Lifestyle Changes for Major Depressive Disorder

Medically Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on March 13, 2024
3 min read

Depression isn’t something you can treat without a doctor’s help. But healthy habits can play a key role in your treatment plan and can help improve your mental wellness.

Continue to work with your doctor to make sure your treatment plan is working.

There are also lifestyle changes you can make to help you feel better.

One of the best things you can do is to get moving. When you’re depressed, you might not have the energy to get off the couch. But once you start walking, stretching, or just moving your body, you’ll probably start to feel better.

Exercise spurs your body to make more of the “feel-good” hormone serotonin. When you exercise, your body also makes more endorphins. These are chemicals in the brain that ease pain and stress.

Although it’s great if you can move a little bit every day, try to exercise for 20 minutes at least 3 days a week. Ask your doctor for advice if you haven’t been active for a while.

Almost any kind of activity can help. You might like something vigorous, like running, where you feel like you get a good workout. Or you might prefer something more meditative, like yoga or tai chi, where you move more mindfully.

Good nutrition can help your brain and body work well. Eat a well-rounded diet with lots of whole foods.

Enjoying plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean proteins like fish and yogurt can make depression less likely. Cut back on added sugars, animal fats, red and processed meats, refined grains, and high-fat dairy.

When you’re feeling depressed, it can be harder to eat healthier. You may turn to comfort foods to try to feel better. But eating regularly and eating healthy can help boost your mood and give you energy to be more active and do the things that make you feel better.

About 75% of people with depression have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. It’s easy to take your worries to bed with you, which lets insomnia linger.

Focus on ways to get better sleep. Try to make your bedroom comfortable for sleeping, turn off phones and other electronics in the evening, and wake up and go to bed at the same time every day.

Some people with depression are tempted to “self-medicate” with alcohol and recreational drugs to feel better.

They might seem to ease symptoms at first, but they just make depression worse.

These substances can disrupt sleep. They can cause other health problems. And they can make your depression harder to treat.

Talk to your doctor or therapist if you have trouble with alcohol or other drugs.

Take time to manage day-to-day pressures. Find out what works for you. You might want to try something that relaxes you, like meditation or breathing exercises.

Sometimes it might help to get your mind off it by doing something more active. Take a walk, go for a run, or just move for 20-30 minutes to brighten your mood.