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Things You Can Do Every Day to Help With Depression

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Casarella, MD on September 27, 2020

Depression can make you feel powerless. It can rob you of a sense of control. But there are things you can do to improve your mood. Some simple lifestyle changes can help you get back on track.

Along with treatment, these good habits can boost your mood and your overall health. Here are some things you can do starting today.

Exercise. Research shows that regular physical activity can help you feel better when you’re recovering from depression. The type of exercise really doesn't matter. Just choose something that you enjoy. Even walking counts!

If you don’t normally exercise, start slowly, and gradually work up to 30 minutes a day. Try exercising with a friend or family member or sign up for a class. Sharing the activity with someone may help you stick to your new routine.

If you’re not active now, ask your doctor to help you get started. They can make an exercise plan just for you.

Get some sunlight. Some people have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). That’s a type of depression that typically starts during the fall and winter, when sunlight is scarce, and goes away in the spring and summer. If you think you might have SAD, ask your doctor if light therapy could help. It’s a treatment where you sit next to a box that gives off artificial sunlight. You might also find that a little sunshine can put you in a better mood.

Get enough sleep -- but not too much. Depression, and sometimes the treatment for it, can affect your shuteye. Some people with depression sleep too much. Others have insomnia. They can't fall asleep at night, or they wake up too early in the morning. Too little sleep can have a huge impact on your mood. In general, you want to aim to for:

  • 7 to 8 hours of sleep if you’re 65 or older
  • 7 to 9 hours if you’re an adult under 65
  • 8 to 10 hours if you’re a teenager

Younger children and babies need more sleep.

These tips can help you get more shuteye:

  • Stay on a regular schedule. Go to bed and get up at the same time each day, even on the weekends.
  • If you take a nap during the day, limit it to 10 to 20 minutes. Anything longer could make it hard for you to fall asleep at night.
  • Physical activity during the day may help you sleep, but don't exercise within 90 minutes of bedtime. If you do, it could boost your body temp and heart rate and make it tougher for you to drift off.
  • Before you get into bed, do something relaxing to unwind. You could read a book, listen to soothing music, or do some gentle stretching.
  • Don’t use alcohol to help yourself nod off. It could lead to a worse night’s rest that throws off your sleep cycle.
  • Avoid watching TV or staring at a bright computer screen in bed. Power down your devices at least an hour before you hit the sack.

Eat a healthy diet. Despite what you might read, there is no diet that will cure or prevent depression. But a balanced eating plan gives you the nutrients you need and keeps you feeling healthy and energetic. Don't buy into fad diets that sharply restrict what you can eat. Instead, focus on the basics:

Do things you enjoy. When you're recovering from depression, you might not feel like getting out and having a good time. But you should push yourself a little. Set aside time to do things that you used to enjoy. Make a plan to go out to dinner or hang out with friends. Tackle a favorite old hobby or learn a new one.

Set yourself up for success. If you have a big project or responsibility on your plate, break it down into a series of smaller daily tasks. It may seem more manageable that way, and you may be less likely to put it off. Hitting daily goals can also give you a nice feeling of accomplishment.

While you can manage big projects if you need to, try not to make any major life decisions until you’re feeling better.

Reduce your stress because it can make depression worse. Exercise and good sleep can help you keep stress in check. You could also try mindfulness activities that help you focus on the present, like meditation and yoga. Research shows they can improve the way your brain processes pain and emotions.

Some other things you can do to ease stress are:

  • Take deep, slow breaths.
  • Confide in close friends or family members.
  • Volunteer for a local group that does work you care about.
  • Join a depression support group, where you can meet other people who understand what you’re going through.

Explore your thoughts. If a negative thought or scenario keeps playing out in your head like a bad movie on repeat, write it down. That way you can take a step back and question whether it’s accurate. Once you’ve read it back, you may find that you were being too hard on yourself or blowing things out of proportion.

Also, try to simply notice when you’re having a negative thought. Then counter it with a positive thought -- or shift your attention to something else, like practicing a healthy habit.

Avoid alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and drugs can contribute to depression and make it worse. In fact, substance use often goes hand in hand with depression. Alcohol and drugs may also affect how well your antidepressants work.

If you think you have a substance use problem, you need to get help. Addiction and substance use can keep you from fully recovering from your depression. The national helpline from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers free, confidential support around the clock at 800-622-4357.

Get advice on alternative remedies. Check with your doctor before you try any herbs or supplements. There’s no firm evidence that any alternative medicines work as well for depression as prescription medicines do. Some can cause serious side effects or affect how your other medicines work. Just because something is natural doesn't mean it's safe.

But some other alternative therapies, while unproven, are certainly safe to try. You might look into relaxation techniques, meditation, hypnosis, massage, or acupuncture.

You should also talk to your doctor about medications and types of therapy that might help you as well. If your depression becomes so severe that you have thoughts of self-harm, seek professional help immediately or call the local crisis line or SAMHSA at 800-622-4357.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES: 

American Council on Exercise: “The Power of Walking.”

Cleveland Clinic: “5 Excellent Reasons You Should Take a Walk Today.”

Mayo Clinic: “Walking: Trim your waistline, improve your health.”

Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “Tips to Manage Depression,” “Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress.”

NAMI: “Mental Health: Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle,” "Seasonal Affective Disorder." 

Office on Women’s Health: “Stress and Your Health.”

National Institute of Mental Health: “Depression.”

Sleep Foundation: “Depression and Sleep,” “What Is Healthy Sleep?” “What’s the Best Time of Day to Exercise for Sleep?” “How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?” “Technology in the Bedroom.”

SAMHSA: “National Helpline.”

American Psychiatric Association, Practice Guideline for the Treatment of Patients with Major Depression, 2000. 

Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: "Guide to Depression and Bipolar Disorder," 2002; "Healthy Lifestyles," "What You Need to Know About Dietary Supplements." 

Fochtmann, L. Focus, Winter 2005. 

Lawlor D. British Medical Journal, 2001. 

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