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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Depression

Depressive disorders can make you feel exhausted, worthless, helpless, and hopeless. Negative feelings and thoughts may make you feel like giving up. It is important to realize that these negative views are part of the illness and usually do not accurately reflect your actual circumstances.

Negative thinking fades as treatment begins to take effect. In the meantime, there are some simple lifestyle measures you can take to ease depression:

  • Adjust your expectations.
  • Postpone important decisions until your depression has lifted.
  • Participate in activities that may make you feel better.
  • Be patient with yourself.
  • Increase your social and spiritual support.
  • Reduce your stress.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a healthy diet.

Depression takes a lot out of you. Therefore, you need to be realistic about your goals, responsibilities, and tasks. Stay as active as possible, but don't overextend yourself with more activities and responsibilities than you can handle.

Break large tasks into small ones and set some priorities. Let your family and friends help you. Do not feel guilty if you are unable to do as much as you normally do, even if it includes working less. You need to focus on getting well.

This may not be the best time for you to make big transitions, such as changing jobs, getting married or divorced, or moving. If you are considering making an important decision, discuss it with others who know you well and may have a more objective view of your situation.

Though you may feel like withdrawing from the world and doing nothing, staying active can speed your recovery from depression. Getting out of the house to exercise, going to a movie or ball game, or participating in religious, social, or other activities may help.

People do not "snap" out of depression, so don’t expect that of yourself. As you recover, you will gradually start to feel better. Remember that negative thinking is a part of your illness, and it usually improves along with the depression.

A network of supportive relationships is beneficial for the prevention and treatment of depression. Supportive relationships serve as a buffer against stress, which can sometimes trigger depression.

Strong spiritual faith is associated with a reduced risk of depression. Spiritual faith can be found in the context of organized religion, or in something less structured, such as meditation . In a group setting, it can provide the additional benefit of social support.

A variety of relaxation techniques can help you cope with stressors that may contribute to depression. Examples include meditation, deep breathing, progressive relaxation, yoga , and biofeedback . These techniques help you to pay attention to tension in your body and release it with exercises that help quiet your mind and relax your muscles. You can also reduce stress by getting adequate sleep, rest, and recreation.

Regular exercise helps you relieve stress and may help prevent or reduce depression. Aerobic exercise and yoga have been found to be particularly beneficial for reducing stress and improving mood. Aerobic exercise can raise the levels of certain brain chemicals that affect mood, such as endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine. Other benefits of exercise include weight loss (if necessary), increased muscle tone, and higher self-esteem. Yoga provides the benefits of stretching and deep relaxation.

You may feel better physically and emotionally when you eat a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat , high in fiber , and rich in vitamins and minerals. A Mediterranean diet may be associated with reduced risk for depression.

If you are interested in taking herbs and supplements, B-complex vitamins ( B6 and B12 ) may be helpful, especially if you are deficient in these vitamins. Omega-3 fatty acids (found in cold-water fish, fish oil , and flax seeds) have also been suggested as a way to treat depression, but the evidence is mixed.

Talk to your doctor before taking herbs and supplements and before changing your diet.

Revision Information

  • Depression. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 19, 2012. Accessed July 30, 2012.

  • Depression. Family Doctor.org website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/depression.html. Accessed July 30, 2012.

  • Depression. National Institute of Mental Health website. Available at: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression-easy-to-read/depression-trifold.pdf. Accessed July 30, 2012.

  • Depression alternative treatments. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated July 19, 2012. Accessed July 30, 2012.

  • Nutt DJ, Kessler RC, et al. Consensus statement on the benefit to the community of ESEMeD (European Study of the Epidemiology of Mental Disorders) survey data on depression and anxiety. J Clin Psychiatry. 2007;68(Suppl 2):42-48.

  • 10/30/2009 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php: Carney RM, Freedland KE, et al. Omega-3 augmentation of sertraline in treatment of depression in patients with coronary heart disease: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA. 2009;302(15):1651-1657.

    9/04/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php: Sánchez-Villegas A, Delgado-Rodríguez M, et al. Association of the Mediterranean dietary pattern with the incidence of depression: the Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra/University of Navarra follow-up (SUN) cohort. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2009 Oct;66(10):1090-1098


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