9 Self-Help Solutions for Reducing Symptoms of Depression
Being depressed is painful and debilitating. An estimated 10 percent of adults in the United States suffer from symptoms of depression each year, resulting in family strife, loss of work productivity, and misery for the person affected by the condition and those around them.
While getting professional medical help for depression is always a good idea, especially if the condition is severe, there are also many non-medical solutions a person can take on their own to reduce symptoms of depression. Many therapists and doctors advise that depressed patients take steps like these, along with counseling and medication.
Here are nine ways a depressed person can engage in self-help to overcome or reduce the symptoms of mild to moderate depression.
1. Get Some Exercise
Many scientific studies on depression find that exercise is as useful for relieving mild to moderate depression as medication. Exercise has multiple positive benefits beyond helping with depression symptoms such as improved cardiovascular health, weight loss, and reduced risk for developing many chronic diseases.
It can be quite challenging to exercise when feeling depressed, so it is best to start small and do something enjoyable. Taking a short walk each day, doing ten minutes of calisthenics at home, or putting on some music and dancing are all suitable types of exercise for reducing depression.
Exercise helps with the symptoms of depression because it increases brain chemicals called endorphins. Even a few minutes a day of mild exercise can improve mood by elevating endorphin levels.
2. Challenge Negative Thoughts
When someone is depressed, they often engage in negative thinking. Thoughts such as, "I'm a failure," "No one likes me," or "I'll always feel this way," are common in a depressed person's mind. Negative thoughts like these become an unconscious habit, reinforcing the feeling of depression.
A simple solution is challenging negative thoughts with positive thinking. For example, a challenge to the idea "I'll always feel this way." might be, "How do I know that?" or by thinking of a time when you did feel differently about life.
We often accept our thoughts as real without challenging them. However, there is much wisdom in the saying, "Don't believe everything you think."
3. Regularly Eat Wholesome Foods
When a person is depressed, they often tend to eat poorly. Sugary, salty, and high-fat junk food can bring a temporary feeling of comfort, but ultimately these foods cause spikes in blood sugar, weight gain, and bring on bad moods.
The solution is finding wholesome foods you like, making sure you have plenty on hand, and eating these foods every day. Fresh fruit, salads, lean meats, oily fish such as salmon, and whole-grain bread are all good options, as long as you do not have a food allergy or another adverse reaction to the food.
The critical point is finding wholesome foods you enjoy and training yourself to reach for these when hungry or feeling down.
4. Get Adequate Sleep
Both depression and anxiety can contribute to insomnia, which could include difficulty falling and staying asleep. Making changes in your routine may help with getting a more restful sleep throughout the night.
- Go to bed at the same time every evening.
- Don't watch TV or use a computer in the bedroom.
- Do not eat for at least one hour before going to bed.
- Make sure the bedroom is as dark and quiet as possible.
- Be sure the temperature in the room is comfortable.
- Avoid all caffeinated beverages for at least two hours before going to bed.
Sleep is vital for our brain and body to regenerate, repair, and renew. Getting a good night's sleep each night improves overall health and energy levels, which can reduce symptoms of depression.
5. Drink Plenty of Water
Water is essential for all bodily functions. Drinking an adequate amount of water daily assists the body in removing toxins, improves the function of internal organs, and even enhances clear thinking.
Many people do not drink enough water and instead fill up on soft drinks, caffeinated beverages, and alcoholic drinks. These types of beverages cause the body to lose water, leading to dehydration.
If drinking plain water is a challenge, consider these alternatives:
- Ice water
- Flavored sparkling water
- Adding a slice of lemon, lime, or fresh ginger root to ice water
- Iced or hot herbal teas like mint, chamomile, ginger, hibiscus, rooibos, or jasmine
- Adding a tablespoon or two of fruit juice to water to improve the taste
For optimal health, adults need about two to three quarts of liquid a day beyond what they get from food. Keeping your body healthy helps reduce feelings of depression.
6. Make a Change in Routine
When a person is depressed, they often get into a routine that reinforces the symptoms of depression. For example, a depressed person may get up, go to work, come home, watch the same shows on TV each night, and then binge on unhealthy foods before going to bed. A schedule like this can keep a person feeling bad about themselves.
Making a change in routine does not need to be complicated. For example, instead of heading straight for the TV after getting home from work, commit to taking a short walk first. Instead of having an unhealthy dinner, make a small effort to eat a more healthy meal.
Changing routines can help to rewire the pathways of dopamine in the brain, an important brain chemical linked to feelings of happiness. The changes in routine do not need to be large to have a positive effect.
7. Get a Routine
For some depressed people, the problem is not having enough of a routine and structure to their day. In this case, establishing a more structured routine can be of benefit in alleviating the symptoms of depression.
Building a healthy new routine can be simple. For example, simply getting up and getting dressed in the morning rather than lounging around in pajamas is a small, but potentially significant change to daily habits.
Other ideas are calling friend each day, taking a short walk, writing in a journal, or spending half an hour listening to pleasurable music. Establishing new habits and routines also increases dopamine levels, which can reduce feelings of depression.
Laughing is another method for increasing dopamine in the brain. Sitting down and watching comedy shows or movies, reading jokes, laughing with others, or merely thinking about amusing things that result in laughter can all boost dopamine levels and help with symptoms of depression.
9. Help Someone Else
There is a strong tendency when we are depressed to become self-absorbed. Our problems loom large in our minds, adding to the feeling of being overwhelmed. A simple solution is to do something helpful for another person or to take care of a pet animal.
Calling a friend to ask how they are doing, volunteering at a local charity, helping a neighbor with yard work, or adopting a pet are only a few examples. When we help others, it raises our self-esteem, and we also get our minds off of our troubles. Any reprieve from depressed feelings can assist in improving positive thinking and elevating mood.
Starting these self-help actions may seem challenging at first to a depressed person. However, making even a small change each day can quickly build momentum and increase energy as symptoms of depression begin to subside. Taking small, daily steps toward a healthier life can have a significant effect on the reduction of mild to moderate symptoms of depression.