Can Self-Care Help Relieve Depression?


There are many ways to practice self-care. It often looks different from person to person.

“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach here to specific methods,” says Ash Shah, LCSW, the clinical counseling director at Empower Your Mind Therapy in New York City and on Long Island, New York. “It’s important to try various strategies out to see which ones work for you and help you feel better afterward.”

Research shows that these seven common self-care strategies can help people with depression feel better.

1. Set a Sleep Routine and Stick to It

Practicing good sleep hygiene — meaning you have healthy sleep habits and surroundings — is a good goal for anyone, and it’s especially important if you have depression.

That’s because poor sleep raises your risk for depression, and having depression makes you more prone to sleep problems. Approximately 75 percent of people with depression have difficulty falling or staying asleep.

If you struggle to get enough shut-eye each night, making some small changes to your routine can help stabilize your sleep patterns. For instance, try to go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. Also, limit how much time you spend using screens or other devices that emit blue light in the hour or so before bed, because blue light can make it more difficult to fall asleep.

If changes like these don’t help, tell your doctor. They can recommend professional treatments to improve your sleep.

RELATED: Sleep 101: The Ultimate Guide to a Better Night’s Sleep

2. Exercise Regularly

The science is clear: Exercise does a lot of good for depression. In fact, regular exercise may work as well as antidepressants for some with mild to moderate forms of depression (though it’s probably not enough on its own for severe depression).

Exercise doesn’t always have to be long or intense to help you feel better. Just 30 minutes of walking every day can boost your mood and your overall health.

Tip: If 30 minutes sounds overwhelming, you don’t have to do it all at once. Smaller increments of activity like taking 10-minute walks three times a day are also good for you.

RELATED: 7 Great Exercises to Ease Depression

3. Spend Time in Nature

Getting outdoors, especially on sunny days, can help you feel better if you have depression.

Taking nature walks can help reduce depressive symptoms.

 What’s more, natural sunlight can lift your mood and energy levels because it influences certain chemicals in the brain that affect mood and energy, such as serotonin.

Try to get outside every day, even if it’s for only a few minutes, Kissen suggests. Just 5 to 15 minutes of natural sunlight a few times a week, especially during the summer months, can be enough.

If you have seasonal depression and struggle to get outside during the winter, consider trying a light box. A light box can help you get more light exposure during the darker winter months.

RELATED: Why Nature Is So Helpful for Depression — Plus, How to Spend More Time Outdoors

4. Try Mindfulness, Yoga, or Other Activities You Find Relaxing

Relaxation exercises may relieve stress and help you better manage your emotions. That’s important because stress can affect people with depression more intensely in some ways than people without the condition.

A method called mindfulness — learning to observe your present thoughts and emotions without judgment — can help you better regulate your feelings and avoid falling into automatic or destructive habits.

 Regularly practicing mindfulness meditation may help reduce symptoms of depression and may lower depression risk.

Other relaxation practices could also be helpful for depression:

  • Deep breathing
  • Guided imagery (a relaxation exercise that helps people visualize a calming environment during times of stress)
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (a technique that involves tensing and releasing muscles in your body, with a focus on the releasing phase)
  • Yoga

  • Tai chi

5. Try Journaling

Journaling allows you to express your thoughts and emotions on paper, which can be therapeutic for conditions like depression. Although more research is needed to confirm how effective it is for depression, journaling comes with few risks and is likely safe for anyone to try.

6. Eat a Nutritious Diet

In general, eating a balanced diet can help you have more focus and energy throughout the day.

When it comes to depression, eating a nutritious diet — one that incorporates plenty of fruits and vegetables while limiting inflammatory foods like meat, fast food, or junk food — may help lower your risk of symptoms.

RELATED: Depression: 6 Tips for Eating Well When Cooking Feels Impossible

7. Stay Connected With Others

Social withdrawal is a common symptom of depression, and social isolation and loneliness can make depressive symptoms worse.

Although it may be challenging, especially if you struggle with fatigue or lack of energy, Kissen suggests trying to stay connected with others, even if it’s for brief periods of time. “Being around people helps give you that lift in mood. Going to the supermarket and seeing others counts,” she says.

It can help to make a short list of family members and friends who can support you, and commit to calling, texting, emailing, or seeing them on a schedule that works for you. Consider aiming for at least one emotional connection a day.

RELATED: 4 Ways to Cope With Loneliness if You Have Depression


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