Along with the usual treatments for depression, there are some things you can do to feel better in the moment.
When you’re living with depression, you might feel like you’ll never feel better. This is partly because things that you used to love doing don’t hold the same appeal anymore.
You also don’t have the same energy levels, so chores pile up. Some days, even getting out of bed or taking a shower can feel just too hard.
“I tell clients that depression is like a wet, scratchy, woolen blanket that lies on top of whatever authentic emotions they should be feeling, and impedes access to these emotions,” explains Lisa Anderson, licensed clinical social worker at Arbor Wellness in Nashville. “There is a ‘stuck’ quality to depression that feels unproductive and frozen.”
As a result, the idea that you can feel better seems out of reach, especially since it can take time for traditional treatments for depression — like talk therapy or medication — before you start feeling them work.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t small steps you can take — right now — to start feeling better. Here are some things you can do:
“Depression makes it easy to neglect oneself, so we should remember that we all deserve to be good to ourselves,” says Nima Fahimian, MD, a psychiatrist and associate professor at UC Riverside.
And that’s where self-care comes in.
“Creating a sanctuary space at home that feels safe, taking time in a bath to simply relax — these are all great examples of self-care,” he says.
This routine doesn’t have to be complicated or even require you to do a lot in one day if you don’t feel up to it.
But, by making a small to-do list of things to do everyday, even if you don’t enjoy those activities as much as you used to, can make it easier for you to do a few things every day — including some self-care.
“Making things as predictable as possible means you don’t have to make decisions,” says Anusree Gupta, LPC, a licensed professional counselor and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)-certified therapist at Hope Heals Therapy in Texas.
This is the perk of a routine: it helps you achieve small accomplishments with less energy and then, Gupta says, you can celebrate those accomplishments, even if they were small.
“Simple things that we take for granted in our everyday lives are not as simple when you are experiencing depression,” says Gupta.
Beating yourself up for not doing as much or feeling the way other people do will only make you feel worse in the long run.
“Depression is not easy to cope with,” Gupta says, so “if you have noticed that in depression, you indulge in spending more money or indulge in eating food, forgive yourself and start the next day as a new opportunity.”
Research from 2013 suggests that natural sunlight can help improve your mood because it helps increase the brain’s release of a hormone called serotonin, sometimes called the “happy chemical.” Serotonin appears to boost mood and help people feel calmer and more focused.
Sunlight also helps the body make vitamin D, an essential nutrient that your body needs to function properly. Low levels of vitamin D have also been associated with a higher risk of depression, and
“Exercise can be extremely helpful,” says Melissa Shepard, MD, board-certified psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “It doesn’t have to be an intense or long workout — anything that you enjoy that will get your heart rate up will help.”
For example, you could try taking a walk around the block, doing some stretches, or trying some light yoga.
“Depression can throw off your sleep schedule, and you may find yourself getting too much or too little sleep,” explains Samantha Kingma, licensed marriage and family therapist at Rest and Renew Therapy.
So, try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day — this can help make sure you’re getting enough (but not too much, either).
Looking for tips to help you sleep better? You can read some science-backed ways to improve your sleep here.
Another 2018 study suggests that limiting social media use could relieve feelings of depression and loneliness.
That’s why Kingma recommends limiting your time on these apps, taking breaks for a few days, or even deleting social media apps from your phone entirely to see how you feel after you’re away from it.
“If you’re noticing depression symptoms, social media scrolling may very well be making things worse,” she says.
Whether you prefer to draw, paint, write, or play an instrument, getting creative might help you feel a little better right now.
“Art therapy has lots of potential for treating mental illness,” explains Fahimian. “Practicing art — really any art — stimulates the brain in several different ways, facilitates relaxing flow states, and can lead to emotions of fulfillment and achievement.”
“Depression often leads to isolation,” says Fahimian, “so it’s important not to forget about relationships with loved one.”
So, if a friend or family member asks to spend time with you, consider accepting their invitation. In fact, you might consider opening up to them and telling them about what you’re feeling and what kind of support you’d like from them.
If you don’t feel like you have a friend or family member you can trust, consider looking into support groups or online peer support. It can be a way to meet and share your experience with others who are going through something similar.
Unfortunately, depression isn’t something you can just “snap out of” — and there isn’t really a quick fix. While all of these tips might help lessen your symptoms, if you’re struggling most days and haven’t felt any improvements, you might benefit from reaching out to a professional who can adequately treat your depression.
If you’re not sure where to start your search for a therapist, check out Psych Central’s Find a Therapist resource page.
A mental health professional will come up with a unique treatment plan for your depression, which might include:
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, usually involves meeting with a therapist once a week for sessions. Common therapeutic techniques used in therapy can include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
- acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- interpersonal therapy (IPT)
Want to learn more about starting therapy? Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can help.
Depending on the severity of your depression, you might be prescribed an antidepressant to help manage your symptoms.
Common antidepressants include:
Living with depression is challenging — and it’s important to remember that no matter how you feel, it’s not your fault. There are small steps you can take to help lessen the severity of your symptoms and feel a little better every day. And if you need a little extra help, consider reaching out to a therapist for treatment.
Looking for a therapist, but not sure where to start? Try checking out Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource for more information.