been if you hadn’t.