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10 Ways to Fight Depression (Updated for 2022)

Depression is a mental health illness which can affect people of all walks of life at various points in time. Up until recently, depression was a silent killer, akin to a dark cloud hanging over your head.

It was hard to tell someone was depressed until it was too late. Statistics show an estimated 3.8% of the global population are affected by depression, including 5% among adults.1 Approximately 280 million people in the world have depression. 1 1.9 million children aged between three and 17 years have diagnosed depression. 2 It is a leading cause of disability worldwide and contributes greatly to the global burden of disease. More women than men have major depressive disorder.

10 ways in which you can fight depression are exercise, therapy, journaling, diet, medication, prayer, sobriety, mindfulness meditation, catharsis through social support systems, and sleep.

Depression is not just the usual mood changes or short-lived emotional responses to everyday life activities. It occurs when depressed moods are recurrent and persistent, with severe intensity. According to the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM 5), depression is classified under depressive disorders.

The common types of depression include major depressive disorder (MDD), persistent depressive disorder (Dysthymia), substance-induced depressive disorder, perinatal depressive disorder, and premenstrual depressive disorder.

Each of these types of depression has specific causes, but the symptoms and manifestations are largely similar, with exceptions based on duration and intensity of the depressive symptoms.

Depression is not just the usual mood changes or short-lived emotional responses to everyday life activities. It occurs when depressed moods are recurrent and persistent, with severe intensity. According to the latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM 5), depression is classified under depressive disorders.

The common types of depression include major depressive disorder (MDD), persistent depressive disorder (Dysthymia), substance-induced depressive disorder, perinatal depressive disorder, and premenstrual depressive disorder.

Each of these types of depression has specific causes, but the symptoms and manifestations are largely similar, with exceptions based on duration and intensity of the depressive symptoms.

Some of the common symptoms of depression, which must last for at least two weeks, for most of the day, and for more days than not during this period, and can last up to two years for dysthymia, include:

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities

  • Loss of weight/appetite when not on a diet

  • Insomnia or hypersomnia

  • Inability to focus or concentrate; difficulty making decisions

  • Feelings of worthlessness

  • Feelings of sadness and low emotions

  • Suicidal ideation

These symptoms can be identified by subjective self-reporting or observation by loved ones and people close to you. The effects of depression are far-reaching and are not limited to the patient. Depression can affect your relationships, career progression, social life, family dynamics, and quality of life.

suicide has been linked to depression greatly

At its worst, depression can lead to suicide, where globally, around 700,000 people die due to suicide each year.

As such, extensive research has been made in recent years to demystify this juggernaut. This has led to discoveries on how you can fight depression ranging from medical to lifestyle interventions, as we will see in the next section.

1. Exercise

There is a great interrelationship between depression and physical health. For example, cardiovascular disorder can lead to depression and vice versa. Adults with a depressive disorder or symptoms have a 64% greater risk of developing coronary heart disease. 4 It is also known that one in three heart attack survivors experience depression. 5 Other than heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer, other lifestyle diseases also have a correlation with depression. Therefore, exercise works as a double-edged sword to fight both.

Exercise has been seen to be as effective as antidepressants in some cases. It is an all-natural treatment to fight depression. Exercise starts a biological cascade of events such as a rise in endorphins, also known as “feel good” hormones, which instantly lift your moods.

Also, in the long term, exercise stimulates growth factor release. This causes nerve cell growth which forms new connections. This improvement in brain function makes you feel better.

Exercise recommendations are 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity and two days of muscle strengthening activity per week. This could be broken down to 30 minutes a day, or 50 minutes three times a week, depending on your schedule.

Moderate-intensity (aerobic) physical activity can involve brisk walking, cycling, jogging, dancing, playing sports like tennis/football/rugby, or swimming.

Muscle strengthening activities should work all the muscle groups of your body: legs, hips, back, chest, abdomen, shoulders, and arms. Examples of these are lifting weights, body weight exercises such as push-ups and sit-ups, working with resistance bands, heavy gardening (such as digging and shoveling) and some forms of yoga.

Don’t let the above recommendations scare you. It may sound like a lot, but you don’t have to do it all at once. Since depression manifests as reduced energy and body aches, this may result in less motivation to exercise. But it is a cycle which can be broken by starting where you are and improving gradually.

2. Therapy

Therapy is a way of talking about your condition and related issues with a mental health professional. The therapist then uses verbal and psychological techniques to help you overcome negative thoughts and patterns. Therapy can be done face-to-face at in-office sessions, but thanks to technological advancements, therapy can also be done via online programs.

Psychotherapy in general will help you to:

  • Identify negative thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors you have, and replace those with healthy, truthful and positive ones

  • Explore relationships and experiences in your life, the impact they have had on your mental health, and how to develop positive interactions with others

  • Work on healthy coping strategies

  • Regain control over your emotions and help ease symptoms such as hopelessness and anger

  • Learn to set realistic goals

Different types of psychotherapy can be effective for depression, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or interpersonal therapy. A mental health professional may recommend other types of therapy based on your individual needs.

Research suggests cognitive behavioral therapy is effective in treating depression and may have lasting effects which prevent future relapses of depressive symptoms.

At the heart of cognitive behavioral therapy is the idea your thoughts can affect your beliefs, and inadvertently, your beliefs affect your actions. For example, you can get stuck in a loop of negative thoughts about yourself, to the point you believe your life isn’t worth anything to anyone, leading to suicide.

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you to identify your cognitive distortions and to turn those negative thought patterns into positive ones, thus improving your mood. 7 Your therapist may ask you to keep a journal and track any self-defeating and negative reactions to life events.

Once you learn how to recognize your response patterns, you can work with the therapist to learn new ways of thinking and responding to life events. CBT is usually goal oriented and may involve between five and 20 structured sessions centered on addressing specific concerns.

3. Journaling

Journaling helps control your symptoms and improve your mood by helping you:

  • Be more self-aware. Expressing yourself in a journal can bring your thoughts and feelings to the surface. You may end up discovering you’re worried about something you didn’t think was upsetting you until you wrote it down.

  • Track your daily symptoms and identify any triggers for them. Daily logging of symptoms can help you notice patterns and trends surrounding your symptoms, which you can then actively tackle.

  • Take control. Journaling provides an opportunity for positive self-talk against negative thoughts and behaviors. When you put the thoughts and worries down on paper, it can feel more manageable, and cuts down the chaos. What may have seemed like a daunting task may feel more manageable. This will put a damper on feelings of worthlessness.

4. Diet

Like an expensive car, your brain functions best when it gets premium fuel in the form of foods with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants which nourish the brain and protect it from oxidative stress.

Many studies have found a correlation between a diet high in refined sugars and impaired brain function, and even a worsening of symptoms of mood disorders such as depression.

A sub-specialization called nutritional psychiatry has recently gained ground based on the idea that what you eat directly affects the structure and function of your brain, and ultimately, your mood. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter which helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain, is 95% produced in your gastrointestinal tract.

This is influenced by the types of food you eat, as well as the billions of ‘good bacteria’ which make up your intestinal microbiome.

Studies comparing traditional diets (e.g., Mediterranean and Japanese diets) and the typical western diet have shown the risk of depression is 25-35% lower in those who eat traditional diets high in vegetables, fruits, and unprocessed grains and fish, and containing modest amounts of lean meat and dairy.

These diets are void of processed and refined foods and sugars. In addition, the unprocessed foods act as natural probiotics, which reduce gut inflammation which directly influences serotonin production.

5. Medication

Depression is not simply an emotional matter of your mind and is caused by the chemical imbalances in your brain. Medication like antidepressants (e.g., SSRIs) help to inhibit the reuptake of certain hormones which can make symptoms of depression better. This helps in fighting depression on a physiological level.

6. Prayer

Christians are not immune to depression nor is the Bible silent on it. In fact, it is something you can go through with God’s presence and grace. Jesus acknowledges this when He said, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Prayer can give you a safe refuge, a glimmer of hope, and life-saving words of truth amidst the dark shadows of depression. It offers a sanctuary for the broken and a haven for those in despair. Scientists have also noticed this.

Studies investigating the effect of prayer on depression, anxiety, and positive emotions, showed there is significantly less depression and anxiety, more optimism, and greater levels of spiritual experiences when prayer is utilized.

The studies recommend prayer be used as an adjunct to other therapies in managing these psychiatric illnesses.

Therefore, take some time to pray for abundant life, hope, and strength, and to pray against loneliness, feeling overwhelmed, and suicidal thoughts.

7. Sobriety

Drugs and substances like alcohol, which is a depressant, alter brain chemistry. Unfortunately, many turn to these substances to numb them from the pain of daily living and to forget their problems.

This causes a dependence on these substances to feel normal, to enjoy life, and to have a good time, thus undermining the natural production of hormones like serotonin and dopamine, which also work to recreate similar feelings.

As such, withdrawal from consumption of these drugs and substances causes an imbalance in brain chemistry which can leave you feeling depressed, suicidal, and experiencing all manners of “low” moods.

Sobriety thus helps to keep your mind clear and the production of feel-good hormones is sufficient to boost quality of life without needing an extra “oomph”.

Also, in treatment of depression, some studies showed heavy drinkers who were depressed had worse outcomes from depression treatment. Furthermore, even mild to moderate amounts of alcohol appeared to worsen depression. Thus, sobriety and detox programs can be helpful in treatment of depression.

8. Mindfulness meditation

Meditation is the practice of training your brain to achieve sustained focus and returning to that focus when negative thinking and emotions intrude. Studies show certain brain regions like the prefrontal cortex and amygdala become hyperactive in depressed people, working together to amplify negative thoughts and fears.

Meditation helps break the connection between these two regions of the brain. Meditation is also vital in positive self-talk and self-soothing, increasing your outlook about yourself.

9. Catharsis through social support systems

They say a problem shared is a problem half-solved. By that logic, sharing your struggles with a trustworthy friend or group of friends helps you get out of your thinking loops and hear from a different perspective. When advice isn’t what you seek, the simple act of sharing can be cathartic and akin to lifting a weight off your chest/shoulders.

10. Sleep

Poor sleep can create difficulties in regulating emotions which can leave you more vulnerable to depression. Depression itself is also associated with sleep difficulties such as shortening the amount of restorative slow-wave sleep a person gets each night.

No matter which one comes first, the sleep disturbances or the depression, it is important to have sleep hygiene practices which will help you sleep better and thus, feel better.

As we have seen above, while there is no vaccine which can prevent you from getting depressed, and nothing which instantly takes depression away, depression doesn’t have to claim more lives to increase awareness about what it looks like.

There is a plethora of resources available to shed more light on the issue of depression. If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, please consult a nearby psychiatrist, therapist, or mental health personnel.

Most cities and countries have a mental health hotline, where anyone can call in to speak to somebody about their mental health.

The contacts for the hotline can be found online, according to your location. Here is one such mental health helpline for the United States.

Disclaimer: This article is not a diagnostic tool for depression but rather a source of information on the matters of depression. The recommendations shown here are not a substitute for an actual diagnosis and treatment plan given by a professional on a personal basis.

Mental Health References:

  • Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation. Global Health data exchange (GHDx)

  • Centers for Disease Control ‘’Data and Statistics on Children’s Mental Health, 2018)

  • Journal of the American Medical Association, 2003; Jun 218; 289 (23) 3095-105)

  • National Institute of Health, Heart disease and depression: A two-way relationship, 2017)

  • National Institute of Mental Health, 2002

  • Driessen E, Hollon SD. Cognitive behavioural therapy for mood disorders; efficacy, moderators and mediators. Psychiatry Clin North Am. 2010; 33 (3): 537-555.

  • American Psychological Association. Cognitive therapy (July 31, 2017)

  • Fenn K, Bryne M. The key principles of cognitive behavioural therapy. InnovAiT.2013;6(9): 579-585.

  • Dietary patterns and depression risk: A meta-analysis. Psychiatry Research, July 2017.

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