Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on December 04, 2023
Take Steps on Your Own
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Take Steps on Your Own

It's normal to feel down in the dumps from time to time. But major depression is different, both in its timing -- near daily sadness that sticks with you for 2 weeks or more -- and its intensity. Antidepressants and talk therapy are the two pillars of depression treatment. But while you explore your options with a mental health professional, you can take steps on your own to give your mood, and the rest of you, a healthy boost.

Slip On Your Sneakers
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Slip On Your Sneakers

Exercise might not be top of mind when you're depressed, but it could make you feel better. The endorphins that a fast walk or bike ride releases trigger a euphoric feeling. Some people call it the "runner's high." When it comes to treating depression, exercise could work as well as antidepressants without the side effects. Twice a week is enough to cause a change in mood. Walk side-by-side with a friend to keep you motivated.

Be Food-Positive
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Be Food-Positive

A burger, fries, and a shake might soothe your blues temporarily, but these so-called comfort foods don't live up to that nickname. Meat, fried foods, and sweets may actually make depression worse. Healthy foods fuel more positive emotions. Fruit, vegetables, fish, and whole grains pack tons of antioxidants and other nutrients that boost levels of serotonin, dopamine, and other-feel good chemicals in your body.

Curb Smoking and Drinking
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Curb Smoking and Drinking

Alcohol boosts serotonin and dopamine levels in the short term, which explains that giddy feeling you get when you're drunk. But the good times don’t last. By morning, those chemical levels fall, along with your mood. A break from drinking could make you feel brighter. As for cigarettes, they not only make depression symptoms worse, but could keep your medicine from working as well. Quit and you’ll feel better mentally and physically.

Get Better Sleep
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Get Better Sleep

Sleep and depression have a chicken-and-egg-like relationship. People who can't sleep are more likely to be depressed, and those who are depressed find it hard to sleep. Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) can help undo the negative thoughts that lead to poor sleep and depression. The version used to promote sleep is called CBT-I. (The "I" is for insomnia.) Other lifestyle techniques, like meditation and exercise, also help with sleep.

Meditate Your Way to Calm
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Meditate Your Way to Calm

Meditation is just the thing to quiet a racing mind, relieve stress, and help you sleep more soundly. Mindfulness meditation is simple to do. Sit quietly and focus on the feeling of your breath moving in and out. Gently steer your thoughts back to your breathing whenever they wander. Try to meditate for 5 to 10 minutes a few times a day. If you need help, try a meditation app to guide you.

Phone a Friend
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Phone a Friend

When you're down, one way to release those negative emotions is to talk through your feelings with a good friend, your partner, or a family member. A strong social support network buffers against stress and depression. If you don't have anyone around to talk with, join a depression support group in person or online. Hearing from people who've been through the same experiences will help you feel less alone.

Take Fido to the Park
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Take Fido to the Park

Dogs have more than earned their title of Best Friend. They're like furry antidepressants. Just throwing a ball to your pooch releases a flood of mood-boosting hormones like oxytocin and dopamine. The exercise you get when you walk your dog increases the antidepressant effect even more. If you live alone, a pet -- whether a dog, cat, bird, or other creature -- offers companionship and staves off loneliness.

Give Back
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Give Back

Volunteering offers as much to you as it does to the people you help. Studies show that putting your time to work for a good cause relieves depression and anxiety, in part by making you feel connected to a cause bigger than yourself. Older adults in particular feel a greater sense of purpose and more satisfaction with their lives when they volunteer.

Turn On the Tunes
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Turn On the Tunes

When you listen to your favorite songs, your brain starts pumping out more norepinephrine and other pleasure-promoting chemicals. Music has an amazing ability to improve mood, bump up energy levels, and relieve stress. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people with depression often prefer sad songs to upbeat tunes. But that’s OK. The gentle pace of more somber music can have a calming effect.

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