Anyone who endures the physical and mental discomfort of living with depression — hopelessness, brain fog, never-ending boredom, etc. — deserves a gold medal. It really is a daily battle.
If you’re gripped with depression, taking action might be the last thing you want to do. But we’re here to remind you that the action doesn’t have to be monumental. One simple move, like washing your hair or picking up the clothes off your floor, can get the ball rolling.
This article is meant to give you ideas for the little actions you can take in your daily fight with depression. But we want to be clear that what works for one person might not work for another. And these are by no means cures or treatments, they’re strategies to help you cope and feel more in control.
Got anxiety, too?
Anxiety and depression are highly correlated, says licensed psychologist Chloe Greenbaum, PhD. Both are characterized by negative emotions and poor self-concept. Since anxious people often use avoidance as a coping strategy, they often isolate themselves, which can contribute to depression, she adds.
When it comes to depression, the more tools you have in your belt the better. Here are some non-medical ways to ease symptoms of depression.
These tips aren’t a treatment or cure, but they may be able to improve your mood in a pinch. Don’t dwell on being stuck in a dark void. Instead, focus on taking baby steps forward.
Listen to your favorite album
You know that one song that can make you smile no matter how bad you’re feeling? Research suggests those good feelings can actually be a form of therapy.
One review of studies found that listening to music and playing music resulted in a significant reduction of symptoms in people with depression, including improved confidence, self-esteem, and motivation.
Get some fresh air
When depressed, our protective instinct is to stay inside where it’s safe and predictable. But staying cooped indoors up for days — not to mention weeks — on end is a recipe for restlessness.
Research shows that a simple nature walk can improve your mood, as can feeling the warmth of sunshine on your body. You don’t have to go farther than your front stoop. But open that door and feel the sun (or rain!) on your face for at least a few minutes every day.
Move your body
Mustering energy to exercise when depressed can be grueling, but if you get up and do it, it really helps. Research shows exercise releases endorphins, increase body temperature and blood circulation in the brain, and helps us deal with stress.
You don’t have to go for a mile run. Just do what you can, whether that’s a short YouTube workout or walking around the block.
Take a hot bath or shower
There’s something about sinking into a hot bath or shower that can make it feel like your troubles are literally being washed away.
In fact, there’s some research that suggests baths as self-care may have real therapeutic effects. One study found that bathing in hot water 2 times a week for 4 weeks decreased depression symptoms in people with moderate depression.
There are some long-term things you can do to try to alleviate depression, too. This isn’t an exhaustive list, just an idea of the kinds of things that help some people.
Keep a daily journal
Journaling isn’t for everyone, but some people with depression find it helpful. One method is called gratitude journaling where you write down what you’re thankful for on a daily basis in order to focus on the positives.
There’s also mood tracking, which is another daily journaling system. With mood tracking, the goal is about understanding your emotional patterns in an effort to build better emotional regulation.
Try out reiki
Like we said earlier, everyone’s journey through depression is unique. And for some, reiki has turned out to be a surprise game-changer. In fact, it’s been helpful for so many people that it’s even practiced in hospitals now.
If you’re a skeptic, consider this study which found people with high levels of anxiety and depression felt fewer symptoms up to 5 weeks after their reiki healing session.
Eat food that makes you feel good
It’s borderline impossible to eat super healthy all the time especially when you have zero energy to cook. And it doesn’t do you any good to feel bad about the food choices you make.
Make sleep health a top priority
You’ve probably heard that getting a good night’s sleep is crucial for good mental health. And if you’re depressed, you’re probably no stranger to sleep disturbances (one survey found 75 percent of people with depression have insomnia).
There are a bajillion tips (not to mention products) out there for improving sleep health, and if you’ve tried everything under the sun, don’t be shy about seeking professional help. Your sleep is worth it.
Is it seasonal depression?
Only feel depressed during the shorter, colder months? You might have seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Symptoms are the same as general depression, but they’re experienced on a seasonal basis (usually during late fall to early spring).
The tips in this article still apply if you have SAD. But also consider investing in a sun lamp, which is the first line of defense against SAD.
Loneliness and depression go hand in hand. “There’s a vicious feedback loop between loneliness and depression, where depression may cause social withdrawal, leading to loneliness and a lack of social connections, which in turn may exacerbate depression,” says Greenbaum.
But social connections are crucial for managing depression. Without the support of others, it can be much harder to cope with distress.
So if depression is causing you to withdraw, it’s important to realize that that’s the illness talking. The very best thing you can do when you’re going through a low period is be honest with your friends and family so that they’re aware you need extra support right now.
And there’s nothing shameful about this! One day, they may need you to do the same for them.
If you don’t have a lot of people to go to right now, consider checking out one of the following organizations:
- Letters Against Depression. This site will send you a handwritten letter for absolutely no charge. (You can also volunteer to write letters to other people.)
- Online therapy. This guide gives the pros and cons of all the common online therapy platforms.
- teen line. This organization gives young people emotional support via a national hotline, community outreach program, and online support.
- The Trevor Project. This is a national organization that provides crisis prevention for LGBTQ youth.
- Crisis Text Line. Anyone in the U.S., Canada, the UK, or Ireland can connect with a crisis counselor 24/7 with a simple text.
If you’re having suicidal thoughts
If you have thoughts of harming yourself or others, take these steps:
• Call 911 or your local emergency number.
• Ask someone to stay with you until help arrives.
• Remove any weapons or substances that may cause harm.
You can get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text “HOME” to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line.
Work is one of the hardest contexts to be depressed in, since so many jobs value a “good attitude,” having energy, smiling, and so on.
Here are five tips to manage depression at work.
Socialize in ways that feel good to you
Use work as an opportunity to socialize. “Identify people and social situations at work, such as grabbing coffee with one coworker, that make you feel happier or energized,” Greenbaum recommends.
Sprinkle in pleasurable moments
Add things into your day that you can look forward to. If there’s a challenging work project you’re dreading, pair it with something pleasant such as taking a midday walk and listening to your favorite podcast. Greenbaum says this can make the unpleasant activity feel less crummy.
Set healthy boundaries
Figure out the boundaries you need to thrive and then clearly communicate them. “Without boundaries, other people’s needs encroach on our own. Being engulfed by after-hours emails or your boss’s demands will do nothing to help your mental health,” says Greenbaum.
Find work-life balance
Make sure your life isn’t all work all the time. “Balance work and life. If work feels depleting, make sure you’re filling up your cup outside of work,” says Greenbaum. “Practice self-care whenever you can and do things that replenish your energy, rather than deplete it.”
Seek professional help using company benefits
Take advantage of your company’s resources. Greenbaum says many companies offer employee assistance programs, peer mentoring, and health insurance with mental health benefits. Chat with HR to learn your options.
We’re not being hyperbolic when we say that working with a pro can be life-changing. Professionals are trained to assess your unique challenges and tailor an action plan based on those needs.
Not sure if you need to see someone? Greenbaum says if depression symptoms are interfering with your functioning at work, school, or in your relationships, it’s time to consider professional help.
It’s common to be nervous about going to therapy or trying meds for the first time, but both can be extremely efficient and effective at getting you back to a balanced state.
Three common mental health providers people see for depression are psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists.
- Psychiatrists. These are medical doctors who can prescribe psych medications. They are most focused on drug-based solutions.
- Psychologists. These folks have doctoral-level training, earning a PsyD or PhD. They provide psychotherapy, can conduct psychological assessments, and can prescribe some medications.
- Therapists. This category includes a variety of professionals that provide psychotherapy, including social workers, mental health counselors, and marriage and family therapists. The majority are masters’ level.
There are many ways to find a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist, including searching online or asking your PCP for referrals. Find an expert who matches your needs and values, such as an anti-racist therapist or an LGBTQIA+ friendly therapist.
While living with depression can feel impossible sometimes, it’s important to remember there are so many little things you can do to feel some relief from your symptoms.
Don’t get overwhelmed by how far you have to go. Instead, remember that small changes can go a long way, and little by little, you can start feeling better.