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The effects of depression on daily routine

In this article, we look at examples of how problems can be linked together forming a vicious cycle in teen depression.

Problems with sleeping, eating and engaging in physical activities are some of the symptoms of depression. They’re also common symptoms of a range of other difficulties, including anxiety and behavioural problems.

Some of our recent research(1) indicates that these symptoms are amongst the most prevalent. For example, we found that 71% of young people with depression experienced a sleep disturbance.

Poor sleep and poor diet contribute to other problems associated with depression such as issues with concentrating, thinking, planning and making judgements, and feeling exhausted and hopeless. These difficulties make it very hard to take part in normal activities at school, with friends and at home, and many young people find themselves doing less and less when they are depressed.

These problems can create a vicious cycle, with each problem making each of the others more difficult to manage. The young person may be finding it hard to engage in their normal activities if they are feeling low. They may have stopped going out with friends or have fallen behind in school work. The figure below provides an examples of how these problems can be linked together to form a vicious cycle.

Five circles are in a cycle. First circle- 'feel sad and low', second circle - 'stop taking exercise', third circle - 'feel rubbish, what's the point', fourth circle - 'comfort eat' and fifth circle - 'feel fat and horrible'

These cycles are often triggered by something bad happening, and these events may determine how the cycle progresses. Let’s look at another situation, Sarah has moved to a new school and is feeling lonely and missing her friends. Her cycle may present as:

Five circles are in a cycle. First circle- 'sad and unhappy thoughts', second circle - 'tries to sleep to avoid thoughts', third circle - 'wakes up late', fourth circle - 'tired all day' and fifth circle - 'tries to rest and avoid exercise'

Everyone who experiences depression and low mood are likely to have a different set of experiences. However, there are often similar features, and you might recognise some ideas that are relatable. Some experiences are very common for teenagers and can be triggers for vicious cycles. Many young people may be bullied or have negative experiences with friends. They are also often under pressure from school to perform well in exams and coursework, and may be involved in other hobbies that have pressure from competitions or other exams.

Below is an empty cycle (you can download and print a blank copy at the bottom of the Step). You may be able to see how this works for your young person, and you may like to discuss these ideas with them. Ideally they’ll agree that their sleep, eating or level of (in)activity is making them feel worse. Identifying the vicious cycle may help them from feeling stuck, and be able to find ways to escape the cycle.


1) Orchard, F., Pass, L., Marshall, T., & Reynolds, S. (2017). Clinical characteristics of adolescents referred for treatment of depressive disorders. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 22(2), 61-68.

© University of Reading
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Understanding Depression and Low Mood in Young People

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