Depression is one of the most common mood disorders in the United States. It causes persistent sadness and limits a person’s ability to go about their daily activities.
However, depression is treatable, and people can recover from it. Both lifestyle changes and medical treatments can help individuals feel better. Typically, managing depression is an ongoing process.
In this article, we list 16 strategies and treatments that can help fight depression.
The more a person knows about depression, the more empowered they will be to find a treatment that works for them.
It can be helpful to learn about depression in general, including its causes and symptoms.
It is also important for people to get to know their own symptoms and warning signs so that if they are feeling worse, they can identify this.
Knowing what prompts depressive episodes can help people avoid or manage triggers, which may reduce future depressive episodes.
Educating friends and family members can also help, as loved ones can watch out for warning signs and be supportive when a person is having a difficult time.
Reaching out to loved ones can help people get through difficult times. Simply talking about what is happening can help. Also, connecting with others helps reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.
If it does not feel possible to talk to a friend or family member, people may wish to join a support group or see a therapist.
Keeping a journal is a powerful strategy for fighting depression. Writing down thoughts, feelings, and problems can allow individuals to identify patterns, triggers, and warning signs relating to their depression.
It can also give people perspective on particular issues and help them generate solutions.
Writing things down can be especially helpful before bed, especially if distressing thoughts are hindering sleep.
If people do not feel comfortable keeping a journal due to privacy concerns, they can destroy the paper afterward. Some people find the act of writing itself cathartic.
Another journaling option is to make a list of things for which a person is grateful. Researchers noted positive effects on the brain in people who kept such a list. People sometimes refer to this as keeping a gratitude journal.
Seeing a doctor for diagnosis and treatment is an important part of treating depression. A doctor can provide support, guidance, and medical treatment options.
Depending on the individual’s symptoms and their wishes, a doctor may prescribe medication or recommend psychotherapy.
Anyone experiencing severe depression should see a doctor as soon as possible, while thoughts of suicide should prompt a person to call 911 or contact the National Suicide Prevention Line on 800-273-8266.
- If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Call 911 or the local emergency number.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can be highly effective for depression.
Depending on the type of therapy, it may help people:
- identify negative thoughts and replace them with positive or constructive ones
- find coping strategies
- learn problem-solving techniques
- set goals
- understand the effects of their life experiences and relationships
- ïdentify issues that contribute to depression
- deal with a crisis
Doctors commonly recommend cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for depression. Research suggests that CBT can help treat depression, and it may be an effective alternative to medication in some cases.
Other types of therapy, including interpersonal therapy and psychodynamic therapy, can also help people with depression.
Mindfulness involves focusing on the present moment. It stops people from concentrating on the past or worrying about the future.
Anyone can practice mindfulness at any time, but some people may find it helpful to begin by using an app or attending a class.
Recent research from 2019 links mindfulness practices with lower levels of depression and anxiety.
Pairing mindfulness with CBT in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy may prevent the recurrence of depressive episodes as effectively as maintenance antidepressant medications.
People who treat the mind and body as separate entities may have a more careless attitude about health and well-being than those who connect the two.
Many alternative practitioners believe that connecting the mind and body is essential for overall physical and mental health.
The following practices connect the mind and body, which could help people feel better and practice more healthful behaviors:
Physical activity can release endorphins that improve mood, and research indicates that exercise is effective in treating the symptoms of major depression.
Even though exercise may be the last thing that many people feel like doing when they are going through a depressive episode, it can often be helpful. A person can start slowly, such as by going for a short walk or swim once or twice a week.
A 2018 study looked at whether exercise could help reduce depression symptoms when people were already receiving therapy and antidepressant medication.
The results showed that 75% of the participants who also exercised experienced fewer or a complete remission of symptoms compared with 25% of the participants who did not exercise.
The results also suggested that exercise improved biomarkers of depression and reduced associated sleep problems.
Food has a significant effect on mood and mental health. Deficiencies in some nutrients, including omega-3s and iron, have links to depression.
Eating a balanced, nutritious diet can help prevent deficiencies and keep a person feeling physically well, which can support mental health.
Most of a person’s calories should come from:
- fruits and vegetables
- lean proteins, such as fish, legumes, lean meats, eggs, and tofu
- whole grains, including brown rice, brown pasta, millet, oats, and whole-grain bread
- sources of healthful fats, such as fatty fish, avocado, olives, olive oil, nuts, and seeds
Alcohol and recreational drugs make the symptoms of depression much worse. They can also make the condition harder to treat.
People who struggle to avoid these substances may wish to consider speaking to a doctor or therapist.
Some supplements may be beneficial when people with depression take them as part of a treatment plan.
However, it is vital to speak to a doctor before taking supplements. Some may interact with antidepressants or other medications, or they may be unsuitable for people who are pregnant or have existing medical conditions.
Examples of supplements that people sometimes take for depression include:
Learn more about supplements and herbs for depression in this article.
Feeling stressed and overwhelmed contributes to feelings of depression. Taking time out to relax can mitigate some of the effects of stress and help restore a person’s energy.
Every day, try scheduling at least a few minutes of relaxation time. Relaxing means different things for different people. Some options include:
- taking a bath
- watching television
- being outdoors
- reading a book
- saying no to unnecessary commitments
Setting goals and targets can sometimes help when a person is feeling demotivated.
However, it is important to make sure that goals are achievable, specific, and realistic. People may also wish to set a time frame around achieving each goal.
For example, instead of saying, “I will start to exercise more,” a person can make specific, actionable goals, such as, “I will go for a 15-minute walk tomorrow morning before work.”
Breaking down larger goals into smaller steps using these same principles can also help when a person is going through depression.
For example, instead of planning to clean the kitchen, decide to empty the trash, and fill the dishwasher. Once those tasks are complete, a person can choose to set more if they feel up to it.
Volunteering for a worthy cause can come with a myriad of mental health benefits.
Research indicates that people who volunteer may enjoy better mental and physical health, fewer depressive symptoms, and less psychological distress.
They may also have higher life satisfaction, self-esteem, and happiness.
To find a volunteering opportunity, people can approach local organizations or look online on websites such as Volunteer Match.
Regular, quality sleep is essential for mental health. Too much or too little sleep can be a symptom of depression when it occurs along with other symptoms, such as prolonged feelings of sadness.
Aim to sleep for 7–9 hours each night and to go to bed and get up at the same time each day.
Try to unwind before bed with a set routine, such as having a warm bath, drinking chamomile tea, or reading.
The results of a 2013 study suggest that getting out in nature can provide an important boost to mental health.
Part of this effect may be due to the fact that time outdoors increases a person’s exposure to sunlight, which increases serotonin and vitamin D levels.
The study found that people who walked in nature had elevated moods compared with those who walked in a city environment.
In an urban environment, people deal with increased noise, advertising, and traffic, which can all be stressors. Being in nature may, therefore, be more restorative.
Consider spending more time outdoors in the following ways:
- having a picnic in the park or eating in the garden
- scheduling outdoor time each week
- exercising outdoors rather than at the gym
- socializing outside — explore a park or walking trail with a friend rather than meeting for a sit-down coffee or drink
- doing some gardening
- going hiking
Depression is a treatable mood disorder. People can recover from depressive episodes with lifestyle changes, coping strategies, talk therapy, or medications. For most people, a combination of these methods is necessary.
It is vital to see a doctor if symptoms of depression persist for 2 weeks or more. A doctor can provide a diagnosis and recommend a treatment plan.
To maintain recovery from depression, it is essential to treat mental health in the same way as physical health — by working on it on an ongoing basis.