Experiencing depression can make it hard to find the energy to look after yourself. But taking an active role in your treatment, and taking steps to help yourself cope with your experiences, can make a big difference to how you feel. Here are some things you can try:
Look after yourself
- Get good sleep. For lots of people who experience depression, sleeping too little or too much can be a daily problem. Getting good sleep can help to improve your mood and increase your energy levels. (See our pages on coping with sleep problems for more information).
- Eat well. Eating a balanced and nutritious diet can help you feel well, think clearly and increase your energy levels. (See our pages on food and mood for more tips).
- Keep active. Many people find exercise a challenge but gentle activities like yoga, swimming or walking can be a big boost to your mood. (See our pages on physical activity for more information).
I cycle, which helps, and I take long walks in the country.
- Look after your hygiene. When you're experiencing depression, it's easy for hygiene to not feel like a priority. But small things, like taking a shower and getting fully dressed whether or not you're going out of the house, can make a big difference to how you feel.
I try to keep active, even if that's just getting out of bed, washed and ready before 10am, so that the days don't become an endless blur of nothingness.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. While you might want to use drugs or alcohol to cope with any difficult feelings, in the long run they can make you feel a lot worse. (See our pages on street drugs and mental health for more information).
- Work out what makes you happy. Try making a list of activities, people and places that make you happy or feel good. Then make a list of what you do every day. It probably won't be possible to include all the things that make you happy but try to find ways to bring those things into your daily routine.
I've made a list of things I usually enjoy, like knitting or playing the guitar, and I try to do little bits of these activities when I'm feeling low.
- Treat yourself. When you're feeling down, it can be hard to feel good about yourself. Try to do at least one positive thing for yourself every day. This could be taking the time for a long bath, spending time with a pet or reading your favourite book. See our relaxation tips for some ideas of things to do.
I take time out to treat myself. Soothing yourself is so important, considering you spend a lot of time in a battle with your own thoughts.
- Create a resilience toolkit. This could be a list of activities you know improve your mood, or you could fill an actual box with things to do to cheer yourself up. Try including your favourite book or film, a notebook and pen to write down your thoughts or notes of encouragement to yourself. It might feel difficult or a bit silly to put it all together but it can be a really useful tool if you're feeling too low to come up with ideas later on.
I've written a letter to myself which I keep along with a few other ‘feel good’ items in a tin box. The letter reminds me that although the storm has to take its course, it will eventually pass and things will get better.
- Be kind to yourself. None of us achieve all our goals. Don't beat yourself up if you don't do something you planned to, or find yourself feeling worse again. Try to treat yourself as you would treat a friend, and be kind to yourself.
Be kind to yourself. If you need 'me time', give it to yourself. You are worth it.
- Join a group. This could be anything from a community project or a sports team to a hobby group. The important thing is to find an activity you enjoy, or perhaps something you've always wanted to try, to help you feel motivated.
- Try new things. Trying something new, like starting a new hobby, learning something new or even trying new food, can help boost your mood and break unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaviour.
- Try volunteering. Volunteering (or just offering to help someone out) can make you feel better about yourself and less alone. Volunteering England, Volunteering Wales and Do-It can help match you with a volunteering opportunity in your area.
- Set realistic goals. Try to set yourself achievable goals, like getting dressed every day or cooking yourself a meal. Acheiving your goals can help you feel good and boost your self-confidence, and help you move on to bigger ones.
Challenge your low mood
- Keep a mood diary. This can help you keep track of any changes in your mood, and you might find that you have more good days than you think. It can also help you notice if any activities, places or people make you feel better or worse.
- Challenge your thinking. Students Against Depression have lots of information and activity sheets to try to help you challenge negative thinking.
I make lists of why I feel depressed, what I can change and how I can change it.
- Try self-help. If your depression is mild, you might find free cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) courses online which can help you tackle some of your negative thinking and avoid your depression growing worse.
- Contact a helpline. If you're struggling with difficult feelings, and you can't talk to someone you know, there are many helplines you can contact. These are not professional counselling services but the people you speak to are trained to listen and could help you feel more able to cope with your low mood. See our page on telephone support for more information.
Connect with other people
- Keep in touch. If you don't feel up to seeing people in person, or talking, send a text or email to keep in touch with friends and family.
- Keep talking. It might feel hard to start talking to your friends and family about what you're feeling, but many people find that just sharing their experiences can help them feel better.
[What helps is] surrounding myself with friends and family who understand without pointing it out, who treat me normally but recognise that everyday life can be a struggle sometimes.
- Join a peer support group. Going to a peer support group is a great way to share tips and meet other people who are going through similar things. See Useful contacts for support for anyone experiencing depression, while Students Against Depression offers student-specific support.
- Use online support. Online support can be a useful way to build a support network when you cannot, or don't feel able to, do things in person. Online forums like Elefriends and Big White Wall are specifically for anyone struggling with their mental health. (See our pages on seeking support online and how to stay safe online for more information).
I find reading other people's experiences makes me feel less like I'm alone in this. It's actually made me feel more comfortable.
This information was published in June 2016. We will revise it in 2019.