7 Ways to Treat Depression and Start Living a Better Life

Phi Atratus
  • Jul 29, 2021
  • 8 min read

If you are reading this, chances are that either you or someone you know is suffering from depression. Perhaps you went over the possible signs of this mental illness and came to the conclusion that something must be done about it. 

If that’s the case, it’s great you’re looking for solutions instead of dwelling in the mental bog that depression festers in. That’s the first step. Here are the next 7 – ways to treat depression that you can start today, ranging from breathing differently to online counseling. They might just move the needle in the right direction. Every inch counts.

1. Exercise 

If you are anywhere near the laziness side of the fitness spectrum, know that you are not alone, but there’s no two ways about it — exercise is a proven, tested and reliable method of combating depression. 

The reason behind it has to do with the physical side of depression. Yes, life events and circumstances play a very significant role in both its and how it perpetuates over time, but they are not the only factor. 

Like any type of illness, mental or otherwise, depression functions on the physiological, biological level. Exercise is known to have a myriad of physical benefits, from strengthening the heart to reducing blood pressure. All good stuff. However, a lesser-known effect of exercise is the release of proteins known as neurotrophins. 

These little fellas are the spinach and broccoli of your neurons — they help them grow, maintain themselves, and form new connections with other neurons. Make their lives better, essentially. And if your neurons have a good life, that helps you have a good life too. 

For example, the release of neurotrophins bolsters neuron growth in a part of the brain called the hippocampus, which is important for emotional regulation. If the hippocampus gets all bulked up, emotional regulation is strengthened, and the end result is you feeling better overall. Sounds great, doesn't it?

But wait, there’s more. Exercise doesn’t mean you need to hit the gym every day, or at all. It doesn’t mean running a marathon or doing push-ups whenever you have a free moment. It means doing something. Anything. 5-10 minutes of light workout is better than 0 minutes of no workout. Try it once a day for a couple of weeks, and you are likely to start feeling better through brain chemistry.

2. Take care of your sleep

One of the common symptoms of depression is the disruption of your sleep pattern. To some, this means sleeping way too much and finding great difficulty in getting out of bed in the morning (or noon, for that matter). To others, the opposite is true: falling asleep becomes a challenge, and staying asleep can feel nearly impossible. So the relationship between depression and sleep is well-established. 

What isn’t obvious, however, is that this relationship goes both ways: disrupted, unregulated sleep makes depression worse. It makes you irritable and disrupts the release of serotonin — a neurotransmitter paramount for mental well-being.

So what should you do? Quite simply, take care of your sleep. There are a few ways to go about it. The first thing you can do is start your prepare-to-sleep process roughly 90 minutes before the actual time you go to sleep. Those 90 minutes are for your own relaxation, so simply do what calms you down. Take a nice bath or shower. Listen to some tranquil music. Give meditation a try. 

What you shouldn’t do during those 90 minutes is stimulate your brain too much. That means no looking at a screen, no reading the news, no caffeine, and no engaging in active conversations — nothing that requires your direct attention. 

At the end of those 90 minutes, as you go to bed, you will be in a more relaxed state. Granted, this doesn’t guarantee that you’ll fall asleep immediately, but it does help. Make sure your room is dark enough, and give yourself the opportunity to sleep 8 hours. And if you end up sleeping less than that, it isn’t the worst. 

Now let’s talk about waking up. Ideally, you should make an attempt to wake up at the same hour every day. This helps keep your circadian rhythm nice and stable, which means better sleep. 

You can begin by setting your alarm clock to the same hour each day, and when the time comes to get out of bed — give yourself motivation to really get out of bed. A good reason to start the day helps actually starting it, and you can provide yourself with that reason. Just something you like. Maybe a delicious, healthy snack.

3. Engage in relationships

Depression is more often than not a fight we feel like we are fighting alone. Sometimes we push others away because their lack of understanding is hurtful, sometimes because socializing requires energy that we never have enough of, and sometimes because there is a fear of our true feelings not being accepted — that will be judged for being overly negative, pessimistic, or just lazy.

The consequence of this is that depression brings upon loneliness, and loneliness further fuels depression as we become more and more stuck inside our own head. This is a cycle that must be broken, and it is up to us to break it and be willing to receive the social support we need.

There are 4 relevant types of social support that are of relevance here: emotional, esteem, informational and tangible. Emotional support is receiving warm hugs and being listened to when you have something that needs to be said. Esteem support is receiving encouragement, such as your strengths being pointed out to you when all you can focus on are the bad things. Informational support is receiving advice and useful information that you may not have come by on your own. Lastly, tangible support is offering you a hand with tangible things, such as bringing you food when you are too overwhelmed to take care of your nutrition.

What all of them have in common is that they are forms of support that only become viable when you allow them to — by purposely engaging in relationships with other people and electing to share your life with them despite the depression. That, and that they really, really do help.

4. Meditate

Meditation is an often misunderstood practice. You may imagine a spiritual, head-shaven person sitting with legs crossed and holding their fingers together, successfully not thinking about anything. That is not quite what it’s about. 

The goal is for you to focus on something. Maybe it is your breathing — imagining a line moving up as you inhale and down as you exhale. Maybe it is listening to the bird chirping outside your window. You can sit or lie down in any way that is comfortable for you, and closing your eyes is optional, though recommended.

It doesn’t even need to be a spiritual practice if you don’t want it to. The reason meditation helps so much with depression is that it’s simply a very healthy practice for the brain. Research has shown that people who meditate regularly tend to have slower brain waves, greatly associated with being in a relaxed state of mind.  

Another neurological effect of meditation is how it can influence the relationship between two particular regions of the brain: the amygdala and the medial prefrontal cortex. The former is involved with emotional regulation, while the latter is all about processing information about yourself (the ego, if you will). 

When you feel depressed, these two regions become very active and get stuck in a loop of causing each other to overwork. Meditation is like a specialized consultant who can help alleviate this unhealthy work relationship, so that both parties can do their job effectively and peacefully. 

5. Try some CBT 

CBT, which stands for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, is a therapeutic approach centered around structured problem solving by way of changing your behavior and way of thinking. As a very popular and useful form of depression treatment, one of the main draws of CBT is that its exercises can be used by just about anyone who is willing.

For example, if you happen to feel like a failure, you can try what is known as cognitive restructuring. In this scenario, you force yourself to become very critical and objective of any statements your mind seems to produce. What proof do I have that supports the claim that I am a failure? What proof do I have that disputes this claim? 

The result, if you are honest with yourself, is the understanding that nothing in life is black or white, and absolute statements such as ‘I am a failure’ don’t hold under fair scrutiny. You have some downsides and regrets, just as anyone else, but also upsides and achievements, also just as anyone else. The first side should not be given more attention than the second.

By adapting this type of critical thinking, you learn to continuously challenge that semi-autonomous voice in your head that is sabotaging your self-image and outlook on life. You begin to see that this voice is very one-sided, unfair, and to be perfectly honest — kind of an ignorant jerk not worthy of your time.

Cognitive restructuring is just one of many different exercises you can try on a daily basis, and those exercises are not particularly time-consuming or difficult. Quite the contrary: they are simple, and can be done alongside other activities. Be fair to yourself, and give it a go.

6. Antidepressants

When your head hurts, you take painkillers. When you fall ill, antibiotics are there to help. If you have a more uncommon type of disease, chances are there’s some medicine that can help you. Why should depression be considered any different?

First, let’s establish what antidepressants actually do. There are actually several different types of antidepressants, each with its complex abbreviation and each utilizing different methods to reach the same end goal: help the brain function properly. 

To spare you of complicated psychiatric and neurological terminology, try to imagine your brain being like a house. If you don’t do anything, it gets dirty over time and eventually falls apart as the materials and structures that hold it together need continuous maintenance. 

Let’s say you hire a team of workers that will take care of your house on a daily basis. Let’s say none of them have any tools needed for the job, and a good percentage of them got stuck in traffic on their way to work. How well do you think your house will be kept?

The brain works in a very similar way: it has its ‘workers’ that maintain it, and the maintenance requires certain tools fitting for the job. Depression is what takes away the workers’ tools and makes sure they are unable to show up for work. 

Antidepressants help give them their tools back and make sure they get to work on time. It is still the workers doing the maintenance, but depression was sabotaging the process and help was needed to tackle that.

To say that depression is not a ‘real’ illness, or that antidepressants are not necessary because we can just ‘get over it’, is like saying that a carpenter should use nothing but their hands, or that a cook should not use any kitchen utensils. The job just doesn’t work like that, and neither does your brain.

Medication alone is rarely the answer though. Whether you want to know how to treat depression without medication, or to take them alongside depression therapy, they are often there to support treatment, not constitute it. 

7. Therapy

Maybe exercise and meditation just aren’t doing it for you, maybe nothing you try solves your sleep difficulties, and maybe you are at a point in life where social support just isn’t available. Maybe you are struggling with getting CBT right on your own, and maybe antidepressants help your workers but the work is still just not enough.

Psychotherapy, or therapy for short, is not a last resort. In fact, it is the best option available, and each of the previous 6 can only benefit from therapy being by their side, guiding them, and offering a listening ear and a helping hand to boost their efficacy.

But therapy is the best option because it can do something the others cannot: it gives you access to a professional who gets to know about who you are as a person and what your problems are, can help you identify potential solutions to these problems, and guide you towards those solutions.

The therapeutic process is largely rooted in conversation, as talking to a therapist serves several different functions. For example, having to verbalize your subjective experience helps both you and the therapist understand it better. In addition, the therapist is an outside source able to pick up on things you may have missed, such as certain tendencies or assumptions that you have for no particular reason, but that are hurting you. And when they pick up on these things, they explore them together with you.

These kinds of processes are not available elsewhere, and are why psychotherapy is so important. The issue, however, is that it is often fairly costly, and depending on where you live and what your schedule looks like, it isn’t always as available as it seems. 

Fortunately, online therapy aims to solve both of these problems. Here at DoMental, we want to help people like you, and aim to make online therapy as accessible and affordable as we can.

Take our quiz so that we can learn more about your symptoms and match you with a suitable therapist, and you can start talking with one straight away. If the first therapist doesn’t feel like the wrong person, the option to change therapist is there and free of charge!