Low energy due to depression can lock you into a cycle of other symptoms that is hard to get out of. Here are tips to help boost your energy and break that cycle.

Depression can stop you in your tracks, in more ways than one. A common symptom of depression is decreased energy. And when your energy is low, it can lock you into a cycle of not seeing your friends, not participating in your hobbies or other activities, and oversleeping or eating poorly — all of which can exacerbate the depression.

Depression normally affects about 8% of the population. Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, three times as many people have reported experiencing symptoms of depression. Increased stress about your career or your child’s schooling might have made it harder to work on self-care. Opportunities to exercise, see friends, and try new restaurants may have dried up. Even as things reopen, there are unknowns.

Depression leads to low energy because when you experience a depressive episode, your brain doesn’t receive the signals that boost your moods properly. It’s not sensitive enough to those messages. As a result, your energy can take a hit.

Here are six tips that may help to boost your energy. These steps will not replace treatment for your depression. But counteracting low energy can improve both your physical and mental function and make you feel better as you continue with treatment. We suggest you try these tips alongside your treatment.

Depression can affect your diet. For example, you may experience loss of appetite and be inclined to skip meals, which may lower your energy levels.

While eating healthfully is important, it’s less important to follow the food pyramid precisely than it is to eat foods that help your brain’s messaging along, and avoid those that may worsen symptoms.

Research shows that even though following a low-quality diet doesn’t necessarily worsen symptoms of depression, following a healthier diet may help improve depression symptoms. Here are some foods that can help boost your energy.

Foods high in zinc

Studies indicate that people with depression may have lower levels of zinc in their blood, compared with people who don’t have the condition.

Increasing zinc is believed to improve mood stability, which can help boost your energy. If you feel more stable, it may feel easier to get out of bed and do simple tasks that previously felt daunting.

Your body doesn’t produce zinc naturally, so you need to consume it, either in food or through supplements.

Foods high in zinc include:

  • oysters
  • crab
  • lobster
  • beef
  • pork
  • chickpeas
  • cashews

Foods high in complex carbohydrates

For energy, you want to rely less on simple carbs, aka sugar — both the natural kind found in fruit and dairy products and the processed kind like high fructose corn syrup — and more on starches and fiber, which are complex carbs. Consuming too many simple carbs is linked to depression symptoms, especially in women.

Foods high in complex carbs include:

  • potatoes
  • whole-wheat bread
  • oats
  • nuts
  • beans

Foods high in omega-3s

Some research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids may help improve symptoms of depression, though not all studies find significant effects. As your body processes omega-3s, they may help repair those energy-raising brain signals.

Foods high in omega-3s include:

  • fish, especially salmon, mackerel, sardines, and anchovies
  • walnuts
  • chia seeds
  • flax seeds

Foods high in antioxidants

Research indicates that a diet rich in antioxidants may reduce depression symptoms, particularly in women.

Foods high in antioxidants include:

  • dark chocolate
  • berries, especially blueberries and strawberries
  • kale
  • beans

Foods rich in vitamin B12 and B9

Research indicates a link between low blood levels of vitamins B12 and B9 (folate or folic acid) and depression.

Your body doesn’t naturally produce vitamins B12 or B9, so you must consume them either in food or as a supplement.

Foods high in vitamin B12 include:

  • milk and dairy products
  • eggs
  • organ meats like liver or kidney
  • fish
  • fortified cereals, nutritional yeast, or nondairy milks

Foods high in vitamin B9 — either folate (the natural form) or folic acid (a synthetic form) — include:

  • legumes
  • eggs
  • leafy greens
  • beets
  • broccoli
  • avocado
  • fortified grains

Exercise has proven antidepressant effects. But low energy can prevent you from doing something even when you know it may help.

The best exercise is the one that you’re most likely to do regularly. When you’re not feeling your best, it’s important to take things easy.

Walking, running, swimming, or yoga — depending on where you live and your access to places to work out — are all relatively easy and inexpensive ways to move that allow you to go at your own pace and modify the movements to your own energy level.

If you find it difficult to get yourself motivated, maybe ask a trusted friend if they’ll get moving with you. You can also try to integrate exercise into already-established routines. For example, you could stop at a park or pretty location on your way home from work to get a brief walk or run in.

Start small, with just 5 minutes a day, and build up. Plus, exercise has benefits that will extend beyond helping your depression.

Sleep hygiene is different from saying “get lots of sleep,” which is not always easy with depression, as it can severely affect your sleep.

Sleep hygiene means:

  • building a sleep routine
  • isolating yourself and blocking out lights (that includes your phone and other devices)
  • giving your body a chance to rest

It can also help to avoid naps (even if you feel the urge to take one) and avoid drinking caffeinated beverages after 2 p.m.

The better quality sleep you can get, the better your energy and mood will be when you wake up.

When you’re experiencing a depressive episode and your energy is depleted, you may not want to spend additional time inside your own head.

But research shows that meditation exercises focusing on reducing stress and worry can alleviate some depression symptoms and prevent existing symptoms from worsening.

As little as 10 minutes a day can help, and there are several apps you can try.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on recognizing behavior patterns that may cause problems in your life and using problem-solving skills to create change.

Research shows that CBT may be beneficial for people with depression, particularly those who feel low energy due to sleep difficulties.

Many therapists teach their clients CBT techniques to help with depression symptoms, and there are also apps you can use to practice CBT skills. If you’re interested in finding a therapist who specializes in CBT in your area, you can use the search tool of the Academy of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies.

When your energy is low and you’re experiencing a depressive episode, you may not feel like doing anything, even things that used to bring you joy.

Yet, doing something enjoyable or meaningful has been shown to boost energy. This approach is referred to as “behavioral activation.” It can be part of a structured therapy plan for depression, and research indicates that it may relieve symptoms of depression as effectively as cognitive therapy.

Still, you can also use this technique by yourself in a more informal way to help increase energy.

You can start small by engaging in meaningful and enjoyable behaviors that you can easily integrate into your routine.

If you’re not ready to meet up with friends, maybe just text or call one friend with whom you feel most comfortable chatting. If going to a club or concert seems like too much, maybe just put on your favorite song during breakfast.

If these small enjoyable things help boost your mood, you may be able to move on to bigger endeavors later.

Sometimes lifestyle changes aren’t enough and you need outside help — and that’s OK.

Consider reaching out to a mental health professional if:

  • you notice your symptoms worsen (e.g., your low energy becomes no energy, or you feel worse than you did at the outset)
  • your low energy never lets up
  • you still experience episodes of depression after trying these tips and other treatment methods
  • your low energy significantly interferes with your life, including work, family, and social life

Low energy is both a symptom of depression and a feeling that can trap you in a cycle of other depression symptoms.

In addition to treating your depression, working with your body — instead of against it — to boost your energy can help lift you out of that cycle. Nourishing and moving your body and resting and retraining your mind can help elevate your mood.

When you’re experiencing depression, it can be really hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. These tips can help boost your mood enough that other therapies and treatments build on your higher energy levels.

If you want to get started right away, consider taking a 10-minute walk around the block or trying a free online meditation like this 10-minute meditation by Calm.

Still, if you feel worse after trying some of the tips above, or never feel better, it may be time to seek more concentrated professional help.