Depression can be a debilitating condition. But with some proven & beneficial self-help techniques you can better manage your symptoms and start your journey towards recovery.
Recovery From Depression
Suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD) can make you feel mentally and emotionally exhausted. You may feel empty, fatigued and lack any interest to focus on your relationships, career or other important aspects of your life. As being depressed makes you feel overwhelmed with negative feelings, you may also lack the will and energy 1 to improve yourself or seek treatment. However, it is crucial that you find the strength and work on improving your mental health. Start by taking small, meaningful steps and slowly work towards enhancing your overall well-being.
Instead of focusing on damaging self-medication or coping mechanisms such as taking alcohol, drugs, binge eating or overworking, focus on certain activities that make you feel happier and relaxed. There are some effective self-help strategies that can enable you to overcome your depression naturally by building healthy, positive habits. However, it is also important that you seek medical treatment as these techniques are not substitutes for medical attention. Instead, these steps support the treatment plan and facilitate the recovery process. Research 2 shows that “coping skills training reduced depression, anxiety, and stress and improved the patients’ self-efficacy.” Another 2018 study 3 found that different self-management techniques, including physical activities and strategies about engagement, are “most helpful” in recovering from this condition.
Self-help Techniques For Depression
Here are 10 coping strategies to beat stress, anxiety and depression and boost positive thinking:
1. Consult a therapist
Talking to a mental health professional about your thoughts, feelings and experiences can help significantly. They can help you understand your symptoms & triggers, and develop an effective treatment plan 4 involving therapies and medications. Cooperate with your therapist to find the best treatment for your mood disorder and follow their instructions by taking medications regularly, attending therapy sessions and going for follow-up appointments.
2. Shift your mindset
MDD is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Although everyone experiences the condition differently, they experience the same difficulties and challenges you do. So instead of giving up and giving into your depression, accept that you have a mental illness but it can be treated with some effort and determination. Acknowledge your issues and be kind & loving to yourself. Understand that what you are going through now does not have to decide or dominate your future. Change your perspective, be aware of your condition and practice self-care. Focus on building a positive mindset instead on dwelling on negative thoughts.
3. Connect with others
Instead of withdrawing or isolating yourself from others, focus on building a strong support network which can only happen when you connect with your friends, family and others in a similar situation. Talk to your loved ones, spend time with friends, enjoy some group activities and connect with your community or online groups. Your support network can provide you motivation and encouragement when you need it the most. Studies 5 have found that isolation can make depressive disorders worse, whereas support groups can be substantially helpful, according to research 6 . Spending time with your loved ones and community will help you gain a sense of belonging and purpose which will boost your well-being.
4. Manage stress
When you are depressed, it is crucial that you learn ways to reduce your stress levels by eliminating avoidable and unnecessary stressors which can make your symptoms worse. Stress leads to the production of the hormone cortisol which can make MDD a serious issue in the long run. Research 7 shows “an important, but complex, association between CAR (cortisol awakening response) and vulnerability to depression.” Apart from sticking to your treatment plan, making lifestyle changes and practicing stress reduction techniques like deep breathing 8 and meditation 9 can help you manage your depressive symptoms, such as low self-esteem.
5. Set realistic goals
Recovery can take some time and patience. So make sure to set small, practical goals that you can achieve in a short period of time. Not only achieving these small goals will help to boost your confidence and self-esteem, small goals will help you achieve more. So take one step at a time and use this approach in completing your daily tasks and chores as well.
6. Avoid substance use
Alcohol and drugs can make your depression a lot worse. In fact, substance use disorder 10 can become a comorbid condition for major depressive disorder. Although substances, like drugs, alochol and nicotine may offer some temporary relief, it can make the symptoms more severe in the long run and increase the risk of suicide 11 . “Those with depression and/or poor mental health functioning are at high risk for the physical and psychological consequences of substance use,” explains a 2012 study 12 . Hence, it is crucial to avoid drugs and alcohol when you are depressed as it can fasten the recovery process.
Read More About Alcoholism Here.
7. Build & follow a routine
As being depressed can affect your daily functioning, relationships, career and personal life, it is important that you create a routine and stick to it. Following a regular, healthy routine will help to build your self-esteem, motivation and make you productive by avoiding disorganization & procrastination. However, make sure that your daily routine is structured, simple and gentle that balances different aspects of life without making you feel stressed or overwhelmed.
8. Exercise regularly
Research 13 shows that physical exercise can be a viable mechanism in treating depressed patients. In fact, staying physically active and engaging in regular exercise is perhaps one of the most effective coping strategies for depression. Getting 20-60 minutes of exercise daily 14 , whether cardio training, weight lifting, biking, swimming or simply going for a walk, can help to improve your mood, confidence & self-esteem and relieve depressive symptoms. Moderate or high intensity training can provide significant emotional and physiological benefits in reducing your stress levels, apart from its obvious physical benefits. According to a 2018 study 15 , “exercise offers numerous physical benefits, which can counteract several mechanisms postulated to increase mortality risk in depression,” and “if prescribed and delivered correctly, exercise can be as effective as other first-line treatments, while being mostly free of adverse side-effects.”
9. Practice better sleep hygiene
Sleep is closely associated with our mood and mental health. Studies 16 show that most sufferers experience sleep disturbances and hypersomnia & insomnia is closely associated with major depressive episodes. This is why it is crucial that you build a healthier sleep routine to get at least 8-9 hours of sleep every day. Although falling asleep 17 or getting out of bed can be difficult for depressed individuals, practicing a healthy sleep hygiene 18 can help you overcome these problems. Make sure to go to sleep at a reasonable time on a daily basis, use dim light in the bedroom, avoid using technology, like your smartphone before bedtime and avoid working before going to sleep. Moreover, you may also consult with your therapist about any sleep problems you may be facing.
10. Have a healthier, nutritious diet
Diet and nutrition 19 has a direct influence on our mood. “Poor nutrition may be a causal factor in the experience of low mood, and improving diet may help to protect not only the physical health but also the mental health of the population,” explains a recent 2020 study 20 . There is no doubt that having a better, more nutritious diet can help you improve your physical and mental health. According to nutritional psychiatry 21 , eating a healthier diet can help us better manage mood disorders, such as depression and anxiety. A diet heavy in omega-3 fatty acids and devoid of sugar and trans fat can help you better cope with the symptoms. You can also add the following to your diet:
- Protein (poultry & eggs)
- Fruits & vegetables
- Nuts and seeds spices
- Wholegrain cereals
- Olive oil
“Balanced dietary patterns such as the Mediterranean diet and certain foods such as fish, fresh vegetables, and fruits have been associated with a lower risk of depression or depressive symptoms, while high-fat Western diets and sugar-sweetened beverages have been associated with higher risk of depression or depressive symptoms,” states one 2019 study 22 .
Other Coping Strategies For Depression
Apart from the above mentioned self-management tips for coping with depression, there are some other helpful coping techniques that will empower you to deal with your depression in a better way, such as:
A. Spend time outside in nature
Step outside and get some exposure to the sun. Studies have shown that spending time in nature can improve our mental health & cognition and reduce depressive symptoms.
B. Cuddle with a pet
Being with a pet 23 can offer you companionship, comfort and emotional support. Moreover, taking care of your pet will give you a sense of purpose and allow you to use your energy positively. A 2018 study 24 states “pets provide benefits to those with mental health conditions.”
C. Practice self-care
Taking care of yourself 25 is vital for the recovery process as it can improve your mood and boost your self-esteem.
Read More About Self-Love Here.
D. Practice journaling
Keeping a journal can help you heal 26 by allowing you to express your innermost thoughts and beliefs without fearing judgment or criticism. It can help you identify triggers and develop healthier thought & behavior patterns. “Expressive writing may be a useful supplement to existing interventions for depression,” found a 2013 study 27 .
E. Practice mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your awareness to the present moment without getting attached to negative thoughts. Research 28 shows that mindfulness can significantly help in decreasing anxiety and depressive symptoms. Mindfulness meditation” focusing on reducing worry and rumination may be especially useful in reducing the risk of developing clinical depression,” explains a 2019 study 29 .
Some other beneficial coping strategies for this mood disorder may involve the following:
- Socialize more often 30, 4(5), 35–40. )) and spend time with loved ones
- Be more creative 31 by trying painting 32 , writing poetry or stories, playing a musical instrument
- Reward yourself by appreciating your efforts and small achievements
- Listen to music or watch a movie
- Volunteer 33 to help others who need support
- Practice gratitude 34 by writing about 3 things you’re thankful for each day
- Read fictional or self-help books
- Take a good, relaxing bath
- Arrange a get-together with friends
- Learn new skills
- Challenge & question negative thoughts
- Try alternative coping strategies like Yoga 35 , Tai Chi, Qigong 36 & acupuncture 37
- Meet new people by joining a club or online
- Practice spirituality 38 and say prayers
- Do things you enjoy
Self-management Tips Can Help
Following self-help tips and coping strategies can be really challenging when you are suffering from major depressive disorder. However, these can help you overcome depression and help you recover faster, given you are following your treatment plan under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Not all the coping techniques mentioned here will be applicable or effective for you, but you need to try different options to see which ones work for you. It is also important that you have patience and determination to take small steps towards full recovery.
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- Edraki, M., Rambod, M., & Molazem, Z. (2018). The Effect of Coping Skills Training on Depression, Anxiety, Stress, and Self-Efficacy in Adolescents with Diabetes: A Randomized Controlled Trial. International journal of community based nursing and midwifery, 6(4), 324–333.
- van Grieken, R. A., van Tricht, M. J., Koeter, M., van den Brink, W., & Schene, A. H. (2018). The use and helpfulness of self-management strategies for depression: The experiences of patients. PloS one, 13(10), e0206262. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0206262
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- Matthews, T., Danese, A., Wertz, J. et al. Social isolation, loneliness and depression in young adulthood: a behavioural genetic analysis. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol 51, 339–348 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00127-016-1178-7
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