Depression can make you feel powerless. But there are many things you can do for yourself to improve your mood, help your recovery, and stay healthy.
Don't be a passive patient. You can work actively as a team member alongside your health care providers. Depression robs you of a feeling of control. Taking responsibility for your own health can give that feeling back.
Here are some things you can do.
- Exercise. Many studies have established that regular physical activity can help you feel better when you are recovering from depression. The type of physical activity really doesn't matter. Just choose something that you enjoy. Start slowly, perhaps with walks around the neighborhood. Try exercising with a friend or relative, or sign up for a class. Sharing the activity with someone may help you stick to a new exercise regimen.
- Get some sunlight. You might find that getting some sun can put you in a better mood. Some people have seasonal affective disorder (SAD), depression that typically recurs 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 -- exposure to artificial sunlight with a special lamp -- might help.
- Get enough sleep -- but not too much. Depression, and sometimes the treatment for it, can interfere with your sleep. 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.
Not getting enough sleep can have a huge impact on your mood. So you need to get into some good sleep habits. Stay on a regular schedule: go to bed and get up at the same time each day. Don't nap. Physical activity during the day may help you sleep, but don't exercise too close to bedtime. That is stimulating. Before getting into bed, unwind with a good book or soothing music. However, avoid watching TV or staring at a bright computer screen in bed. That will help you maintain good sleep habits.
- Eat a healthy diet. Despite what you might read, there is no diet that will cure or prevent depression. But a common sense eating plan will provide the nutrients you need and keep you feeling healthy and energetic. Don't buy into fad diets that sharply restrict what you can eat. Instead, focus on the basics. Watch your calories, eat lots of vegetables, grains, and fruits, and limit fat and sugar.
- Do things you enjoy. When you're recovering from depression, you may 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 doing. Make a plan to go out to dinner or a movie with friends. Or return to a hobby that you used to pursue. Try expressing yourself creatively.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and many illicit drugs can contribute to depression and make it worse. In fact, substance abuse often goes hand in hand with depression. Alcohol and drugs may also affect how well antidepressants work. If you think you have a substance abuse problem, you need to get help now. Addiction or abuse can prevent you from fully recovering from your depression.
Considering Alternative Treatments
You might be thinking about trying alternative medicines or therapies. However, you should check with your health care provider before trying any herbs or supplements. There is no firm evidence that any alternative medicines work as well for depression as prescription medicines do. Some can cause serious side effects or interact with other drugs. Just because something is natural doesn't mean it's safe.