Depression can range from mild to severe and can impact a person’s life in many ways. If you are feeling depressed, here are six things you can do to improve your mood without using medication.
1. Exercise—Exercise eases the symptoms of depression. Exercise gets your body moving, changes your environment, increases energy, and causes the release of feel-good chemicals in your body like endorphins. Cardiovascular exercise, such as running, vigorous walking, hiking, cycling, or anything that gets your heart rate up, is particularly helpful. (Of course be careful if you haven’t exercised in a while. Better to start easy and build up slowly.) When depressed, you generally don’t feel like exercising, or doing anything at all (even getting out of bed). However, you must use your will power to get yourself moving. Once moving, you will start to feel better.
2. Changing your focus—When depressed, people tend to focus on negative things about themselves, others, the world, their past, and their future. Depression is like a grey lens that colors your outlook and fogs up your ability to get into a better place. It makes it easy to get caught in a downward spiral of negative thinking that keeps you hopeless and stuck. One way to stop this cycle is to get engaged in an activity that changes your focus. When your focus changes, so will your thoughts. The activity can be anything you enjoy (or could potentially enjoy), such as reading an inspiring book, watching a funny movie, listening to uplifting music, watching the Olympics, or playing with your pet. The idea is to focus on something more positive, which will make you feel better and more hopeful, and to stop focusing on the negative, which just feeds your depression. Again, like exercise, you may not feel like doing anything and may even have lost interest in things you used to enjoy. However, you must use your will power to do it. Once you do, you will start feeling better.
3) Socially engage—People usually avoid socializing and want to isolate when they are depressed. Spending time alone is healthy and can be relaxing and rejuvenating. However, if you are spending too much time alone, cutting yourself off from friends and family, and avoiding others because you are depressed, then your alone time is not healthy or helpful. Depression is paradoxical in that you usually don’t feel like doing anything or interacting with others, but once you do, you usually feel less depressed. When socializing, you are focused on talking, listening, or doing something with someone and not focused on negative, hopeless thoughts. In addition, your friend can support you by listening to you and encouraging you, or making you laugh, and maybe giving you a new perspective on things. Make sure the friends or family you choose to spend time with are supportive, rational, and positive, and not ones that are critical or agree with your hopeless outlook.
4) Get a proper amount of sleep—When depressed, people either sleep too much or too little. Neither is good for depression. Both leave you feeling tired, lethargic, and less motivated. Too little sleep makes you more susceptible to anxiety and stress, impedes your attention and concentration, and decreases brain and cognitive functioning. One way to help normalize sleep is by practicing good sleep hygiene, which are simple skills that help you get a good night’s sleep. Another option if sleep hygiene doesn’t work is a sleep medication–(just for sleep, not for the depression). However, it is important to be aware of the risks and negative side effects of sleep meds before taking them, and it is important to first consult with your doctor.
5. Make sure you are eating normally—Depression can reduce or increase a person’s appetite. It is vital that when you are depressed, you don’t overeat or under eat. One way to tell if you are over or under eating is by keeping a log of what you are eating over a few days, and then compare it to what you normally eat (this assumes you were eating normally before the depression). If eating too much, try to cut back on the eating and use some of the other skills in this article to cope with the feelings. If you are under eating, you need to eat more even though you are not hungry. It could be smaller meals or snacks throughout the day, or three full-size meals, but eating throughout the day is vital for the proper functioning of your body, energy, and protection against stress. Also, make sure what you eat is healthy and balanced. Consulting with a physician is recommended.
6) Psychotherapy—Talking to a professional therapist (psychologist, MFT, LCSW) is one of the most effective ways to overcome depression. Therapy allows you to talk freely about your situation and fully express your feelings in a non-judgmental, supportive environment. Sometimes we can’t find this type of support with family and friends. Therapists are trained to help you identify what’s contributing to the depression and teach you ways to overcome it. There are many different types of therapy available, each with its own approach. The type that I recommend is Cognitive Therapy, which has been clinically proven to be one of the most effective treatments for depression.
Note: If you are thinking about suicide, seek help ASAP. Suicidal thoughts are common with depression, and there are different levels of risk. If you feel imminently suicidal (i.e., you have a specific plan and intent to act soon), call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room (or have someone take you). If you are having suicidal thoughts, but don’t have a current plan or intent to act on your thoughts, than talking to a professional therapist as soon as possible is highly recommended.
(Originally appeared on Examiner.com)