Small, Actionable Steps to Manage Depression Holistically
Depression affects more than 16 million people in the U.S., but only a small percentage of those people seek treatment, and even fewer manage their symptoms holistically.
A holistic approach to treating mental illness means that the whole person is taken into account when formulating coping strategies and actionable steps to care for oneself. It means supporting the mind, body, and spirit as well as the relationships in our lives.
One of the primary symptoms of depression is lack of motivation. This symptom can make it really tough to get out of a depressive episode without this reminder: Action comes before motivation.
Humans want to rely on motivation to get started, but most often, motivation shows up when we are already doing the thing we want motivation to help us do. That’s why it’s vital to invest in small, actionable changes to reduce feelings of overwhelm and increase the likelihood of follow-through, even without the presence of motivation.
This article shares small, actionable steps that anyone can take to support them in coping with symptoms of depression. These tools are not a replacement for therapy, which can provide help in unpacking the root cause of depression, but rather to supplement therapy and/or provide support for those who can’t access therapy at this time.
Mental Care through Compassion
Self-critical thoughts are a common symptom of depression. When we perpetuate thoughts that we aren’t good enough, that we are undeserving, and that we are a failure, we hold ourselves back from creating space for acceptance, which then paves the way for real, lasting change.
Psychologist Carl Rogers said, “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I change.”
And it’s easy to see why this is the case: when we criticize ourselves for not doing or being enough, we think, “Why bother to even try when it won’t make a difference anyway?”
But, when we embrace the perspective of “I am an imperfect human who is always good enough just as I am,” we create the space within ourselves to try.
Compassion, in essence, is embracing our humanity.
So, what does compassion look like in practice?
Compassion can take on many forms, but here are some compassionate statements you might try:
“I’m doing the best I can, and that’s enough.”
“I’ll try x activity for 10 minutes and see how it goes.”
“I will honor my capacity today, even if my mind tells me otherwise.”
Compassion is a practice that takes time and patience. Many of us are harder on ourselves than we would ever dream of being on others. A simple tip is to think about how we would talk to a close friend or loved one and try to use similar language with ourselves.
Physical Care through Hydration
While there are many practices that nourish the physical body, by far one of the most attainable and impactful steps to take is to consume sufficient water.
Whether it’s choosing coffee for energy or soda for sugar, water is an often underappreciated and underutilized beverage that can hugely impact our well-being.
Water can be a source of energy, mental clarity, and can reduce bloating and fatigue. Up to 60% of the body is water, so it’s vital that we are doing our part to keep our body running as smoothly and efficiently as possible.
So, how much water should we aim for a day? Try to consume half your body weight in ounces each day. That means if you’re 150 pounds, try to consume 75 ounces of water.
If you’re far off from this goal, make small, incremental increases each day, or even every other day. Focus less on the hard-and-fast rule, and more on being mindful of keeping water accessible and taking small sips more frequently.
Spiritual Care through Sunshine
Our spiritual self is the part of us that connects us with our sense of aliveness and things greater than ourselves. It also has the power to shift us from our negative thoughts to the stabilizing force of being in our bodies.
Fresh air and sunshine have the incredible power of grounding us in the here and now, which can be very supportive when depressive symptoms surface.
In fact, depression is linked to an absence of Vitamin D. So, getting sunshine can actually be a direct antidote to depressive symptoms.
Aim for sitting in the sun without sunscreen for about 10 minutes to garner the benefits of Vitamin D. While you are basking in the sunshine, notice what you are experiencing in your body and connect with the felt experience of positive emotions like joy, peace, contentment, and gratitude.
Relational Care through Serving Others
Humans are social creatures; we’re wired for connection with others. A common symptoms of depression is isolation from others, which has the negative effect of keeping people in a cycle of depression longer than if they were to maintain the connections in their lives.
While meaningful conversation is certainly beneficial to mitigate depressive symptoms, research is showing powerful evidence for the positive impact on depression through serving others.
Kind and loving behaviors for others contribute to positive emotions in a couple of ways.
First, it shifts the mind away from negative self-talk toward a softer and more gentle way of thinking because, as mentioned earlier, we are often kinder to others than we are to ourselves.
Second, it allows us to experience emotions other than the ones associated with depression, which provides hope and perspective. We start to see that it’s possible have other emotional experiences other than feeling down and self-critical. With that conscious awareness, it’s possible to use that as a stepping stone to build upon those positive emotions.
How to take action? Anything from baking muffins for a friend who just had a baby or saying hello to a stranger on the street.
Listen to your intuition about your capacity to give and honor that. Perhaps you may start with a text to a friend asking how they are doing and then work up to a more time-intensive gesture like baking muffins. As always, do what resonates most with you.
Depression can feel all-consuming, and it can be difficult to know where to start to break the cycle of negative thoughts and emotions. Whether you are currently seeing a therapist or not, remember to honor your process and do your best to invite small changes into your world as the pathway to healing and nurturing the whole you.