Depression Self Help- The Ultimate Guide

By Susanna Sweeney, MSc, MBACP, CHT

My guide on depression self help is designed to help you prepare a self care plan with the goal of stabilizing your symptoms of depression, and ultimately improving them.

depression self helpThis depression self help guide is based on three different schools of thought around depression.

First of all, I am really sorry that you are struggling with depression. Depression is a tough condition to bear. Yet I am hopeful for you. In my time working as a psychotherapist and hypnotherapist, I have seen many clients come out of depression and turn their lives around to find joy and meaning once again. I know that it can be done.  And I believe you can do this, too.

Let's get started with the guide now, and let's start with a little bit of background:


What Causes Depression?

Before I start allow me to explain where I am coming from in this guide.

The steps I will give you are not ‘willy-nilly' steps, but are based on

a) seeing what works for clients with depression through long years of experience, and

b) on underlying theories of what causes depression.

There are different theories about how depression arises.

Some argue that depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, the implication being that medication is the go-to treatment that will resolve depression.

Others argue that depression is largely caused by underlying trauma and then the implication is that when you address this trauma either through psychotherapy, counseling or hypnotherapy the patient will improve.

A third school of thought argues that the world we live in today promotes depression because:

  • Most people today are alienated from nature.
  • People are often isolated rather than connected to a community.
  • Many people today experience a lack of purpose and meaning in their lives.


About this Guide

My suggestions for depression self help are based on all three schools of thought above- for a comprehensive approach to depression self help that covers all angles.

No matter what severity of depression you are struggling with and no matter what stage of your healing process you are at I believe you will find new information on depression self help techniques here that you can start using at home today.

You don’t have to work through the steps one by one. Rather I recommend you use your own discretion. You will be the best judge of what your particular current situation requires.


depression self helpThis ultimate depression self help guide introduces you to concepts, tools and processes you can use at home to heal from depression.

1. Visit Your Doctor and Become Your own Health Advocate

You may have an official diagnosis of a depressive disorder, or you may simply feel depressed and have never talked about it to anyone.  Either way, I recommend you go and see your doctor to start this journey. Why?

  • If you suffer from a physical condition, such as a chronic illness, or had a stroke or heart attack recently- discuss with your doctor the possibility that there may be a connection to feeling depressed. This can have implications for your overall treatment, so do tell your doctor how you feel.
  • If you suffer from severe depression you might require a referral to a psychiatrist.
  • You might want to be referred for counseling.
  • You need to discuss the option of taking medication for depression with your doctor. Have a frank discussion, and be your own health advocate. Do your research beforehand.

The medication leaflet will inform you about side effects and risks and- however long, is an important read. Also do an online search to see how other people are doing on this medication. Not all medications for depression are equal- and there are individual differences in how well they work for and how they agree with different people.

Educate yourself about your condition, the different treatment options available both with conventional and alternative medicine.

Only after all your research is done, weigh up the potential benefits of depression medication against all the implications. Only then make your decision.

Medication may be important to:

  • Bridge a crisis period
  • Stabilize your symptoms
  • Help you function again if your life has fallen apart

If the decision is to go on medication, discuss with your doctor for how long you will be on it, how and at what intervals it should be reviewed, and don’t be afraid to ask any other questions you may have.
Examine Your Lifestyle and Make Necessary Changes
Have an honest look at your lifestyle to see whether things you are doing support you or may be promoting depression.
You are looking at issues such as:

Also consider this:

While researching the medication, option, I also recommend looking at the other side- there is research that completely contradicts the argument that medications balance chemical imbalances in the brain...

Listen to Professor Irving Kirsch here in this two minute video on his work.

Here, Professor Irving Kirsch talks about anti-depressants in much greater detail, including the side effects and alternatives. Some strong opinions the further you get to the end- worth watching! This is a 10 minute video.

2. Examine Your Lifestyle and Make Necessary Changes

Also, I recommend you examine your lifestyle for any issues that might be causing or promoting depression. Be honest with yourself here. You will be looking at issues like:


Alcohol and Drugs

Drinking alcohol and taking recreational drugs can lead to feelings of depression or else can enhance them. I recommend to put a stop to both. Why?

Simply because if you want your situation to change you need to get the best out of the treatment options you choose, and you won’t if you don’t stop. Seeking treatment or attempting depression self help while drinking or taking drugs is like driving with accelerator and break pressed at the same time.

When you drink or take drugs, there can be that attractive illusion of comfort or of temporarily forgetting how bad you feel. But you know yourself- it’s temporary. There is always that next morning- when things often feel twice as bad as they did before that first drink.


A Healthy Diet

When you feel depressed it can be hard to feed yourself well. But here is the thing.  Not getting in the right nutrients to support your brain and body on its own can actually cause feelings of depression over time. Therefore, making dietary changes alone can lift your spirits.

I recommend you examine your diet and make the changes you can make. Whatever you decide to change, introduce the changes gradually, say one per week.

I don’t recommend any diets as such. A balanced, healthy diet is the best thing for depression self help. But here are some obvious points that I do make to clients, based on much reading, thinking and my own observations over the years.

  • Reduce or avoid junk food such as deep fried food, white bread, sugar, sugary foods and drinks.
  • Choose wholemeal or wholegrain breads over white bread. Mix your grains introducing some spelt and rye breads if you can.
  • Ideally exclude most things that contain artificial sweeteners, flavors or flavor enhancers as well as preservatives. Start reading food labels to identify those.
  • Eat fresh fruit and vegetables, making sure you eat something raw every day.  Greens are important. Smoothies can help get that raw nutrition in. Buy organic if you can afford to which will help you avoid GM foods and a whole lot of exposure to chemicals.
  • Change your oils and fats to healthy ones. For example, use coconut oil for cooking and olive oil for salads. Have some healthy oils every day.
  • Drink plenty of clean fresh water.

For more information, find resource articles on depression self help foods on my Pinterest page on the board ‘Depression Self Help’.


Sleep

When you are depressed, your sleep schedule is often all over the place. Some people can’t sleep at night and stay up watching TV until all hours, catching up with sleep during the day time. Others sleep day and night and find it hard to get up at all.

A healthy and regular sleep rhythm is important for your brain and body to function well. Not getting enough sleep during the night and then missing sunlight exposure during the day will cause your physiology to go haywire. And, while rest is important, missing out on day time activities will play right into that depression.

Introduce a regular sleep rhythm. This may take a while and can be a bit of work. Prepare for bedtime every night using a wind down routine.

  • Introduce screen free time before bedtime to cut out exposure to blue light
  • You can use Lavender and Frankincense essential oils to settle yourself
  • Meditation can be a good bedtime routine
  • Relaxing yoga poses can help settle the body
  • You can take a bath
  • Or simply try playing soothing music during this time

Then, go to bed at a reasonable hour. It may take time for your body to adapt to the new rhythm but eventually it will, because it will always veer towards a natural homeostasis.

In the morning, you can aid waking up by opening the curtains to let sunlight in. Light signals to your body and brain that it’s time to get active. Rise as soon as you can and go about your routine.


Routine

When you feel depressed it’s so easy to slip into doing little or nothing during the day. Hiding away in front of the TV or computer can be so tempting, but will make the depression worse in the long run.  A regular routine, however simple and limited at the start, will keep you active and engaged with the world.

Draw up a plan for a simple routine that includes things like self care, shopping, time for your interests and socializing and commit to sticking with it, even if you don’t feel like it in the moment. Oftentimes, getting started with an activity is the most difficult part, and once you are actively engaged in the activity you start feeling a little better.


Exercise

Do at least a small bit even if you don’t feel like it initially:

  • Exercise produces endorphins which make you feel good.
  • Go for a walk around the block, or better, in a local park. Extend the walk bit by bit.
  • You can do gentle exercise at home, practicing an exercise sequence that does not require any equipment. Start simply and work your way up.
  • You can practice yoga at home. 

Find resource articles on this on my Pinterest page on my ‘Depression Self Help’ board.


3. Fun, Laughter and Enjoyment are Depression Self Help

Fun, laughter and enjoyment are a crucial antidote to depression. It has been said that laughter is the best medicine. When you laugh, you feel alive. When you laugh, you can see the light side of life.  When you feel joy and when you have fun life feels worthwhile. That’s where you want to be.

Find out what works for you. What do you enjoy?

Write about this in your journal (see below).

Here are some simple and (substance-free)  ideas:

  • Watch comedy shows.
  • Talk to your pet.
  • Go for a walk and pay attention to the beautiful sunlight.
  • Feel rain on your skin.
  • Hug your partner or friend for longer than 20 seconds.
  • Take a bubble bath.


Make sure you build fun, laughter and enjoyment into your life. Do it as often as you can. Make notes of these good moments, and stick them to your fridge or notice board, so that you can read back over them when things are tough.


4. Supplements for Depression Self Help

Many people swear that supplementation improved their depression or cured it altogether. I believe it is somewhat important, and if you can afford to buy supplements by all means do- giving your brain the right micro nutrients it requires can only do good.

There are many different recommendations out there for supplements for depression self help. You could spend a lot of money here. Most quality supplements don’t come cheap.

I will recommend just three- which are all very commonsensical. The supplements I recommend are the top three major supports for the immune system and the nervous system and brain alike.

These three are:

Magnesium, the most important element for your nervous system and brain which most people are deficient in- with an emphasis on an easy-to-absorb presentation such as magnesium citrate.

Vitamin D- which you can get from exposing your skin to sunshine for 20 minutes every day if you live in a warm climate. If you live in a colder zone, supplement all year round to support your immune system and your brain.

Vitamin B complex- which is powerful nutrition for your brain improving overall functioning.


5. Get Social Support

I mentioned the approach to depression that argues depression is caused by the alienation and isolation of modern living. Based on this, I recommend you look at your support systems, and at becoming or remaining engaged socially.

Consider the following areas:

Friends.

There is a chance that when you have a lot going on in your life, not all of the people you used to be friendly with will be prepared to be there for you. Take it that this says more about them than it does about you.

You need supportive friends, people who can understand what is going on for you. You don't need superficiality. Some folks may drop away, but typically the friends that remain, or the new people who come into your life, become quality friends- and that's what you want.

Even if you don’t feel like it, make a commitment to meeting a friend at least once a week. If you find it hard to talk about what is going on for you, share an activity with them like doing sports or going for a walk.


Support Groups.

Consider attending a support group for depression self help where you can meet folks in similar situations. If this is not an option for you, join an online forum for depression self help.

Having contact with others who understand depression or suffer from it themselves is important because it breaks through the illusion many sufferers have that they are all alone with their experience and that nobody can possibly understand. In reality, you are far from alone and there is a whole world out there of people who understand exactly the kinds of things you are going through.


A social context.

Set up a social context for yourself. Join a social club or community group.

Have a look what’s around in your area. Make sure you mix at least once a week even if you may not feel like it one the day- make a point of showing up.

When you feel depressed feeling joy and closeness with others can be difficult. Often, people suffering from depression perceive a wide gap between themselves and others. A sense of loneliness and isolation can dominate.

Take showing up to at least one social event per week as a prescription you must follow, no matter how much you want to avoid it. You were made to be a social being. Understand that how you feel right now represents a distortion of how things should be.

Keep at it and over time your feelings will shift. Look out for hints of feeling comforted, feeling some joy, feeling a sense of lightness, or feeling understood. There is important healing in these moments. Make a note of them, and stick the note on the fridge or another place that you look at often to remind yourself of them on dark days.


Seeing a Professional.

Consider seeing a counselor or psychotherapist who can support you with working through much of this guide. Attending counseling will also help to break the isolation of depression.

If you feel suicidal or at risk of self harming, do not hesitate, procrastinate or postpone-you must definitely talk to a professional. If it’s urgent, there are often suicide crisis lines (check for your area) who will refer you on. Ultimately you should see a professional counselor on a regular basis. You can still use this guide alongside.


6. Pursue Interests, Meaning and Purpose

Try out different interests. When you come upon the one thing that’s right for you, this can lead to finding meaning and purpose in life once again.

So, don’t be afraid to try out different things, even those you have not previously considered. You are on a journey of self discovery. Stretch your comfort zone a little every week.

Think about these points:

  • What activities do you feel would interest you, make you feel fulfilled and give you joy?
  • What did you dream of becoming when you were a child or a young person?
  • Deep down, in the back of your mind, are there any interests you have secretly dreamt of pursuing but not given yourself permission to?

If you cannot think of anything, here are some ideas to get you started exploring:

  • Join a choir. Singing has been shown to improve your overall health and promote joy. There are choirs that are open to anyone, even those who believe they cannot sing.
  • Learn to play an instrument.
  • Join the local library and start reading whatever grabs your interest. Join a book club.
  • Take up volunteering for a cause you like.
  • Join a sports club.
  • Take up painting classes, even if you believe you are no good at art, and see if you enjoy it.
  • Go to a yoga class.
  • Take up creative writing and join a writers group.

depression self helpMy recommendation: keep a depression self help journal.

7. Keep a Depression Self Help Journal

Your journal will fulfill a number of functions.

It will aid self expression. Even when you believe that nobody out there can understand what you are going through- your journal will be there for you. Write it all down- your thoughts and feelings- don’t censor anything and don’t hold back. In this way, keeping a journal can ease the burden of depression.

It will help you track and challenge the negative thinking that drives depression. Depression will make you believe that the world is all bleak. It will try to fool you into believing life is not worthwhile. Depression has a way of making you feel like you are no good and nobody cares. These are just some of the most common negative thinking patterns that occur with depression.

But are they reality? In reality, the world is a big place, and a multitude of experiences are open to you. You simply cannot see them right now.

I recommend you start recording and challenging this negative thinking, and your journal is the ideal place to make a start with this.

As you come across negative thoughts, grab your journal and record them. When you have time, come back to your journal and work with them in the following way: write the negative thoughts in one column- then examine them and write the reality in the other. Here is an example to help you along.


Depression thought

I failed my exam. I am just no good at this. I never get things right. I really don’t like myself as a result.

Reality

I failed my exam this time. In reality I can repeat the exam. I was so exhausted that I couldn’t study as much as was required. There is a good chance I will get it next time. Having gone through it once, I now know what to expect.

Your journal will also help you support the good feelings. Write about the good moments and experiences. Mark them in a different color and read beck over them once a week. Remind yourself that good things are happening in your life, even if depression tries to tell you there are not.


Your journal can help you find purpose and meaning. I recommended above that you try out different activities to explore where you can find purpose and meaning. Here, I am encouraging you to record how these experiments went. Record how you enjoyed different activities, what works for you and what does not. As you are writing, new ideas will come to you. Note them down. They will give you more to work with.

Getting to know yourself. As you write into your journal every day, make a slot for recording ’new things I learned about me’. Focus on the positive, as depression will have your mind filled with negativity already. Write about the things you are discovering that you are good at.

For example, write about positive qualities like newly discovered talents that emerge from your creative explorations or from social outings. Don’t allow yourself to belittle or berate these positive things you are discovering about yourself in any way.

I recommend that once a week you make a time slot for reading back over your entire week’s writing. You will have forgotten some things by now and it’s good to bring them back to your awareness. This will help you to get to know yourself better. You will soon start to discover patterns that occur with the depression you are experiencing, and you will also soon start to see that there are positives about life, and about you as a person in particular.


8. Commit to a Form of Daily Practice

I recommend you introduce one form of daily practice for depression self help.

Of the options that follow, it doesn’t matter so much what you do, it could even be something other than what is on my list- as long as it fulfills the function of centering body and mind. What does matters is that the activity becomes daily practice- whether you feel like it or not. Keep at it and over time, you will notice changes.


These are the most common forms of daily practice:

Relaxation

Relaxation is a great daily practice when you feel depressed. When the body relaxes, feelings of well-being and joy can emerge spontaneously.

There are many relaxation methods and protocols.

For example, you could use self hypnosis relaxation techniques. Spend about twenty minutes relaxing in any one sitting, making sure you are comfortable and that all your muscles can genuinely let go. After you start practicing relaxation you will soon notice moments of emotional lightness.


Self Hypnosis for Depression Self Help

Self hypnosis for depression is another powerful tool at your disposal. It can help you stabilize and improve your symptoms.

I myself use self hypnosis for myself a lot, for whatever issues I am currently working on. In relation to depression and any other deep seated emotional issue, self hypnosis (which will always use suggestion hypnosis techniques) is ideally best combined with regression hypnosis which can help to heal any underlying issues such as childhood trauma.

While you can use relaxation hypnosis and self hypnosis for depression from the very start of your healing process, you are best advised to access life regression hypnosis only once you have made some progress on the route towards recovery and your symptoms have stabilized.


Mindfulness, Meditation and Yoga

Mindfulness, meditation and yoga all lead to improved clarity of mind. Practicing one of these options daily will improve both your physical and mental well-being.

I recommend Transcendental Meditation (TM) which I practice myself daily. This is a powerful form of meditation, easily learned and very effective. With a small time investment of twenty minutes in the morning and early evening each you can gain much more stability and clarity that you would not know yourself- and the results happen fast, within a few days of commencing daily practice.


9. Essential Personal Growth for Depression Self Help

depression self helpAnger- depression self help.

Make Friends with Your Anger

Based on working with many clients suffering from depression over the years, one of my observations is that there seems to be a strong link between depression and anger.

Personally, I am a strong believer in anger. Anger, I believe, is a survival tool we were given by evolution. What do I mean?

What I am getting at is what I believe the function of anger to be: in its purest form, anger lets us know when our physical or emotional space is under threat. Anger alerts us to get ready to defend our boundaries. As such, anger is meant to get our attention and to call us into action.

Being human, we can never get rid of feeling anger at certain times. Feeling angry is quite natural when:


  • Someone or something annoys you.
  • Something reminds you of a hurtful childhood incident.
  • You want to say no to someone.
  • You feel uncomfortable or invaded.


Some people who suffer from depression often turn their anger against themselves: they berate themselves and put themselves down internally. They feel bad about themselves, cannot see their talents or anything good about themselves. Often, this reflects what was done to them, perhaps when they were a child.

Other people who feel depressed cannot feel their anger at all. When you are severely depressed, most emotions can be hard to feel. Not being able to feel anger though, causes problems- when you cannot feel where your boundary is, how can you assertively defend it?

Plus, for many people, the emotion of anger has negative connotations. Many people correlate anger with violence, sometimes based on past experience of, for example, domestic violence. Growing up, women especially are told that they must not be angry. (It’s not ‘ladylike’). 

If this is you, I am inviting you to take in the premise that feeling anger and acting upon that anger are two different things. When you feel angry, you most likely experience angry thoughts, accompanied by body sensations such as:

  • A temperature change from cold to hot
  • A ball of energy in your stomach
  • A rush of moving energy
  • An impulse to move arms or legs

When you feel these things, they usually build up, peak, and then abate. And you can experience all of what I described, going through the entire cycle of physiological arousal, by just staying with this experience inside you mindfully- just letting it be, not attempting to change it, not judging it- you can track your thoughts and body sensations and hang in there until they pass- and you can do all this without ever acting upon that anger at all.

Of course, depending on the situation, this can be very difficult to do because we are human. I brought this up because I want to make the point that it can be perfectly safe to feel that anger and that feeling it alone will not hurt anybody.
In fact, not feeling that anger will invariably get someone hurt- you. Getting in touch with your anger, in my professional opinion, is crucial personal development for healing from depression.

Use the self help tools I have introduced you to in this article for this piece of work, especially journaling and meditation. Write about anger, or the absence of it. Soon enough you will get more information. Once you feel it, bring your attention inward and track those body sensations.

It’s best not to act while you feel angry. Stay with it and the feeling along with the strong body sensations will pass. You will see things more clearly then. That’s the time to decide on what action you might want to take- if any. Just feeling anger can be enough for some people. It’s like a powerful form of energy work.

I have found that when people who suffer from depression can finally get in touch with their anger, more often than not, there will be a major breakthrough.

  • They start to feel better.
  • They are better able to take care of themselves.
  • They start taking an interest in life once more.
  • They become more assertive.
  • They can feel their power again.
  • They start feeling all their emotions once again, including positive ones like joy and love.


Working with anger is very difficult work, no doubt. Another challenge is not to become stuck in chronic anger. Anger is chronic, if the same themes keep replaying themselves. Ultimately, you want to move towards being able to let it go.
Easier said than done, I know.

If you find the idea of feeling and working with anger very challenging, you are not alone. Having support from a professional can help here. You can use the depression self help skills in this guide alongside to feel more empowered.

Also, I want to mention that depression hypnosis is a fantastic tool to work with anger in a very safe and contained way. In fact, hypnotherapy for depression can help to speed the healing process by a great deal, especially when the treatment contains regression hypnosis.


Boost Your Self Esteem and Build Confidence

Many people who suffer from depression lose confidence and have low self esteem. No wonder when everyday living has become a struggle.

Depression tries to fool you with negative messages. That niggling inner voice will repeatedly put you down, make you feel useless and worthless- based on not being able to keep up with the fast pace of life when you go through rough patches.


depression self helpBoosting self esteem and confidence is essential depression self help.

A critical step in depression self help is to challenge this type of negative thinking. I introduced you to a fabulous tool further above- the depression self help journal which I recommend you write into daily. This will get you started with developing awareness around your personal negative thinking patterns and it gives you a simple and effective tool for starting to analyze them and see them for the destructive illusions they are.

After a while of practicing journal writing, you can bring this work to the next level, where you challenge these types of negative thoughts as they arise- in the moment. Developing this awareness will give you fantastic freedom because it opens the door to boosting self esteem and building confidence.

You can then turn the negative messages around and replace them- there and then- with reality checks. You can then challenge self criticism.

You can then also redefine the concept of ‘failure’ which underlies a great deal of the low self esteem. What do I mean? Many people who suffer from depression judge themselves to be a failure at practically every opportunity.

  • They compare themselves to others all the time and the others will always be seen in a better light and see themselves as a ‘failure’.
  • They believe that when they make a mistake this is synonymous with failure.

In reality, it is never a good idea to compare oneself to others. First of all, others always have their weaknesses, too. You might not know them or see them from the outside, but be assured that everyone does have struggles and difficulties somewhere in their life. You can rely on that.

So, rather than judging yourself so harshly, develop self compassion for yourself and your own personal battles. You are going through a lot, and you are hanging in there. Well done, you.

And, in reality, are you a failure? What is failure, really?

I believe failure is a very misunderstood concept. I believe that the only failure there is, is in not trying and giving up.

Because how do we learn in life? Learning is not a straightforward journey of constant improvement. Rather, learning often comes in the form of so called mistakes. Every mistake is a learning experience. In fact, I would like you to stop using the words 'mistake' and 'failure' altogether. Instead, call it learning. And accept the nature of your own learning journey. You have your own personal way of learning. You are you- a unique individual.

Mastering these two challenges will bring you a long way towards building self esteem. You can further support it using visual cues, like the positive notes left on your fridge or noticeboard that I mentioned earlier, or by putting together a ‘positivity board’ with positive notes and images about yourself and put it in a prominent place where you will see it daily.

Then, you can start developing a positive self image and start valuing yourself for all the positive, amazing qualities you have.

And with this foundation laid, you can start building confidence by trying yourself out in areas you feel would suit you.


depression self helpfinding your purpose in life is depression self help, too.

10. Develop a Positive Vision of the Future

Once you start using the tools I have introduced you to in this depression self help guide, you are well on the way to recovery. Keep going for a little while. Commit to doing the work, even when you don’t feel like it. If you do keep going, the moment will come when you will notice a positive vision of the future emerge in your mind.

Either all of a sudden, or in bits and pieces, you will be able to start seeing a place for yourself in this world. A place where you will feel you belong, have something to contribute, and where you can feel worthwhile. Once it does, be sure to capture this moment. Craft a vision board, write it all down in your depression self help journal.

Developing this positive vision does not represent the end of your journey by any means. What it does signify however, is a breakthrough into a new stage where you start feeling much better about yourself and life in general.

Of course the journey described in this depression self help guide is rarely ‘quick and easy’. However, the tools work. I have seen them work many times. They can work for you, too. The journey will take time and dedication but I believe you can do this and I will keep my fingers crossed for you.

In the comments underneath, let our community know how you are getting on.

Regards,

Curious About Hypnosis for Depression?


Where from here?

If you feel anxiety as well as depression, you can find out comprehensive tips on self help for anxiety here.

If you know little about hypnosis and would like to find out more, I recommend you start with the following articles.


  1. Home
  2. Healing With Hypnotherapy
  3. Depression Self Help



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Hello Venturer,

Welcome to my Online Hypnotherapy Clinic. I am Susanna Sweeney, accredited psychotherapist and hypnotherapist. I have been helping people to overcome their blocks and move forward for 25+ years.  Along the way, I have fallen in love with hypnotherapy. 
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