Relaxation Exercises for Depression Recovery

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on March 13, 2020

If you're recovering from depression, it's crucial to take time to relax. Anxiety and tension can make you feel worse and can intensify the feelings of depression.

But vegging out in front of the TV or playing video games doesn't count as relaxation -- and lack of daily structure can make it harder to recover from depression. Nor does using alcohol or street drugs to help you "unwind" make depression any better. You need to try more healthy and focused methods. Here are some suggestions that have been shown to help.

On your own, you could:

  • Listen to soothing music
  • Go for a walk
  • Take a long, hot bath -- try turning your bathroom into a home spa

Or with some instruction or the help of an expert, you could try:

  • Meditation or Guided Imagery. There are many ways to meditate. Some need to be taught, but others you can master on your own. Try to clear your mind by focusing on one thought or word or phrase, or imagining yourself in a peaceful place, like on the beach or in the woods. Or you could focus on sensations you feel. Try slowly tightening and then relaxing each muscle in your body, starting from your toes and moving up to your head.
  • Yoga. There are a number of different types of yoga, and some are more physically demanding than others. You might want to try out a few methods -- either by taking classes or watching videos at home.
  • Breathing exercises. Try spending twenty minutes a day doing deep breathing exercises. Clear your mind and focus on your breathing. Slowly inhale through your nose, holding your breath for only a few seconds, and then slowly exhaling through your nose or mouth. Then repeat.
  • Biofeedback. In this approach, a biofeedback therapist teaches you physical and mental exercises to control certain automatic physical functions, like your heart rate, blood pressure, or the temperature of your skin. A computer records the data and you see it on a screen. With some practice, you'll be able to affect these readings, and possibly lower your pulse and blood pressure. Then, when you're actually in a stressful situation, you can use the techniques you learned to help stay calm.
  • Massage or Hypnosis. Ask around for a recommendation -- the training requirements for massage therapists and hypnotists vary widely from state to state.

Try different methods to see which one works for you. Some people find that classes -- for yoga or meditation -- work well for them. Others prefer to relax on their own.

Scheduling Downtime

You need to make time for relaxation, especially if you are recovering from depression. If you just try to fit it in when you aren't busy, you probably won't do it.

So set up specific times during the day to consciously try to relax, and stick to that routine. You might even mark the times in your daily calendar. You can also schedule in relaxation at work, maybe using a break to go for a quick walk.

Don't be afraid to ask others to help you. For instance, see if a family member or close friend can watch the kids for half an hour. Take that time to focus on yourself.

Remember, relaxing doesn't mean you are "doing nothing" or just being lazy. We all need some time to ourselves. You should think of relaxation as an important necessity of life, like eating or sleeping. It's a key to staying well.

WebMD Medical Reference



Bourne, E. The Anxiety & Phobia Work Book, Third Edition, New Harbinger Publications, 2000. 

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.


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