Living with depression can take a toll on your physical, mental and emotional well-being. Basic tasks can become very challenging to do. For instance, it may be hard to get out of bed, brush your teeth or prepare a meal. However, there are things you can do to cope with depression by improving your lifestyle.
The key is to start small so that each step is simple, realistic and attainable. Don’t attempt to do too many things at once. For instance, don’t try to change your diet, clean your house, go to the gym, meet with friends and pick up a new hobby all in the same week. When you are able to complete one small goal at a time, you’ll feel motivated to tackle the next one.
By adopting these changes in conjunction with a treatment plan provided by a mental health professional, it is possible to attain a better quality of life while living with depression.
1. Aim For A Nutrient-Rich Diet
Living with depression can affect a person’s appetite. Food may be a source of comfort for some people and they may overeat to cope with emotions. Others may lose their appetite, skip meals and put themselves at risk for malnourishment.
Research has shown that a strong relationship exists between the food we eat and our mental well-being. Although there isn’t a specific diet that can treat depression, there are several changes you can make to your diet to improve your mood, reduce symptoms and feel better.
A systematic review and meta-analysis looked at dietary patterns and depression in community-dwelling adults. After searching through 6 electronic databases and eliminating studies that were not considered methodologically rigorous, 21 studies were included in the review. The results showed a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains was significantly associated with a reduced risk of depression.
Drinking alcohol is seen as a socially acceptable way for people to numb their pain. However, alcohol is a depressant and can make you feel worse, so limiting alcohol intake can help reduce depression symptoms.
Maintaining a balanced diet can ensure you are getting sufficient levels of essential nutrients to allow your body to function optimally and to help in living with depression. A systematic review of randomized controlled trials looked at zinc supplementation and depression. The review had the following conclusion:
“Evidence suggests potential benefits of zinc supplementation as a stand-alone intervention or as an adjunct to conventional antidepressant drug therapy for depression.”
Please consult with your doctor or healthcare provider before making changes to your diet or taking supplements. Some of these may impact the effectiveness of certain medications such as antidepressants.
If possible, reach out to a dietitian for guidance and specific advice on how to improve your diet.
2. Move Your Body Regularly
When you are depressed, exercise may be the last thing on your mind. However, staying active can help you feel better and improve your energy. The key is to do a bit of activity consistently so that it becomes part of your daily routine and ensures you reap the benefits over the long term.
A meta-analysis looked at exercise as a treatment for living with depression. The analysis included twenty-five randomized controlled trials that compared exercise versus control groups. It highlighted that exercise can significantly relieve depressive symptoms, including those with major depressive disorder. The analysis concluded that its data strongly support utilizing exercise as a treatment for depression.
Remember, exercise doesn’t have to be strenuous, complicated and/or extremely challenging to be beneficial for your health. A short and gentle stroll around the neighborhood every day can do wonders for your mind and body.
A systematic review of meta-analyses published in 2020 studied the role of exercise in preventing depression. It showed that low-intensity exercise was just as effective as high-intensity exercise.
Please consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
3. Improve Your Sleep Routine to Aid in Living with Depression
Feeling recharged after a good night’s sleep can positively affect the rest of your day. However, those experiencing depression are more likely to have sleep disturbances such as difficulties falling asleep, staying asleep and waking up.
Sleep disturbances and depression have a bidirectional relationship. For instance, poor quality of sleep can worsen depression symptoms which can increase the likelihood of sleep disturbances. It can become a cyclical pattern.
Therefore, it’s crucial to cultivate healthy sleep hygiene practices so you are able to get sufficient rest. Here are some tips to help you get into a slumber-worthy sleep routine:
- Pick a bedtime and stick to it. Going to bed at the same time every day can shift your body into a regular schedule. You’ll feel more tired and sleepy before bed and you’re more likely to wake up at the same time.
- Try to limit screen time for at least an hour before heading into bed. Exposure to light from electronic devices at night can interfere with your body’s circadian rhythm and increase alertness before sleeping.
- Avoid caffeine at least 6 hours before bedtime to ensure it does not affect your natural sleep patterns. Remember, coffee isn’t the only one that contains caffeine. Some other foods/beverages that may have caffeine include tea, chocolate, energy drinks, supplements and soda.
4. Reduce Stress
During stressful situations, the body releases cortisol, a hormone that inhibits non-essential functions during a fight-or-flight response. Cortisol is helpful in the short run as it prepares your body to deal with the immediate stressor.
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However, when your body is consistently under stress, the continuous release of cortisol will aggravate symptoms of depression. Adopting ways to reduce stress levels can help manage your mental health condition.
Try to incorporate relaxation activities into your day to help keep you grounded and create more balance in your life. Some examples include meditation, mindfulness practices, breathing techniques and yoga.
Writing and/or journaling can be an effective way to organize your thoughts and express your feelings. Studies have shown journaling has a positive impact on mental health conditions and should be considered an adjunct therapy to complement current evidence-based management.
5. Keep In Touch With Friends and Family Helps with Living with Depression
Humans are social creatures. You’re not alone in this. Although it may seem easier to withdraw from loved ones when you’re feeling down, it’s important to stay connected with friends and family.
Spending less time in social interactions has been found to be associated with depressive symptoms. By having a strong social support system you then also have people to talk to and are more likely to feel like you belong and are accepted. It can be comforting to know you have people you can count on during low times. Joining groups whose members share similar interests and enjoy the same activities is a great way to find like-minded people, as is getting involved with volunteer organizations. If meeting up with other people in person is difficult, you can try scheduling regular phone calls or video chats with them.
There are different ways to cope when living with depression and some days may feel harder than others. Please remember to treat yourself with grace and compassion and give yourself credit when you’ve tried something new. Celebrate the wins and when things don’t go as well as you like, know that tomorrow’s another day to try again.
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