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Self-help for depression can be effective for improving mood and managing symptoms. If you're wondering how to deal with depression, there are simple things you can do on your own.

This can help if:

  • you’ve been feeling down
  • you want some additional tools to help improve your mood
  • you’re finding it difficult to get motivated.
several illustrations of depression self help strategies. the first image is a conversation with a friend on a smartphone. the second images is a person in a bubble bath. the third is a person talking to a friend on their couch. the fourth is a person walking their dog.

What are ‘self-help strategies’?

In addition to seeking help from someone you trust or a mental health professional, there are other ways to self help for depression. You might not notice a difference straight away, but practising these skills each day can help you to overcome the ‘cycle’ of depression, where feeling bad about yourself leads you to doing less and feeling worse.

depression self help strategies getting started

Challenge negative thoughts

Writing down your thoughts is a good way to identify those that are making you feel down and depressed. Just because we think something, it doesn’t mean it’s true; so, learning how to challenge negative thinking can help your overall mood and self-esteem.

For example, if you find yourself thinking: ‘Nobody cares about me’, you can challenge this thought by asking yourself if there are any exceptions to that idea, and coming up with an alternative thought, such as  ‘My sister cares about me.’

If your mood is really low and you’re having difficulty challenging your thoughts, avoid writing them down on your own and instead seek help from a mental health professional.

Doing this is a key part of ‘Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’ or CBT, a methodology used widely by psychologists to treat depression. To learn more about ACT, click here.

Avoid using alcohol and drugs

If you’re using alcohol and drugs to cope, you could actually be making your symptoms worse. Sometimes, drugs and alcohol make us feel worse straight away; other times, they might make us feel better initially but later can bring our mood down even lower over time. Get some tips on how you can reduce your alcohol or drug usage.

Stay active

Exercise can make a difference to your energy levels and help stimulate hormones (such as endorphins) that help you to feel better about yourself. Make a realistic goal to increase your level of activity.

For example, if you’ve found it difficult even to get out of bed for the past few days, an achievable goal might be just to leave your room and walk around your home. After that, you could start thinking bigger: set a goal of walking down the street or doing five minutes of yoga at home. Starting small will help make it more manageable and keep your expectations realistic.

Do things you enjoy

When you’re down, it can be hard to get motivated to do the things that make you feel good. It can also seem impossible to enjoy doing something if you’re experiencing depression. Even so, each day, try to make yourself do one thing you used to enjoy doing, to give yourself a sense of achievement.

The activity could be super-simple, such as reading five pages of a book, dancing to a song you like, watching a documentary or spending five minutes drawing.

Talk to someone

It’s common to withdraw when you’re feeling depressed, but this can make you feel worse. Try to reconnect with friends.

Again, make your goal realistic: if you’ve been avoiding your friends altogether, a starting point might be to send a text or to send a reply that you’ve been putting off.

If you don’t feel like talking to someone you know, you could try connecting with others on the ReachOut Online Community.

Get outside

When you interact with nature, including pets, plants, gardens and parks, it reduces stress and boosts your mood. Sunlight also helps to regulate your mood. Try standing for a few minutes outside in the fresh air, or if you can manage it, go for a walk around the block.

If you like spending time outside, you could even try spending an hour a day at your local park reading, drawing or writing.

Try out some changes to the food you eat

The term ‘healthy diet’ means lots of different things to lots of different people. But the truth is, a healthy diet just means eating food which is convenient, comfortable, and gives you all the nutrients you need. However, some research has demonstrated that some nutrients may be super helpful for dealing with depression:

  • Protein: gives you long-lasting energy throughout the day and helps you to feel alert. Beans, meat, eggs and tofu are all foods that are high in protein.
  • B Vitamins: these are a group of nutrients which serve lots of different functions in your body. One thing they help you do is break down energy from your food, so if you don’t have enough of them in your diet it can impact your mood and contribute to other issues like depression. They can be found in wholegrain bread, fresh meat, beans, nuts, and dark green vegetables.
  • Omega-3s: these are a type of ‘fatty acid’ found in fish, beans, canola oil, nuts and dark green vegetables. They are important to the functioning of your brain and studies have found that low levels of omega-3 can contribute to depression.
  • This doesn’t necessarily mean having a whole new ‘diet’. It could just mean trying out some different foods and seeing how they make you feel. Plus, if you like cooking you could end up with a meaningful and enjoyable hobby!

Make sure to check in with your GP before making big changes to your diet.

Practise relaxation

Relaxation is great for reducing stress. Write down a list of things that help you to unwind and keep it handy for when you've got some spare time. It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing with dogs in the park, taking a bubble bath or kicking a footy around – as long as it helps you to chill out and recharge. If you’re stuck for ideas, we’ve got a bunch of ways to chill for cheap here.

Think about your media consumption

By now, you’ve probably experienced some of the positive things social media can do for us, and also heard about some of the studies linking social media usage with depression and other mental health challenges. The same thing can also be said of lots of different types of media we consume, from TV shows to movies and games. 

One thing you can do is write down all the things you see in the media you consume which makes you feel sad, anxious, or drained. Then, write down everything that makes you feel inspired, connected, and informed. Finally, think about how you can see less of the things in the first list and more of the things on the second list. 

For more tips on managing your social media usage, click here.

I’m feeling a bit better and I can do more…what can I do next?

depression self help strategies when youre doing a bit better

Talk to someone you trust

Depression can feel lonely. Talk with a family member or a close friend about how you’re feeling. They can also provide an outsider’s opinion on what’s going on. If you don’t feel like leaving the house, you could ask them to come and hang out with you at home.

Join a support group

It can be helpful to talk with people who’ve gone through a similar experience. Check out key services for help with depression for more information. You could also chat with someone from a support service, over the phone or online.

Learn positive coping strategies

Things can feel overwhelming when your mood is low, and it can be difficult to know how to cope. We have some strategies here to help build better coping skills.

Set small goals

Don’t aim too high; it could make you feel worse if you can’t meet your expectations. Set yourself small goals and take things one step at a time. See our goal-setting factsheet for more tips.

Learn something new

Developing new skills and achieving things can lift your mood. Write a list of things you would like to try, and pick one to start with. For example, you could sign up to an online course and learn to speak a language or how to code, or you could go on YouTube and learn how to garden, to play an instrument or how to bake.

Get creative

For many people, being creative is a way to think through hard feelings and experiences, and many people find this helpful on the path to recovery. For example, you could write stories or music, draw or paint, or play an instrument.

Develop a healthy sleep routine

Sleep has a huge effect on our physical and emotional health. It’s likely that your previous sleep routine has gotten out of whack, which may affect everything from being able to go to school or work, to having the energy to see your friends. Get some tips to help you get into a sleeping routine.

We know it can be tough to take on any of these tips when you’re feeling really bad. When it comes to self-help, strategies for feeling better are very individual – different things work for different people. Not everyone will want to start doing yoga, for example, so keep trying different ideas if the first thing you try doesn’t help.

Remember: it takes time to get better. Doing something for five minutes every day might feel useless at the time, but you could find that a few weeks later, your mood has improved a bit. Baby steps. You’ve taken the first step in coming here, now keep it up.

What do I do if self-help isn’t working?

If you’ve tried the depression self-help strategies above but your symptoms are still overwhelming, go and see your GP or a mental health professional for additional depression help.

Your GP will have suggestions for alternative things you can try to help manage your depression from day to day, and will be able to assess what to do next. Treatments such as psychological therapy and medication, and having a good relationship with a GP, psychologist and/or psychiatrist, can be effective in treating depression and improving mood.

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