Print this topic

HealthInfo Aoraki South Canterbury

Self-care for depression

Tāu ake whakaora i te pāpōuri

If you have depression, you may feel like lots of things are hard and out of your control. This is normal, but making small changes in your life can help you manage depression.

Making change is a positive step and you'll need to stick it out before you start to feel better. Keep in mind that there isn't just one solution. There is a variety of techniques that'll make a difference.

Read below for some suggested small changes.

Keep moving

Being physically active can make you feel better. Regular exercise is as effective as medication in treating mild to moderate depression.

Starting to be more active can be daunting when you're suffering from depression. Start small and think about giving yourself a plan to stick to. Physical activity doesn't mean you have to join a gym. It can be as simple as taking a walk or being more active around your home, such as mowing the lawns or cleaning.

As you start to feel better, you can gradually increase the time and intensity of your activity. You could talk to your general practice team about a Green prescription.

Sleep well

Despite your best efforts, depression can make it hard to sleep well. It helps to get to bed at a reasonable hour and to minimise distractions. See Tips for sleeping well.

You may need some medication to help you sleep in the short term. Talk to your general practice team or psychiatrist about this.

Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs

It can be tempting to use alcohol or recreational drugs to help with symptoms of depression. In the long term, alcohol and drugs will make your mood worse or cause more problems to develop. Sometimes, it's hard to stop using alcohol or drugs without some professional help. If this is your situation, talk to your general practice team about drug and alcohol counselling, or contact the Alcohol Drug Helpline on 0800-787-797.

Eat well

Depression can affect how much or what kinds of food you want to eat. Eating well helps your brain recover from depression. For a range of healthy eating resources and recipes, see Meal planning & recipes.

Stay social

Staying connected to friends and family will help you recover from depression. Even a small amount of daily social contact is enough until you're ready for more. See the self-help page for more ideas about how to stay connected.

The Mental Health Education and Resource Centre Trust (MHERC) provides information, education and support to people with mental health and addiction issues. It can help you contact support groups in your area.

Learn to relax and reduce stress

Relaxing more and reducing stress will improve your mood and energy levels.

Try these relaxation techniques to relieve muscle tension and help control your breathing.

You can borrow relaxation tapes and music from your library or MHERC. You can also use the online guided meditation from CALM Auckland.

Mindfulness may also be helpful. It's a mental discipline that helps connect you to the here-and-now and regain control. The Smiling Mind app is an excellent free resource to get you started with mindfulness.

You may also want to consider a Yoga or meditation class.

Do things you enjoy

Plan one fun thing every day. You may have to force yourself to do it and it may not feel much fun at the time but that’s normal. Activities that you've enjoyed in the past are likely to bring some enjoyment again.

Simply choosing to get out and do something can make a difference and can help to bring structure to your day. This list of healing activities for depression will give you some ideas about activities worth considering.

Spiritual wellbeing (taha wairua)

Having a strong sense of your own identity and where you belong is an important part of wellbeing.

Self reflection and connecting with people and places that are important to you can give your life added meaning and direction.

You may want to talk to a spiritual advisor such as a church leader or tohunga.

Alternative or complementary therapies

"Alternative" and "complementary" are words used for a wide range of healthcare products and therapies outside of mainstream conventional medicine.

Talk with your general practice team, pharmacist or other health professional before taking supplements, alternative medicines, over-the-counter medicines or getting alternative therapy, to make sure it's safe for you and will not interact with your other medications or treatments.

This page can help you decide if alternative therapies could be helpful for your depression.

Also see this specific advice about St John's wort as a depression treatment.

Get help with anxiety

Depression often goes hand in hand with anxiety and it can be difficult to separate the two. There are many ways to reduce anxiety with self-care and by getting help.

Phone lines

There is always someone to call if you're struggling:

  HealthInfo recommends the following pages

On the next page: Getting help with depression

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2023.


See also:

Getting help for a mental health issue


Page reference: 88378

Review key: HIDEP-48681