10 Research-Backed Methods To Help Manage Depression

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated August 16, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Living with depression, such as major depressive disorder or persistent depressive disorder, may feel challenging, leading to difficulty accomplishing daily tasks like getting out of bed or bathing. However, there are healthy ways to manage depressive symptoms.

Numerous research studies, including those conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health, have revealed that self-interventions, such as exercise, nutrition, emotional support from family members, and other healthy behaviors, can benefit people with depression and related mental disorders.

Healing From Depression Is Possible With Support

1. Practice Meditation 

Meditation, or mindfulness meditation, is a Buddhist practice that is often used in medical practice to help manage symptoms of anxiety and depression. Research has shown that meditation therapeutically engages the relaxation response, reduces distress signals to the brain, and can relieve symptoms of a mood disorder while generating a general sense of well-being.

To try meditating, consider finding a quiet place where you feel comfortable, such as your room, study, or patio. Do your best to minimize external sounds to lessen distractions. Then focus on taking deep breaths and engaging in progressive muscle relaxation. It can be natural for your mind to wander, but focusing on your breath may help bring you back to the present moment.

Being connected to your breath and grounded in your body resets your central nervous system, which may help slow down racing thoughts and decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression in people with depression.

2. Eat Nutritious Foods 

Researchers suggest that depression and related disorders may be effectively managed with the help of proper nutrition. According to this study that looks at nutritional therapy for mental disorders, nutrient deficiency can play a role in some mental conditions, such as depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

For example, foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, selenium, and tryptophan contain essential nutrients that may help relieve depression symptoms.

Some foods that may benefit brain health and address mental health concerns include:

  • Nuts
  • Algae oil
  • Eggs
  • Green, leafy vegetables, such as broccoli or spinach
  • Legumes
  • Whole grains
  • Walnuts
  • Salmon
  • Cod
  • Avocados
  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Apples

Incorporating the foods mentioned above into your diet can help prevent nutrient deficiency and may boost your mental health, supporting alternative treatments for mental illness.

3. Get Nature And Sunlight Exposure 

Spending time outdoors in fresh air and sunshine can benefit your physical and mental well-being, particularly for those with depressive disorders. Experiencing nature first-hand may cause you to shift your focus to the beautiful scenery surrounding you and the life-giving sunlight. According to an article published in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, decreased exposure to sunlight increases the risk of developing anxiety and mood disorders, including major depression and moderate depression.

On the other hand, studies have found that people living in sunnier environments tend to be happier (on average) than people living in darker and cloudier environments. This statistic may be due to a deficiency of the "sunshine vitamin" or vitamin D. Furthermore, sunlight triggers the production of the mood-lifting chemical serotonin in the brain through the retina of the eyes and the skin.

On dark cloudy days, consider using a lamp that mimics sunlight to help minimize depression symptoms or engaging in talk therapy to cope with the lack of natural light.

4. Develop A Positive Support Network

According to a study conducted by the University College Dublin (funded by the Health Research Board), making an effort to socialize in a supportive environment may significantly reduce the symptoms of depression, including severe depression and bipolar disorder.

Invite a friend or colleague with positive characteristics out for coffee, or consider talking with them via video conferencing if they are far away. Consider also working to develop healthy boundaries with those in your life who tend to criticize or are generally negative. Engaging in interpersonal therapy or joining support groups can also help you build a strong network to better manage your mental health concerns.

iStock/Edwin Tan

5. Exercise

A recent study published by JAMA Psychiatry revealed that a positive change in physical activity could benefit your mental well-being and reduce your risk for depression, including premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Exercise and physical activity may release the mood-lifting chemicals norepinephrine and serotonin in the body to help decrease depressive symptoms.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that mediates happiness, satisfaction, and optimism. People experiencing depression have been found to have lower levels of serotonin. The neurotransmitter norepinephrine is stimulated in the brain when the body engages in physical exercise. This neurotransmitter helps relieve the symptoms of depression by elevating mood and providing a boost in energy. Consult your primary care doctor before starting an exercise program to ensure it's suitable for your needs.

6. Spend Time Volunteering 

A four-year study conducted by Carnegie Mellon University stated that adults over 50 years of age who volunteered 200 hours of their time found that volunteering significantly impacted their mental health. Volunteering helped to enhance their well-being while making them less prone to high blood pressure. In some cases, volunteering can also aid in disease control and reduce the risk of alcohol abuse or substance abuse by providing a sense of purpose and community involvement.

Many organizations are looking for volunteers worldwide. Consider looking into your local volunteer agencies or non-profits. You may help organize a bake sale, volunteer with kids or at a church, feed the homeless, or raise funds for a charitable cause. All options may allow you to donate your time and may help to reduce feelings of loneliness and anxiety. 

7. Practice Positive Journaling

According to studies in the Journal of Behavioral Therapy, writing helps reduce symptoms of depression and improves mood. Releasing negativity may allow you a better understanding of yourself and the obstacles you face.

Positive affect journaling is a self-intervention that can be a powerful tool in improving mental distress and reducing feelings of depression. Examples of a positive affect journaling prompt include writing about things you are grateful for or describing the best compliment you have ever received. Expressing gratitude can have a direct psychological benefit on the brain.

8. Engage in Positive Behaviors

Allowing yourself to do something you once loved or have wanted to do may help you navigate the challenges of depression. Participate in a hobby or activity that brings you a sense of contentment and fulfillment. 

David Richards, a health services researcher at the University of Exeter in England, employs this reasoning in developing the popular Behavioral Application Technique in treating depression. 

In this technique, Richards encourages research participants to engage in new behaviors or hobbies to replace negative behaviors. This new activity could be spending time with family, dancing, singing, cooking, or playing a musical instrument.

9. Listen To Or Practice Music 

Music has been shown to be a natural mood booster. Listening to upbeat music may help you feel upbeat as well. For instance, Finnish researchers conducted a study to observe the effect of music on mental health. 

Regarding the results, lead researcher Professor Gold stated, "our trial has shown that music therapy, when added to standard care, including medication, psychotherapy, and counseling, helps people improve their levels of depression and anxiety."

He went on to state, "music therapy has specific qualities that allow people to express themselves and interact in a nonverbal way - even in situations when they cannot find the words to describe their inner experiences."

10. Try Therapy 

Healing From Depression Is Possible With Support

Research shows that seeking professional help with psychological therapy can be an effective way to recover from depression. In this study, it was found that patients have several psychotherapy options to help treat depression. Talk with your therapist to find the type of treatment plan for depression best suited to you as an individual. 

Some individuals find it easier to talk to a therapist about their depression than to talk to a relative or friend (since friends and relatives may have opinions, while therapists are trained to be supportive and neutral). For those with depression who struggle to get out of bed or leave home, online therapy may be beneficial. 

With online therapy, you may also be able to find a more affordable rate than you would with in-person counseling. Additionally, studies of this internet-based treatment modality show that mindfulness-based online cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been as beneficial in treating symptoms of anxiety and depression as in-person psychiatric treatment.

If you want a platform that offers online therapy, platforms such as BetterHelp offer a vast database of experts specializing in various concerns, including depression. 


Therapy and medications can be highly effective interventions for depression. However, there are also some management strategies that you can try at home. Consider messaging a counselor if you're ready to reach out to a specialist.

Depression is treatable, and you're not alone

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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