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20 Lifestyle Changes to Overcome Depression

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Before you reach for a medicine bottle try these 20 lifestyle changes to free yourself from the blues.

Although it is entirely natural to feel down at times in life, it if it a persistent theme in yours, you might want to consider that you might be suffering from depression. Depression can range in severity from mild to severe. It can also be something that comes and goes or a state of mind that can become chronic. The good news is that there are a number of ways to tackle depression, and they don’t involve major life changes, just small ones you can do every day to help bring your smile back.

What is depression?

Depressive Episodes US Adults Study

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 16.2 million people in the United States have had a minimum of one depressive episode. Depression is defined as a mental disorder that interferes with your ability to cope and function as you once did. It can lead to a loss of interest in things you used to love, eating and sleeping problems, and, in severe instances, thoughts of suicide and death.  But there are those who live with depression and seemingly function just fine.

Although chemical changes in the brain often cause depression, there are ways to overcome it. These lifestyle changes will help to break the cycle that might be keeping you stuck.

1. Stop beating yourself up.

Healthy self-appraisal can be a good thing to help you be the best you, you can be. But needlessly striving for perfection and discounting all your accomplishments can lead to a reduced quality of life and having a hard time with relationships.

Be realistic about how you view yourself; no one is perfect, nor is perfect the ideal. Give yourself the same leeway you give to others, and you will find a weight lifted. Sometimes we are our own worst enemy, so find a way to be a friend to yourself to reduce depressive feelings.

Woman Running

2. Do something athletic for a minimum of 20 minutes per day.

Exercise is one of the best ways to chase away depression. When you exercise,  natural endorphins are produced in your body that gives you a “euphoric” feeling. According to studies done at Harvard Medical School, exercise is as effective as drugs in some cases. “For some people, it works as well as antidepressants…” maintains Dr. Michael Craig Miller, an assistant professor of psychiatry.

When you exercise, your body releases proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors. They cause your cells to grow and make neural connections that can help your brain, to help you, feel better. Exercise can also help to improve your overall health, protect against diabetes and heart disease, and lower your blood pressure, all of which will lead to a healthier you.

3. Lose those people who are dragging you down

Negativity breeds negativity. The saying “misery loves company” might be true, but it also might be the thing that is keeping you miserable. Try to surround yourself with people who are positive and happy.

According to studies, depression can be contagious. When researchers assessed people who were entering college before they were paired with a roommate, what they found was that when a student was paired with someone who was more negative thinking, they often took on the negative style of their roommate. So try to limit your time with the people in your life who bring you down and seek out those who are more positive thinking, it just might rub off on you!

4. Eat healthier by avoiding simple carbohydrates and sugar

Healthy Fruits & Vegetables

Researchers in London conducted a study to find out how carbohydrates affect your risk of depression. After looking into the diets of people in the study, they found that those who consumed sweetened desserts, processed and fried foods, and processed meats were much more likely to be diagnosed with depression over those who ate fresh vegetables and whole foods.

There is also a link between sugar and inflammation, and inflammation is linked to depression. Both depression and inflammation have the symptoms of changes in sleep, heightened sensitivity to pain and a loss of appetite. So if you have an underlying inflammation issue due to your diet, it will mimic depression.

Insulin has also been indicated to treat depression.One study asked people who had both insulin resistance and depression to take diabetes medication for 12 weeks. The participants showed a marked improvement in their mood, which might mean that insulin levels have a huge bearing on feelings of depression. So since you are what you eat, eat things that will make you happier!

5. Listen only to upbeat music that inspires you

It has been shown that music is a way to regulate mood, which is why music therapy is a great way to overcome depression and to lift your spirits. When researchers surveyed more than 2,400 participants in the UK and Finland, what they found was that sad music can have a profound effect on someone’s mood.

And a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology concluded that when people listened to uplifting music, their mood improved significantly in just two weeks. According to the lead researcher, Yuna Ferguson, listening to uplifting music also led to higher income, more physical health, and great satisfaction in relationships. So make a point to listen only to things that make your heart sing, not songs that squash your spirit.

6. Only talk positively

Not only does hanging out with positive people help your state of mind, talking positively has the same effect. Self-talk is what we tell ourselves. If you continue to focus on and think about all the anxiety-provoking and negative things in your life, that will breed more negativity and increase your feelings of depression.

One study that examined women found that those who were more optimistic in their talk and thought the process had a decreased risk of stroke, heart disease, cancer, infection, and respiratory disease. And numerous studies have shown how positive thinking helps people suffering from depression feel more optimistic and less depressed.

7. Don’t Stay in Bed

Although there are times when you just don’t want to face the world, staying in bed is never the answer. Your feelings of depression will only become greater if you start to avoid those things in life that help you to find meaning.

Isolating yourself and locking out the world will only make your feelings of hopelessness worse. To motivate yourself to get going every day, make a morning routine that has a purpose. If you have a morning routine to get you up and out, there won’t be the temptation to stay put and in bed.

Standing Outside In Sunshine

8. Get Some Sunshine and Vitamin D

There is a connection between depression and vitamin D, which you get primarily from the sun. Seasonal Affective Disorder is most common during the winter months and can lead to bouts of depression, but not getting enough Vitamin D from the sun or other sources can also lead to depression.

Researchers studied 185 female students ages 18-25. The participants had their vitamin D levels measured via blood tests, and they all were asked to fill out a depression symptom survey over the course of five weeks.  The lower the participant’s vitamin D levels were the more symptoms of depression they experienced. So not only is it important to get out in the sunshine, if you aren’t getting enough vitamin D, supplement, especially during the winter months.

9. Immerse Yourself in Writing a Journal or Creative Writing

Although creative writing can’t cure feelings of depression, it can be used as a tool to reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. Creative writing is a way to make up a story and allow it to come to life.

Imagination allows you to escape the feelings you are having when you are depressed and to focus on more positive things in your life. Research has also shown that it can help to lower your blood pressure and reduce pain. Because you are focusing on something other than your true feelings, it might help to get through the rough days when you are feeling low.

10. Get More Sleep

Sleep deprivation is highly linked to depression. Sleep is required for the restoration of the brain and the body. Without it, a person is prone to increased tension, irritability, and vigilance.

Studies show that people who have insomnia are ten times more likely to have clinical depression and 17 times more likely to experience anxiety. One study in particular of 19,000 participants who had obstructive sleep apnea revealed that they were at five times greater risk of suffering from depression. It isn’t just the amount of sleep, but the quality of it as well. So if you aren’t getting the sleep necessary, make it a priority going forward.

11. Cut Back on Vices

Often depression is linked to substance abuse like alcohol or drugs. The National Bureau of Economic Research reports that people who have a predisposing mental condition consume 69% of the national consumption of alcohol and 84% of the nation’s cocaine.

Although it might seem like your vices are numbing you from emotional pain, they are only a band-aid that is most likely making your depression worse. Since alcohol is a depressant, go for a walk instead of reaching for a cocktail. If you do, you will see almost an instantaneous change in your mood.

Hanging Out With Friends

12. Make Contact with at Least One Person a Day

Results from a study done at Sheffield Hallam University in 2018 concluded that people who are the highest risk of depression tend to feel isolated and lonely. When you don’t interact with people, you can begin to turn your attention inward and assume that your lack of interaction stems from some internal flaw that is keeping them away. That perpetuates negative self-evaluation, that can lead to depression.

Commit to connecting with at least one person every day on a personal level. When you reach out to other people in your life, it is a lot less isolating and lonely. And you will quickly see that you have a lot of people in your life who care a great deal for you.

13. Let Go of Grudges

When you hold a grudge, you hold onto negative feelings. By forgiving, you let go of bad experiences and are free to focus on more healthy things. Forgiveness has been shown to:

  • Make healthier relationships with others
  • Improve mental health
  • Decrease anxiety, hostility, and stress
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lessen symptoms of depression
  • Increase your immune system
  • Improve heart health
  • Improve self-esteem

If you hold onto anger, it only hurts you. And after a while, that resentment can turn into depression. So regardless of who wronged you, don’t keep wronging yourself by holding onto it. Let it go, and move on.

Meditation & Yoga

14. Use the practice of mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that uses cognitive therapy to redirect negative thinking and negative self-talk. As author Daniel Goleman, author and psychologist explains “Instead of getting sucked into our emotions or our thoughts, which is what happens when we’re depressed or anxious, we see them as those thoughts again, or those feelings again and that disempowers them”.

A review of nine research trials showed that mindfulness helps to reduce a patient’s relapse into clinical depression for 60 weeks when compared to those patients who did not practice mindfulness.

15. Smile

Smiling can trick you into thinking that you are happy and it can help to boost your overall health. When you smile, the muscles in your face trigger powerful chemicals that react in the brain and can help to lift your mood. A study done at the University of Cardiff in Wales found that participants who could not frown due to Botox injections were happier on average than those who could. Smiling daily can help to improve your overall outlook on life and lead to a happier and healthier you.

16. Find a Greater Power or Higher Purpose

Religious beliefs are associated with better mental wellness. A national study of veteran’s health done in 2017 showed that those who were religious-spiritual were at lower risk of developing mental illnesses like PTSD, major depressive disorder, alcohol use, and suicidal thinking.

The Journal of Nervous Disease released epidemiological data from the United States Midlife Development Survey. The data was collected at three different eras in history, 1994-95, 2004-6 and 2013-14, and what they found was that participants who reported high levels of spirituality and religion had a lower incidence of depression.

Sometimes believing that there is someone else in charge guiding the way, helps us to feel less isolated, alone and depressed. So make it a point to develop your individual faith, whatever that might look like.

17. Clarity Through Pro & Con List

Sometimes depression can come from feeling out of control and uncertain about your future. A pro and con list is a perfect way to regain some of the power you have and to make more healthy and productive decisions about your future. If you are struggling with depression due to being overwhelmed by life, make a list of pros and cons to solve the hardest decisions, and get things back into the realm of doable.

18. Make Specific Goals to Better Yourself

A study done in 2013 showed that people who have more global or generalized goals tend to be more depressed. Goal setting is a productive way to decrease anxiety because it gives you a sense of accomplishment.

Setting specific goals and then realizing them triggers chemicals in the brain that makes you feel happy, motivated, and they increase self-esteem. Every day make one particular, and attainable goal to help reduce symptoms of depression.

19. Force yourself to do things that might be uncomfortable

It is easier sometimes to just carry on the status quo. But if you find that you are unhappy most of the time, then it is time to make a change.

To get yourself out of a slump, you have to push yourself to do things that might be slightly uncomfortable like going to social engagements, getting out of bed when you don’t feel like it, and calling people out of the blue. The benefits that you gain from doing things that engage you with those around you are numerous and are just what the doctor ordered to help to reduce your depressive feelings.

Woman Relaxing By The Pool

20. Take Some Time Off

If you are spending too much time doing things that you have to instead of things that you find enjoyment in, it is difficult not to become depressed. If you want to find some happiness, you have to prioritize what it is that you find value in.

Take some time off of work and foster relationships, go on a vacation, or just do something for you. If you never spend time making you feel good, then that could lead to some miserable feelings down the road. Just like sleep rejuvenates the body, a vacation rejuvenates the soul and may help to chase away the blues.

Depression can be a hard thing to break out of. If you are struggling with symptoms of depression, these 20 lifestyle habits can help to turn things around, make you feel more fulfilled, and help you to find the smile you once had.

If the depression you feel is a little more than just being down, it might be necessary to talk with a counselor to get the professional help you need to get past the emotional pain you are experiencing.