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Adult Depression Treatment: How Can Self-Care Help

Adult Depression In this blog, I’m going to talk about self-care for depression. But I need to offer some important background, and be very clear about what exactly what can—and can’t—be accomplished via self care.

Depression (also known as major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common, but chronic and serious mood disorder. It’s very different from the usual mood fluctuations and day-to-day emotional challenges of adult life. Depression can affect how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide.

Fortunately, there are effective psychological and pharmacological treatments for moderate and severe depression. But self-care on its own is NOT a treatment for depression. Many adults with depression are so overcome by its symptoms (sadness, emptiness, hopelessness, fatigue, lack of concentration, and so on) that they can barely manage the basics of day-to-day life, let alone engage in proactive self-care measures. So, if you are in a major depressive episode, you should first seek help from your physician and/or a mental-health professional.

However, once you have worked with a psychologist or doctor, and begun to recover, self-care can take on a really important role in your mental health. That is, once you’re feeling well enough to actually DO a few things, developing self-care routines can help ease your way to a fuller recovery. And as you resume your regular life, self-care can help prevent relapses, or make future depressive episodes shorter or less severe. Here are few proven self-care techniques that I often suggest to my recovering clients.


Before you groan or roll your eyes, understand that you absolutely do not have to hit the gym or train like an Olympic triathlete to get mental-health benefits from exercise. Both aerobic exercise like running and anaerobic exercise like weight training can help alleviate symptoms of depression. But also can less intense activities, such as a walk around the block or even raking the leaves. I had one client who was utterly resistant to formal exercise, but he did like to cook. So, he was able to “trick” himself into getting exercise every day, by walking to the grocery store for a few fresh ingredients. It seems like a small thing, but it helped him a lot.


That anecdote leads to another adage that some mental health professionals use: food controls mood. You body—a structure that very much includes you mind—needs regular fuel to function correctly. In addition, both increased and decreased appetite are symptoms of depression, which can lead depressed people forming very poor eating habits, which then feed into the depressive symptoms even more. I’m not about to lecture you about dining habits, or ask you to deny yourself the pleasures of food. But you can see real benefits simply from eating regularly, and in a reasonably healthy way.


Being mindful simply means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment. When we practice mindfulness, the goal is to sense in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future. People at risk for depression often deal with negative thoughts, feelings and beliefs about themselves, which can easily lead to a relapse. Many people think that they are doing mindfulness incorrectly because their mind wanders during it.  Our mind wandering is a natural part and expected during mindfulness sessions, what we want to do is pay attention to our mind wandering and what it is going to and then go back to breathing.  This helps us to build tolerance for those thoughts and feelings that are difficult for us.  ‘A growing body of evidence suggests that simple mindfulness exercises can help a person recognize these thoughts, engage with them differently and respond with compassion for themselves.

Try this brief mindfulness breathing exercise:


For all of these techniques, the difficulty is motivation which, of course, is very difficult when you’re in a depressive episode. The key is taking small steps, and understanding that each one moves you along your path to recovery. For example, I once worked with a severely depressed teen who could barely get out of bed. For him, I suggested a starter exercise of just sitting in the yard for 10 minutes a day, and throwing a ball to his dog. It may not seem like much, but it was a first step, and it helped. For some people, even keeping a regular appointment, such as coming to therapy once a week, can be enough to start moving the yardsticks. Ultimately, it’s about finding, nurturing and then growing, that piece of yourself that wants to get better.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to reach out with questions about this or other mental health issues.



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