When a person experiences depression, key ingredients of a healthy lifestyle can suffer—diet, physical activity levels and sleep. By the same token, maintaining adequate nutrition, regular physical activity and sticking to a proper sleep schedule can help relieve tension and stress and leave a person less vulnerable to depression and mood changes. Here are some self-care activities that may help to relieve symptoms of depression, prevent depression from recurring, and/or help other treatments work most effectively:
Stick to a regular sleep schedule
- Establish a regular, consistent time for sleeping and waking.
- Do something relaxing before sleep like reading (in a different room) or taking a warm bath.
- Don’t use the bedroom for non-sleep activities (e.g., watching TV or eating in bed).
- Avoid strenuous exercise, caffeine, alcohol or tobacco a few hours before bedtime.
- Avoid naps during the day. Get outdoors for some activity (e.g., a short walk) to refresh.
- Talk to a health care provider about using a sleep medication.
- Choose activities that are enjoyable.
- Plan activities for the times when they can be performed consistently.
- Be active on a regular basis. Aim for 10 minutes of continuous activity, three times a week, as a start. As fitness increases, the duration and intensity of activity can be increased.
- Take advantage of opportunities to be more active by making small changes each day (e.g., take stairs instead of an elevator, exit a bus one stop earlier than a destination and walk).
Keep up with proper nutrition
- Meals should be eaten at regular times (breakfast, lunch, dinner with a mid-morning and a mid-afternoon snack).
- Include a variety of healthy foods at mealtimes (e.g., whole grains, dark green vegetables, brightly coloured fruits, lean proteins, milk products). Avoid food with added fats, sugar and salt.
- Drink alcohol and caffeine in moderation.
- Drink several glasses of water each day (5-8 is a good goal).
It is always easier to make positive lifestyle changes with the support of others. If you are comfortable talking about goals to take better care of yourself and manage your depression, consider involving family and friends as part of your ‘get-better’ plan. For example, exercise with a friend, make healthy recipes for the entire family at mealtimes and participate in group activities.
Maintaining gains and preventing setbacks
Depression sometimes returns months or years after it first goes away. This is called relapse. The good news is that planning ahead for a relapse may help to reduce the severity of a future depression and make recovery that much faster. Here are some tips that may help.
- Continue with self-care. Anything that helps reduce depression (as long as it is a healthy choice) should be continued on a regular basis. This might mean reading, going for short walks, going to bed at regular times, talking with friends, or attending counselling sessions and doing counselling homework.
- Follow health care provider advice. As depression gets better, or when symptoms are no longer a problem, it can be tempting to stop medication or counselling. But sudden stops in treatment can lead to relapse (or withdrawal symptoms in the case of medication). Therefore, changes to a treatment plan should only be made in consultation with a health care provider.
- Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. These substances can slow or prevent full recovery and they can become problems if relied upon for symptom relief.
- Take part in social activities. Staying connected to others (e.g., getting together to share activities, socializing with friends) can be a way to help prevent depression from returning.
- Take it slow. If roles and responsibilities have been reduced, return to them in a gradual, step-by-step fashion rather than all at once.
- Create a “Mood 911” plan. Develop a list of warning signs that indicate depression might be on the rise again and have a plan ready to deal with these signs early on. For example, if certain workplace situations trigger depression, create a plan of action for handling them before they are encountered, and put that plan into place when the troublesome situation arises.
- Arrange for continued support. Ongoing support can help keep depression in check for a lifetime. Self-help groups organized by mental health advocacy associations are a great resource for information, counselling and support. Self-help workbooks and websites (from a trusted source such as a national mental health association) can provide practical advice.
With the right help, the right information and the right support, depression can be controlled and people with depression can maintain a productive and rewarding life. If depression symptoms persist, a health care provider should be consulted.