Living a life with a mood disorder has taught me what type of routine I need to have in order to function as well as possible through each day.

About six months ago, I began the most severe episode of depression of my life, and I am still recovering from that. I slept all day, stayed awake all night, and had a tendency to binge eat when I was emotional. I was extremely unhealthy, and that was because I was extremely depressed.

Now that I am finally recovering from that episode, I am learning that self-care is essential for staying balanced.

Here is what I do to stay balanced and stick to a routine:

Breakfast and Coffee: Each morning I wake up and eat breakfast within an hour of waking up. It is absolutely imperative that you eat breakfast each morning. This will keep you full and help you focus on whatever you need to get done later on, and it will also keep your mood and blood sugar stable.

I start each day with coffee, but just one cup. It’s so important to monitor caffeine intake because it can either help or hurt you depending on how much you consume. There are health benefits to drinking caffeinated coffee, including better memory and focus. However, if you drink too much, especially after 2PM, it may get in the way of your sleep schedule. People with depression already tend to struggle with insomnia, so it’s important not to over-indulge on the caffeine.

Exercise: I have recently begun exercising regularly. Exercising has been extremely beneficial to me and has helped me stay balanced during my recovery process. It releases stress-relieving hormones, called endorphins that make you feel amazing, and of course, it’s great for your health in general. Even a simple walk in the morning or in the evening helps to clear my mind and stay on track.

LightBox Therapy:  Since I have been diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder, I am extremely sensitive to the changes in the season, particularly the change from fall to winter. To cope with this, I have started using a light box each morning for 15-30 minutes. I sit in front of this while I am drinking my coffee or watching a show on Netflix, and it has really helped to keep my mood in check.

Nutrition: Since my mood has lifted from my depression, I have had more energy to focus on eating better foods. I decided to focus my newfound energy on eating healthier, clean foods, and it has really helped me to stay balanced and energized through the colder months. Adding more nutrients to your diet and cutting back on sugar is a great way to boost your mood naturally.

Getting Back to Work: When my depression began, I had to take some time off from school and work and move back home. This was awful for my self-esteem, and I had to come to terms with the fact that it is okay to take a break when you need it. Now that I am recovering, the most important thing for me is to get back on a regular schedule. I am easing back into a work schedule and working part-time while incorporating some of my old hobbies into my life. This is proving to be incredibly helpful and important in my recovery process because it helps me to stay focused and stick to a schedule each day.

Self-Care: Last but certainly not least, I am finding it most helpful to take some time each day to reflect on what I need most. Whether I need to take a moment and take a break with a cup of tea and an episode of my favorite show on Netflix, or just some play-time with my dog, it’s important to recognize that it’s okay to take time for myself each day. In fact, it’s not only okay, I make sure it’s at the top of my to-do list. Self-care has become a priority. If you don’t take care of yourself first, how will you have the capacity to take care of the rest of your responsibilities and those around you?