DIY Tips for Living Well With Depression

Daily steps to help fight depression can be an important part of treatment in addition to what your doctor prescribes.

Depression is different for everyone, so managing it should also be unique. Medication, talk therapy, and other approaches are essential for treating major depression. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enhance your everyday habits to help boost your mood.

Lifestyle changes can go a long way toward a happier you, says Nicholas R. Forand, PhD, a clinical psychologist and an assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “The good news is that if you keep these changes up, they can make you less likely to become depressed in the future.”

Implementing daily healthy habits is good for the mind, body, and spirit, says Eric Bouwman, a licensed clinical social worker at Kaiser Permanente in Colorado. “By adjusting your diet, sleeping pattern, and caffeine intake, your body can start to regulate itself normally,” he says.

Small Steps to Help Fight Depression

Each day you make a choice to do all you can to be healthy and happy. From simple to silly, these tips can help you manage depression:

  • Set achievable goals. Don’t overwhelm yourself with lofty ambitions. As “the old saying goes, ‘You can only eat an elephant one bite at a time.’ The same thinking should apply to improving your mental or physical health,” Bouwman says.
  • Do something you enjoy. “Small, enjoyable activities are often the first to go when someone starts to get depressed,” Dr. Forand says. “Re-engaging in these things can have a big influence on how you feel.” Schedule a regularly recurring activity that you enjoy, be it a new hobby, an exercise class, or a lunch date with a friend.
  • Laugh. When you’re feeling down, a laugh can lift you up. “Laughter really is great medicine,” says Judy Sturm, president of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) of Greater Chicago, who’s been in recovery from bipolar disorder for the last 14 years. For her, laughter is “an even better release than crying.” Share a funny story, tell a joke, or just engage in something silly.
  • Create a routine. “Structure is good,” Forand says. “It makes your life predictable.” Jot down your schedule as a list or on a calendar, or make a note or schedule reminders on your phone — anywhere it’s visible to you. “Writing your schedule down can also help you stay motivated to stick with it,” he says.
  • Be kind. Don’t underestimate the power of simple kindness. “Kindness to others, in any way, shape, or form, is great therapy,” Sturm says. “Holding a door open for someone, picking up a stranger’s dropped item, telling someone they’re dragging their coat on the floor — their gratitude can help your attitude.” Sturm also recommends donating money, goods, services, or time to an organization or project that inspires you.
  • Practice smiling. “This may seem a little strange, but I do smiling practice,” says Douglas Cootey, creator of the blog A Splintered Mind. “A fake smile begins to work its magic on the brain until the smile becomes real. I feel so silly making grin after grin in front of the mirror that it elevates my mood.” Cootey also likes to take silly selfies. “Between the two activities, I can limber up my face to counter the somber effect of depression and feel better about myself in the process,” he says.
  • Try natural ways to treat depression. Massage may help ease symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Add some aromatherapy oils (try lavender, orange, or basil) to further engage your senses and relax your mind and body. Or just head outside and let nature work its wonders on your spirit. Cootey says he tries to get outdoors as much as possible to boost his mood and energy level.
  • Add stress management techniques. “Stress is a major cause of depression,” Forand says. The DBSA suggests deep breathing, yoga,meditation, guided imagery, and any other activity that helps you de-stress.
  • Maintain your relationships. “Social interaction is very important and something depressed people often don’t prioritize,” Forand says. And when you make plans to socialize, keep them, he says: “Avoiding something usually makes you feel worse.”
  • Treat yourself well inside and out. Each day dedicate a little energy toward your appearance. “If you look good and feel clean and comfortable, you’ll feel better,” Forand says. Don’t neglect the staples of a healthy lifestyle — get plenty of sleep, eat a nutritious diet, and make time for regular exercise — and don’t forget to take your medication.

Last Updated: 2/22/2016

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