Self-Help for Depression: What Helps?
It can seem that self-help for depression is out of reach when depression overwhelms and stifles. Depression negatively impacts mental health and physical health, thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and it can be very life-limiting. What helps depression when it affects our whole being?
Despite the all-encompassing nature of this illness, there is help for it. Self-help for depression can be very effective (Need Help With Depression? Here's What to Do).
Self-Help for Depression Begins with a Starting Point
An important first step in helping yourself out of depression is untangling yourself from the miserable group of symptoms that comprise depression. This doesn’t mean trying to beat the symptoms yet. Helping depression starts with listening to yourself. According to Strosahl (2008),
“Your depression is telling you something that you need to listen to. It’s a signal that you need to spring into action and address the aspects of your life that are out of balance (p. 2)."
Listening to your depression means paying attention to what, specifically, feels wrong. Self-help for depression involves rating your current level of life satisfaction. On a scale from one through 10, with 1 being the lowest you think you can go and 10 being the highest, where is your life satisfaction?
What Helps Depression is Making Lifestyle Choices
Now you have a starting point. You know how satisfied (or, with depression, dissatisfied) you are with your life. You have an idea of where you’d like to make improvements. The next step in depression self-help is making intentional lifestyle choices.
Cousens & Mayell (2000) have identified important lifestyle components for decreasing depression. Among them:
- Daily Actions: Depression can zap energy and can make it difficult even to get out of bed. Doing something small every day is a powerful way of helping depression because it provides a sense of purpose (Depression Self-Care for When You’re Really Depressed).
- Exercise: Exercise boosts energy and stress-relieving hormones. Even 15 minutes of low-impact activity is proven to provide depression-beating benefits.
- Connection: Building and maintaining relationships with family and/or friends is a positive lifestyle choice that is a powerful self-help technique for depression. A few ideas for fostering connections: increase contact through texting, e-mailing, or calling; plan times to be together, and ask the person to help you stick with the plan; become involved in your community through volunteering, participating in groups or classes, and more (Are Support Groups for Depression Really Helpful?).
- Create. Creativity helps people let go of their problems and stresses and provides a sense of purpose and accomplishment. Journal, write poetry or stories, paint, sketch, draw, color, build something, play an instrument, sing. And don’t judge it. Just create.
- Laugh. Humor heals. Laughing is self-help for depression that works on an emotional and biological level; indeed, laughing increases positive biochemical and neurotransmitters that elevate mood and decrease the symptoms of depression. (Cousens & Mayell, 2000). Depression might have robbed you of laughter, but you can choose to get it back by seeking it out every day. Read humorous books or listen to audiobooks. Watch funny videos and comedy shows. Take a walk and look for little bits of humor in nature.
Self-Help for Depression: Break Life Areas into Groups
Similar to the above lifestyle choices, Copeland (2001) divides important life areas into the following categories:
- Activities, including both actions and exercise.
- Support, also known as connections.
- Attitude: Attitude involves thinking style as well as focus. Depression has a way of creating negative thoughts, and it tends to pull our attention toward what is wrong in life. Becoming aware of our attitude empowers us to shift our thoughts and attention toward the positive.
- Spirituality: Spirituality could refer to religious beliefs and practice, but it doesn’t have to. Connecting to something outside yourself, developing an appreciation for beauty in the world, and discovering a sense of awe all help to pull people out of a state of depression.
- Management: If you have medication, take it as prescribed. Drink plenty of water (dehydration impacts moods and overall well-being), and eat nutritiously. Also, sleep decreases depression symptoms.
When it comes to self-help for depression, knowing where you are and how you want to improve works well to kick-start recovery. Attending to lifestyle, breaking areas of your life into groups in order to manage them piece-by-piece, and making deliberate choices to overcome depression are effective things you can do to lift yourself out of depression.
Last Updated: 15 October 2018
Reviewed by Harry Croft, MD