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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Depression
by Amy Scholten, MPH
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:
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 quickly recover from 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 enough 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 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.
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.
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Last reviewed September 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 9/17/2014
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