Millions of Americans live with a mental health condition like depression. While there is no substitute for getting professional help for your mental health concerns, there are several lifestyle changes for depression that can support your body and mind during a difficult time.
Lifestyle Changes for Depression or Low Mood
The mind-body connection is strong. Nourishing one aspect of your life can radiate light into other areas. Here are some healthy, balanced things you can do to nurture your whole being and that can make a big difference over time.
1. Reach Out to Other People
When you’re struggling with depression, reaching out can be difficult; oftentimes, it’s the last thing you feel like doing. But it’s important to recognize that we all need help and support—especially when we’re feeling our darkest.
The theme of National Depression Screening Day for 2018 is “Reach Out,” and encourages everyone to find support for themselves and others, because none of us should ever worry alone.
Reaching out could mean speaking with a doctor, a mental health professional, or a friend, family member, or acquaintance in your personal life whom you trust. It could even be an online or in-person support group of other people who are struggling, too.
It may seem like you’re all alone in how you feel, but there are definitely others who understand and will relate. Take a small step towards spending more time with loving, supportive, positive people.
2. Find Movement that Feels Good
Exercise is powerful for mental health and mood. According to Harvard Health, exercise may even work as well as antidepressants for some people.
When you exercise, here’s what happens:
- Your body releases endorphins, which are “feel good” chemicals.
- It also releases neurotrophics, proteins that help nerve cells grow and make new connections to improve brain function.
- As a result, you can feel better simply by exercising more—because it benefits your brain as well as your body!
- Exercise can also help reduce stress, improve sleep, and boost self-esteem—all influential factors in depression.
Of course, being depressed often makes it difficult to even get started with physical exercise. So, start small—even just 5-10 minutes per day—and focus on movement you can enjoy.
Remember this is one of the long-term lifestyle changes for depression, so the key is finding something you can do daily and sustain or increase over time.
3. Choose Foods with Mood Benefits
Although we often call them “comfort foods,” refined carbohydrates, simple sugars, and foods high in unhealthy fats can exacerbate a low mood more than help it. Healthy whole food choices on the other hand—even small ones—are beneficial lifestyle changes for depression.
Healthy mood foods include:
- Fatty acids, especially omega 3s, found in nuts and seeds, fatty fish, olive oil, and leafy green and colorful vegetables. Fats play a key structural role in your brain; a fourth of your brain fat is made of the essential fatty acid DHA.
- Proteins from foods like meats, dairy products, beans and legumes, and whole grains. Proteins are broken down into amino acids, which make up the neurotransmitters (messengers) of your brain.
- Complex carbohydrates like whole grains, beans and legumes, fruits, and vegetables. Carbohydrates from whole foods provide glucose, your brain’s main energy source, stimulate production of “feel good” neurotransmitters, and help your body more effectively use amino acids.
These foods also provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber that support a healthy mood.
4. Practice Calmness and Stillness
Mindfulness practices like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can help relieve anxiety that many people experience along with depression. Being more mindful can also help improve sleep, which is hard for many of us.
Plus, practicing mindfulness can better connect you with your own mind and body, “tuning” you into possible underlying reasons for low mood or depression.
5. Give Yourself Time for Things You Love
We all feel stress sometimes; it’s a normal part of life. But intense, long-term stress is not healthy and can really take a toll, especially for someone who is depressed.
Doing little things to help reduce stress and making time for play is important. Try to do something today you normally enjoy, just because you like it, such as:
- Reading a book
- Watching your favorite TV show or movie
- Working on a hobby
- Listening to music
- Talking with a friend
- Going for a walk in nature
The Bottom Line
Depression can be a very serious and complex disorder, so definitely reach out for help when you need it. At the same time, making healthy lifestyle changes for depression can also support your body and mind when you’re struggling.
Pick one thing above to try. Start small, and give yourself lots of patience and compassion as you find what works best. You might be surprised just how much simple healthy changes can make a difference now and over time.