Small Ways to Feel Better When You're Depressed

small ways to feel better if you're depressed
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Depression is more complicated than most people think. It’s not just about being sad and it certainly isn’t about being lazy. But those are common misconceptions that sometimes prevent people from seeking treatment and getting the help they need to feel better.

Even when you’re experiencing depression, it can be tough to identify how you’re feeling and it can be hard to take steps to improve your mood and outlook in the moment.

That’s why we put together this article—to help you on your journey in coping with your symptoms. A better understanding of how you’re feeling and what action you can take can empower you to live your best life even when you’re feeling depressed.

Learn How Depression Affects You

Some people experience more irritability than sadness when they're depressed, other people report feelings of guilt and hopelessness. And while some people report their emotions stay pretty constant, other people say their depression causes their emotions to shift pretty quickly.

Before you can make decisions about how to best cope with depression or what types of treatments you want to try, it’s essential to gain a better understanding of the emotions you’re experiencing.

Then, you can develop a plan for dealing with each of those emotions you're encountering. What works to calm you down when you’re feeling anxious might not be helpful when you’re feeling unappreciated.

Practice Identifying Emotions

Research has also shown that depression can affect how people interpret emotions. One study found that depressed people were less able to accurately recognize happiness, fear, disgust, anger, and surprise. Another study found that depressed people are good at recognizing sad facial expressions, but struggle with other emotions, including happiness and surprise.

Some strategies that can help you better identify what you are feeling include the following:

  • Keep a journal: Write down what you are experiencing and feeling in an emotional journal. As you write, you may find it easier to recognize your feelings. This can also help you spot patterns in your emotional responses.
  • Track a single emotion: It can also be helpful to track a single emotion over time. Start noticing when you feel something, whether it's sadness, joy, or gratitude. With practice, you can better identify the feeling and what is causing it.
  • Expand your emotional vocabulary: Recognize that emotional responses can be complex and mixed. Finding new ways to talk about emotions can add greater depth and understanding. Rather than just describing yourself as "sad," you might characterize what you feel as glum, dejected, regretful, downhearted, or sorrowful.

Identifying these emotional components you're encountering can help you develop strategies to feel better sooner. And while everyone's experience with depressive symptoms is a little different, developing a better understanding of the emotions you're encountering can help you determine which coping skills work best for you.

Explore Ways to Cope

In addition to identifying your emotions, it is important to start taking steps toward changing those feelings. Treatments for depression are typically multi-faceted and can include medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes. Some self-help strategies that can improve your ability to cope include:

  • Creating a daily routine: Sticking to a consistent routine can be helpful when you are dealing with stress and depression. Having structure in your day also makes it easier to stick to healthy habits that can combat feelings of depression.
  • Giving yourself things to look forward to: Research has shown that anticipating positive future events can positively affect well-being. It is essential to find things to look forward to, no matter how small.
  • Getting regular exercise: Exercise can be helpful in both the prevention and treatment of depression. One study found that low, moderate, and high-intensity exercise effectively treated mild to moderate depression.
  • Setting limits on social media/technology use: Spending too much time glued to your smartphone or tablet can also harm mental health, particularly when that time is spent scrolling through social media. In one study, social media users experienced a 70% increase in self-reported symptoms of depression.
  • Spending time with others: While depression may cause you to want to withdraw from your loved ones, research has shown that decreased social support has a negative effect on depression symptoms. If you've withdrawn or isolated yourself, start taking steps to reach out to trusted friends and family members.
  • Enjoying the outdoors: Evidence has shown that spending less time outdoors is linked to worse well-being and increased symptoms of depression and anxiety. You can combat this by making a conscious effort to spend a little time outside each day. Something as simple as walking around your neighborhood can help increase your outdoor time and improve your emotional well-being.

Take Small Steps

Your depression will try to convince you that nothing will work to help you feel better. It’ll tell you there’s no use in trying any formal treatment, and any steps you take to improve your emotional state will be useless.

It may tell you there's no sense in taking medication because it won't work. Or, your depression might try to convince you that you shouldn't talk to a therapist because talking won't help. Consequently, you might not take any action that could help you feel better.

That’s what depression does to your brain—it makes you think unrealistically negative thoughts.

Try New Strategies

But, the truth is, you won’t know if various strategies work until you try them. You don’t have any take huge leaps to help yourself feel better (that’s likely to feel overwhelming when you’re depressed). Instead, you can try small steps to see if specific strategies help you feel better.

How to Combat Defeating Thoughts

A great mantra to create for yourself: “Let’s try.” Even as your depression tries to talk you out of doing something, remind yourself, you won’t know if it could help until you at least give it a try.

To do so, however, you'll have to go against what your brain is telling you. For example, depression might try to convince you to just stay in bed all day. But staying in bed is likely to keep you stuck in a depressed mood.

Push Yourself

You might have to push yourself to get up, get dressed, go for a walk, or call a friend. While you might think none of things will help you feel better (or you might even think they'll make you feel worse), getting active might decrease your symptoms a little if you're willing to try.

Find What Works for You

Think of various coping strategies as experiments. Some of them may help you feel better and others might not necessarily work for you. But the more experiments you try, the better equipped you'll be in identifying which strategies best reduce your symptoms.

Press Play for Advice On Positive Thinking

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how to create a personal mantra to boost positive thinking. Click below to listen now.

Subscribe Now: Apple Podcasts / Spotify / Google Podcasts

A Word From Verywell

While it’s important to have professionals who are helping you manage your depression, like a physician and a therapist, there are also many strategies you can try at home to alleviate your symptoms.

In this special series, we’ve gathered some tips and strategies for coping with the various emotional aspects of depression. If you give them a try, you might discover that they help you experience some relief from your symptoms of depression.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Amy Morin, LCSW, Editor-in-Chief
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.