These simple depression hacks are the product of extensive research into pop psychology, wellness, neuroscience, and various life coaching resources for therapeutic treatments of depression. Whether you’re struggling with depression or merely a case of the doldrums, we’ve explained each hack in simple language with practical examples that are easy to apply to your lifestyle.
Depression is rising among millennials and baby boomers alike, which is why having easy, accessible depression hacks like those that follow is more important than ever. Even though antidepressant usage has increased over 400% since the 90’s, we know more about the disease than ever before, and there’s a lot we can do to improve our own condition while boosting happiness and wellbeing. Therapy, of course, helps ease symptoms of depression a lot. But it’s not always economical or affordable for everyone.
Thus, it’s important to know what aspects of your lifestyle are in your control. There’s a lot of research supporting each of these depression hacks, below. They work beautifully in concert with therapy or as stand alone practices. We call them depression hacks, but really they are lifestyle hacks. We hope they bring you some relief, grace, and light during this challenging time.
Remember: it always gets better. Depression doesn’t last forever. You can do this!
5. Trying Something New Each Day & Break Old Patterns
If you’re suffering from early signs of depression– fatigue, lack of motivation, an encompassing sense of having the doldrums, with no escape, then novelty is crucial. Novelty is key. When you’re struggling with depression, novelty is your friend. This is a depression hack that isn’t often mentioned in these kinds of articles, but it can be really powerful.
Some research shows that people who live lifestyle that center around their strongest character strengths, they experience a measurable boost in happiness. If you haven’t yet taken VIA’s science-backed Character Strengths Test, now is a good to time to discover your strengths. Take the survey here.
Once you get back your results, try to practice using at least one of your top 4 strengths every day, whether that’s love of learning, creativity, or teamwork. The University of Pennsylvania’s Authentic Happiness project studies show that people who do this are not only more happy, but they feel more purpose and resolve in their lives.
Other than that, try to do something new and interesting each day, even if it’s walking down a street you’ve never been down before. The goal is to see, experience, make, or witness something new that’s different from your daily routine. Make seeking out novelty a regular part of your life. This can be applied to many different hobbies, but also lifestyle. If you don’t usually cook, try cooking. If you want to grow houseplants, buy some. Experience different kinds of working out– and if you don’t already regularly exercise, start. (More on that, below.)
In general, the goal is just to break up the monotony of your schedule OR infuse your busy, fluctuating schedule with new moments of awe and inspiration that are just for you, and no one else. No matter what ends of the “busyness” spectrum you fall on– the routine side or the chaotic side– making conscious efforts to seek out novelty will benefit your spirit, and engender a sense of agency at a time when you feel like you don’t have control over your life.
4. Gratitude Journaling & Working on “Rewiring” Your Brain
Studies show that the act of writing down a few things you are grateful for every day is as healing as it is productive. With regular practice, this kind of “gratitude journaling” enhances optimism, reduces materialism, and increases both empathy AND mental fortitude. Give it a try.
Gratitude also improves self-esteem and boosts overall health, which is why Psychology Today is quick to point out that grateful people often sleep better. So, if you want a quick depression hack for helping yourself get out of a rut, ask yourself, “What am I grateful for?”
Meanwhile, if you harbor some deeply-held beliefs about your situation that do not serve you, try re-writing them– even if you don’t believe your own self talk. Motivational speaker and writer Gabrielle Bernstein has a trick for how to stay positive when you’re feeling stuck like this. She calls it “Choosing Again”.
Choosing Again works like this (according to Bernstein): “I’ll ask myself, ‘What’s the best thought I can find right now?‘ For example, I was recently diagnosed with postpartum anxiety. I could go straight to victim mode, thinking, ‘Life sucks; things are bad.’ Or, I can think, ‘I caught it early. Also, I have so much support. And I can speak about this and help other people.‘ I reach for any thought that’s slightly more positive that I can believe, and I run with it.”
3. Prioritize Sleep
Sleep is so essential for all aspects of wellbeing, as you already know. But prioritizing sleep has even more formulaic benefits than most people think. “People don’t take sleep seriously enough,” says Frank Lipman, M.D. and founder of Eleven Eleven Wellness Center in New York City.
“There’s something called the glymphatic system, a housecleaning process in your brain that works only when you sleep. If you don’t rest properly–” (ideally during the same hours each night, and ideally going to sleep between 10 PM and Midnight at the latest)– “then toxic substances build up. You can’t think clearly, and over time that can lead to all sorts of [age and non-age related] neurological problems like Alzheimer’s Disease.” Sleep, moreover, is crucial to every aspect of health, especially mental health.
If you haven’t tried going to bed around 10 PM consistently, struggling with depression is a good reason to start. (And if you can go to bed early, that’s even better.) Try it for 2 weeks, aimed to get 7-9 hours of sleep each night, and see how you feel. This depression hack is one that gives the most bang for your buck, so to speak.
If you struggle to sleep soundly, consult our guide to the safest, most effective herbs for insomnia, which includes gentle teas that can help if you’re wary of taking supplements. You could also try making these DIY Cherry and Lemon Balm Sleep Gummies. If you struggle with racing thoughts at night, these calming hacks can help.
2. Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Turmeric, salmon, blueberries, olive oil, cashews, and other antioxidant and omega 3 fatty acid rich foods should be in your arsenal. As we wrote in our guide to Surviving Seasonal Depression (aka Seasonal Affective Disorder), extensive research shows that diets high in B12 and omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to decrease depression symptoms and improve mood.
Apparently, diets deficient in these nutrients can lead to increased inflammation in the parts of the brain responsible for mood. Accordingly, neuroscientists postulate that this inflammation is linked with depressive symptoms, which makes sense given that there’s already an established link between anxiety and gut health. Food, at the end of the day, is medicine.
If you want an easy depression hack, try incorporating more fish, nuts, leafy greens, and anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric and ginger into your diet. If you like to cook, try making our signature Stress-Busting Turmeric Instant Pot Popcorn, this super-popular Anti-Inflammatory Olive Oil Quick Bread, or this greens-filled Person Pesto Fritatta.
We have a several other helpful, research-backed recipes in our Mood Recipes archive. Poke around and see if there’s anything that appeals to you.
1. Exercise (The Most Critical Depression Hack of All)
I know, I know. You’ve heard this before. Exercise can be hard if you’re not already doing it– but it’s one of the best depression hacks there is. It can be frustrating, however, if you’re already exercising but not seeing results in the way of better mood. If that’s the case, try switching up your preferred workout of choice. You just might not be challenging your brain in new or different ways. If you’ve lapsed into a routine like walking or running the same route every day, try mixing it up. Alter the route, switch up the intensity, or workout with a partner.
As we discussed above, breaking up your daily routine is really important. Humans were not designed to endure too much repetition, and lack of inspiration is a big hurdle that people who are extrinsically motivated need to overcome.
People who are intrinsically motivated find value in activities themselves, rather than just goals or outcomes. For example, they like exercising for exercise sake—not because they want to lose weight or look a certain way (this is extrinsic motivation).
According to researchers studying the motivational-emotional phenomena at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, asking yourself questions— rather than making lists or telling yourself what to do— is super effective at getting extrinsically motivated people to practice healthier habits like exercise.
Instead of asserting, “I need to work out today!” try asking yourself, “Will I work out today?” You’re more likely to do it when you ask yourself the question because questions give you back your agency. This, in turn, makes you feel more intrinsically motivated. Try this the next time you feel uninspired to work out. Remember, you’re doing it for your mind, not your body. Exercise isn’t punishment; it’s a way to free your mind.
Suffering from depression and anxiety? Consult our Comprehensive Guide to Anxiety Relief.
Related: Read our article on Why Running Therapy is Taking Off in Los Angeles.