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Self-help strategies for depression can be really effective for improving mood. Find out more about different strategies you can use to manage the symptoms of depression, and what to do if you’re still finding it difficult.

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.
Boy and girl on ropes course

What are self-help strategies?

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

  • Track your thoughts. Writing down your thoughts is a good way to identify those that are contributing to making you feel down and depressed; these might include thoughts like ‘I’m useless’ or ‘no one cares about me’. Just because we think something, it doesn’t mean it’s true, so learn how to challenge negative thinking. If your mood is really low and you have difficulty challenging your thoughts, avoid writing them down on your own and instead seek help from a mental health professional.
  • Practise relaxation. Relaxation is great for reducing stress. Learn some relaxation techniques and write down a list of things you find comforting.
  • Avoid 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.
  • Stay active. Exercise can make a difference to your energy levels and help stimulate hormones (such as endorphins) that help you 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 last few days, an achievable goal might be just to go for a walk outside in the fresh air for five minutes.
  • Take some time out to do things you enjoy. When you’re feeling down, it can be hard to get motivated to do the things you like to do. It can also feel impossible to experience enjoyment if you’re depressed. Even so, each day, try to make yourself do one thing you used to enjoy doing.
  • Connect with others. 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 (finally) to reply to one. If you don’t feel like leaving the house, you could ask them to come and hang out with you at home.
  • Learn something new. Developing new skills and achieving things lifts your mood. Write a list of ideas you would like to try, and pick one to start with.
  • Get outside. There’s research that indicates when you have contact with pets, plants, gardens, parks, etc., it reduces stress and boosts your mood. Go for a walk outside. We also know that sunlight helps to regulate mood.
  • Talk to someone you trust. Depression can feel lonely.Talk about how you’re feeling with a family member or a close friend. They can also provide an outsider’s opinion on what’s going on.
  • 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.
  • Learn positive coping strategies. Things can feel overwhelming when your mood is low, and it can be difficult to know how to cope. See our fact sheet on building better coping skills.
  • Set small goals. Don’t set your goals 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 fact sheet.
  • Develop a healthy sleep routine. Sleep has a huge effect on our physical and emotional health. Get some tips to help you get into a sleeping routine.

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

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

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

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 if you need medication or further help. Treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy and medication, and having a good relationship with a GP, psychologist and/or psychiatrist, can be effective in treating depression and improving mood.

What can I do now?