Outdoor exercise combines at least two depression-resistant elements: physical activity and exposure to nature. Incorporate these “green” activities to help alleviate depression:
- Exploring fitness trails
- Rock climbing
- Playing tennis
According to Richard Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, there is increasing evidence that mindfulness meditation— the ability to attentively observe one’s body, thoughts, and emotions without judgment—can have an antidepressant effect. He likens this to the way physical exercise builds muscle; mindfulness helps strengthen our mental capacity to be more aware and composed in the face of challenges and stress. Engage in activities that help you connect with your inner self:
- Breathing exercises
- Maintaining a journal
Davidson emphasizes, “Depression is a complex stress-related disorder, so the thinking and approaches for preventing and treating depression can also include strategies for reducing stress.” This may involve minimizing physical stress through adequate sleep, a balanced diet, and regular exercise, or finding ways to alleviate mental stress.
Surprisingly, sleep and rest are activities that prevent depression. “Regulating your sleep can optimize your mood, hormones, appetite, and energy levels,” advises Gadhia-Smith. This entails going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at approximately the same time every day, regardless of the day of the week. Improve your sleep quality and reduce depression by following these steps:
- Establish a consistent sleep routine.
- Create a calming pre-sleep routine by dimming lights, unplugging, and winding down.
- Avoid consuming caffeine late in the day or evening.
- Ensure your sleeping environment is cool and uncluttered.
- Task and Structure
Maintaining a routine, getting organized, and reducing chaos in your surroundings can contribute to an improved sense of well-being. Gadhia-Smith notes that patients often report that adding structure to their day helps alleviate their depression. Engaging in tangible tasks such as household chores can reset your mindset and lift you out of a dark mood:
- Clean your living space.
- Rearrange closets for better organization.
- Attend to monthly bills.
- Update calendars and to-do lists.
- Social Interaction
Davidson emphasizes the importance of savoring positive experiences, such as enjoying a morning cup of coffee or sharing laughter with friends or family, as a way to boost one’s mood. Here are a few ways to connect with individuals who bring optimism:
- Visit a friend or family member.
- Arrange a lunch or dinner get-together.
- Attend a ballgame or show together.
- Stay in contact via phone.
- Arrange virtual meetings via video calls.
Gadhia-Smith underscores, “Social connection is a fundamental need. We are social creatures, and we thrive on human connection.”
Connecting with nature, whether through exercise or leisurely activities, can alleviate depression. A study from March 2017 found that natural sounds induced brainwave patterns similar to those associated with restful experiences, like daydreaming. In contrast, artificial sounds, such as a loud blender, triggered brainwave patterns associated with states of anxiety and depression. Relax your mind with gentle, nature-based activities like:
- Walking in the woods.
- Strolling on the beach.
- Having a picnic in the park.
For some patients, having a spiritual life can alleviate depression, according to Gadhia-Smith. Drawing comfort and strength from your faith can help provide perspective on problems and foster hopefulness. A review of 23 studies in 2018 found a positive correlation between religious practices and improvement in depression symptoms. Spiritual practices to ease depression include:
- Engaging with a faith community.
- Attending religious services.
- Connecting with nature.
Engaging in creative pursuits can help counter depression, whether through formal programs like art or music therapy, or informally on your own. Adult coloring, for instance, has been shown in a small 2017 study to significantly reduce depression symptoms in young women, in contrast to participants working on logic puzzles. Many studies highlight the effectiveness of music in easing depression, with emerging evidence on the mood-lifting benefits of arts and crafts. Try these creative activities:
- Play or listen to music.
- Engage in coloring or doodling.
- Create pottery.
At times, seeking therapy is the most effective activity for preventing depression. According to Davidson, “Specifically for depression, talk therapy as well as physical exercise can be powerful and are well-studied.” Talk therapies with proven benefits against depression include:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps reshape thought patterns and behaviors.
- Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, combining mindfulness meditation and CBT.
- Interpersonal therapy, involving a series of one-on-one or group therapy sessions.