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Illustrations by Brittany England

Depression can drain your energy, leaving you feeling empty and fatigued. This can make it difficult to muster the strength or desire to seek treatment.

However, there are small steps you can take to help you feel more in control and improve your overall sense of well-being.

Read on to learn how to incorporate these strategies in a way that makes sense for you.

Depression is common. It affects millions of people, including some in your life. You may not realize they face similar challenges, emotions, and obstacles.

Every day with this disorder is different. It’s important to take your mental health seriously and accept that where you are right now isn’t where you’ll always be.

The key to self-treatment for depression is to be open, accepting, and loving toward yourself and what you’re going through.

Suppressing your feelings and emotions may seem like a strategic way to cope with the negative symptoms of depression. But this technique is ultimately unhealthy.

If you’re having a down day, have it. Let yourself feel the emotions — but don’t stay there.

Consider writing or journaling about what you’re experiencing. Then, when the feelings lift, write about that, too.

Seeing the ebb and flow of depressive symptoms can be instructive for both self-healing and hope.

Today’s mood, emotions, or thoughts don’t belong to tomorrow.

If you were unsuccessful at getting out of bed or accomplishing your goals today, remember that you haven’t lost tomorrow’s opportunity to try again.

Give yourself the grace to accept that while some days will be difficult, some days will also be great. Try to look forward to tomorrow’s fresh start.

Depression can tinge recollections with negative emotions. You may find yourself focusing on the one thing that went wrong instead of the many things that went right.

Try to stop this overgeneralization. Push yourself to recognize the good. If it helps, write down what was happy about the event or day. Then write down what went wrong.

Seeing the weight you’re giving to one thing may help you direct your thoughts away from the whole and to the individual pieces that were positive.

The negative, irrational voice in your head may talk you out of self-help. However, if you can learn to recognize it, you can learn to replace it. Use logic as a weapon. Address each thought individually as it occurs.

If you believe an event won’t be fun or worth your time, say to yourself, “You might be right, but it’ll be better than just sitting here another night.” You may soon see the negative isn’t always realistic.

A lengthy to-do list may be so weighty that you’d rather do nothing. Instead of compiling a long list of tasks, consider setting one or two smaller goals.

For example:

  • Don’t clean the house; take the trash out.
  • Don’t do all the laundry that’s piled up; just sort the piles by color.
  • Don’t clear out your entire email inbox; just address any time-sensitive messages.

When you’ve done a small thing, set your eyes on another small thing, and then another. This way, you have a list of tangible achievements and not an untouched to-do list.

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All goals are worthy of recognition, and all successes are worthy of celebration. When you achieve a goal, do your best to recognize it.

You may not feel like celebrating with a cake and confetti, but recognizing your own successes can be a very powerful weapon against depression’s negative weight.

The memory of a job well-done may be especially powerful against negative talk and overgeneralization.

If depressive symptoms disrupt your daily routine, setting a gentle schedule may help you feel in control. But these plans don’t have to map out an entire day.

Focus on times when you feel the most disorganized or scattered.

Your schedule could focus on the time before work or right before bed. Perhaps it’s only for the weekends. Focus on creating a loose, but structured, routine that can help you keep your daily pace going.

Depression can push you to give into your fatigue. It may feel more powerful than happy emotions.

Try to push back and do something you love — something that’s relaxing, but energizing. It could be playing an instrument, painting, hiking, or biking.

These activities can provide subtle lifts in your mood and energy, which may help you overcome your symptoms.

Research shows music can be a great way to boost your mood and improve symptoms of depression. It may also help you strengthen your reception of positive emotions.

Music may be especially beneficial when performed in group settings, such as a musical ensemble or band.

You can also reap some of the same rewards simply by listening.

Mother Nature can have a powerful influence on depression. Research suggests people who spend time in nature have improved mental health.

Exposure to sunlight may offer some of the same benefits. It can increase your serotonin levels, which can provide a temporary mood boost.

Consider taking a walk at lunch among the trees or spending some time in your local park. Or plan a weekend hike. These activities can help you reconnect with nature and soak in some rays at the same time.

Depression can tempt you to isolate yourself and withdraw from your friends and family, but face-to-face time can help wash away those tendencies.

If you’re unable to spend time together in person, phone calls or video chats can also be helpful.

Try to remind yourself these people care about you. Resist the temptation to feel like you’re a burden. You need the interaction — and they likely do, too.

When you do the same thing day after day, you use the same parts of your brain. You can challenge your neurons and alter your brain chemistry by doing something entirely different.

Research also shows doing new things can improve your overall well-being and strengthen your social relationships.

To reap these benefits, consider trying a new sport, taking a creative class, or learning a new cooking technique.

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Knock out a few birds with one stone — spending time with other people and doing something new — by volunteering and giving your time to someone or something else.

You may be used to receiving help from friends, but reaching out and providing help may actually improve your mental health more.

Bonus: People who volunteer experience physical benefits, too. This includes a reduced risk of hypertension.

When you do something you love, or even when you find a new activity you enjoy, you may be able to boost your mental health more by taking time to be thankful for it.

Research shows gratitude can have lasting positive effects on your overall mental health.

What’s more, writing down your gratitude — including writing notes to others — can be particularly meaningful.

Stress and anxiety can prolong your depression symptoms. Finding relaxation techniques can help you lower stress and invite more joy and balance into your day.

Research suggests activities like meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and even journaling may help you improve your sense of well-being and feel more connected to what’s happening around you.

There’s no magic diet that will treat depression. But what you put into your body can have a real and significant impact on the way you feel.

Eating a diet rich in lean meats, vegetables, and grains may be a great place to start. Try to limit stimulants like caffeine, coffee, and soda, and depressants like alcohol.

Some people also feel better and have more energy when they avoid sugar, preservatives, and processed foods.

If you have the means, consider meeting with a doctor or registered dietitian for guidance.

On days when you feel as if you can’t get out of bed, exercise may seem like the last thing you’d want to do. However, exercise and physical activity can be powerful depression fighters.

Research suggests that, for some people, exercise can be as effective as medication at relieving depression symptoms. It may also help prevent future depressive episodes.

If you’re able to, take a walk around the block. Start with a five-minute walk and work your way up from there.

Sleep disturbances are common with depression. You may not sleep well, or you may sleep too much. Both can make depression symptoms worse.

Aim for eight hours of sleep per night. Try to get into a healthy sleeping routine.

Going to bed and waking up at the same time every day can help you with your daily schedule. Getting the proper amount of sleep may also help you feel more balanced and energized throughout your day.

You may also find it helpful to speak to a professional about what you’re going through. A general practitioner may be able to refer you to a therapist or other specialist.

They can assess your symptoms and help develop a clinical treatment plan tailored to your needs. This may include traditional options, such as medication and therapy, or alternative measures, such as acupuncture.

Finding the right treatment for you may take some time, so be open with your provider about what is and isn’t working. Your provider will work with you to find the best option.