The 12 Best Ways To Cope With Depression (That Aren't Medication)

Trigger warning: This article deals with depression and mental health.

Everyone feels sadness at some point in their lives. However, when that feeling of sadness and loss of pleasure is consistent after a few weeks, it becomes a depressive disorder. The World Health Organization stated that 5% of adults in the world have depression. Depression ranges from mild to severe and comes with several symptoms, including feelings of low self-worth, fatigue, insomnia, poor concentration, and hopelessness. 

You can also find a handful of different treatments to cope with depression symptoms. While severe depression requires therapy and medication, mild and moderate depression might be handled without pharmaceutical intervention. However, working with your medical specialist is essential when deciding on alternative treatment methods beyond medication. Moreover, there are simple steps on how to incorporate one or all of these alternative therapies for coping with depression into your routine. 

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Get moving

When depression is knocking you down, getting out of bed can feel impossible — and once you make it out, following your morning routine can be exhausting. You might not be able to fathom any type of exercise, but research shows it can positively impact your mental health.

A study in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry demonstrated that taking on a structured exercise program could help alleviate some of the symptoms of depression. The reasoning comes from several factors, including releasing endorphins and distracting you from your worries. Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, stated, "For some people, it works as well as antidepressants, although exercise alone isn't enough for someone with severe depression" (via Harvard Health Publishing).

Incorporating a structured exercise routine, like running, walking, HIIT training, and weightlifting, can help you long-term with mild depression symptoms. That doesn't mean you need to start signing up for a triathlon; begin with a small goal by incorporating an afternoon walk into your routine a few times a week. You can then move on to bigger goals, like signing up for a 5K or walk-a-thon. Try coupling exercise with music to create a one-two punch for depression.

Add music to your day

Anyone who has ever suffered from depression can tell you that it comes with highs and lows. Incorporating exercise into your routine can have amazing benefits for uplifting your mood, but some days, it isn't an option. Fortunately, it takes relatively less effort to flip on a few tunes to provide encouragement, inspiration, and distraction.

According to a 2017 review in the Cochrane Library, music therapy can alleviate depression when used with other treatments. Using a small study, researchers found that it "also shows efficacy in decreasing anxiety levels and improving functioning of depressed individuals." Therefore, adding uplifting music to distract your thoughts and get your heart pumping can be beneficial. Banyan Treatment Centers even listed songs for fighting depression, like Rachel Platten's "Better Place" and Paramore's "Last Hope." Many of these songs accurately describe what depression feels like, so you know that you're not alone in this journey.

Music can help you feel connected to the world and know that the battle with depression is one you can win. Music therapy also works well when used in conjunction with the right diet. 

Eat to improve your mindset

Food isn't going to be a magic cure that suddenly makes you feel better after one bite. But your gut is a keeper of serotonin, and eating the right foods can positively impact your mental health. 

According to Medical News Today, several vitamins and minerals have been identified that help boost your mood and work to inhibit anxiety. For example, add whole grain nuts to your salad for the added selenium, which is a potential mood-booster. Meanwhile, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids in fish work to enhance brain function. The B vitamins in leafy greens, eggs, and nuts benefit the nervous system, which controls depression and anxiety. Getting enough water is also vital to ensuring all your systems are hydrated and working as they should. 

It's important to include foods that can reduce your symptoms of depression rather than emotional eating, which can lead to overeating and weight gain. So, adding a few to your diet each day can make a difference. You can even make a little reminder note on your mirror or cupboard to eat a salad or grab a handful of nuts. You may find it beneficial to make your diet a little greener when dealing with depression. 

Add more green to your life

According to research, caring for and having plants around your home may actually make you feel happier. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found that compared to mental work, "active interaction with indoor plants" was more effective at reducing both physiological and psychological stress. According to the researchers, this happens because of the "suppression of sympathetic nervous system activity and diastolic blood pressure and promotion of comfortable, soothed, and natural feelings." Moreover, in caring for the plants, you're also more likely to move around and be more productive, which adds in a little exercise. Plants also bring with them an improvement in the air quality around your home, giving your brain a welcome boost of oxygen.

Caring for any plant will have an impact, but Garden Culture Magazine did highlight a few favorites for helping to ease depression signs. For example, chamomile is known for its calming effects, while jasmine is an aphrodisiac. Additionally, smelling lavender can help you to feel calm and alleviate stress. You can even add these to a desk to help you keep calm during your day-to-day activities.

Give journaling a try

It might seem like just writing down your feelings is a waste of time, but there are actually a host of benefits. Many times, depression can leave you obsessed over your past choices or have you worrying about what the future will bring. Journaling those feelings can help keep you in the present and possibly reframe them in a more positive way.

As PsyD Kimberlee Chronister told Healthline, "Journaling about your current thoughts and feelings, or visual and other observations, can help you to become more mindful." It keeps you in the present moment and lets you look at those feelings of the past and future in a non-judgmental way, allowing you to break the obsessive thinking cycle. Even just this act of writing can help you feel lighter and give those worries and fears less power over you.

Journaling can also make you conscious of the different events or reasons that lead to your bouts of depression. According to psychologist Danielle Roseske, "The more you journal about what's happening in your daily life, the more you'll be able to become aware of which events, thoughts, or behaviors may make you feel more depressed" (via Healthline). For example, after reading through your entries, you notice that visiting areas with large crowds increases your anxiety and depression symptoms. With the trigger identified, you can talk to your therapist and work through coping strategies, one of which might be creating a specific routine to help desensitize you.

Create a morning routine

Any time of the day can be hard with depression, but mornings are typically the worst. As MD Rebecca Brendel told Everyday Health, "Low energy in the morning is common among people with depression, which can make it hard." Additionally, mornings can come with a lot of activity and stress, further amplifying depression symptoms.

To fight the fatigue that comes with depression, start your day off with a morning routine. For example, you might want to begin your day by getting up at the same time. A 2021 study in NPJ Digital Medicine found that variability in sleep can affect your depression, so it's good to establish a clear wake-up time. Additionally, following the same routine each morning allows you to complete your morning tasks easily. This gives you more control over your morning and starts your day on a positive note. As Dr. Brendel noted, "If you're able to get yourself on a good start to the morning, that can have a huge impact on feeling like you can accomplish everything you need to throughout the day."

With all that said, your morning routine doesn't need to be complicated. It could be as simple as getting up, brushing your teeth, and showering. You could also create a shortened version of your normal routine for days that you're struggling. The key is to make small positive changes to fill your morning with positivity. 

Practice mindfulness

It's easy to get bogged down in feelings about the past or future. You might not be able to get over a fight with your sister, or you might be worried about that speaking engagement in the coming week. The worry and stress of events from the past and future can easily get stuck in an endless loop. Practicing mindfulness grounds you in the now, giving you a break from consuming negative thoughts. 

There are several mindfulness-based coping strategies that allow you to focus on the present and reset your mind. For example, stop for a moment and just savor the smells, sounds, and feelings around you at this moment, according to The Beginner's Guide to Being Present. Take a mental note of the softness of your favorite pair of shoes, or enjoy the aroma of the piece of fruit you're eating. Tune everything else out just to enjoy this moment in time. You can also focus on the moment by listening to your breathing for a few minutes, like doing controlled breathing exercises while waiting in traffic.

It's also important during mindfulness to reduce any distractions (via PsychCentral). So rather than mindlessly eating while scrolling through your phone, put your phone down and truly enjoy each bite of the meal and the company next to you. Lastly, meditation is another great way to practice mindfulness. 

Add meditation to your day

Meditation benefits your health more than you might think, especially regarding depression, according to meditation expert Laura Coleman. She told PsychCentral that meditation is essentially "a way of training your attention so that, instead of finding yourself lost in difficult thoughts and feelings, you can gain new perspective and insight."

Since meditation is an ancient practice, several different forms are available to help you cope with (and overcome the negative thoughts and feelings of worthlessness that come with) depression. One of the key meditation techniques for depression is mindfulness meditation. Dr. Aditi Nerurkar, MD, described this meditation in Health as "a moment-to-moment awareness of the present moment [that] uses your breath to create an anchor to keep bringing your attention back to the present moment and help with cognitive retraining." Individuals with depression also find relief in mantra mediation, which focuses on words or a mantra to anchor the person. Breath awareness is a meditation that focuses on breathing and can be done any time. Walking can even be a form of meditation.

To get the most bang for your health, study up on different forms of meditation to find the one that works the best for you. You might also find that positive imagery works well with meditation practices. 

Focus on positive imagery and words

You've probably heard of people going to their happy place. Well, imagining your happy place is a relaxation technique known as guided positive imagery. For example, you might picture yourself walking in a field of flowers and the smells of the blossoms surrounding you. The image alone gives you feelings of calm, peace, and tranquility. That's the essence of positive imagery.

But it doesn't just have to be your happy place, according to Medical News Today. You can also use guided imagery to imagine your body fighting an illness, or you winning that promotion at work. This relaxation technique aims to fix the image within your mind and get lost in it to reduce overwhelming stress or anxiety. A 2018 Complementary Therapy in Clinical Practice study found that guided imagery positively reduced depression in hemodialysis patients.

Getting started with guided imagery relaxation techniques isn't hard. All you need to do is find a comfortable space in your home or office and begin imagining a calm place in your mind. If you find yourself struggling with this, a quick Google search can provide you with instructional audio, like the guided imagery from Ochsner Health.

Socialize and build connections

Depression can do a lot of different things to your body. It saps your energy, makes even mundane tasks difficult, surrounds you with negative feelings, and withdraws you from your friends and family. However, meeting friends at the mall or watching Netflix together can be a great deterrent to depression symptoms.

A 2020 study from the Massachusetts General Hospital showed connecting with others and reducing single-person activities, like watching TV, could lower your risk for depression. The importance of social connections as a deterrent for depression was also further studied in a 2022 study published in Plos One. Through reviews of studies on social interaction, a strong association was found between those with a lack of social connectedness and depression. So even when it feels impossible, staying connected with those around you is essential.

It might seem hard initially, but it can be as simple as inviting friends to see a movie. You can also join a new club or plan a fun night out with a buddy. Connecting with others has many benefits beyond just warding against depression, like strong immunity, positive emotion regulation, and higher self-esteem. 

Get enough Zs

Sleep is something you feel like you never get enough of when you're in the grips of depression. This is especially true if you have insomnia. A Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience study found a strong link between sleep and depression. The study showed that 75% of depressed patients had insomnia symptoms. As sleep researcher Dr. Patrick H. Finan stated (via Johns Hopkins Medicine), "Poor sleep may create difficulties regulating emotions that, in turn, may leave you more vulnerable to depression in the future—months or even years from now."

However, it's not the quantity of sleep people are getting that causes the issues; it's the quantity. Finan says that depression "is associated with sleep difficulties such as shortening the amount of restorative slow-wave sleep a person gets each night." Additionally, people with depression can have difficulty falling asleep, as their negative thoughts and feelings work to keep their minds running.

To get a better and more fulfilling night's sleep, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends going to bed at a consistent time, keeping your gadgets out of your bedroom, getting adequate exercise, and avoiding heavy meals before bedtime. It's also helpful to try nighttime meditation techniques to help you calm your mind and fall asleep. 

Set goals for yourself

Depression tends to leave chaos in its wake, and can make you feel like you aren't getting anywhere. Fortunately, setting goals can help you see the small steps you're making when the weight of negativity is pushing against you. The key to goal-setting in depression is to make sure that you set small goals that lead to long-term goals. 

Here's an example: Say you want to work on getting your whole house clean. However, you don't have the energy for that. So, set small daily goals, like loading the dishwasher on Monday and sweeping the store on Tuesday. In time, you achieve the purpose of cleaning the house, but it's through small, achievable goals that you feel a bit more positive. Novum Psychiatry suggests using SMART (specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, and timely) goals when dealing with depression, like eating breakfast every morning, walking every other day, and going to bed at 10. These goals follow the SMART rubric and are simple enough to be accomplished. Last but not the least, it's equally vital to remember that it's okay to fail and to lean on your support group for help.