Updated 04 August 2014

Self-help for depression

If you are depressed, there are a number of things you can do to accelerate the healing process. We show you what helps and what to avoid.


Self-help is not a treatment for a depressive illness on its own, but it can contribute towards accelerating recovery and it can help to maintain the benefits of treatment.

 This includes: 

  • Reading books/acquiring information. This helps to provide an understanding of the illness which can be important for both the sufferer and the family;
  • Eating an adequate diet so as to maintain blood sugar levels. Foods, which promote serotonin production, can be increased e.g. bananas, pumpkin pips and Horlicks. Stimulants which increase anxiety should be avoided e.g. coffee, colas and chocolate. Vitamin supplements/tonics may be useful if you are very run down or if life is normally lived in the “fast lane”;
  • Sleeping sufficiently – but not too much;
  • Set a realistic daily routine and stick to it as far as possible;
  • Exercise – begin gradually and slowly increase the intensity and amount of time spent exercising. Exercise promotes the release of the body’s natural opiates (endorphins) which improve mood. Being out in the fresh air helps to put a different perspective on problems;
  • Relaxation – to decrease tension and anxiety and to improve sleep, such as meditation, yoga, aromatherapy and massage;
  • Hobbies/interests – which help to occupy the mind and decrease pre-occupation with negative thoughts;
  • Regular breaks/holidays;
  • Lifestyle changes – expecting less of oneself; maybe lowering standards a little; delegating; asking for assistance; set small, realistic goals;
  • Avoid alcohol/recreation drugs and cigarettes – these often worsen depression and anxiety;
  • Postpone making life-changing decisions such as resigning from your job until you are feeling better;
  • Do not try to cope on your own. Share your feelings with others. Joining a support group is an excellent way of doing this;
  • Don't feel discouraged if you don't feel better immediately. Treatment takes time and some antidepressants take a few weeks before you start to feel better.

(Health24, updated August 2012)

(Picture: Man meditating from Shutterstock)

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