Living well with depression

It's understandable that when you're depressed, low energy, loss of pleasure and increased anxiety get in the way of doing the things you used to enjoy. However, taking small steps back to those things can help you to live well with depression – and may even be the start of the way out of it too.

How can I live well when I'm depressed?

Key points

  • Small steps are the key to change – choose what feels manageable and build from there.
  • Put your self-care first – this builds your resilience so you can cope better with the challenges of life.
  • Look after your physical health as this helps your mental wellbeing.
  • Have ways to reduce and manage stress as this increases your resilience.
  • Getting help when you need it is a sign of strength not weakness.
  • Staying connected to family, whānau and friends can help you feel better.
  • Spending time in nature is key to your wellbeing.
  • Finding a purpose increases your sense of meaning and belonging.

1. Put your self-care first

Get back into your daily routine by doing little things such as getting out of bed, opening the curtains to let the light in, showering, making your bed and having breakfast. Choose one thing to commit to and when you’ve got that habit back, choose the next thing to get back into. Find out more about caring for yourself when you feel low.

2. Look after your body to help your mind

Looking after your body with exercise, nutritious food and adequate sleep also helps you look after your mental health. Find out more about mental health and your body.

Pick one of these things to start with:

  • sleep in your bed every night (not in front of the television) and making sure you get to bed early enough for 8 hours a night
  • keep a bottle of water in your car or handbag
  • avoid alcohol and other recreational drugs – you might get an initial boost in mood, but will feel worse afterwards. Read more about alcohol and mental health
  • eat healthy meals with nutrients that give you energy and boost your mood. Learn more about healthy eating basics
  • go for a walk very day – physical activity reduces the symptoms of depression. Find out more about physical activity and mental health and the general benefits of being active.

3. Cut back on stress

It’s harder to cope with everyday stress when you’re depressed, so it’s a good idea to find ways to reduce it. Being less stressed helps you to be more resilient when times are tough. Things you can do to reduce stress include to:

  • postpone major life changes such as moving house or changing jobs until you’re feeling better
  • remember to take holidays from work so you can get away from your everyday life
  • get help with any tasks that feel overwhelming, such as doing your tax return, studying for an exam, mowing your lawns or managing your garden
  • learn a relaxation technique – try yoga, meditation, mindfulness, muscle relaxation or a breathing technique.
  • download a mental health app or try one of these apps, e-therapy and guided self-help sites
  • do something enjoyable in your leisure time other than just blobbing out in front of a screen­, such as reading a good book, listening to music, doing a handicraft or other hobby that involves making something – remember to start small so it’s manageable.

4. Get help

We all need help sometimes. Getting help when you need it is a sign of taking responsibility for yourself – it shows strength, not weakness. Some things that help include:

  • books, online courses and apps that help you understand more about your depression and learn some strategies for managing it – check out the ones on this page as a starting point.
  • connecting with another person who is supportive and understands what will help can make all the difference – find a counsellor or therapist to help you work through issues you’re facing
  • joining a support group is great for realising you’re not alone and finding out other people do to manage their depression – find a support group near you, or check out one online if there’s nothing close to you.
  • getting medication if you need it – talk to your GP to find out whether antidepressants would be a good idea for you.

5. Stay connected

It’s easy to withdraw from whānau and friends when you feel depressed. But actually, strong connections can help you get well faster and help you stay well for longer, so tell your whānau and friends what you are experiencing. They can be your strength and provide a sense of belonging and support (tautoko) when you need it. Make a pact with yourself to do one of these things in the next week: 

  • meet up with friends for a coffee
  • help out at the local community centre or marae
  • spend time with children (tamariki) or grandchildren (mokopuna) – they can be great for lifting your spirits
  • go to a whānau birthday, anniversary or holiday get-together
  • make a meal with a friend
  • go for a walk or a swim with friends.

6. Spend time in nature

Nature is key to unlocking your wellbeing. Researchers have found that spending time out in the natural world improves your physical and mental wellbeing. To use nature to boost your wellbeing, try one of these things today: 

  • go to the beach and having a walk or swim
  • head to the bush to listen to the natural sounds and smell the fresh air
  • do some physical activity outdoors, such going for a run, walk or cycle ride in a park
  • get your hands dirty in the garden, planting some vegetables for your whānau
  • join a conservation group that plants trees in your local community
  • take part in one of the citizen scientist counts of birds, bees or butterflies in your garden or neighbourhood.

Find out some more ideas for ideas for spending time in nature.

7. Find a greater purpose

Connecting with something beyond yourself is a great way to add more meaning to your life and to distract yourself from your own problems. Your wairua (spiritual wellbeing) is one of the most important yet most overlooked parts of your wellbeing. If you’ve been feeling like you don’t belong anywhere or that life has lost its meaning, try one of these ideas to help you find your place in the world again:

  • go to places that you know nurture your soul, such as a church or a temple
  • give yourself permission to reflect and grow
  • learn what it is that keeps you peaceful and content
  • write or draw about what has greatest meaning to you
  • go home and spend time in the place you’re from
  • talk to a spiritual adviser, such as a priest or a tōhunga
  • help someone else who needs support – surprisingly, it can help you feel better too.

Learn more

The following links provide further information about living well with depression. 

Self-help Depression.org, NZ
The Journal NZ
The Lowdown NZ
Five ways to wellbeing Mental Health Foundation, NZ
Nature is key Mental Health Foundation, NZ
www.facebook.com/smallstepsnz
How dogs can help with mental health – mind boosting benefits of dog ownership UK, 2018

See also see more Resources on depression.

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team. Reviewed By: Dr Richard Yu Last reviewed: 26 Feb 2018