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Depression affects how people think, feel, and act. It can also impact physical health and other aspects of a person’s life.
Depression can occur at any age, and it can affect anyone, but according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), people are more likely to experience it if they:
- have a family history of depression
- have experienced trauma, stress, or a life-changing event
- have a physical illness, such as cancer
- are using certain medications or other substances
The following tips may help people who have these risk factors or who are living with depression manage or avoid symptoms.
Some people are born with genetic factors that increase their risk. Others may develop a susceptibility during childhood, for example, due to neglect or abuse.
A 2012 study conducted with veterinary students found that stress had an adverse impact on mental health, life satisfaction, and general health.
It is not always possible to avoid stress, but taking steps to do so may help. These include:
- getting enough sleep and rest
- learning to say “no” to additional demands
- taking breaks from work
- practicing breathing exercises and meditation
- getting regular exercise
Always check with a doctor before taking any supplements or over-the-counter (OTC) medication to ensure it is suitable for use.
Research shows that physical activity can act as an antidepressant, and experts encourage doctors to include it as a treatment.
A 2018 review describes exercise as an underutilized treatment for depression. The authors note that it can boost both physical and mental well-being.
Depression can make it hard for some people to start exercising, but a lack of activity can also make symptoms worse.
People experiencing difficulties in starting exercise could try just 5 minutes of walking or another enjoyable activity in the morning and another 5 minutes in the afternoon. From there, gradually increase over the coming days and weeks.
Current guidelines recommend aiming for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, broken into sessions that could be 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, and so on.
A healthful diet may help prevent depression and boost mental well-being. A 2019 study concluded that dietary interventions could play a role in treating depression.
Research suggests that the following foods may help:
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- green tea
- soybean products
- healthful oils, such as olive oil
- whole grains
At the same time, people should limit their intake of the following:
- red meat and meat products
- premade baked goods
- trans fats
- sugary desserts and sodas
Fresh fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants. These help protect the body from oxidative stress and cell damage.
According to an article in Antioxidants, processed foods may adversely affect gut microbiota, which could increase the risk of depression,.
Here are some tips that people can try to improve their sleep naturally:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time each day, including weekends.
- Try to ensure the room is quiet, dark, and of a comfortable temperature.
- Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before sleeping.
- Do physical exercise during the day.
- Remove electronic equipment from the sleeping area and switch off 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Get up again if you do not fall asleep within 20 minutes. Read or find some other distraction for a while, then try again.
- Follow a healthful diet.
- Avoid drinking too much fluid too close to bedtime.
- Limit exposure to bright light in the evening.
Other tips include doing breathing or relaxation exercises before sleeping. The 4-7-8 breathing technique can also calm anxiety.
Speak to their doctor before using any supplements or medications to ensure they are safe to use.
The use of alcohol and some recreational drugs can increase the risk of depression and make symptoms worse.
A person who uses drugs or alcohol in an unhealthful way and has depression may need help for both conditions.
Anyone who has concerns about alcohol or drug use, with or without depression, should speak to a doctor or another specialist who can help.
Helplines are available 24/7 for confidential advice, such as SAMHSA’s National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Psychotherapy, or talking therapy, can help people identify the causes of depression and find practical solutions.
- counseling for specific issues, such as bereavement
- cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help a person find new ways of thinking and acting
- psychoanalysis, which often looks into past issues
Therapy can be one-on-one, with a group of people who meet just for therapy, or with partners or family members.
Various factors can trigger symptoms of stress and depression, and these will vary between individuals. It may be possible to avoid or reduce exposure to some of these triggers.
Triggers that a person may be able to avoid include:
- exposure to news, some movies, and other media
- using alcohol or drugs, unless the person has a related disorder
- having too little sleep due to late nights
If avoiding triggers is not an option, it may be possible to reduce exposure, for example, by deciding on one specific time of day to check emails or watch the news.
Other strategies to reduce the impact of triggers could be:
- asking someone to help out on occasion, for example, if you are a caregiver
- joining a support group, so there is someone to talk when unwanted feelings arise
- asking your employer about changes in the workplace that may help, such as swapping tasks with a colleague or rearranging shifts
There is no guarantee that anyone can avoid their triggers, but being mindful about them may help find ways to minimize their impact.
It is not always possible to prevent or avoid depression, but effective treatment is available, and some lifestyle choices can help manage symptoms and prevent a recurrence.
If symptoms of depression are overwhelming or if a person is thinking about self-harm, death, or suicide, they should seek immediate medical attention.
If you know someone at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question: “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgment.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number, or text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives.
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, a prevention hotline can help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 800-273-8255. During a crisis, people who are hard of hearing can call 800-799-4889.