table of contents
If you have any medical questions or concerns, please talk to your healthcare provider. The articles on Health Guide are underpinned by peer-reviewed research and information drawn from medical societies and governmental agencies. However, they are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.
Depression can impact every area of your life and leave you feeling drained. If you’re wondering how to fight depression, some small steps can significantly impact your mental health.
What is depression?
Depression is a group of mood disorders causing low mood, feelings of sadness, and loss of interest in daily life. Many factors contribute to depression, including genetics, family history, and life events (Chands, 2020).
While you can’t entirely prevent depression, you can lower your risk for developing depression by understanding the risk factors and symptoms of depression.
Symptoms of depression
The number and severity of symptoms will vary from person to person, but here are some of the common symptoms of depression:
- Changes in sleep (trouble sleeping or sleeping too much)
- Fatigue and low energy
- Loss of interest or pleasure
- Feeling guilty
- Thoughts of worthlessness
- Trouble concentrating
- Appetite and weight changes
- Low mood
- Thoughts of death or self-harm
Medical treatment options
Major depression is usually treated with a combination of medications and psychotherapy. Working with a mental health professional can help you feel better more quickly and correct the chemical changes in the brain that contribute to depression.
Professional help will guide you to the best treatment options for you.
Medications for depression
Antidepressant medications help to stabilize your mood and correct disruptions in the neurotransmitters that affect depression. Common antidepressants include selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), and tricyclic antidepressants.
If your healthcare provider recommends medication, follow their medical advice for prescription and talk with them before stopping any medicines.
Psychotherapy for depression
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and talk therapy are two popular types of psychotherapy used for treating depression. These types of therapy work to increase your coping skills and help you manage your emotions.
12 lifestyle strategies to fight depression
Some people are at a higher risk of developing depression. A few factors that can increase your risk for depression include (Chands, 2020):
- Family history of depression
- History of abuse (physical, sexual, or emotional)
- Traumatic or stressful life events
- Diseases affecting the nervous system
- Loss of a loved one
Experiencing these events or circumstances increases your risk for depression. Still, you can lower your risk of developing depression by taking care of your physical and mental health.
Coping with stress in relationships, work, and daily life is essential for protecting your mental health. Stress management programs help to cope with everyday life and prevent depression (Mino, 2006). Keep reading to learn about lifestyle changes that can help you manage stress and fight depression.
1. Spend time with family and friends
Social support and spending time with people you care about can help protect your mental health (Alsubaie, 2018). Being isolated and withdrawing from other people increases your risk for depression. Finding ways to connect with others could help you to fight off depressive symptoms.
Here are some ideas to help you build your social support system:
- Call friends and family members.
- Take a class.
- Look for community groups for the hobbies you enjoy.
- Join volunteer groups.
- Ask someone new to go for coffee, a walk, or other activities to spend time together.
2. Practice meditation or mindfulness
Research shows meditation is an effective relaxation technique to help manage stress and anxiety. Practicing mindfulness meditation helps reduce worry, anxiety, and lowers the risk of depression (Parmentier, 2019).
If you’ve never tried meditation before, you can start by:
- Listening to a guided meditation video
- Taking a class
- Trying mindful coloring
- Practicing 3–5 minutes of deep breathing
3. Exercise regularly
Research shows that exercise benefits both physical and mental health by improving cardiovascular health, reducing pain, and releasing endorphins to boost mood (Murri, 2018).
Increase your daily activity with these tips:
- Take a walk.
- Park farther away from buildings.
- Take the stairs.
- Try a new group fitness class.
- Join a recreational team.
- Try new exercises to find ones you enjoy.
4. Spend time outside
Making time to go outside and get some fresh air can help boost your mental health. Research shows that spending time outdoors is associated with fewer depressive symptoms (Beyer, 2016).
Outdoor hobbies, such as gardening, could help you to fight depression. Caring for plants and seeing their growth helps reduce anxiety and depression and can increase your quality of life (Soga, 2017).
Some ways to spend more time outside include:
- Walking on a nature trail
- Going to a park
- Reading outside
- Gardening or caring for potted plants
- Going to the beach or swimming
5. Eat a balanced diet
The food you eat can impact how you feel. Research suggests that eating a diet full of fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, lean meats, and fish may help prevent depression (Ljungberg, 2020).
It’s not just what you eat, but how you eat can also affect your mood. Eating mindfully and with awareness is associated with decreased depressive symptoms (Winkens, 2019). Try to eat more mindfully by turning all electronics off and paying attention to the taste and texture of your food while eating.
6. Get more sleep
Poor sleep could increase your risk for depression and anxiety (Rezaei, 2018). Depression can cause trouble sleeping in some people, while others may start sleeping too much and struggle to get out of bed.
A healthy sleep routine can help to fight depression. Here are some tips to get enough sleep:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
- Have curtains to block out light from the windows and turn off lights.
- Turn off electronics 30–60 minutes before bed to reduce blue light exposure.
- Sleep in a cool room (about 68 degrees Fahrenheit or cooler is often recommended).
- Have a nighttime routine to help you wind down and help your body and mind prepare for sleep.
7. Journal regularly
Journaling about stressful experiences, negative thoughts, and practicing positive beliefs can help to decrease depressive symptoms, too.
One study found that after 12 weeks of journaling, participants had reduced mental distress, anxiety, stress, and greater resilience. The participants also experienced fewer days where their depression interfered with their daily lives when journaling consistently (Symth, 2018).
There’s no right or wrong way to journal. Just grab a notebook and write about whatever comes to mind, or you may choose to follow prompts you can find online.
8. Practice yoga or tai chi
Both yoga and tai chi focus on the connection between the mind and body. They have both been practiced for thousands of years as a way to deepen a person’s physical and mental connections. Research supports that both exercises can effectively reduce and potentially prevent depression (Bridges, 2017; Kong, 2019).
Try these exercises in person or online to see the physical and mental health benefits of regularly practicing them.
9. Set goals
Achieving goals is good for increasing wellbeing and reducing depressive symptoms (Coote, 2012). Accomplishing the goals you set for yourself produces positive feelings of accomplishment. It provides a sense of purpose, which can help to fend off depression.
When setting goals, try to balance dreaming big and setting attainable goals. Setting too large of a goal in a short amount of time might leave you feeling discouraged. Instead, try to break down goals into specific tasks and give yourself a reasonable timeline to accomplish them.
10. Schedule downtime
Working nonstop and constantly being busy increases fatigue and can lead to feeling burnt out. Taking regular breaks from demanding tasks helps reduce fatigue and increases wellness. Any type of break can help to rejuvenate you. However, research shows that a 20-minute exercise break (like walking) had more significant effects on reducing fatigue (Blasche, 2018).
11. Volunteer your time
Helping out in the community by volunteering can improve your health and help fight depression. Regularly volunteering helps provide a sense of purpose, building social support networks, and increases perceived wellbeing. Choose a cause that you genuinely believe in, as research shows that volunteering helps fight depression mainly when you do it to help others rather than for yourself (Yeung, 2017).
Sign up for a local volunteer group or find a cause to help see the benefits of helping others for your mental health.
12. Practice gratitude
Focusing on what you are grateful for and practicing positive beliefs could help to protect your mental health. One study shows that groups practicing gratitude experienced increased happiness and satisfaction with their lives while reducing depression symptoms (Cunha, 2019).
Here are some ways to practice more gratitude throughout your day:
- List five things you are grateful for.
- Write down positive thoughts you want to focus on.
- List one moment you were grateful for at the end of each day.
Finding support for depression
If you are experiencing depression, there are effective treatments to help. And you aren’t alone. Support groups and professional treatment can help you to feel better.
If you or a loved one is experiencing depression or thoughts of self-harm, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 to provide support and connect you to local services at 1-800-273-8255.
- Beyer, K. M., Szabo, A., & Nattinger, A. B. (2016). Time spent outdoors, depressive symptoms, and variation by race and ethnicity. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 51(3), 281–290. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2016.05.004. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27320702/
- Blasche, G., Szabo, B., Wagner-Menghin, M., Ekmekcioglu, C., & Gollner, E. (2018). Comparison of rest-break interventions during a mentally demanding task. Stress and Health: Journal of the International Society for the Investigation of Stress, 34(5), 629–638. doi: 10.1002/smi.2830. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6585675/
- Bridges, L., & Sharma, M. (2017). The efficacy of yoga as a form of treatment for depression. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, 22(4), 1017–1028. doi: 10.1177/2156587217715927. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5871291/
- Alsubaie MM, Stain HJ, Webster LAD, Wadman R. The role of sources of social support on depression and quality of life for university students. International Journal of Adolescence and Youth. 2019;24(4):484-496. doi: 10.1080/02673843.2019.1568887. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02673843.2019.1568887
- Chand SP, Arif H. (2020). Depression. StatPearls. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430847/
- Coote, H. M., & MacLeod, A. K. (2012). A self-help, positive goal-focused intervention to increase well-being in people with depression. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 19(4), 305–315. doi: 10.1002/cpp.1797. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22610936/
- Cunha, L. F., Pellanda, L. C., & Reppold, C. T. (2019). Positive psychology and gratitude interventions: a randomized clinical trial. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 584. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00584. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6437090/
- Kong, J., Wilson, G., Park, J., Pereira, K., Walpole, C., & Yeung, A. (2019). Treating depression with tai chi: state of the art and future perspectives. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10, 237. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00237. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6474282/
- Ljungberg, T., Bondza, E., & Lethin, C. (2020). Evidence of the importance of dietary habits regarding depressive symptoms and depression. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(5), 1616. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17051616. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7084175/
- Mino, Y., Babazono, A., Tsuda, T., & Yasuda, N. (2006). Can stress management at the workplace prevent depression? A randomized controlled trial. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 75(3), 177–182. doi: 10.1159/000091775. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16636633/
- Murri, MB., Ekkekakis, P., Magagnoli, M., Zampogna, D., Cattedra, S., Capobianco, L., et al. (2019). Physical exercise in major depression: reducing the mortality gap while improving clinical outcomes. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9, 762. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2018.00762. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6335323/
- Parmentier, F., García-Toro, M., García-Campayo, J., Yañez, A. M., Andrés, P., & Gili, M. (2019). Mindfulness and symptoms of depression and anxiety in the general population: the mediating roles of worry, rumination, reappraisal and suppression. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 506. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00506 Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6418017/
- Rezaei, M., Khormali, M., Akbarpour, S., Sadeghniiat-Hagighi, K., & Shamsipour, M. (2018). Sleep quality and its association with psychological distress and sleep hygiene: a cross-sectional study among pre-clinical medical students. Sleep Science (Sao Paulo, Brazil), 11(4), 274–280. doi: 10.5935/1984-0063.20180043. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6361305/
- Smyth, J. M., Johnson, J. A., Auer, B. J., Lehman, E., Talamo, G., & Sciamanna, C. N. (2018). Online positive affect journaling in the improvement of mental distress and well-being in general medical patients with elevated anxiety symptoms: a preliminary randomized controlled trial. JMIR Mental Health, 5(4), e11290. doi: 10.2196/11290. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6305886/
- Soga, M., Gaston, K. J., & Yamaura, Y. (2016). Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis. Preventive Medicine Reports, 5, 92–99. doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.11.007. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5153451/
- Winkens, L., van Strien, T., Brouwer, I. A., Penninx, B., & Visser, M. (2019). Mindful eating and change in depressive symptoms: mediation by psychological eating styles. Appetite, 133, 204–211. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2018.11.009. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30445152/
- Yeung, J., Zhang, Z., & Kim, T. Y. (2017). Volunteering and health benefits in general adults: cumulative effects and forms. BMC Public Health, 18(1), 8. doi: 10.1186/s12889-017-4561-8. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504679/
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.