How Lifestyle Changes Help Depression


“You should get out more and socialize,” is typical advice offered to people with chronic depression. We should also exercise more, eat better, and do fun things.

Unfortunately, when friends and professionals suggest lifestyle changes it tends to make depressed people feel depression is their fault. It suggests we would be fine if we had different or better habits.

The reality of lifestyle changes is that they are not a cure, but a tool depressed individuals can use to help themselves. Like any health tool, they have the potential to offer relief, and contribute to recovery.

A Healing Environment

We know that human beings generally thrive when they eat nutritious food, are physically active, have supportive relationships, feel purposeful, and have fun. Adopting lifestyle changes, or maintaining habits we have, is done to create an environment where it is possible to thrive.

When depressed, it may not feel as if walking everyday and eating fresh vegetables is helping us thrive, but we rationally know these habits promote well being. That is why they are important—they make healing likelier.

Depending on the causes underlying a person's depression, healthy habits might also contribute directly to recovery.

For instance, if someone's depressive symptoms are triggered by a lack of B vitamins, protein, and vitamin D then, eating plenty of green veggies, lean protein, and getting a few minutes of sunlight each day may alleviate the symptoms.

If the depression is not triggered by a nutrient deficiency, the sunlight, vegetables and protein still help by supporting good physical health.

Lifestyle Habit Tips

It is immensely difficult to continually do things you have no energy or motivation for just because they are “good” for you. The following three tips may help.

  1. Remember, you are in charge. If socializing feels overwhelming you can choose to do it for short amounts of time, and with one or two people. It is unnecessary to join a party or go out for an entire evening. Maybe the thought of eating healthier is too much, but consider adding one vegetable or fruit to your daily fare—small steps are sufficient.
  2. We often try to fight depression, but it might work better to think of yourself as a healer creating optimal conditions for health and recovery.
  3. On especially tough days, should you let your healthy habits slide, know that you are not going backwards or regressing. You are just getting through a difficult day. When symptoms are severe, getting through is enough.

Photo credit: Light Painting(@flickr)


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