I recently noticed that I’ve been sharing a very standard set of advice with friends struggling with tension and depression. I thought it would be worth posting online in case it might help some people.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve experienced and mostly overcome chronic tension and mild depression. I was prone to falling into depressed bouts for weeks at a time, having trouble falling asleep, feeling constantly tense, and being generally anti-social.
I considered contacting a doctor but decided to evaluate my habits first. I wanted to see if I was making any obvious mistakes. It turned out I was making a lot of them.
Below are a list of ten good habits that helped me make notable improvements in my general happiness and productivity.  They are not a complete solution (and I’m not a doctor), but these helped me make a strong start.
I call this list “the basics” because that’s exactly what it is. It isn’t valuable because of some magical insight. This list is all of the obvious stuff that I’ve seen many people (including myself) overlook when seeking solutions to our mental health problems.
It is a long list. If you try accomplishing everything at once, you’ll likely fail and feel worse than when you started. One of the first victims of depression are willpower and motivation. I did not do them all at once, or in a short period of time. But I tried until I found one that worked for me, incorporated it into my routine, and then picked up another.
Ideally, focus on items that strike a balance between being easier for you to commit to and having a high impact on your mental health. Then turn those behaviors into habits. (Update 1/2016: Tony Stubblebine (CEO of Coach.me) recently wrote a great answer on Quora about how to successfully create new habits.)
This is the list, starting with what I considered the easier items:
- Turn off phone notifications / turn off vibrate. This prevents others from interrupting your day and dictating what you do
- Check your email less often (2-3x a day, max) and disable email notifications entirely on your phone and laptop
- Drink more water
- Drink less (or no) alcohol
- Keep your room clean
- Sleep 9+ hours a night. Easier said than done—start by going to bed early
- Eat healthy. This deserves a post of its own, but a good start is to cut out what is obviously unhealthy—fast food/processed foods, candy, etc.
- Exercise regularly
- Journal regularly
- Meditate regularly
Too many people fail to do the basic things to take care of themselves. They skip to taking strong medications, resigning themselves to a lifetime of depression, or giving up entirely.
You should always check on whether you’re on top of the basics before taking more drastic measures.
 Googling most of these items should reveal a body of research backing them up. Some of them (like #1, #2) are from personal experience, but the reasoning is fairly straightforward.