How To Cope With Depression And Get Help

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated April 17, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Depression is a serious mental health condition characterized by low mood, fatigue, and loss of interest.

In addition to the emotional and physical complications depression can present, its symptoms can make it difficult to find the motivation to reach out for help and develop coping strategies. Despite these challenging effects, however, depression is treatable—in fact, an estimated 80-90% of individuals living with a depressive disorder respond favorably to treatment.

If you’re living with this mental health concern, there are several ways you can address depressve symptoms, both through professional help and on your own. Below, we’re covering methods of managing depression, including first-line treatment options and at-home coping strategies.  

An overview of depression

Depression is a mental health condition that can cause feelings of sadness, a lack of energy, physical pain, tiredness, low motivation, and a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. Not used as a formal diagnosis itself, the term depression actually comprises several different depressive disorders, including major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder, and postpartum depression. 

Though there is no unified theory as to the cause of depression, several factors are thought to contribute to its development, including:

  • Brain chemistry – Imbalances in certain neurotransmitters—including dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine—have been linked to depression.
  • Stressful life events – The death of a loved one, trauma, prolonged isolation, separation/divorce, and other significant changes can lead to depression.
  • Genetics – While experts are still unsure of the role genetics plays, studies have shown that those who have a relative with a depressive disorder are more likely to develop depression as well.
  • Medications – The side effects of certain drugs can cause or exacerbate depressive symptoms. For example, medications that are used to treat physical health concerns like acne and hepatitis C have been linked to depressive symptoms. 
  • Medical conditions – People with chronic pain and prolonged illness such as cancer or diabetes may experience depression.
  • Mental disorders – Conditions like anxiety and substance use disorder (formerly referred to as substance abuse disorder are commonly comorbid with depression

Depressive disorders are thought to be increasing in prevalence among adults and young people. Approximately one in ten Americans live with depression, making it one of the most common forms of mental illness in the US. Because of the pervasive nature of this mental health challenge, extensive research has been conducted to examine the efficacy of various forms of treatment—the results of which, as we’ll discuss below, suggest that there are numerous ways of improving depressive symptoms. 

Treatment for depression

The first-line treatment for depression is typically a combination of medication and psychotherapy, though the exact approach an individual follows usually depends on the depressive symptoms they’re experiencing, their medical history, and certain lifestyle factors. If you think you may be living with depression, consider talking to a mental health or medical provider. A healthcare professional can determine whether further screening, a diagnosis, and treatment are necessary. 

There are several types of medication that can alleviate the symptoms of depression. Some of the most common are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), tricyclic antidepressants, and monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs). Always consult with a healthcare professional prior to starting or stopping any medication. 

Psychotherapy can provide individuals with emotional support, help them identify the sources of their symptoms, and give them the opportunity to develop personalized coping strategies. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a modality that is considered particularly effective when addressing depressive disorders. CBT helps individuals identify and replace unhelpful thought patterns that may be underlying their symptoms. 

Coping strategies for depression

In addition to conventional treatment methods, there are numerous proven techniques for reducing depressive symptoms on one’s own time. The following are several coping strategies you can incorporate into your daily life.   

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You deserve support as you navigate depression

Nurture your support system

Isolation and loneliness are common signs of depression for many. While it may be difficult at first, staying in touch with others can be vital to your mental health given the proven connection between social support and emotional well-being. If you need to, start out small with a quick outing, such as going to a movie with a family member or meeting a friend for a cup of coffee. Even a phone conversation can be a good way to connect. 

Your support system can be an important source of care, motivation, and enjoyment. Your friends, family members, a mental health professional, and even colleagues can listen to you, provide encouragement, and help you with more tangible challenges, such as keeping up with everyday tasks. If you’d like to add to your support system, consider joining a support group, where you can connect with people who are living with similar challenges. 

Practice self-care

Nurturing your body and mind is a way of providing yourself with compassion, reminding yourself that you’re worthy of love, and reducing symptoms of depression. While self-care can consist of many of the strategies on this list—exercising, eating healthful foods, resting—it can also include almost anything that nourishes you. Activities like reading literature, painting, and taking a warm bath have all been shown to decrease depressive symptoms. Consider developing a self-care routine so that you can incorporate several different activities into your daily life. 

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Eat a balanced diet

Because of the mind-body connection, our physical health is closely tied to our mental health. One way you can benefit from that correlation is by giving your body an array of nutrients. According to one study, “nutrition can play a key role in the onset as well as severity and duration of depression”. Researchers in the study discuss the association between depression and deficiencies in nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and certain vitamins and minerals. 

To ensure you’re consuming enough of these nutrients, many experts suggest following a nutritional plan similar to the Mediterranean diet, which is based around fish, vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, and healthy fats. It can also help to limit the consumption of processed foods, red meat, and sugar. Cooking healthful meals can also be a fun, creative activity that is thought to have significant mental health benefits. 

Exercise as part of your mental health care plan

There is a large body of evidence suggesting that physical activity can reduce symptoms of depression. Exercise can produce mood-boosting endorphins and take your mind off the emotional challenges of a depressive disorder. It can also help you address physical health concerns that may be contributing to depression. If you’re looking to get more exercise, consider participating in yoga classes, starting an at-home workout routine, or going for regular walks. Or you can engage in physical activities you already enjoy—such as hiking, swimming, or playing an organized sport—which may have further benefits for your mental health. 

Spend time outdoors

There is evidence that simply being outside can help alleviate depression; for example, researchers have found that exposure to nature and sunlight can improve depressive symptoms. Walking in a park or other green space is a good way to obtain the benefits of the outdoors and physical activity, and it may be a gentle place to begin exercising if you’re finding it difficult to become motivated.

Get plenty of sleep

Sleep and depression are thought to have a bidirectional relationship, meaning sleep disruptions can worsen depression, and depressive symptoms can exacerbate sleep challenges. As such, focusing on getting a good night’s rest may help you better manage depression.  

You can practice healthy sleep hygiene by going to bed and waking up at similar times each day. To help you do this, consider creating a nighttime routine that allows you to wind down and signals to your body that it’s time for bed. This may include drinking herbal tea, meditating, journaling, and deep breathing exercises. You may also want to avoid your phone for an hour before bed and ensure your room is dark, cool, and quiet. 

Recognize negative thoughts

Recurring unhelpful thoughts can cause or worsen symptoms of depression. If you frequently ruminate, learning to recognize and replace maladaptive thoughts can be a useful skill. For example, you may start to notice that negative beliefs about your relationships are leading to feelings of loneliness and other symptoms of depression. To address this thought pattern, you might look for evidence that it isn’t true—you may have a successful romantic partnership, friends who frequently reach out to you, or even coworkers with whom you’re close. 

If you’d like guidance as you address rumination, a mental health professional can help you identify negative thoughts and develop different techniques for replacing or reframing them. 

How online depression therapy can help with mental health symptoms

Although some people might be tempted to avoid online therapy, numerous peer-reviewed studies point there is a growing body of evidence pointing to the efficacy of online therapy for treating depressive disorders. In a study published in the journal Internet Interventions, researchers found that online therapy led to significant decreases in symptoms of depression, results which were sustained for a year following treatment. The study also mentions the ability of online therapy to bridge the treatment gap that often exists in mental health care. 

Online sessions can help you learn more about depression, address its sources, and develop coping strategies that will work best for you. Utilizing an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can have weekly sessions with your own therapist remotely, which can be helpful if depression is making it hard to leave home. Perhaps the best online therapy platforms are those that facilitate in-app messaging, which allows you to contact your therapist in between sessions. All therapists at BetterHelp are licensed professional counselors, psychologists, or licensed clinical social workers with at least three years of experience.

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You deserve support as you navigate depression

Takeaway

Finding solutions for addressing a depressive disorder can make a significant difference in an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being. In addition to traditional forms of treatment provided by healthcare professionals, there are several techniques you can utilize on your own if you’re living with depression. If you’re seeking the support and guidance of a professional as you navigate mental health-related challenges, consider reaching out to a licensed therapist online. You deserve comprehensive care as you work to nurture mental wellness and live a happy, fulfilling life.
Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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