When you hear “self-care,” do you cringe? Does it draw to mind expensive massages and vacations to exotic locales? We understand, but self-care is essential to fighting depression, and it’s not limited to expensive treatments and experiences. So, we’ve put together a list of depression-fighting activities that won’t cost you a thing.
1. Talk to a friend
It seems so simple, but talking to a friend about something that stresses you out is a great way to fight off depression. Even just exchanging some texts can be helpful, and don’t underestimate the value of silly Snapchat filters. Don’t worry about trying to find a friend who has experienced the exact thing you have. As long as they’re supportive and the friendship is healthy, talking it out can be incredibly helpful.
2. Exercise self-compassion
We are our own worst critic, but if you can train yourself to exercise self-compassion, you’ll stave off depression much easier. First of all, don’t blame yourself. Instead, look at it as if you’d been diagnosed with a physical condition like cancer or heart disease. Just like these diseases, depression doesn’t just go away by thinking about other things. Give yourself the space and love you need to fight depression by taking the guilt out of it.
3. Get moving
When we exercise, our bodies release endorphins that boost our mood. Ever heard of a runner’s high? That’s caused by endorphins that reduce the perception of pain, boost your mood and help prevent anxiety. Exercise should also help you sleep better, which will allow you to move out of the stress response a little easier. When we’re tired, our brains have a limited capacity for dealing with the world and default to fight-of-flight quicker that when we’re well-rested.
4. Get some sleep
Speaking of sleep, if you can manage to get a good night’s sleep, you’ll be better able to fight off depression. In fact, depression and insomnia go so hand-in-hand that people with insomnia have ten times the risk of developing depression than those who sleep well. So, drink some soothing herbal tea, diffuse some lavender oil and put your phone away 30 to 60 minutes before bed — you don’t need the stress of comparison from social media before going to sleep anyway.
You don’t have to go to a yoga or meditation studio to give yourself the self-care treat of meditation. Grab a free meditation app for your phone and queue it up when you’re feeling down. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety. It might also help relieve your headaches and sleep problems.
6. Cook a healthy meal
When we’re depressed, we want comfort food. For some people, that’s sweets. For others, it’s fried food, but when you’re feeling dragged down, the last thing your body needs is junk food. Gluten, sugar, dairy and vegetable oils like corn, safflower, canola and sunflower oil are among the worst things you can eat. Instead, try cooking a meal rich in nutrients, like grilled salmon and fresh vegetables. The omega-3 fatty acids in the fish may help fight off depression too.
7. Create or maintain a daily routine
Our brains crave predictability, and we’re naturally happier when things go the way we expect. Creating and adhering to a daily routine can give you the predictability and pattern you need to start your day off right. Don’t be overly ambitious with your routine, though. You want to make sure you can maintain it. Otherwise, you might be setting yourself up for even more depression. In other words, don’t try to cram time at the gym, 20 minutes of meditation, breakfast, journaling, a shower and getting the kids off to school by 7 a.m. unless it’s actually doable.
8. Write in a journal
Writing — especially expressive writing — can help improve your mental and physical health. Dr. James Pennebaker, from the University of Texas at Austin, has written several books on the subject. Dr. Pennebaker’s research has found that writing with the intent of researching your own emotional state for just 20 minutes a day can result in amazingly therapeutic and mood-boosting benefits. A gratitude journal is another way to keep depression at bay. We notice what we focus on — if you focus on gratitude, you’ll be more apt to notice the positive aspects of your life.
9. Seek alternatives to alcohol
Just like junk food, alcohol is tempting when you’re depressed, but it can just make your depression worse. Instead of pouring yourself a drink, make a cup of tea or drink some filtered water to stay hydrated. There are several herbal teas on the market that help support elevated moods, or you could give reliable herbs like peppermint and chamomile a try. The tea may give you the comfort you’re looking for in alcohol, without the adverse health effects. Try some of the other activities mentioned here to distract yourself, if you need to.
10. Avoid over-scheduling yourself
One of the easiest ways to practice self-care is to avoid over-scheduling your days. A tense, full schedule can lead to adrenal fatigue and exhaustion. It can also make you feel helpless and increase your stress. Spread your obligations out over the week instead of trying to cram them all into one day, and you’ll be able to keep depression at bay a little easier.
How do you practice self-care to help fight depression?
— Megan Winkler