There are a number of proven self-help strategies for depression, such as exercising, getting enough sleep, creating social connections and spending time outside.

Depression is a mental health condition that involves feelings of sadness and hopelessness. People often require counseling, medication or a combination of the two for managing depression. Depression self-help strategies can also be useful for reducing symptoms and improving function in people with this mental health condition. Learn about 10 depression tips that can alleviate the symptoms of this disorder.

Article at a Glance:  

  • Connect with other people and avoid drugs and alcohol to prevent depression symptoms.  
  • Exercise, sleep, and focusing on your priorities can be useful tools to overcome depression.  
  • Depression apps are worth looking into, and there are many options available.  
  • Spend time with a pet, keep a journal, and practice self-care to preserve your mental health.  
  • Spend more time outdoors for a natural wellness boost.  

1. Connect with others

Loneliness and depression can be related, so connecting with others can be helpful for alleviating feelings of unhappiness. Find others who share similar interests and make a commitment to spending time with them and doing activities that you enjoy. You can connect with others through group exercise classes, church groups or other local activities.

It can also be helpful to create a support system of friends or family members you can turn to when you need to talk about your symptoms or receive encouragement. These social connections can be especially helpful for managing depression, as one study found that loneliness, social isolation and depression are linked. The study’s authors concluded that social connections are an important part of depression intervention. 

2. Avoid drugs and alcohol

Depression and alcohol or substance abuse often occur together, and the combination of alcohol or drug abuse and depression can make mental health functioning worse. Drugs and alcohol may provide a temporary relief from symptoms of depression, but addiction can develop in the long-term and make depression more severe. In addition, those with depression might feel better while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but after the effects fade, they feel worse. It is important to avoid these substances.

Avoiding drugs and alcohol can have a significant positive impact on the lives of those with depression. The research shows that almost a third of those who struggle with depression also have a substance use disorder. Substance misuse increases suicide risk and causes more social and personal dysfunction in those with this mental health condition. Abstaining from drug and alcohol use can prevent these consequences and make recovery possible. 

Feelings of depression or anxiety can lead to suicidal thinking. If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts or tendencies, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

3. Exercise

Getting regular physical activity can boost mood, improve self-esteem and reduce the effects of depression on your life. One exercise and depression study found that physical activity has a large positive effect on depression, especially aerobic exercise and that performed at a moderate or high intensity. Making exercise a regular part of your routine can improve depression symptoms and help you feel better. 

Exercises such as running, biking or walking at a challenging pace can be especially effective for improving depression, since aerobic exercises have the greatest impact. Attending aerobics classes and spinning classes or going outdoors to swim or hike can also be beneficial. 

4. Improve sleep hygiene

Depression and sleep are related, as one symptom of depression is a change in sleep habits. Some people with depression may find themselves unable to sleep, and others may be sleeping excessively. Sleep hygiene for depression includes prioritizing sleep, creating a consistent sleep schedule and ensuring time for adequate sleep. For young adults and adults, The National Sleep Foundation recommends seven to nine hours of sleep per night. For older adults, the recommendation is seven to eight nightly hours of sleep. 

To ensure optimal sleep hygiene, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:

  • Having a consistent bedtime and wake time each day
  • Refraining from consuming caffeine or alcohol close to bedtime
  • Getting regular physical activity
  • Keeping electronics out of the bedroom
  • Keeping the room cool, dark, and quiet. 

These practices can improve sleep for those with depression. 

5. Stay on top of your priorities

Depression can make it difficult to stay on top of priorities like going to work, attending appointments and maintaining your home. However, it is important to stay on top of priorities to prevent depression from having a negative impact on your daily life. A depression daily schedule may be necessary to help you manage your priorities. 

Keeping a daily schedule can prevent you from forgetting important events in your life. Mark meetings, appointments and commitments such as volunteer activities or children’s sporting events on your schedule. Following through with these priorities can help you to maintain a sense of normalcy in your life. 

6. Check out depression apps

There are a number of apps to help with depression. These apps can help users to learn more about depression, develop coping skills, shift their thinking, speak with depression chatbots and monitor their moods and symptoms. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America provides information about apps that can be useful for those with depression: 

  • Happify: Grounded in research with positive psychology and mindfulness, this app includes exercises and games that aim to improve mood.
  • iCBT: This app allows users to recognize negative and irrational thoughts and reevaluate them. 
  • MoodKit: This tool provides a platform for users to monitor their moods and alter unhelpful or irrational thoughts. Though it contains concepts from cognitive-behavioral therapy, it should not be used on its own to treat moderate or severe cases of depression.
  • Pacifica: Along with opportunities to learn deep-breathing exercises, this app includes lessons on how to replace negative thoughts with more positive thinking patterns. It can also be used in conjunction with therapy. 
  • What’s My M3: Rate mood symptoms and identify potential mood disorders with this app.
  • T2 Mood Tracker: With this app, users can document moods as well as changes in emotions. This technology increases personal understanding and helps people track and report their moods to a therapist. 
  • MoodTools: Created specifically for those with depression, MoodTools provides education about depression risk factors and treatment. It also offers tools such as a thought diary and a suicide safety plan.

7. Spend time with a pet

Spending time with a pet can provide comfort and companionship that helps alleviate some symptoms of depression. Emotional support animals for depression can be a part of treatment. For depression, pets can also be used emotional support animals as long as they are properly certified. 

The U.S. Dog Registry registers emotional support dogs and provides information about them. According to this organization, these dogs provide stability and love to their owners and are useful for people with conditions like depression. In addition, emotional support dogs are afforded protection under the law. For example, they can live in housing areas where pets are prohibited and can sit with their owners during airplane travel without additional fees. While training is not required for an emotional support dog to be registered, a note and a recommendation from a doctor are necessary for a person to have an emotional support dog. 

8. Take care of yourself

Depression self-care is an important part of the healing process. When you are feeling depressed, daily tasks such as bathing, dressing and paying bills can feel tedious. However, your mood will improve if you take care of yourself. Taking time to bathe and dress nicely can improve your self-esteem and help you to feel better. It is also important to take care of daily tasks like paying bills so you do not develop financial problems that can make you feel worse. 

Depression self-care should also include a balanced, nutritious diet that provides the body with the energy and nutrients it needs to function optimally. Diet can be especially important for those with depression, as one study found that a healthy diet reduced depression risk in women by 29% and by 17% in men. 

9. Keep a journal

A depression journal can also be useful for the healing process. Through journaling, you can find an outlet for your thoughts and a safe place to express your emotions. You can also use a journal to track your thoughts and symptoms over time and identify events that may have triggered or improved your depression. Through journaling, you may develop better insight into your thinking and learn ways to develop healthier thought patterns. 

Journaling can also decrease the stress that comes with depression. Research shows that journaling is a common coping mechanism for stress among college students struggling with depression. Interestingly, those in the study tended to report that coping mechanisms like journaling were more effective than depression medications. 

10. Get outside

The outdoors and depression are related because spending time outside in nature can relieve depression. Research shows that time spent in nature, specifically in green areas, can reduce depression symptoms and improve thinking abilities. In addition, being in green spaces has been found to create a lasting improvement in mental health. 

Based on research, getting outside is a beneficial self-help strategy for depression. Taking a walk in the park, going for a hike, gardening or simply sitting outside to read can provide a boost in mood. Time spent outdoors may be especially beneficial for those with seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder, as this condition tends to improve when people come into contact with daylight.

Additional Depression Self-Help Resources

Other resources, such as self-help books for depression and depression support groups, may be helpful for some people. 

Some books that provide information about depression and can teach readers strategies and tools for coping with and overcoming depression include: 

  • “Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions” by Johann Hari 
  • “Mind Over Mood, Second Edition: Change How You Feel by Changing the Way You Think” by Dennis Greenberger
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) can provide additional depression resources. This agency offers a search tool where you can locate a local NAMI organization and learn about classes and programs that may be of interest to you.

While depression self-help strategies can be effective for some people, others may find that they need treatment from a mental health professional to truly recover from this condition. If you or a loved one is suffering from depression and a co-occurring substance use disorder, The Recovery Village has locations around the country that can provide caring treatment for both depression and addiction. Contact us today to discuss treatment options.

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Editor – Jonathan Strum
Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor's in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW
Dr. Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has over seven years working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health diagnoses. Read more

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Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.