Trying to beat depression? Small daily efforts can be more effective than sweeping changes.

Depression isn’t something you’re able to turn off like a switch. It doesn’t go away just because someone tells you to “toughen up” or because you had a moment of laughter during the day.

When you live with depression, you know it often isn’t about the big moments in life. Sometimes, it’s all those quiet minutes of the day no one else sees.

When these moments feel like an eternity, there are ways you can loosen the hold depression has on daily life.

Beating depression and coping with depression aren’t the same. While there are many daily tips and tricks to cope with depression, “beating” depression implies a long-term resolution of symptoms.

Based on the volumes of research behind depression causes, daily goals may have the most beneficial impact if they:

  • promote a sense of meaning, accomplishment, or mastery
  • increase the frequency of positive emotions
  • help you identify self-defeating or unhelpful thought patterns and behaviors

Keeping these criteria in mind, you can start to develop some daily routines to help you beat depression.

The weight of an obligation is something that can make a task feel impossible when you live with depression. When you have to do something, the pressure can make you feel like you’re stuck in concrete.

Depression can stall you from doing things that might make a difference in the long term, like visiting supportive friends and family.

Reminders on your phone, computer, or tablet, can help refocus your attention on activities you might otherwise pass by. Writing these reminders in goal-form can also remind you it’s something that can help you feel a sense of accomplishment.

Research suggests a sense of accomplishment is one of five effective positive-psychology interventions for depression, along with:

  • pleasure
  • engagement
  • meaning
  • positive relationships

An example of a goal-oriented reminder may be setting an alarm to call a supportive friend. Not only might you gain a sense of accomplishment after completing the task, you may also tick the boxes for pleasure, engagement, meaning, and positive relationships.

Other rewarding goals could include playing one song on a musical instrument, or reading one page about travel online, depending on your interests.

Don’t worry if you aren’t able to keep up with your tasks every day. Remind yourself that you’re taking steps to feel better, and that tomorrow is a new day.

Depression likes to do two big things: immobilize and demoralize.

To combat feelings of apathy and self-criticism, finding an activity that you can build up progress with might help.

The benefits of exercise for depression are well-known. Research from 2018 supports exercise, particularly high intensity exercise, for helping with depression symptoms by reducing inflammation.

By picking an activity you can progress with, you not only set yourself up for the recognized benefits of exercise, you help build up a sense of achievement.

Hate working out? That’s okay.

Not everyone enjoys physical exercise, and doing something you don’t enjoy could only add to feelings of discouragement.

If physical activity isn’t your thing, indulging your artistic side or your curiosity, might do the trick. Or, you could try reading about sports you like or travel destinations, drawing or writing on a topic of interest, or getting outside to enjoy a hike or easy bike ride.

Ultimately, the goal is to focus on something meaningful to you. What that means will be different for everyone.

When you learn about depression, you learn there are many people out there also living with it.

You learn that you’re not just “sad.”

You also learn about the many ways depression can be successfully treated.

A part of successful treatment is being able to recognize unhelpful thoughts when they appear. This ability isn’t always easy to learn on your own, and often requires working closely with a mental healthcare provider.

Over time, as your skill set increases in this area under professional guidance, you may be able to develop new behaviors to prevent yourself from spiraling into unhelpful thoughts and feelings.

Research suggests, the more feel-good things you do, and the more often you do them, the better your chances may be of beating depression in the long term.

You can add positive moments into your day through:

  • gratitude journaling
  • acts of kindness toward others
  • participating in volunteer or charity work
  • keeping track of positive moments, no matter how small
  • joining a worldly cause

While you’re beating depression, sometimes you may need options to cope with symptoms in the short term.

1. Eat healthy

Since depression likes to steal away your appetite, it can be easy to convince yourself to skip meals. But giving your body nutrients and energy can make a difference to how you feel for the rest of the day.

A 2020 systematic review found some promise for the use of healthy diet in depression treatment and prevention.

Research into this area is ongoing, however, and some experts suspect healthy diet impacts depression primarily because people who eat healthy are more likely to have other beneficial mental and physical behaviors.

If you can’t bring yourself to stomach a meal of solid foods, there are a number of meal replacement drinks available that incorporate superfoods, probiotics, protein, and carbohydrates.

2. Create a morning pampering routine

When you live with depression, you may notice your personal care starts to decline. You might start by skipping the shower. Brushing your hair may feel like a chore. Maybe you don’t remember when you last brushed your teeth.

A small, cross-sectional study found married women who self-pampered were less likely to experience depression compared to married women who didn’t self-pamper.

It’s possible, however, like with diet, that people who pamper themselves more are more likely to have other beneficial mental and physical behaviors, which might explain lower rates of depression.

3. Go outside

You may have heard about the benefits of sunshine for depression, but 2017 research suggests just being outside may be enough to improve your mental well-being.

When you set your reminder to “go outside,” it can mean anything from taking a walk to sitting on your doorstep with a cup of coffee.

If you aren’t ready to go outside, bring the outside in.

A study from 2013 suggested that viewing nature scenes in pictures could help reduce psychological stress, compared to viewing images of manmade, urban scenes. If you want more than pictures on the wall, adding indoor plants or natural building materials could also help.

4. Improve your sleep

Among its other effects, depression can impact your sleep. Sleep is important for many aspects of mental health, not just for combating depression.

Sleeping longer, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re sleeping better. To help improve your sleep you can:

  • Maintain a cool, dark atmosphere for optimal sleeping.
  • Avoid stimulants, like caffeine, before bed.
  • Reduce alcohol intake, as alcohol can reduce sleep quality.
  • Avoid large meals before bed.
  • Create a relaxing aesthetic in your bedroom, such as dim lighting or burning a scented candle or incense.
  • Try going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
  • Use sound dampening items, like ear plugs or white noise machines.
  • Wear blue-light-blocking glasses before bed to minimize screen time effects.

Getting up and getting through the day is a great start when you’re living with depression. Having a regular mental healthcare provider, however, is one of the most important things you can do to beat depression.

Long-term strategies for managing depression often include psychotherapy (also called talk therapy), medication, or both.

Speaking with a mental health specialist can help you work through some of the symptoms you’re experiencing.

Since depression is different for everyone, having a trained professional to talk with means you can explore the things in your life that may be contributing to depression.

During this time of discovery, medications are there to help ease the severity of symptoms, especially if they’re impairing your daily life.

Depression can do much more than make you irritable. It can affect your concentration and decision-making. It can cause physical ache and pains, or cause thoughts of suicide.

Looking for mental health support, but you’re not sure how to get it? Consider checking out Psych Central’s Find a Therapist resource page to help you get started.

Living with depression can feel overwhelming, and finding out how to beat depression can be like learning how to walk — one step at a time, and you might stumble a few times along the way.

When life starts to bear down on you, it’s okay to take a step back and slow down.

Focus on getting out of bed, eating nutritious foods and allowing yourself to experience the day in small doses.