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Help Yourself out of Depression

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

Reactivate Relationships, Interests

If you've withdrawn from the social arena, you should take small steps toward getting back into it. Don't expect to show up at a party and command the room, but do try to get out and see some people. Meet with someone briefly for coffee, or maybe drop in on a friend to return something you borrowed.

It can help to talk about your problems with someone close to you. "I urge daily contact, at least over the telephone, with a confidant," Aikens says. This person should not act like a therapist. He or she needs only to listen. It shouldn't be someone who might make you feel worse by getting irritated with you or giving you harsh advice.

A support group may help, too. Joining one, says Lea Ann Browning, a spokeswoman for the National Mental Health Association, based in Alexandria, Va., need not be a long-term commitment. "A lot of people can benefit from a support group for six or eight weeks," she tells WebMD.

Also think about things you used to enjoy or find satisfaction in doing, but no longer do. Starting with small steps, begin to get back into doing them.

"Don't expect to enjoy it to begin with," Bilsker says. Like taking your medicine, do it because it's good for you.

If, for instance, a painter hasn't worked on a painting in a long time, she might start by taking out her materials and setting them up. Then she could commit to making a sketch, and so forth.

"You can think of it as 'loosening up' the depression," Aikens says. "You're maintaining and extending your psychological range of motion."

Walk Away From Depression

Motivation to exercise may be scarce when you're feeling well, let alone when you are depressed, but try to do it anyhow.

"The typical things that we all know are important to taking care of ourselves become that much more important when you're dealing with depression," Browning says.

Exercise is a proven tonic for depression. For decades studies have been showing that aerobic exercise improves mood in people who are depressed.

Researchers recently found that the amount of aerobic exercise recommended by the CDC for general good health -- equivalent to 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise at least five days a week -- can bring about big improvements in depression.

The study, published in the January 2005 issue of American Journal of Preventive Medicine, involved people with mild-to-moderate depression who did various amounts of exercise for 12 weeks. All groups in the study, including those in the control group, who only did stretches, had some improvement, but those who exercised as much as the CDC recommends fared best. In that group, 46% of the people reduced their symptoms by one-half, as rated on a scale of depression severity, and 42% no longer qualified as depressed when the study ended.

It's important to start slowly with exercise. Decide what you can do, and as Aikens suggests, do a little bit less than that. If you think you could manage a 20-minute brisk walk, try 15 minutes first, and don't be discouraged if you don't feel better afterward.

"A person shouldn't have high expectations," Aikens says. "They shouldn't expect to necessarily feel cheerful or completely undepressed after going for a walk."

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