Depression is a common mental health issue that affects millions of Americans each year. Its symptoms range from crying and sadness to anger and physical aches and pains. In severe cases, depression can lead to suicide. While severe depression requires prompt medical treatment, there are lifestyle changes that can improve symptoms and make individuals with depression feel better. Try the following 9 tips to combat depression.
1. Get Enough Sleep
Depression can cause sleeping difficulties. Often there is a double-edged sword where someone has insomnia late into the night (or into the wee hours of the morning) and then cannot get out of bed when the alarm goes off. For this reason, “get enough sleep” can seem like an unrealistic suggestion.
Sleeping seven to eight hours per night can improve depression symptoms, however. It is worth talking to your doctor about ways that you might be able to combat the insomnia that is likely making your depression worse. Treatments might range from better sleep hygiene to taking medication on a short-term basis.
2. Exercise Daily
Getting some exercise each day can help you combat depression. It doesn’t have to be a full workout; simply going for a 15-minute walk can help. Exercise can help you get the sleep that you desperately need. It also causes your brain to release endorphins, which are “feel-good” hormones. When these hormones are released, you will begin to feel better. Done daily, exercise will boost not only your physical health but your mental health as well.
3. Combat Depression with Some Sun
Spending some time in the sun most days of the week can boost your mood. We create vitamin D in response to the sun’s rays, and during the colder months of the year, it is common to become deficient in this vitamin. This can make depression worse. While supplements can help, they should only be taken if your doctor has said that you have low levels of the “sunshine vitamin.” Even if it isn’t sunny out, you can go to spend 10 or 15 minutes outdoors to reap the benefits. Remember not to overdo it: Apply sunscreen if you will be out longer than 10 minutes, especially if it is during the middle part of the day. You can get a sunburn even on a cloudy or overcast day.
4. Spend Time in Nature
Spending some time among trees, grasses, and flowers can help ward off depression symptoms. It’s even better if you live near a natural body of water. This works by lowering cortisol levels in your body. Cortisol builds up during times of stress, and depression is stressful. If you live in an urban area where this is not a lot of nature nearby, think about ways that you might be able to get a taste of the great outdoors, whether that is planting a container garden on your balcony or spending a few hours each weekend at a local park, zoo, or botanical garden.
5. Interact with Others
Depression often causes isolation, and as part of a vicious cycle, isolation often exacerbates depression. Break the cycle by forcing yourself to get out and interact with people. If you aren’t feeling up to leaving the house, try inviting someone over to visit with you for a little while. While face-to-face contact is best, a phone call or Skype session can also be helpful to allow you to connect with others.
6. Volunteer in the Community
One way to feel better about yourself is to volunteer to help others. There are many ways that you can make a difference in your community. Volunteering will also give you a reason to get out of bed and out of the house. If someone is truly counting on you for help, it can inspire you to do things you don’t quite feel up to doing. Look into what might interest you in your area. Some options to consider include volunteering at a Ronald McDonald House, becoming an adult literacy volunteer, helping children in the foster care system, cleaning cages and giving pets and kisses at a local animal shelter, or handing out bags of food at a food pantry.
7. Avoid Destructive Habits
If you are smoking, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, or using drugs and other substances, chances are good that they are preventing you from being able to combat depression and feel even worse. If you are struggling with an addiction, it is likely that you feel bad about it and blame yourself. Get yourself the help you need if you don’t feel that you can stop your habits on your own. Talk to your physician about how to quit smoking or, if you are using drugs or alcohol to excess, take an online screening for addiction and bring the results to your doctor.
8. Take on 15 Minutes at a Time
If there is something that is making you feel even more depressed, it can be overwhelming to get started in an endeavor to change your situation. For example, if you are living in a very cluttered house or you are having major financial issues and you need to call your creditors, you might not even know where to begin. The secret might be to set a timer for 15 minutes. Use those minutes to make a tiny bit of progress on whatever it is that is bothering you. You might be shocked at how much you are able to get done when you simply buckle down and do it. Fifteen minutes doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but it can make a difference if you set the timer two or three times per day. Combat depression by giving it a try!
9. Seek Mental Health Care
Finally, don’t depend only on lifestyle changes. If you are struggling with depression, it is important to get the help that you need. Talk to your primary care doctor about how you are feeling and he or she can refer you to a mental health specialist if needed. Treatment might entail therapy and/or medication. Just as you would seek help for a physical health disorder, you should seek assistance for your depression.