When depression makes you feel tired and flat, trying a few simple self-help methods can lighten the load.
Sadness, a lack of energy and motivation, little interest in the things you used to enjoy — all of these symptoms of depression can make it difficult to care for yourself on a daily basis.
Depression affects 16.1 million adults in the United States every year. So while depression can feel isolating and daunting, know that you’re not alone.
While the gold-standard treatments for depression are therapy and sometimes antidepressants, there are many things you can do alongside your treatment plan to feel better.
Here are 10 self-help methods you can try.
You’re unique, and what works for others won’t necessarily work for you. Make a list of what you can do when you need a boost in your mood or are feeling overwhelmed.
Once you’ve made your list, keep it somewhere easily accessible. Better yet, keep it on your phone so that you always have it to hand. Then, when you need it, you can pull it out and look through some ideas that have helped you before. They might just include the thing you need right now.
Items on your personalized depression self-care list could include:
- listening to a favorite song
- coloring or drawing
- calling or texting a friend
- looking at a cherished photo album
- knitting or crafting
- practicing yoga, tai chi, or another light exercise
- doing stretching exercises
- going for a brief walk around the block
- doing some breathing exercises
Depression comes with an array of unwanted thoughts and feelings. Journaling about what you’re feeling can provide a useful outlet for your emotions, giving you some distance from unhelpful thoughts. This distance can help you to process difficult emotions.
If you feel able to, try sitting for a few minutes and writing out what you’re thinking and feeling. Allow yourself to meet those thoughts with acceptance. They might feel bad, but feeling them doesn’t make you bad.
Journaling can also help you keep track of things, people, or places that make you feel better or worse, so that you know what to move towards and what to avoid next time.
Journaling can also help you step out of negative thought loops. Writing about what you’re feeling can help you to become aware of unwanted thoughts, so that you can let them go and ultimately replace them with helpful ones.
Like any habit, making regular time for journaling can help you get the most benefit from it. You might consider downloading a mood tracking app to measure your mood over time or setting aside half an hour each day to sit down and write whatever comes to mind.
Ready to start journaling? Check out these 64 journal prompts to help you get started.
There are some great worksheets and self-help guides out there. These resources aim to help you learn about depression, get in touch with your emotional health, and give you tools you can use to start feeling better.
You might like to try out these free, online self-help guides:
- The Centre for Clinical Interventions offers many depression worksheets, workbooks, and information sheets. You can browse and try out a few that feel right for you.
- The Depression Self-Help Guide from the National Health Service (NHS) has a 30–40 minute online guide based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
- The Depression and Low Mood Self-Help Guide from the NHS can help you understand depression and unwanted thoughts, and it shows you how to look after yourself, stay well, and cope with setbacks.
Having a routine can be comforting and help you to feel more balanced in your daily life. Over time, keeping a consistent routine might just help you fall into more consistent mood and behavior patterns, too.
It’s not always easy to stick to a routine, but remember that repetition is the key to success. To begin with, try taking small steps towards a routine that feels good, and gently nudging yourself when you move away from it.
Regular sleep is important for maintaining your mental and physical health. With depression, you may find that you’re getting too little sleep, or sleeping too much.
Try sticking to a regular bedtime and wakeup time, even when you don’t feel sleepy yet. Over time, you’ll naturally begin to feel tired and wake up at similar times each day — even on weekends.
It might help to track your sleep habits using a phone app like Sleepscore. Meditation apps, such as Headspace or Calm, can provide you with sleepcasts or ambient noise to help you fall asleep.
If you like to read, it can be a great way to wind down. You could even try a book specific to depression like Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, which is all about changing your thought patterns.
Getting regular exercise can be a great help when you’re managing depression. Exercise releases feel-good endorphins, and it can tire you out, helping you sleep better at night.
Taking a 20-minute walk, going for a bike ride, swimming, dancing — there are loads of great ways to move your body.
To make exercise part of your routine, you might decide to:
- go for a walk every day after work
- go jogging twice a week before class
- practice yoga on the weekends
- dance along to a favorite album a few times each week
Find a way to squeeze regular exercise into your routine, and you might just start feeling more energetic.
What you eat can also affect how you feel. It might feel good in the short term to eat comfort foods that are high in carbohydrates, saturated fats, and processed foods, but those foods can make you feel sluggish and fatigued.
Eating fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains and healthy fats, can help you have more energy, get better sleep, and find that you have more motivation.
Talking with someone you trust about how you’re feeling can help lighten your load. This might be a friend, partner, family member, spiritual advisor, or another important person in your life.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking about your mental health condition with others, sometimes it can just help to have someone cheer you up or distract you.
Psychotherapy, one of the gold-standard treatments for depression, involves talking to a professional who understands your experiences and knows how to help. Sharing what’s going on for you can help you feel supported and less alone.
You could also consider a support group for depression. Here, you’ll find others in similar life situations, and finding common ground can help you feel less alone.
A peace corner is easy to set up and can be a place to go in your own home that relaxes you when you need a break. Its purpose is to provide a peaceful zone filled with things that bring you positivity.
Inspired by the Montessori method of teaching, peace corners aren’t just for kids — they can be whatever you want them to be.
Find an area of your home you can fill with comforting items such as plants, stress balls, soft pillows, a yoga mat, candles, and books. You can spend time there each day or just when you’re having a hard time managing your depression symptoms.
Getting out in the sun gives you much-needed vitamin D in order to
By making sure you’re getting enough vitamin D, you can increase your serotonin levels and therefore improve your overall mood. Even 15 minutes a day has benefits. You can also try vitamin D supplements or use a lightbox, especially if you live in a place that doesn’t get a lot of daytime sun.
Be sure to check in with a mental health professional about whether a lightbox is suitable for you.
Some people find that listening to podcasts offers a helpful distraction. There are plenty of mental health podcasts out there that might help you feel connected and less alone:
- Tell Me What You’re Proud Of with Dr. Maggie Perry offers an insight into real therapy sessions with real clients.
- Happier, a podcast with Gretchen Rubin, not only discusses depression, but also happiness and how to find more of it.
- Inside Mental Health, Psych Central’s podcast hosted by Gabe Howard, has plenty of episodes to choose from ranging from depression, relationships, personality, grief, and more.
Depression can feel very lonely, but you don’t have to go through it alone. Keeping a list of numbers you can call as needed can help remind you that support is readily available.
Your list will be unique to you. It might include the number of your doctor, your therapist, a trusted friend, or a community group or organization that understands what you’re going through.
You can also consider adding some of these hotlines:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.
- Text “HOME” to the Crisis Textline at 741741.
- If you’re living with a mental health or substance use disorder, call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 800-662-4357.
- For a hotline run by and for trans people, call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860.
- For crisis support for LGBTQIA+ people, call the Trevor Project hotline at 866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678-678.
- If you’re Deaf, you can text “HAND” to the Deaf Crisis Line at 839863.
- Not in the U.S.? Find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.
- You can find a more extensive list of depression hotlines to call in this guide.
Depression can be a difficult diagnosis, and sometimes, even figuring out how to help yourself is a feat. Luckily, there are some great ideas out there to get you started and thinking about what can best help you manage your symptoms and take care of yourself.
If you aren’t already, consider reaching out to a therapist or doctor for advice and support. There are plenty of options available to help you start feeling better.
Treating depression can take time. So when you reach a roadblock, remind yourself that you’re trying (as evidenced by the fact that you’re reading this now!), and that’s worthy of celebration. Go easy on yourself, and allow yourself the time and space you need to start feeling better.