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Depression is a complex beast and having your doctor's help as you recover is ideal, but several proactive self-help steps have been proven to have the potential to alleviate the symptoms of depression. What do you need to know?

"Self-help treatments" for depression — really, anything you can do yourself, without a doctor — can play a crucial role in your recovery for depression. They should, ideally, be used alongside treatments you agree with your doctor, in the form of antidepressants, talk therapy, or both. Particularly if you are feeling suicidal, you should never have to "go it alone", and really need the support of the treatments science has shown to be most helpful. 

Proactive steps that have been proven to have a positive impact can also, however, help people who cannot see a doctor for whatever reason, and those who are feeling down but don't think they are clinically depressed. 

What self-help treatments should you be looking into if you are dealing with depression? 

1. Exercise

Numerous bits of research support the idea that regular physical exercise can help alleviate depression symptoms, among other reasons because exercising gets your endorphins, feel-good chemicals, going. If you start exercising, studies have shown that it won't just make you feel better now; regular exercise has a long-term impact that lasts at least a year. Some studies even suggest that regular exercise is as effective a treatment as talk therapy or antidepressants for people with mild to moderate depression! 

Besides the physical benefits of exercise, committing to a regular workout program also contributes to having a set routine — another thing that has been proven helpful for people suffering from depression.

So, what exercises should you make part of your life? Most of the studies conducted into the topic looked at aerobic exercise and determine that walking or jogging — four times a week for 30 minutes — have a positive impact. Weight lifting has been studied less, but again, there is research indicating that it has a similar impact. 

The most important thing is, then, simply to start. Pick a form of exercise that appeals to you, and stick with it. 

2. Guided self-help therapy programs

Therapy doesn't always have to mean talking to a psychologist face-to-face — research has shown that many people are still reluctant to seek medical attention for depression, as well as that health services are so overloaded in some places that face-to-face therapy comes with unacceptably long waiting lists. The solution? Internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy.

Some of these programs still require a doctor to set you up with them, but in other cases — like with an intervention called MoodGym, from Australia — you can just start by yourself. Do these internet-based therapy sessions work? Research has deemed them better than staying on a waiting list, and has also shown that they can be a very helpful supplement to other forms of depression treatment even in people who are severely depressed. 

3. Routines

Depression can quickly take total control of your life, robbing you of your ability to be productive or to do things that can improve your mood. Setting small goals for yourself and keeping busy are bits of advice often given to depressed people, but to accomplish them, you need a routine. This may include:

  • Getting up and going to bed at the same time each day, something that will also improve your sleep quality. 
  • Committing to regular exercise. 
  • Making sure you regularly interact with loved ones, by, for instance, agreeing to dinners, hikes, or concerts. 
  • Eating at the same times each day — this will help ensure that you don't overeat or forget to eat, both of which are possible in depressed people. 
  • Deciding what to do if you're alone at home — loneliness can increase if you've got nothing to do. Maybe you can work on reading a book with a book club (perhaps online), take an internet-based course, or even KonMari your home. 

4. Diet

The nutrients you take in have a profound impact on your mental health, and research has shown that sticking to a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in vegetables, whole grains, fruits and olive oil, has the potential to improve your mood. A diet that mostly consists of processed junk foods can, meanwhile, have the opposite effect. Stay away from added sugars, trans fats, and simple carbs, and choose whole foods. It may not be enough to end your depression, but a healthy diet will contribute to your recovery.

5. Sleep hygiene

Anyone who has ever been sleep-deprived for longer periods of time knows that not getting enough zzzzs can have a tremendous negative impact on mood. Research has, indeed, shown that disrupted sleep is one of the risk factors for major depressive disorder — as well as, of course, one of the possible symptoms. 

If you're not sleeping well, your depression may be to blame. You can still try to work on your sleep hygiene to see if it makes a difference, though:

  • Go to bed and get up at the same time each day, to "train" your body to go to sleep more easily. 
  • Before you head for your nest, wind down with a comforting bedtime routine — gentle music, a nice bath, or reading a book can all help you get in the mood for sleeping. 
  • Keep your bedroom dark, cool, and free of electronic devices; this has been shown to improve your quality of sleep. 

6. Pet therapy

Studies have shown that pets can help you overcome depression. When you think about it, that's no surprise. Pets are always there for you, offering a non-judgmental bond with another living being without all the complexities human contact can bring. Pets also help you get into a healthy routine, as you take them out for walks or otherwise meet their needs. While formal pet therapy programs exist, a new pet may help you overcome depression on your own, too.

7. Social interaction

Losing interest in activities that previously meant something is one of the characteristic symptoms of depression. Try not to isolate yourself from others, though, as social interaction can play a very important role in helping you recover from depression. Even if you don't feel like it, choose some activities you can do with others on a regular basis. These may include:

  • Group therapy sessions or self-help support groups for depressed people
  • Religious participation
  • Group exercise activities such as a martial art, hiking, or soccer
  • Meeting up with friends and relatives

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