If you live with depression, know that you’re not alone. Millions of people across the globe have depression and battle with it every day.
Treatment is necessary to make a full recovery from depression. At the same time, there are things you can do to help yourself get out of the “funk” when you’re feeling depressed. We’ll go through 10 of the most empirically-based lifestyle habits you can adopt to help yourself when you’re in the throes of depression.
What does recovery from depression look like?
Depression is a serious and chronic mood disorder that requires professional mental health treatment. Without professional treatment, your depression symptoms may get worse.
There’s no “cure” for depression, but many people recover from its symptoms and live happy, successful, and fulfilling lives. Evidence-based treatments that have been proven to help people fight depression include antidepressant medication and several types of psychotherapy.
But even with these treatments, recovery from depression can sometimes be a long process. Treatment can take weeks or months to start working.
On top of that, depression recovery is often non-linear. In other words, you could find that you feel better one day, only to have a depression relapse on the next. Other people could find they feel better enough to be functional, but have some depression symptoms that linger for a long time.
It’s important not to get discouraged. Recovery from depression is possible, and many people successfully recover every day.
How to help yourself get out of depression
Treatment is undoubtedly an important piece of depression recovery.
At the same time, you’re more likely to recover from depression if you also take active steps to help yourself. In addition to getting professional treatment, there are many changes you can make in your lifestyle that will help you along in the recovery process. These lifestyle habits are important to keep up throughout life, even after you’ve finished treatment.
To be clear, these lifestyle changes can’t, and shouldn’t, replace professional depression treatment. Rather, they’re ways you can play a more active role in your depression recovery.
Getting treatment for depression isn’t about seeing a therapist or psychiatrist and letting them do all the work. You are also responsible for helping yourself.
Here are 10 things to do (and not to do) to help yourself recover from depression.
Research has repeatedly found that physical exercise is one of the most effective ways to beat depression symptoms. Some reviews have even established that exercise is an evidence-based prescription for depression, and can be as effective as antidepressant medication.
According to the Mayo Clinic, even 10 or 15 minutes of physical activity can make a difference in your depression symptoms.
But when you’re depressed, it’s hard to feel motivated to go to the gym everyday. So start small, and take baby steps. For example, can you take a walk around the block? Can you get moving with one online dance class?
One of the biggest ways depression may affect you is by making you socially withdraw from loved ones. Some people with depression feel like they are a burden on those around them. Others simply don’t have the energy to connect with anyone.
Social withdrawal is often a feature of depression, but it gets you caught in a Catch-22. The more distant you are from loved ones, the more depressed you may feel.
Research shows that loneliness is associated with high rates of depression and anxiety. On the flip side, better social connectedness leads to a lower risk of being diagnosed with depression.
So call a friend or a family member. Try to break through the barrier of depression and connect with others, even in small ways.
Limit alcohol and drugs
Many people with depression turn to alcohol and other substances as a way to cope with their symptoms. Although drinking your blues away may sound tempting, it’s one of the worst things you can do when you live with depression.
Studies show that alcohol use and depression are deeply interlinked. Depression is the most common psychiatric disorder that people with alcohol addiction face. And when someone lives with both alcohol abuse and depression, their prognosis for both disorders is worse.
The same is true of other drugs. For example, people who abuse stimulant drugs (like cocaine or methamphetamine) often experience depression during the “come down”. Cannabis use and depression are also highly associated.
The next time you feel tempted to reach for the bottle (or something harder), pause and consider its consequences. Reach out to a supportive friend if necessary. Distract yourself until the urge to drink passes.
If you live with substance use disorder on top of depression, it’s critical to get treatment for dual diagnosis.
Get enough sleep
One of the core symptoms of depression is changes in your sleep. Some people with depression sleep too much, while others can’t sleep at all.
But being sleep-deprived can make you feel much worse than you already do. One study found that people who got an average of 6 hours or less of sleep every night were 2.5 times more likely to experience frequent mental distress. Chronic insomnia, as well as acute sleep deprivation (for example, going for several days without sleep), increase your likelihood of developing depression. If you already have depression, sleep deprivation can make it worse.
Restful sleep can be a challenge when you have depression. To get better sleep, try following these sleep hygiene habits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Have a sleep routine; go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, including on weekends.
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool.
- Stay away from electronic screens for an hour before your bedtime, and take all screens out of your bedroom.
- Don’t eat large meals or drink alcohol before you go to bed.
Accept how you feel
Depression may feel like something you need to constantly be fighting against. Many people feel shame and guilt about depression. All they want to do is get rid of it.
And no longer facing the symptoms of depression is, of course, the ultimate goal. However, in the meantime, it may be helpful to practice acceptance of the disorder and its symptoms.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a type of psychotherapy that invites people to accept difficult parts of their lives they cannot change. Does practicing acceptance of depression mean you stop trying to recover from it? No. But it can help you sit with the painful parts of depression without running from them. And when you can come face-to-face with these difficult experiences, then healing can take place.
In other words, trying to ignore or repress the fact that you have depression won’t get you anywhere.
Challenge your thoughts
It may seem counterintuitive after practicing acceptance, but challenging your negative thoughts may also be able to help lift depression. Challenging thoughts isn’t about denying that you have depression; rather, it’s about noticing when depression causes you to have negative and untrue thoughts, and challenging their validity.
For example, you may find yourself having the thought, “I am not going to go to that party. No one wants me there, anyway. They only invited me out of pity.”
First, you can recognize that depression may be the reason why you’re having this thought. This means that the thought may not be objectively true. So check the validity of the thought.
Is there any evidence that no one wants you at the party? What proof do you have that your friends only invited you out of pity?
Be willing to challenge these thoughts that depression puts in your mind. Replace them with more accurate thoughts, like: “I have no evidence my friends don’t want me at the party. I feel this way because of depression. But I won’t let it control my actions.”
Try meditation or yoga
Meditative practices, like mindfulness or yoga, have been found to help people cope with symptoms of depression.
Mindfulness meditation is about paying attention to the present moment with non-judgmental awareness. Often, it’s practiced by sitting still and resting your awareness on your breathing. Whenever your mind starts to wonder, simply bring it back to your breath, without any judgment, guilt, or irritation.
Incorporate mindfulness meditation, yoga, and other holistic practices into your daily routine to help yourself get out of depression. Most regions have local meditation or yoga groups you can join.
Set realistic goals
When you live with depression, it’s hard to think about the future. It may feel like you’re in a black hole; many people with depression lose hope that things will ever get better.
To counteract this feeling, start setting goals for yourself. The most important thing is for these goals to be realistic and achievable. It’s good to dream big, but when you’re depressed, it may be better to set smaller goals and feel the satisfaction of achieving them.
For example, “Have lots of friends” may be too big, and vague, of a goal. There is no way to objectively measure whether you’ve achieved it. Even if you make some progress towards this goal, you could continue feeling like you don’t have “enough” friends – leading you to feel even more depressed.
Instead, set a goal like, “Go out to coffee with at least one person this month.” This goal is more realistic and is easy to measure. When you’ve reached the goal, you may feel a sense of achievement and well-being.
Listen to music
You may not have known that simply listening to music can go a long way in alleviating symptoms of depression. One review found that people who participated in music therapy programs reported significantly decreased symptoms of depression. They also reported better self-esteem, confidence, and motivation.
To take it a step further, find ways to engage in making music (rather than just listening to it). It’s okay if you have no musical training. You can do things like drum on a hand-drum, dance, or simply improvise with different instruments.
We’re spending more and more time on our screens and less time outside. But research shows that intentionally spending more time outside in nature can decrease depression symptoms. Even short-term exposure to nature can help you feel less depressed.
Going on nature walks has been found to be very effective for depression. This could be because of the combined benefits of walking (exercise) and nature.
Is there a place nearby where you have access to nature? You don’t need to go camping in a National Park; simply taking a walk through a park or wooded area can be enough. Find ways to incorporate nature time into your daily routine.
Recovery from depression at The Center • A Place of HOPE
There are so many things you can do to help yourself get out of depression. But if you live with depression, then you also need treatment to make a full recovery.
The Center • A Place of HOPE has been rated a Top 10 Facility for depression treatment in the U.S. We use a unique and proven Whole Person Care approach. We won’t just prescribe you antidepressants and walk away. We make sure that you find ways to incorporate all of these practices – like sleeping well, exercising, and listening to music – into your routine so that the entire “you” emerges as a whole, healed human being.
Don’t wait. You owe it to yourself to recover from depression and feel well. Get in touch with us for more information about admissions.