Everyone feels low or sad at times, but these feelings typically go away after a bit of time. However, major depression (also referred to as clinical depression or major depressive disorder) is different. This type of depression causes severe symptoms that impact how you think, feel, and deal with day-to-day activities like eating, sleeping, or working.
In a 2019 national survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration), roughly 8% of the U.S. population¹ surveyed (over 19 million adults) had a minimum of one episode of major depression in the past year.
You can be of any age and come from any socioeconomic, ethnic, or racial background, and experience depression.
When dealing with depression, the things that help can be challenging to start doing. But, there's a big difference between difficult and impossible. While there’s no easy or quick way to recover from depression, you might have more influence over your mental health than you realize—even if you have persistent, severe depression.
You might not have a lot of energy or motivation, but this is a time when it’s vital to draw on all your reserves to take small but powerful steps, such as taking a walk or picking up the phone and calling someone you love.
When you're trying to figure out how to alleviate depression, taking initial steps is one of the most challenging parts. But, taking that walk, doing a little dancing, or listening to music—these are all things you can do today. And they can significantly enhance your mood and boost your energy for several hours.
You might even decide to take another recovery step, like arranging to meet a friend or preparing a healthy meal (if not, that’s fine too). Just remember that taking small, positive baby steps each day will help you slowly chip away at depression and become healthier, happier, and more hopeful again.
If you're looking for coping strategies and ways to overcome depression, read on.
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To overcome depression, you need a support system. The catch is that depression itself makes reaching out for help challenging. When you're depressed, you tend to withdraw and isolate yourself, making it difficult to initiate contact and connect with loved ones or friends.
Your support network might also include a peer-led support group or a professional counselor, or both.
Getting started can be challenging when you feel:
Ashamed of your situation
Too exhausted to talk
Guilty for neglecting your close relationships
If you feel negative self-talk creeping in, try to remember that reaching out is not a sign of weakness or burdening others. Your loved ones want to help you because they care.
Even if you don't feel like you have anybody to turn to, there is always room to grow your support network and build new relationships. Social connection is a big part of recovering from depression.
When you're feeling depressed, it can seem daunting just to get out of bed, let alone exercise. But, working out is a great answer when you're trying to figure out how to fight depression. It's an essential tool in your recovery. In fact, according to research², for some people, exercising can be as effective as anti-depressants in relieving depression symptoms.
Keep in mind that exercise on its own is not always going to change severe depression. Do not change or stop taking depression medication without consulting with your doctor.
For maximum exercise benefits, you'll want to do some type of physical activity for at least 30 minutes a day. You don’t have to do it all at once—it's okay to do 15 minutes here and 15 minutes there. Start small. For instance, on your first day, try taking a 10-minute walk, then the following day, bump it up to 15 minutes, and so on.
At first, suppressing your feelings might seem like an excellent way to cope with depression. But, unfortunately, it’s not a very effective way to get out of a depressive episode.
If you feel sad one day, allow yourself to feel sad—but try not to stay in that feeling for too long.
To help with processing your emotions, consider journaling or writing down what you're feeling. Writing allows you to "brain dump" and get the thoughts out of your head. The scientifically-proven benefits of journaling are vast³.
4. Eat nutrient-dense foods
What you're putting into your body can directly impact how you feel. So you’ll want to avoid eating foods that can negatively affect your mood and brain, such as alcohol, trans fats, caffeine, and foods with high levels of hormones (like certain meats) or chemical preservatives.
Creating a "depression-fighting" diet looks something like this:
Don't skip out on meals: Skipping meals can make you feel tired and irritable, so try and eat something a minimum of every three to four hours.
Reduce refined carbs and sugar: You might crave baked goods, sugary snacks, or comfort foods like French fries or pasta, but these "feel-good" foods can cause a crash in your energy and mood quickly. So try to avoid these types of foods as much as possible.
Increase your B vitamins: B vitamin deficiencies (B-12 and folic acid deficiency) can trigger depression.⁴ You can take a B-complex vitamin supplement to increase your intake or eat more leafy greens, citrus fruits, chicken, beans, and eggs.
Increase your Omega-3 fatty acids: Fatty acids help to boost your mood. They also play a significant role in mood stabilization.⁵ Sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish (like mackerel, salmon, sardines, herring, tuna, anchovies), many types of seeds (hemp, chia, flax), and certain cold-water fish oil supplements.
Depression can cause you to focus on negative emotions. You may find yourself focusing on the one thing that went wrong when you could be focusing on many things that went right. That’s you overgeneralizing.
Instead, try to recognize the good in things. For example, it might help to write down what went well in your day. Then jot down the things that went wrong. This tactic enables you to see how much emphasis you put on positive vs. negative events.
Another way to approach this is to write a list of what you’re grateful for today, along with things/people you feel resentful about.
Sunlight helps improve mood and boosts your levels of serotonin. So whenever you can, go outdoors in the daytime and indulge in some sunshine for a minimum of 15 minutes. (Don’t forget to slap on some sunscreen—you can still get a sunburn, even in the winter). Tips to try:
Exercise outdoors. Consider going golfing, taking a walk, or hiking with a friend.
Enjoy an alfresco meal or have your coffee outdoors.
Spend time gardening.
Open the drapes and blinds at home or work, and sit near the window.
Use a light therapy box if you live in a location that seldom gets sunshine.
When you make a to-do list, try setting small, attainable goals instead of a lengthy list of tasks. Long lists can become overwhelming fast, and which might demotivate you and result in doing nothing.
Do you frequently feel weak or powerless? Perhaps you feel like bad things just happen, and it isn't much you can do to stop it. Maybe you feel like you're in a hopeless situation. Depression tends to make things seem pretty grim. It can put a negative spin on anything, including how you see yourself and your future.
When these thoughts overwhelm you, it's essential to remember that these pessimistic attitudes (cognitive distortions) are not reality. They're just a symptom of your depression. These beliefs don't hold up when you begin to examine them. But, this doesn't make them any easier to give up.
Telling yourself to "just think positive" won't break you out of this type of harmful mindset either. Usually, it's part of a lifelong pattern that's become automatic, and you're not even fully aware of it.
So instead, you need to identify these negative thought patterns that fuel your depression and start replacing them with a more positive, balanced way of thinking.
For example, instead of thinking, “My life is a mess,” you could reframe it and say, “Today, I am going to do one small thing to organize my life.”
To overcome depression, you need to start doing things that make you feel good, energized, and relaxed, such as:
Learning to manage stress
Living a healthy lifestyle
Scheduling fun activities
Setting healthy boundaries
Do the things that typically make you happy—the things you enjoyed until depression set in. Though you can't force yourself to have a good time, you can still pursue feeling good, even if you're not 100% into it at the start. You might surprise yourself by having fun once you get out there and engage.
There may not be an immediate change in your depression, but with time, you may notice yourself feeling more energetic and upbeat as you start resuming your old hobbies.
For example: Take a day trip to the mountains, the museum, or a ballpark. Express yourself creatively through writing, art, or music.
You must recognize your efforts and successes. They're worthy of celebration. So each time you achieve a goal, no matter how small, acknowledge it and celebrate.
While you don't necessarily have to celebrate with cake and confetti, simply pausing to recognize and appreciate your successes is a massive weapon against the negative weight of depression.
To create even more “wins” each day, break your goals into small bite-sized pieces. For example:
Don't do all the piled up laundry—just sort it by color
Don't clean the entire house—take out the garbage
Don't clear out your whole inbox—answer time-sensitive messages
Tackle each task, one at a time. This way, as you knock each one out, you can add it to your list of tangible achievements.
The first step to recognizing and understanding your depression is identifying your symptoms and discussing them with your doctor.
You'll want to see your doctor if, on most days, you experience these hallmark depression symptoms (as defined by the DSM-5)⁶:
If you're struggling with depression, chances are you've stopped caring or have lost interest in favorite activities you once enjoyed, like spending time with friends and loved ones or exercising. You may notice this symptom or a loved one might point it out.
If you've lost or gained significant weight and you're not dieting, it could be symptomatic of depression. Decreases or increases in appetite on most days are also common signs of depression. You may find you've changed how and what you eat. You might be skimping out on nutrition or indulging more in comfort foods.
When you're depressed, your emotional life changes substantially. Typical symptoms include an overwhelming feeling of emptiness and the inability to anticipate pleasure or happiness.
You may feel more irritable or angry. You might be experiencing low self-esteem, too, with misplaced guilt or feelings of worthlessness creeping into your day-to-day life.
Depression can interrupt your sleep schedule and make it hard to get a whole night's sleep. Hypersomnia, or oversleeping, and insomnia are both common with depression.
When you're struggling on a psychological level, your body feels it. Depression quickly drains your energy, and you may feel fatigued most days. Forgoing exercise, moving slowly, and wanting just to lie down is very common with depression.
You may lack the energy to care for your children or pets, tidy your home, or keep up with self-care tasks, like brushing your teeth or showering.
Anyone can suffer from major depression, and it won’t necessarily have an apparent cause. Clinical depression can result from a change in brain chemistry, life stressors, physical ailments, or as a side effect of certain medications.
Fortunately, depression is treatable. If you're experiencing symptoms of depression, speak with your doctor. The sooner you seek help from a medical professional, the sooner you receive treatment, and the sooner you can start feeling better.
In the meantime, experiment with the steps we shared today and see which ones help alleviate your depression.
Exercise is an all-natural treatment to fight depression | Harvard Health Publishing
83 Benefits of Journaling for Depression, Anxiety, and Stress | PositivePsychology.com