If you are here, you likely suspect you are depressed or know someone who is. You may have been diagnosed by a professional in the past or you might have scored higher than you expected on a depression quiz. And now you’re here reading about self-therapy for depression, and I want to help. Just know that there are no quick fixes. I don’t have magic beans to give you, but we can certainly plant some seeds.
While evidence shows that self-therapy for depression can improve mood and functioning in mild and moderate depression, if you are seriously depressed please seek professional help. (Resources are provided at the end of this article.) If you are in crisis, please see our crisis resources. Please take care of you.
Unfortunately, depression comes with a built-in catch-22. It takes effort and energy to deal with depression, but depression saps your energy and motivation. How unfair, right?
The solution? Start small. Take baby steps. Plant seeds. I will try to make it easier and to point you in some helpful directions, but only you can take those steps. You’re getting a good start now by checking out the view ahead.
The best self-therapy practices for depression come from two main areas:
(1) Learning and Practicing Self-Care
(2) Learning & Practicing Skills and Strategies
What is Self-Care?
Self-care is, simply put, caring for yourself, and showing it in small actions you take to meet your own needs. It is about taking the time to do activities that nurture your physical, emotional, and spiritual self. Think of the kindnesses you would do for a dear friend and do them for yourself. You deserve it!
Examples of Physical Self-Care
- Hygiene! Bathe, brush your teeth, brush your hair, put on clean clothes. Depression can be such a heavy weight that it can be hard to get started, so start small.
- Sleep! Get enough sleep and get quality sleep. Have a bedtime routine, do what you can to make your bed comfortable, avoid caffeine for at least 6 hours before you need to sleep, and consider falling sleep to guided meditations or visualizations.
- Nutrition! Eat healthy foods and drink plenty of water, and consider learning more about how food and nutrition can affect mood and mental health.
- Movement! Get up and go for a walk, do some yoga, or do a few crunches. Even just a few minutes of activity can help boost your mood and give you a sense of accomplishment. Gradually work up to 30 minutes of physical activity each day, but start small and be gentle with yourself. Depression is a weight you carry, so be patient. Try not to sit for an hour without moving around, even if just to walk a lap around your house or office.
- Go outside! Get a daily dose of sunlight (with vitamin D) and fresh air. You can combine this with physical activity if you want, but you can also sit on your porch or in your car with the windows down and still benefit.
Insomnia? Read How to Get to Sleep.
Examples of Emotional Self-Care
- Do things that make you feel good, even if you don’t feel like it. Give yourself a scalp or foot massage, talk to a friend, pet an animal, bird watch, or watch children play. The options are endless, so spend some time exploring memories of times you felt good and what you were doing.
- Work to challenge or cope with negative thinking. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) all have many techniques that you can learn and use.
- Laugh! Watch a funny video, talk to your funniest friend, read jokes, or spend time with goofy kids or pets. Explore and find what works for you, and aim for at least one real laugh (or even chuckle) each day.
Examples of Spiritual Self-Care
- Spend time somewhere where you can feel part of something bigger than yourself. Go to church, look at the night sky, sing in a choir, spend time in a forest, or join a community with goals based on your deepest values. Your solution will be unique to you, and it is nobody’s place to tell you your way of spiritual self-care is right or wrong. It is yours.
- Reach out and stay connected to supportive people, either offline or online.
- Meditate, pray, or chant in whichever way feels most right to you.
- Find and read (or listen to) books that will promote your spiritual self.
- Listen to music or look at art that moves you deeply.
Learn and Practice Skills and Strategies
There are many kinds of effective therapies that have a large skills component, and you can practice those skills outside of traditional therapy sessions. In fact, homework is generally expected when you are doing these therapies with a professional as well.
The skills and strategies here draw heavily from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). These are all evidence-based effective treatments for depression, and the skills you can learn create positive change in your thoughts, emotions, and actions. It’s pretty amazing.
Check out The Big List of Positive Coping Statements
How do you know which one to use? Well, you don’t have to choose just one, and neither do I! Many therapists combine helpful components from each therapy approach to customize the experience for their clients, and you can do the same for yourself. Or you may feel drawn to one path in particular and want to explore that more deeply.
Over time, I will continue to add more resources and articles with skills and techniques you can practice on your own, then you can decide what will work the best for you! It’s your self-therapy. For now, get a feel for each of these therapy branches and see if any of them call to you. You can let me know in the comments which you are drawn to, and I can take that into consideration as I add to this site. And you can follow your own path.
What is CBT? – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is based on the idea that your thoughts cause your feelings and behaviors, and that by changing your thoughts, your feelings and behaviors will change, too. CBT focuses on the idea that all people have undesirable situations or problems, whether they get upset about them or not. If you are upset about your problems, you now have two problems — the problem itself, and our upset emotions and thoughts about it. CBT helps you learn how to more calmly react to your personal problems so that you not only feel better, but are also able to use your knowledge, intelligence, energy, and resources to resolve your problem.
What is DBT? – Dialectical Behavior Therapy
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is based on the idea that people struggling with depression need to improve several important life skills, including those that involve regulating emotions, bring present in each moment, navigating interpersonal situations effectively, and tolerating distress and surviving crises without making situations worse.
DBT includes four sets of behavioral skills:
- Mindfulness—the practice of being fully aware and present in this one moment
- Distress Tolerance—how to tolerate pain in difficult situations, instead of fighting it
- Interpersonal Effectiveness—how to say no and how to ask for what you want while maintaining your self-respect and your relationships
- Emotion Regulation—how to change the emotions that you want to change.
What is ACT? – Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is based on the idea that struggling with and trying to change your thoughts and emotions actually increases your distress. There is a strong focus on mindfulness, therapeutic metaphors and visualization, and acceptance. It focuses on learning to accept difficult thoughts and emotions without believing in them, and helps you work toward committing to living a meaningful life in alignment with your deepest values.
What if I need a therapist?
It’s okay if you are not ready to deal with depression on your own. Depression saps you of strength and motivation, and you may need extra help to get you started. If your depression is severe, we recommend you contact a licensed professional.
For online therapy, we recommend the following:
To find a therapist in your area, check out these professional directories:
I’m already in therapy – Can I still use these resources to deal with depression?
Mental health professionals agree that it is beneficial to practice self-care and evidence-based skills and techniques, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). Check in with your therapist about it.
The fact that you’re here reading about self-help for depression says a lot about your motivation to help yourself. Now you’ve learned how to lay the groundwork. Just keep reading and learning and trying and practicing, here and elsewhere, and the self-care and skills will prove a solid foundation for self-therapy for depression.
Please comment below to ask questions, offer suggestions for future articles, or simply to say hello. I’m glad you’re here.
Augsburg College’s Center for Wellness & Counseling
National Institute for Mental Health
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs
Men and Depression