Depression can make even the smallest daily tasks feel like a real challenge. It affects people in different ways, but can often include feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or having little motivation or interest in things.

When you’re feeling depressed, it can be difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel or imagine a day that could be any better than the one you’re having right now. You might also feel isolated and that no one understands you or what you’re going through. Whatever you’re feeling, it’s important to remember that you’re not alone.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), more than 264 million people across the globe are affected by depression, and chances are, you’ll know others who have experienced depression at some stage in their lives – whether you’re aware of it or not.

It’s common for people who feel depressed to feel that they have to keep their feelings to themselves to avoid burdening others, or to feel ashamed to admit that they’re struggling. But acknowledging what you’re feeling and telling someone about it can be a helpful first step towards getting the extra support that you need.

An example of this that recently made the media was when 52-year-old father-of-two, Edmund O’Leary, from Surrey, took to Twitter to tell others quite simply; ‘I am not okay’ and to ask them to take a few seconds to reach out and say hello. He described the horrendous year that he’d had as a result of the pandemic – especially because he’s unemployed and living alone. As a result, he received over 300,000 messages of support from around the world (with many saying that they could relate to what he was feeling) and he was blown away by the response.

While most of us won’t want to make a public announcement on Twitter, chances are, you’ll be surprised at the kindness of those around you if you reach out for help and say you’re struggling.

Depression can have a debilitating effect on your happiness, your work, and your relationships. And while there’s no instant solution to dealing with feelings of depression, there are some things you can do that might ease things.

Here we explain more about what depression is, it’s common symptoms, and offer 10 practical suggestions to help make things feel more manageable. Hopefully, these will help you to see a clearer path forward…

What is depression?

Most of us feel sad or experience a low mood in response to grief, loss, or when life presents us with challenges. Or sometimes, we might just wake up on the wrong side of the bed and have a bad day. Depression is when feelings of sadness or emptiness become much more intense, so much so that they start getting in the way of your daily life. If you feel this way, then you could be suffering from depression.

People who are depressed often find that they no longer enjoy their favourite activities, have very little energy, and find it challenging to get through each day. Sometimes, even things as simple as taking a shower or making a meal can take a huge amount of effort and leave a person feeling exhausted.

Others might say that they feel lonely and isolated, at the same time as not having the energy or the motivation to go out or be around people.

Depression can affect people in different ways and, for some, it might come and go. For example, some people experience depression in the winter when the days are darker and colder, but generally feel happier in the summer months when the weather is warmer and brighter. Others might find themselves feeling depressed for a few months at a time, for no obvious reason, while feeling okay for a few months in between.

In some cases, depression can be triggered by a specific event, like a loss of a loved one, redundancy or another drastic change in circumstances – and other times, people might be unable to identify any reason at all for it.

What are the common symptoms of depression?

Social & emotional symptoms

Common psychological symptoms of depression include:

  • Intense feelings of hopelessness, emptiness, or sadness that won’t go away
  • Having no motivation or interest in things – even things that you would usually love
  • Feelings of guilt and worthlessness
  • Wanting to be alone and feeling irritable and intolerant of others
  • Feeling as though you don’t enjoy life and have nothing to look forward to
  • Feeling anxious or worried – sometimes for no apparent reason
  • Feeling tearful
  • Avoiding social activities and contact with friends and family
  • Problems at home or work – such as arguing with family members or not being able to concentrate on tasks at work
  • Having suicidal thoughts
  • Having thoughts about harming yourself

Physical symptoms

Some of the physical symptoms commonly experienced by people with depression include:

  • Feeling lethargic
  • Problems falling or staying asleep. Or, wanting to sleep much more than usual – for example, during the day when you’d usually be doing other things
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Low sex drive
  • Changes in weight, and eating more/less than usual
  • Constipation
  • Moving or speaking more slowly than usual

10 things you can do to help yourself through depression

While coping with depression isn’t easy, there are a few things you can do which might help. You might not feel like doing some of these things to start with, but often, the more you persevere – even when your natural instincts might be telling you to do the opposite – the greater impact they can have on your quality of life.

1. Accept how you feel, but try not to dwell there

While it’s a good idea to accept your feelings and to acknowledge them for what they are, try not to let yourself dwell here. When your mood is very low, it can be tempting to take yourself off to bed and let these feelings prevent you from doing anything at all. When this happens, you can end up feeling even lower.

Instead, you could try putting aside an hour each day where you can cry, scream, take a nap, or scribble down your feelings in a journal. Then, when the hour is over, try to focus your mind on other things. This way, you aren’t running from your feelings or trying to pretend you’re okay when you’re not. Instead, you’re saying, “I’m not okay, but now I’m going to go out for a walk, and when I come back, I’ll make myself something to eat.”

It’s likely that this will be tough at first and you might find yourself struggling not to let your feelings cloud time outside of this hour. But the next step will hopefully help with this…

2. Create yourself a manageable weekly plan

When you’re feeling depressed, one of the last things you might feel like doing is creating a weekly plan for yourself – especially if everything feels like hard work at the moment. However, having a routine can be incredibly helpful. Not only can it act as a distraction, but it can also give you a reason to get out of bed in the morning and something to hold yourself accountable for.

Any plan you create for yourself should always feel manageable and consist of small steps, rather than big leaps, otherwise, you can end up feeling overwhelmed or simply not stick to it.

For example, if you’re spending a lot of time at home feeling isolated and struggling to stay motivated, then it could help to break your day up a bit. Rather than spending all day at your desk working, you could plan to go for a midday walk – even if you only do a quick lap around your local park. Or perhaps you could plan to make yourself something different for lunch – rather than skipping your lunch hour or eating the same ham sandwich you have every day.

You could also try choosing a day where you decide to declutter and reorganise a particular room in your house and another where you meet a friend for a coffee for an hour or have a video call.

You might feel as though you’re going through the motions to start with and not fully able to concentrate on or enjoy the things that you’re doing. But at some point, perhaps without even realising it, you might find yourself getting really interested in an activity – or even feeling proud of something that you’ve achieved.

3. Consider trying talking therapy such as counselling or CBT

Whether you think you could benefit from therapy or not, it’s something that’s worth a try – there’s very little downside to trying it and it has the potential to make the world of difference. Talking therapies come in all different shapes and sizes, but a couple of the most common forms are counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Counselling is great for opening up about how you’re feeling to someone impartial, who will listen, never judge, and ask you questions that will help you explore your emotions, and potentially uncover the root of why you’re feeling the way you do. There are general counsellors, who you can talk to about a range of different issues – or more specialised counsellors who can help with specific issues surrounding things like grief or relationships.

CBT also gives you the opportunity to explore your emotions, but a therapist will give you tools (that you can go away and use), that will help you to feel more in control of your thoughts and feelings  – and can provide you with a coping mechanism that you can utilise for the rest of your life. If you’d like to find out more, then you might find it useful to read our article; An introduction to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Both counselling and CBT are available on the NHS and you can be referred through your GP. Or, you can self-refer by contacting a psychological therapies service locally. You can find out more about how to access NHS talking therapies on the NHS website here.

Alternatively, you might be able to access counsellors or therapists through your work, through community or charity sector organisations, or privately. Mental health charity, Mind, have put together a detailed guide that’ll show you how to go about finding a therapist in each of these different areas.

4. Connect with nature

Many people say that when they spend time around plants or animals, they feel much calmer and more relaxed. We live in such a fast-paced world, where so many aspects of our lives are now controlled by technology and we’re constantly being bombarded with social media updates, news, and email. The result of this can often be that we’re left feeling overwhelmed, but also isolated and disconnected from reality because so much of our face-to-face contact is now being replaced with communication through smart devices.

If you’re ever feeling this way – or if you’re just feeling stressed or sad – then connecting with nature can help. There’s something very powerful and calming about nature carrying on around us, no matter what we’re dealing with in our lives. This can, in some ways, make our problems feel smaller.

How you connect with nature will be up to you – perhaps you’d benefit from brightening up your living space with some easy-to-care-for houseplants, or putting some music in your ears and going for a long walk somewhere with lots of green space. Or, maybe you have a pet who you could spend some extra time with. Pets are great at making us feel better – especially because they’ll always love us unconditionally.

5. Keep in contact

Keeping in contact with loved ones or people who can relate to what you’re going through can help you feel less alone. Even if your default mode has become to avoid contact with others, it’s a good idea to try and make sure you keep in contact anyway – even if it’s just for five minutes a day.

If you find it difficult to reach out, then it might be worth asking a trusted friend or family member whether they could check in with you every now and then, just to say hello and see how you’re doing. They might also have been through similar experiences with depression themselves and be able to relate to what you’re feeling.

If you don’t know who to reach out to, then you could consider reaching out to people on online forums (but be cautious not to reveal any personal details, such as your address, to anyone you don’t know) or reading written personal accounts – Mind have a number of these available on their website. You might be surprised how similar your thoughts and feelings might be to others.

6. Try, and try again

If you’ve stopped enjoying your favourite activities – whether than be reading, drawing, or cooking – then it’s not worth forcing yourself to try and love them again. But what you can do is do them anyway, because if you enjoyed them once, chances are, you’ll be able to enjoy them again one day in the future.

Perhaps you won’t enjoy these activities the first, second, or even third time, but the hope is that you will eventually. Just be sure to take your time, take things slow, and let yourself feel whatever it is that you’re feeling along the way.

Progress can happen even when we’re not aware of it – so you might spend a week trying to read the same chapter of your favourite book, thinking that you’ll never get anywhere, only to sit down on the eighth day and finish it in an afternoon. Some of your favourite activities could also become powerful forms of self-expression that could offer you an outlet for any strong emotions.

If you’re in need of a little inspiration for activities that you could do, then consider having a look at our article, 10 everyday activities that can help you to stay in the present moment. This will show you how to use things like cooking, flower arranging, and knitting to help focus your attention on the present moment and let go of everything else.

7. Eat well

Exercise and nutrition may well be some of the last things on your mind at the moment, but what you eat and how often you move can have a significant impact on how you feel. If you’re not eating enough or you’re eating a lot of sugary or fatty foods – as these are often quick and convenient – then you can end up feeling worse.

If cooking is a struggle right now, then it could help to find some healthy meal recipes that you can make quickly and don’t require too many ingredients. You might also find it useful to swap recipes with others, to gain some cooking inspiration. BBC Good Food has a great selection of tasty-looking meals that you can make in 20 minutes or less.

Research has suggested that low levels of amino acids, tyrosine, and tryptophan (which are precursors to serotonin – our happy hormones) can lead to a drop in serotonin levels. You can increase your tyrosine and tryptophan levels by eating foods like cheese, pineapple, or tofu.

Similarly, experts have also found a correlation between vitamin D deficiency and depression. You can increase your vitamin D levels by eating more oily fish, seafood, and some mushrooms – and by getting outside more. To find out more about how to boost your vitamin D levels, check out our quick guide.

8. Try to move at least once a day

Moving every day doesn’t have to mean doing an intense cardio workout, it can also include things like walking, yoga, or doing some more active chores like hoovering or mopping the floors. There are also plenty of ways you can keep fit from home, if you can’t get outside for a walk, or don’t feel up to going to the gym. Have a read of our article 5 steps to staying fit from home for some tips and inspiration.

If your energy is low, or you’re finding everything hard work at the moment, then it’s best to go easy on yourself and build up your activity levels slowly. Perhaps, to start with, you could do some gentle exercise for 10-15 minutes a day to see how you feel and after a week or so, you might decide you feel up to doing more.

Many people find fitness trackers to be powerful motivators for helping to increase daily activity levels. They can tell you how many steps you’ve done each day. Many will also track sleep quality and make suggestions as to how you can improve your sleep pattern.

9. Don’t make any quick decisions that you might regret later

If you’re feeling low and are desperate to feel better, then it can be natural to look for quick, but often drastic fixes that you think might put an end to the problem. This could include leaving your job, moving house, or running away to be on your own.

While these things might seem reasonable at the time, it’s never a good idea to make any big decisions in a hurry when you’re feeling low or have feelings of depression – as you might regret it later when you’ve moved through your depression and are thinking differently.

If you’re ever thinking about making a big decision, then it’s always a good idea to run it past a reliable friend or family member first to get a second opinion. Or, you could consider writing it down, as this can make it much harder to convince yourself that something is the right thing to do, if it, perhaps, isn’t.

It can also help to practise mindfulness – an activity that’ll help you focus your mind only on the present moment – as this can help you feel calmer, let go of worries or anxieties surrounding the past and future, and offer you fresh perspective.

10. Make an appointment with your GP

If you suspect that you’re suffering from depression, then it’s worth making an appointment with your GP, who will either have a chat with you over the phone or might ask you to come into the surgery. They’ll be able to make an official diagnosis and talk to you about your options for getting some help. These options could include talking therapy, lifestyle changes, and/or medication.

Reaching out for help to a stranger might feel like a daunting step to take, but it’s often one of the most important steps that you can take towards feeling better and many people say they feel a sense of great relief after actually speaking to their GP for the first time.

While a GP appointment is a good idea for organising some long-term help, if you’re ever feeling desperate and aren’t sure where to turn, then you can get in touch with Samaritans by calling 116 124, or with Silver Line by calling 0800 470 8090. Here, someone will be able to offer you a listening ear and some friendly words of advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you don’t feel up to speaking on the phone, then Samaritans also have an email address that you can write to: [email protected]. You should receive a response within 24 hours.

If you’re struggling with depression due to the loss of a loved one, then you could also get in touch with Cruse Bereavement Care on 0808 808 1677. They too can offer you some kind words of support and information on where to turn next.

A final note…

Depression is one of the most challenging things that many of us will face in our life and at times it might feel as though things will never get better. It’s important to remember that no matter how bad things feel right now, it is possible to see a brighter day with the right help and support.

Be kind to yourself, take things one day at a time, and always remember that you’re not alone and to reach out for help if you need it.

Additional helpful resources

  • Bipolar UK – a charity dedicated to helping people living with manic depression or bipolar disorder.
  • Cruse Bereavement Care – help and support for people experiencing feelings of grief or loss.
  • Mental Health Foundation – information and support for anyone living with mental health issues or learning disabilities.
  • Mind – a charity that promotes better mental health, and offers information and support on things like depression and anxiety.
  • Men’s Health Forum – a 24/7 text, email and chat service for men who are going through stress.
  • No Panic – a charity offering support to people who experience panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), including a course where you can learn coping mechanisms.
  • Samaritans – confidential support for people experiencing feelings of stress, anxiety or despair.
  • Silver Line – a charity providing information, friendship and advice to older people.