It’s possible to live a full and healthy life with depression (also called clinical depression or major depressive disorder). Medication and therapy work well for most people. But there are other things you can do alongside these treatments to successfully manage your condition. Here’s what you need to know.
Learning more about depression is one of the first steps you can take to get better. This will help you and your loved ones understand what causes it, how it affects you, and how to treat it. You can search for information online and talk to your doctor about what you’re feeling. Many organizations, like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), offer free online or in-person tools. Other options include:
- Faith-based organizations
- Workplace employee assistance programs (EAPs)
- Community health centers
- Mental health associations
- Health insurance programs
Understand and Manage Triggers
Some stuff you can’t control, like a lifelong illness or a traumatic event. But you can learn skills to better deal with things that trigger your depression. Talk to your doctor or therapist if you’re not sure what they are. It’s important to have a plan in place so you know what to do. Ask your friends and family to help watch for warning signs. These include:
- Feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Anger, irritability, or frustration over small things
- Anxiety or restlessness
- Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
- Problems sleeping, including sleeping too much or too little
- Tiredness and lack of energy for even small tasks
- Weak appetite and weight loss or cravings for food and weight gain
- Slowed thinking, speaking, or body movements
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Trouble thinking, concentrating, making decisions, and remembering things
- Ongoing thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, or suicide attempts
- Physical problems not related to another condition, such as back pain or headaches
Learn How to Deal With Stress
We all get stressed. It may happen once in a while or over and over again. Long-term stress can lead to serious health problems, including depression. But relaxation techniques may help you manage. Some ideas include:
- Muscle relaxation
- Tai chi
Remember that it’s OK to say “no” to things you can’t handle. For everything else, figure out what really needs to get done. And don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Get Enough Sleep
Depression can seriously affect your sleep habits. You may have trouble falling or staying asleep, wake up too early, or sleep too much.
It may be easier said than done, but work on getting the rest you need. Your body and mind need it to function. These tips can help:
- Keep your bedroom as cool, dark, and quiet as possible.
- Only use your bedroom for sleep and sex.
- Don’t use your cell phone or tablet just before bed (the blue light delays the release of the sleep hormone melatonin).
Talk to your doctor if you’re still having trouble.
Eat Well and Exercise
Eating well and getting enough exercise are other self-care steps that should be part of your depression treatment plan.
Think about things you enjoy, like walking, swimming, or gardening. Try to fit these activities into your daily routine. Experts suggest 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a week. That’s 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week.
When it comes to food, a healthy eating plan includes:
- Fruit and veggies
- Whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
- Lean meats, poultry, and fish
- Meatless protein sources like beans, eggs, and nuts
- Foods low saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium (salt), and added sugar
Avoid Alcohol and Drugs
Alcohol and recreational drugs are known depression triggers. And they can worsen your symptoms and make your condition harder to treat. Talk to your doctor or therapist if you think you need help with drug or alcohol abuse.
Other Medical Conditions
Your chances of depression go up when you have other illnesses like cancer, heart disease, or diabetes. But it’s possible to treat depression alongside these. Tell your doctor how you’re feeling -- they can help.
Lastly, get help right away if you’re having thoughts of self-harm or suicide. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.