It isn’t always easy, but there are various ways to manage the symptoms of clinical depression.
The feelings that come with depression, such as hopelessness and despair, can make daily activities feel insurmountable. Making it through the day can feel like a monumental challenge. And finding ways to manage your depression can also seem out of reach.
While not every depression management strategy will work for you at every stage of your mental health journey, there are ways to cope and treat your mental health condition.
To receive a diagnosis of clinical depression, you need to have had at least one of the following symptoms almost daily for at least 2 weeks, in addition to at least four other symptoms of depression:
- low mood
- loss of interest or pleasure in your favorite or routine activities
Other symptoms of depression can include a change in sleep patterns, appetite, and irritability.
Depression is a treatable mental health condition with several available treatment options. During a depressive episode, it can feel like things are hopeless — take comfort in knowing there’s hope.
Treatment and management strategies may involve clinical approaches, like medication and therapy, or natural approaches, like exercise and journaling.
It’s up to you to decide on the right combination of tools to manage your depression.
1. Get professional guidance.
“A person struggling with clinical depression should be in close consult with a mental health professional. There is no substitute for professional guidance, and any thoughts of self-harm or suicide should be communicated to someone in real time,” says C. Leigh McInnis, LPC, executive director of Newport Academy Virginia.
While the best treatment and management options are ultimately up to you, a professional can help guide you through this challenging period.
Common approaches for depression include:
- cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
- mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT)
“What these share in common is that they are focused on changing the way we interact with our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions,” says Myra Altman, PhD, a clinical psychologist in San Francisco and vice president of clinical strategy and research at Modern Health.
CBT, for example, can help you challenge negative thoughts you may have about yourself and the world around you, replacing them with realistic thoughts.
With ACT, you’ll work with a therapist to think about your values, the things you care about, and ways to get there, says Altman.
Want to learn more about starting therapy? Psych Central’s How to Find Mental Health Support resource can help.
2. Ask about medication.
“While we don’t yet know which approach — medication versus therapy — works best for which people, there is very good evidence that medication is most effective when used in conjunction with therapies like CBT, and that psychotherapy has longer-lasting effects,” explains Altman.
Don’t hesitate to ask your therapist about medication options. They can put you in touch with a psychiatrist who can recommend a medication for your depression.
Altman admits that access to care can be difficult, especially when someone is experiencing severe depression symptoms.
She encourages people with depression to start with whatever option feels most manageable, whether that’s mentioning your symptoms to your primary care doctor or working with a therapist.
3. Try moving your body.
In addition to medication and professional guidance from a mental health professional, McInnis recommends natural management strategies to help with depression, including exercise.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), physical activity not only prevents depression symptoms it can also help with mild-to-moderate symptoms.
Of course, when you have depression, your energy levels can take a hit, making it tough to exercise.
You may find it helpful to stick to movement that you enjoy and avoid looking at exercise as a punishment.
Movement doesn’t need to be vigorous, either. Consider simply taking a walk or doing gentle yoga.
4. Try to eat right and rest.
McInnis also recommends getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night. However, some people with depression may run into trouble falling or staying asleep. Some people may also oversleep.
If you have the capacity, you may find it helpful to build a routine that minimizes sleep disruptions and maximizes sleep hygiene. This may include:
- going to bed at the same time every night
- waking up at the same time
- using relaxation strategies before bed to help you fall asleep
- keeping electronic screens out of the bedroom
- cultivating a comfortable, dark environment for sleeping
Your diet can also play a role in managing depression symptoms. McInnis recommends a diet rich in complex carbohydrates like fruits, nuts, beans, vegetables, and grains.
If making meals feels strenuous, there are ways to make prep easier:
- Buy prepackaged, precut ingredients.
- Keep meals simple. It’s possible to make tasty meals with only a few ingredients.
- Use frozen veggies if you find it hard to use them before they spoil.
- Ask for help from friends and family.
- Prepare meals and freeze them when you’re feeling better.
5. Consider journaling.
Journaling can be a great way to reflect on and gain distance from negative thoughts. Writing down what you’re feeling can also help you process emotions.
When journaling, McInnis suggests highlighting factual observations about your day and life, focusing on your hopes and dreams instead of dwelling on thoughts of hopelessness.
Paired with therapy, journaling can be a valuable tool for people with depression. However, if you have clinical depression, it’s essential to receive guidance from a mental health professional.
They can help you get the most out of journaling and determine whether it would be a useful option for you.
6. Give meditation a go.
Meditation can also be a helpful way to manage depression symptoms, says McInnis, who explains that you don’t need lots of time to develop a practice. Even just 2 minutes per day may help.
Different examples of meditation practices include:
- mindfulness meditation
- deep breathing exercises
- body scan meditation
- walking meditation
7. Make plans.
Depression can make you feel like you have nothing to look forward to. You may find it helpful to schedule events and activities that bring you joy, says McInnis.
During a depressive episode, though, it may be tough to feel joyful. Instead, make plans that help you feel connected to others — or even nature.
McInnis also suggests scheduling or planning activities that make you feel a sense of mastery. This might be something as simple as making time to do a puzzle, or doing something else you know you’re good at.
8. Spend time with others.
Having a support system can be a great help when you’re living with depression. Friends and family can help you out with errands, food prep, and house cleaning when you’re not feeling your best.
- feel less alone and isolated, especially during a depressive episode
- feel listened to
- feel supported and safe interacting with people who understand what you’re going through
It may not feel like it right now, but it is possible to start feeling better.
Clinical depression is treatable. Finding effective ways to manage your symptoms is the first step to recovery.
This first step may look different for everyone, but it may be a good idea to talk with someone, even just a friend or family member. They can help provide emotional support as you seek out professional help.