Lifestyle Changes That Can Help You Manage Depression

Medically reviewed by Katrice Hollins, LCSW, LICSW
Updated April 18, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Depression is a serious mental health disorder that affects almost 300 million people around the world. For the past several years, public awareness about the importance of mental health has been increasing. In fact, several movies about depression attempt to explain more about the condition. Many common mental and physical symptoms of depression—lack of energy, low mood, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, etc.—can impact daily life in a significant way. When this happens, it can help to utilize coping strategies for dealing with depression that are both available and backed by science.

While a combination of some type of therapy—such as psychodynamic therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, or cognitive behavioral therapy and medication is typically the first-line treatment for depression, making certain alterations to your daily routine can produce noticeable benefits. For example, engaging in regular exercise, spending time with supportive family members, and practicing self-care tips can all contribute to relieving depression symptoms and improving your mental well-being. Below, we’re going to discuss common lifestyle changes that you can implement in order to alleviate symptoms of depression and manage stress more effectively.

You can manage depression with the right tools and support

Lifestyle changes for managing depression

There are many reasons people focus on lifestyle changes when treating depression. Some adults aren't comfortable taking medication and would rather utilize a natural approach. Others may simply want to supplement medication and their preferred type of psychotherapy with methods that they can practice at home or when they aren't in family therapy sessions. Some people live with a mild form of depression that may require less thorough treatment. If you experience depression, the following lifestyle changes might be helpful for you.

The best methods for addressing depression are often different from individual to individual; you might find that some of the following tips work better than others. For example, engaging in small tasks or participating in positive events at a local park may help boost your mood. Take note of what works for you and consider creating a daily routine that incorporates several different methods for coping with fatigue, feeling exhausted, and improving energy levels.

Eat a balanced diet

Providing your body and brain with important nutrients can help give you additional energy and manage your mood. There is a proven link between Western diets—which often feature processed foods that are heavy in refined sugar and fat—and depression. Consider eating a balanced diet that is based around fresh vegetables and fruits, lean meats like fish or chicken, whole grains, beans, and nuts. Meal prepping is an effective way of incorporating a healthy diet into your life. For example, batching nutrient-rich meals ahead of time may make it easier to eat a balanced diet throughout the week, cope with stress, and make you feel good. If you find that you’re struggling to eat a healthy amount food and are exhibiting symptoms of an eating disorder such as binge eating disorder or bulimia, you may need to get in touch with a health professional as well as a therapist well-versed in this comorbidity.


Because we are hardwired to desire social interaction with others, loneliness can impact our emotional well-being. If you notice that you’ve been isolated, reaching out to family, friends, or a mental health professional can help you feel more connected and may alleviate depression symptoms. Consider volunteering, joining clubs, picking up a new interest or hobby, or simply trying to reconnect with old friends. You could also look for a local depression support group, which will put you in contact with people who are experiencing similar challenges.

Practice self-care

Providing yourself with compassion and tending to your own needs is important, especially when dealing with severe depression or trying to not worsen depression. If you experience depression, a self-care routine is your opportunity to relax and do things that enrich your life. Self-care can include meditation, journaling, reading, cooking, taking a bath, or almost anything else that promotes mental, emotional, and physical wellness. Consider keeping a habit tracker so that you can remember to practice self-care regularly and maintain control over your well-being, reducing the risk of negative outcomes.

Limit alcohol consumption

There is a proven bidirectional relationship between alcohol use and depression. This means that alcohol consumption can lead to symptoms of depression and vice versa. Many people use alcohol as a way of coping with difficult-to-process emotions produced by depression, but this can make symptoms worse. If you’re living with depression, consider limiting your alcohol intake or abstaining altogether. A 2014 study found that the intensity of consumption was more of a factor in exacerbating symptoms of depression than the frequency of consumption. So, avoiding binge drinking may be particularly important. 

Get plenty of sleep

A good night spent sleeping can boost your energy, immune system, and overall mood while providing help for depression. Depression can impact the quality of the sleep we experience, though, which may create a compounding effect. If you’re experiencing suboptimal sleep quality, consider creating a nighttime routine that helps you wind down. This can include reading, tending to personal hygiene, making herbal tea, and doing other things to prepare yourself for sleep. It can also be important to avoid your phone for an hour before bedtime as its blue light can affect your ability to fall asleep.  


Science points to physical activity as a healthy way of alleviating symptoms of depression. When you’re active, your brain produces endorphins that can boost your mood. These positive outcomes can be experienced after just five minutes of exercise. Exercise has also been shown to have more long-term positive effects when it comes to depression. In a systematic review, one study, researchers found that implementing an aerobic fitness regimen for several months could produce benefits for up to a year when it came to depressive symptoms. Additionally, exercise can help address physical health concerns that may contribute to depression.

Almost anything that increases your heart rate can help—running, swimming, kickboxing, yoga, lifting weights, and so on. Consider creating a routine that will allow you to get regular physical activity. If you find that you have trouble getting motivated, it can help to have an exercise partner who can keep you accountable and help you stay consistent. 


Get into nature

Several studies have demonstrated that getting into nature can help alleviate symptoms of depression. One found that individuals who walked in nature for an hour and a half showed decreased signs of depression compared to participants who walked through a traffic-dense urban area. 

These studies have found that any natural environment, whether it is a city park, a community garden, a forest, or a tree in a backyard, can help people to relax and feel happier. So, if you live in a city, you can still reap the benefits of nature. If you can, though, try to get away from populated areas intermittently by visiting forests, beaches, or state parks.

Additionally, if you are living with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), you might be lacking in your exposure to the sun, which helps our bodies to process and utilize vitamin D. Getting outside and soaking up the sun for at least 30 minutes a day has been shown to alleviate symptoms of mild depression, especially in winter months.

Practice mindfulness 

Mindfulness—the process of fostering a sense of awareness and presence—has been shown by many researchers to calm the mind and provide mental health benefits to people who are living with depression. Mindfulness is meant to bring your attention to your present thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Importantly, the act requires you to accept the present and not pass judgment on your thoughts or emotions. This is helpful for breaking negative cyclical thought patterns you might have while experiencing depression. 

To practice mindfulness, sit or lie down in a relaxing position while taking deep breaths. Bring your attention to what’s going on internally and what you perceive around you. Identify your feelings (hunger, frustration, pain, happiness, etc.) and recognize your thoughts as they enter your head without judging them. Take note of how things look, smell, and feel. Slowing down and remaining present can help you relax and avoid ruminating on intrusive thoughts. 


Smiling has been shown to improve mood. This idea is not new—in fact, in 1872, Charles Darwin wrote, "The free expression by outward signs of an emotion intensifies it." However, what has been more recently discovered is that even faking a smile can improve mood. One study found that participants who forced themselves to smile by biting on a pen (use their teeth, not their lips) experienced greater confidence and improvement in mood.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
You can manage depression with the right tools and support

Other tips for making yourself smile and laugh include watching a funny movie, listening to a comedy podcast, or searching online for funny websites. Although this may not work for you always, sometimes finding the humor in things can help. 

How therapy can help

A growing number of studies point to online therapy as an effective way of addressing symptoms of depression that may impact our ability to live a healthy life. In a long-term study of over 1,000 clinical patients who sought treatment for depression, researchers found that online cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) significantly improved symptoms of depression. Cognitive behavior therapy aims to help individuals reframe negative thought patterns that may lead to maladaptive behaviors or emotions, such as those often associated with a depressive disorder. 

Online therapy can connect you with valuable support and helpful resources as you work through symptoms of depression. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you’ll have the ability to chat with a licensed therapist from the comfort of home, through video call, voice call, or in-app messaging. You can discuss types of depression and treatments for depression, and your therapist may provide resources that may help reinforce certain concepts and keep you consistent as you manage symptoms of depression in between sessions. 


In addition to producing emotional, mental, and physical symptoms, depression can make it hard to care for yourself. The above tips may help you maintain a healthy lifestyle while also decreasing symptoms of depression. If you’d like support and advice as you work to manage a depressive disorder or another mental health-related challenge, know that help is available. Consider connecting with a licensed therapist who can help you manage depression, provide guidance on suicide prevention, and lead you down the path to improved mental health. Take the first step toward relief from depression symptoms and reach out to BetterHelp today

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or urges, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text 988 to talk to someone over SMS. Support is available 24/7.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone
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