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Help Yourself out of Depression

Experts give advice about steps people can take to help ease their depression.
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WebMD Feature

Recovery from depression can be a long process. A variety of treatments for depression exists, but they may take time before an effect is noticed. Weeks, if not months, may pass between the time when you see a health care provider about depression and when your mood starts to lift.

While some improvement may be seen after starting antidepressants, they can take at least three weeks to start having an effect on your mood. What's more, the first medication or combination of medications you try may not work for you; in that case you'll have to start over.

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In the meantime, there are things you can do, as well as things you can avoid, to help yourself feel better, or at least keep from sinking deeper into depression.

You are somewhat responsible -- but not entirely responsible -- for your state of mind, says psychologist James Aikens, PhD, an assistant professor of family medicine and psychiatry at the University of Michigan.

"You're not responsible for being depressed. Your responsibility is to make some reasonable efforts towards feeling better," he tells WebMD.

Baby Steps

When you are deeply depressed, you may not feel like doing much of anything or being with anyone. But rather than hiding out and doing nothing, it's best to be active, even though you may not want to.

Ask yourself, Aikens says, "not what do I feel like doing, but how much am I capable of doing?" But don't overreach, or else you may end up feeling worse if you don't accomplish what you set out to do. "Aim for 80% or 90% of that goal," Aikens says.

"The tendency to take on overly ambitious goals right away is actually quite common in people who are depressed," says Dan Bilsker, PhD, a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of British Columbia in Canada. Bilsker co-wrote a self-care guide for people with depression that is freely available online from the university's Mental Health Evaluation and Community Consultation Unit.

Don't assume you will be able to leap out of depression and turn your life around immediately. "Start with some very small, detailed, specific goals," Bilsker tells WebMD.

Break tasks into smaller ones that you can accomplish more easily. For example, maybe you haven't collected your mail for a while, and you know there is a stack waiting for you. One day, you might make it your goal to simply pick up the mail, and no more. The next day, you might sort it: Separate bills, letters, junk mail, etc. The following day, you might toss the junk mail in the recycling bin and open the bills, but not pay them. The day after that, pay one bill. Then pay two more the next day, and so on.

"So not only break it up, but spread it out," Aikens says.

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