When you’re living with depression, it can be hard to muster the mental drive and physical energy to fight it. Maybe you can’t find the motivation to clean, or perhaps depression headaches are making it hard to work.
If the future seems bleak, or if the things you usually love aren’t making you happy, you might need to learn how to fight depression.
It’s okay to sit with your depression for a while and wait for it to pass, but if you’re ready to fight it, you have options. Like any good fight, you’ll need a strategy to keep you on course.
We’ll cover 15 strategies for fighting depression below, including natural remedies, lifestyle changes, therapy and medication options.
Combating depression can involve lifestyle changes, psychotherapy, medications or all three. Millions of people battle depression, but each person’s journey is different.
Your depression treatment plan needs to be tailored to you individually, and it’ll likely involve some trial and error. No matter the strategy, make sure to work with a healthcare professional for guidance, even if you have self-diagnosed depression.
Let’s get into the strategies you can use to combat depression.
You can fight depression with the help of antidepressant medications. You’ll need to work with a healthcare provider, like a primary care provider or a psychiatrist. Different depression medications work differently and are often tailored to specific depression types.
If you can’t see a healthcare provider in person, you can try online psychiatry to access medication. In a world of remote work and virtual happy hours, getting online psychiatry and virtual therapy is a breeze.
You might have to experiment with more than one medication, as effectiveness and side effects can vary from person to person.
Below are a few types of common medications for fighting depression.
SSRIs work by affecting your serotonin levels, a chemical in the brain that impacts mood, sleep, digestion and more. Health professionals commonly prescribe SSRIs for:
Major depressive disorder (MDD)
SSRIs help combat depression by stopping the body from reabsorbing serotonin, essentially leaving more of the feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain. This medication comes in tablet form and historically causes fewer side effects than other antidepressant medications.
However, SSRIs aren’t completely free of adverse effects. Some SSRI side effects include:
Zoloft®, Prozac® and Lexapro® are some of the most common SSRIs.
SNRIs also work by affecting your serotonin levels, as well as your norepinephrine receptors. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that impacts attention, arousal and alertness.
Healthcare providers commonly prescribe SNRIs for:
SNRIs help fight depression by stopping the body from reabsorbing both serotonin and norepinephrine. The medication typically comes in tablet form and is frequently prescribed to people with depression associated with chronic pain.
These medications aren’t without their side effects, though. A few potential side effects of SNRIs include:
Nausea and vomiting
Common SNRIs include duloxetine, milnacipran and venlafaxine.
TCAs are antidepressants first released in 1959 to treat major depressive disorder. They work very similarly to SSRIs but can cause more adverse effects, which is why healthcare providers have mostly ditched them for the options above.
TCAs are FDA-approved to treat various issues. Health professionals commonly prescribe these medications for:
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
These drugs work by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. TCAs affect other neurotransmitters, which could be why they cause more side effects than other antidepressants.
Side effects of tricyclic antidepressants include:
Examples of TCAs include Asendin®, Sinequan® and Elavil®.
Monoamine oxidase inhibitors might be prescribed for:
MAOIs work by stopping naturally occurring enzymes that break down the brain’s feel-good chemicals like serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and tyramine. Common side effects include:
Nardil®, Parnate® and Marplan® are some of the most common MAOIs.
Learning how to fight depression without medication often begins with psychotherapy. We’ll get into the different types of psychotherapy for depression below, but they typically involve teaching people to think and behave differently.
CBT is one of the go-to methods of psychotherapy for depression. It teaches people to recognize destructive thought patterns, negative self-talk and irrational thoughts that may perpetuate depression and anxiety.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people recognize those thoughts and replace them with healthier ways of thinking. Therapists often help people practice CBT through journaling, meditation, talking and role-playing.
CBT is so popular because it’s the first form of psychotherapy tested using randomized trials and evidenced-based frameworks. Essentially, it’s a therapy that was tested as if it was a pharmaceutical, so people in the health space give it a lot of respect.
Interpersonal therapy is an evidence-based therapy for depression that focuses on improving interpersonal relationships. The theory is that our relationships with other people and ourselves can contribute to illness.
This type of therapy helps people enhance social support, decrease interpersonal stress and process emotions.
According to a 2016 meta-analysis of 90 studies and 11,434 participants, IPT for acute-phase depression had moderate-to-large effects compared to control groups.
IPT in milder forms of depression significantly curbed people from developing major depression. And those who did IPT sessions as maintenance for major depression recovery showed a significant reduction in relapse.
EMDR is a relatively new type of therapy that primarily focuses on reducing depression and anxiety related to past trauma. It was introduced in 1989 after it was discovered that certain eye movements could help people feel less distress around traumatic memories.
Also referred to as rapid eye movement (REM) therapy, it aims to change how the brain stores traumatic memories. Plenty of randomized controlled trials have been conducted on EMDR with positive results, especially for people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.)
Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is a type of therapy for depression that focuses on accepting inner emotions. A therapist, whether in person or through online therapy, can teach you to accept your emotions rather than suppress them.
The goal is to stop people from denying problems and help them alter the way they think about and behave around the problem.
At its core, ACT helps people recognize that pain, grief, illness, disappointment and anxiety are inevitable parts of life. After acceptance, it teaches them to deal with these tough facts through psychological flexibility.
Fighting depression naturally is possible with a few self-care strategies.
Keep in mind that everyone experiences depression differently. A self-care routine may be enough for some people, while others might need medication or therapy in addition to a self-help plan.
Diet and exercise, quality sleep, a social support system and gratitude can all help with combating depression. Let’s get into a few strategies for fighting depression naturally.
It’s hard to say whether alcohol and smoking cause or contribute to depression. It’s kind of like the chicken-or-the-egg question: Does depression lead to alcohol and tobacco use, or is it the other way around?
Either way, it’s common for them to be intertwined, as many people with mood or anxiety disorders use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate.
A 2018 review of research articles from 1997 to 2018 regarding self-medication and anxiety and mood disorders had some telling results. The prevalence of people using drugs and alcohol ranged from 22 to 24 percent across studies.
This research shows that mood, anxiety and depression may precede alcohol and tobacco use. However, other studies support the opposite.
One 2021 study of nationwide medical records in South Korea looked at over 900,000 premenopausal and nearly 1 million postmenopausal women aged 40 years or older to see how lifestyle factors affected their depression levels.
Compared to never-smokers and ex-smokers, current smokers showed an increased risk of dose-dependent depression. Compared to non-drinkers and mild drinkers, heavy drinkers showed an increased risk for depression.
According to a 2019 study of almost 75,000 Brazilian adolescents, the chance of psychological distress was 70 percent higher for those who consumed alcohol within the last month. Psychological distress was also twice as high in those who smoked tobacco for seven consecutive days.
Whether depression leads to self-medication with alcohol and tobacco or the other way around, reducing your consumption may help combat depression.
Exercising regularly may have positive psychological and physiological effects. Regular exercise can increase certain feel-good hormones in the brain, like serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, all of which are associated with depression when they drop too low.
A 2016 review of 23 clinical trials of 977 participants found that exercise was an effective treatment for depression when used in combination with medication.
A 2019 review of 455 people with depression found that 45 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise three times a week for 9.2 weeks had a significant antidepressant effect while improving mental well-being.
According to a 2020 review of 20 scientific articles, a healthy diet may significantly help prevent and treat depression. This means avoiding processed foods, sticking to an anti-inflammatory diet and eating foods high in magnesium, folic acid and omega-3 fatty acids.
There are plenty of items in the supermarket that might be considered natural remedies for depression.
For example, a 2015 meta-analysis found that high fish consumption can reduce the risk of depression. It’s possible that leafy greens, like spinach, bok choy and kale, can help improve depression symptoms too. Leafy greens are high in folic acid and B vitamins, nutrients that are often low in people dealing with depression.
There’s a long list of foods that can help fight depression, so you can make dietary changes according to which items you like. While hitting a pint of Ben & Jerry’s might be your go-to when feeling depressed, it could actually make you feel worse.
It turns out your Spotify subscription or old-school record player can do more than provide background tunes.
According to a 2017 review of 1,810 participants, music is a potential treatment option for improving depression symptoms. While different age groups benefited from listening to music, elderly participants showed impressive improvement, especially when participating in music therapy projects.
Practicing gratitude is the act of acknowledging what you’re grateful for. Expressing gratitude tends to focus your attention on the positive aspects of your life instead of the negative. When battling depression or other mental health problems, it’s the negative thoughts that tend to overshadow everything else.
According to a 2016 study on gratitude’s effect on neural activity, practicing gratitude daily can boost your mood and possibly help with depression.
Writing in a gratitude journal or using self-talk to list things you’re grateful for could help keep your thoughts positive, both in the short and long term.
Meditation is known to promote calmness, decrease stress and improve overall wellness. But it isn’t always about sitting on the floor with your legs crossed.
Meditation can take the form of walking, lying down and even cooking. It has quite a few health benefits, including reducing symptoms of depression.
A 2016 research paper looked at the effects of meditation over a six-week period on Brazilian university students. While it’s unclear how many subjects were in the study, it found that meditation training was effective in reducing depression and anxiety symptoms.
If you want to practice meditation to fight depression, it’s never been easier to get started. There are lots of free meditation resources online on websites, blogs and YouTube. You might also consider meditation apps like Headspace and Calm.
Prioritizing sleep is a great way to care for your mental health. Lack of sleep can make it more difficult to make decisions, solve problems, cope with change and control emotions and stress.
Poor sleep has even been linked to depression, risk-taking behavior and suicide. Depression can also cause issues with sleep, like insomnia and oversleeping.
If you want to improve your sleep, there are plenty of options.
Create a sleep schedule so you go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. This can help your body get into a natural sleep rhythm.
Set your bedroom up for sleep success by making sure it’s dark, quiet, relaxing and at a comfortable temperature.
You’ll want to ditch the electronic devices in the bedroom, like your phone, computer or TV. Avoid social media, caffeine, alcohol and large meals too close to bedtime, and try to get some exercise during the day. Physical activity can help you fall asleep more easily.
Fighting depression is not a one-size-fits-all pursuit. Depression has different origins and can vary based on family history, genetic makeup, past experiences and brain chemistry.
With something so varied, the ways to help your depression will vary as well. You might need to go through trial and error to figure out what works best for you. To recap, some of the best strategies for fighting depression include:
Medication. There are different types of medication to treat depression. SSRIs, like Zoloft®, are prescribed most often. Other medications include SNRIS, TCAs and MAOIs. Each drug works slightly differently and may target specific types of depression. Keep in mind all these medications can have side effects.
Psychotherapy. You can battle depression with psychotherapy, either online or in person. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most popular methods. Other therapies include interpersonal therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy and EMDR. Some might be more effective than others, depending on your specific type of depression.
Self-care and lifestyle changes. Changing your habits can work wonderfully to fight depression, especially when done in tandem with therapy or medication. You can reduce your alcohol and drug intake, focus on getting better sleep, exercise more often and eat healthy. Practicing gratitude and meditation can help with depression too.
Depression treatment often starts with education and professional help.
Ready to start fighting depression? A consultation with a mental health provider is the first step on your mental health journey.
Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.
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