How to Help Yourself
Being proactive in helping yourself fight depression is a great step towards feeling better. It takes courage to make positive changes in your life. On this page is information about seeking treatment from a professional, as well as some self-help tips for things that you can do on your own.
If You Wish to Seek Treatment from a Professional
If you think you might be depressed and want to seek treatment, it can be difficult to know where to start. Even the symptoms of depression can make the process more challenging as you might feel worthless, exhausted, hopeless, and overwhelmed. Remember that it is depression that causes these difficulties, and they will pass as treatment begins to take effect.
If you have a family doctor or primary physician, you might start by visiting him/her for a medical evaluation. Sometimes medical conditions can cause symptoms of depression, so it’s always good to rule this out first. Your physician may also be able to make a referral to a therapist.
When looking for a good therapist or referral, you might also contact the following:
- Mental health professionals: psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, counselors
- Your insurance provider
- Community mental health centers
- Hospital psychiatry departments and outpatient clinics
- Hospital emergency rooms in times of crisis
- University- or medical school-affiliated programs
- State hospital outpatient clinics
- Family service/social agencies
- Private clinics and facilities
- Employee assistance programs
- Local medical and/or psychiatric societies
The Yellow Pages can provide additional phone numbers and addresses under "mental health," "health," "social services," "suicide prevention," "crisis intervention services," "hotlines," "hospitals," or "physicians."
When you get to the point of contacting a therapist, feel free to ask a lot of questions to help put your mind at ease. If you don’t like the answers you get, then try another therapist. You might ask any of the following:
- Are you licensed?
- What degree/s do you hold?
- What is your experience working with people with depression?
- What is your treatment approach with people who have depression?
- What can I expect to happen when I get there?
- What is treatment like?
If You Wish to Help Yourself
There are many important things you can do for yourself to help manage depression. Take a look at the list below and see which ones might apply to you. You might start off just picking one or two things on the list that you want to address. You can add more as you feel more able to handle them.
If you try some of the things listed below and you still find your symptoms worsening, it is recommended that you seek assistance from a medical or mental health professional.
First of all, please keep in mind…
It is the depression that causes problems with mood, sleeping and appetite problems, feelings of worthlessness, hopelessness, negative thoughts, etc., not some “failure” or “character flaw” on your part. When you are not depressed, you are not likely to have difficulties to this degree.
Be patient with yourself. Don’t expect too much from yourself right away, or you may set yourself up for disappointment and negative thinking that can make you feel worse. Pace yourself. Take it one step at a time.
Feeling better takes time. Don’t allow yourself to get upset if you don’t see improvement in your mood right away. Also, don’t be discouraged if you see some “backsliding” in your progress. Feeling better may involve “two steps forward, one step back.”
Educate Yourself about Depression
- Learn about what depression is, what its symptoms are, and how it affects people. This can help you understand what might be happening with you. It also lets you know that you are not alone and that there are others who understand what you are going through.
- Learning about depression lets you know what you might expect and gives you a sense of control about what is happening to you and what you can do about it.
- Educating yourself about depression also allows you to be an informed consumer when it comes to making decisions about treatment options.
Set Realistic Goals for Yourself
- It can be tempting to set very high goals for yourself as you would like to feel better fast. Resist that temptation and set just a few small, reasonable goals. If your goals are too high, then you risk overwhelming yourself and being disappointed, or feeling like a “failure,” if a goal is not reached.
- Assume a reasonable amount of responsibility. Delegate work, ask others to help you out. Don’t take on too much yourself.
- Break large tasks into smaller ones. Do a little at a time. Set priorities of what needs to be done first. Do what you can as you can.
Identify Daily Patterns in Your Mood
- Some people find that their mood is more depressed early in the day, while things seem better in the afternoon. Your pattern may differ, but learn what times of day are best for you. This will allow you to plan some activities when you feel best able to handle them.
- Negative thoughts such as “I am worthless,” “it’s hopeless,” “I’ll never feel better,” and so forth actually help maintain depressive symptoms. Look for ways to think more positively about things. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is actually a good way to address negative thoughts. Look for a therapist who uses CBT, or participate in the online CBT Workshop on this site. You can learn strategies for helping you think more positively.
- Make a list of all the things you do well, positive aspects about yourself, compliments people have given you over time, things you have done that you are proud of, etc. Add to your list each day. Simply doing this can help you avoid negative thinking and improve your mood. You might purchase a special journal just for this activity.
Find a Support System
- Let your family and friends help you. Confide in someone you trust. It is more helpful than isolating yourself and being secretive.
- Seek support and connection with people who understand your situation. These can be family, friends, self-help groups, online discussion groups, etc. You might find the Community Forum on this site to be helpful.
- Join a self-help group to connect with others who understand what you are going through. You can also learn other tips on how to manage depression.
Evaluate Your Lifestyle
- Sometimes, things that are going on in your life can contribute to maintaining depression. Are there things you are doing that increase stress, loneliness, negative thinking, etc.? What changes can you make that would be helpful to improving your mood?
- You my also be around others who are not helpful to you. If you have people in your life who are critical, angry, abusive, or otherwise harmful to you, it could be useful to look at ways to change this. Seeking therapy can be very useful if you feel stuck in trying to make these kinds of changes.
Address Past Issues
- You might find that difficult situations from your past are contributing to feeling depressed. It is not uncommon at all for past child abuse, violence, rape, dysfunctional families, or other traumatic experiences to lead to depression or anxiety. Working with a therapist to address such issues can be extremely relieving and helpful.
- While this may feel easier said than done, it is very important to address. Chronic or situational stress can lead to depressive symptoms if not managed well. Sometimes managing stress can involve making very difficult changes in our lives, but we must weight the pros and cons of our own well being.
- Take a look at the Online Stress Management Workshop on this site.
- Eat healthier foods. Stay from processed junk foods or fast foods. Look for organic foods and introduce more fruits and vegetables in your diet. Drink plenty of water each day, and stay away from sodas and too many caffeinated beverages. Your brain and body need a healthy diet to function properly.
- Stay away from too many sugary foods, caffeine, and alcohol. Each of these can have a negative effect on your mood, and also affect your sleep cycle.
- You might monitor your food intake each day to get a good idea of how healthy you are eating, or changes in your diet that could be helpful.
Keep a Regular Sleep Schedule
- Get up at a regular time each morning, and go to bed at a regular time each night.
- Avoid naps during the day as this can upset your sleep schedule.
- Let family or friends wake you up in the morning if that would help.
- Schedule appointments early in the day that make sure you get up in time.
- Stay away from caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine in the evening, and perhaps in the late afternoon as these can cause you to have problems sleeping.
- Develop a pleasurable morning routine that you will engage in when you get up. This might include fixing breakfast, watching a favorite television show, getting online and reading news items, calling a friend, instant messaging with family or friends, reading the newspaper, taking a walk, visiting a friend, etc.
- If you find it difficult to fall asleep, you might do some Online Relaxation Exercises to help you relax.
Exercise (even a little bit)
- Research has shown exercise to be helpful in improving symptoms in those with mild to moderate depression.
- Find a way to be more active. Many people make the mistake of jumping into strenuous exercise too fast, and then they get frustrated and quit before exercise can be helpful to them. Plan a mild exercise routine to start with. This may simply be walking around the house, taking a brief walk down the street, or even joining a beginning yoga or aerobics class.
- As you feel more able, then add to your exercise or activity routine. You might walk an extra lap or two, bike a little further down the street, or go to an exercise class an extra day each week.
- You don’t need to join a gym or purchase expensive exercise equipment unless you want to. Simply taking a walk in your neighborhood, riding a bike, walking at a nearby park or track, taking a hike, etc. will work nicely.
Engage in Some Activities
- Continue your regular activities. You may find you need to cut back on the number of activities you have or your involvement in them, but try not to eliminate them completely.
- Participate in activities that help you feel better. There may have been some things you used to do in the past that you might want to begin again.
- Try some new activities that can help you feel good. These could include exercising, going to a movie, museum, or library, attending a ball game, engaging in spiritual or religious activities, attending social groups.
Get Outside in the Sunshine
- Some people find that their mood improves by being exposed to more light each day. It’s also helpful to get out in the fresh air and exercise a bit.
Put Off Making Big Decisions
- You might put off important decisions if you can since depression tends to negatively affect thinking.
- If you need to make some important decisions, get input from trusted family or friends who know you well and who have an objective view of your situation.
Take Breaks, Treat Yourself Well
- Let yourself have time for a break during the day. Listen to some favorite music, relax, take a nice bubble bath, get a massage, goof off and do something fun.
- Pace yourself. Don’t expect to much from yourself early on. Improvement takes time.
- Be nice to yourself in your thinking and actions. Treat yourself like you would a very good friend.
- Do some relaxation exercises during the day. Check out the Online Relaxation Exercises on this site.
Help Someone Else
- Helping others, doing volunteer work, joining a charity organization or community action group, etc. can have a positive effect on your mood. It can feel really good to help someone else, and it can take your mind off of some of your own troubles.
Remember that if you work on some of these areas listed above and yet you find your mood worsening, it is recommended that you seek the assistance of a medical or mental health professional.
Hopefully, the tips presented here will prove helpful to you. While you may find it challenging to implement some of these strategies, please remember to be patient with yourself. Feeling better does take time. It is important to take good care of yourself with good nutrition, exercise, sleep, and reasonable amounts of activities, as well as generally being kind and gentle with yourself. Also, be very careful about letting negative thoughts get in your way. Don’t let setbacks keep you from doing things that can help you feel better. You can do it!