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7 Free Ways to Boost Your Mood if You Have Depression

These seven techniques can help you reduce depression symptoms.

Luke Daugherty Contributor
Luke Daugherty is a freelance writer, editor and former operations manager. His work covers operations, marketing, sustainable business and personal finance, as well as many of his personal passions, including coffee, music and social issues.
Luke Daugherty
Medically Reviewed
Reviewed by: Vivian Sun
Dr. Vivian Sun is a child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She received her medical degree from University of Maryland and psychiatry training at University of Pennsylvania and Stanford. She is board certified in general and child/adolescent psychiatry and specializes in the treatment of conditions such as ADHD, autism, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD.
Expertise ADHD, autism, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and PTSD. Credentials
  • Medical Board of California, Medical License
  • American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, General and Child and Adolescent Psychiatry
  • University of Maryland School of Medicine, Doctor of Medicine
  • Residency in Psychiatry University of Pennsylvania
  • Fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Stanford University
6 min read
Woman sitting on a bench with a cloud on her head
Francesco Carta fotografo/Getty Images

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, you should call 911 (or your country's local emergency line) or go to an emergency room to get immediate help. Explain that it is a psychiatric emergency and ask for someone who is trained for these kinds of situations.

Depression is a serious mental health condition that affects daily life for many Americans. According to recent estimates, nearly one in 10 US adults and one in five adolescents and young adults reported some degree of depression in the past 12 months.

Beyond feeling sad or having a bad mood for a day, depression can feel like hopelessness or emptiness that persists for weeks, months or even years. In some cases, it's seasonal, but in others it's ongoing. Depression varies by degree, and it's often accompanied by other symptoms such as anxiety, difficulty sleeping, irritability and fatigue. At its worst, depression can disrupt daily activities and work -- even leading to suicidal thoughts or actions.

Because depression can have such a significant impact on your life, it's important to seek professional help if you're concerned you have it. Ultimately, depression is complex and rooted not only in our behavior but also in chemical changes in the brain or other hormonal shifts in the body, and it often takes behavioral and pharmaceutical treatment to alleviate it.

Those tools are critical for treating depression and working toward long-term recovery, but there are also simple strategies you can use to boost your mood and fight depression every day. 

7 free ways to boost your mood

Because depression is such a complex mental condition, it's important to find strategies that work for you. While not a replacement for professional mental health care, these seven tricks offer easy ways to boost your mood naturally — and you can do them without spending money.

1. Make time for things you enjoy

Like other mood disorders, depression can create a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. Because you feel down, you don't feel like doing things you would normally enjoy. But when you don't engage in activities you love, you risk worsening depression symptoms. 

One of the best ways to combat symptoms of depression is to fight off the urge to do nothing and do your favorite activities, even if you don't feel like it. Research has shown that engaging in leisure activities is a great way to boost your mood and results in less stress, a lower heart rate and a more positive, engaged outlook. 

If you have depression, it may help to make a list of simple, free activities you've always loved doing. When you feel yourself slipping into the doldrums, pull out the list and jump into whichever one is easiest to do at that moment.

2. Spend time in nature

Our interactions with each other and the world are becoming more and more digitized. The more time we spend in front of screens, the less we spend in nature. And study after study shows this may be bad for our mental health. 

According to a study conducted by Michigan State University, today's children spend half as much time engaging in unstructured play outdoors compared to children 20 years ago. And that decrease has been associated with drops in child self-esteem and creativity. Meanwhile, a bevy of research shows strong correlations between time in nature and better moods, improved sleep, reduced stress and more.

So much about modern life pulls you away from nature and toward screens. Especially when you have depression, it may seem like all you want to do is scroll social media or binge-watch another show. Instead, try putting the phone down, turning off the alerts and hitting a hiking trail or city park. You'd be amazed at what some fresh air and sunshine can do

Woman enjoying the sunlight in nature
miniseries/Getty Images

3. Make yourself (and others) laugh

It's not just a cliche because there's some truth to it: Laughter is often the best medicine when you're down. You may not want to hear it when you're depressed, but research backs it up.

For instance, a 2020 study of elderly patients at nursing homes showed noticeable benefits in treating depression with laughter therapy. Depression is quite common in these settings, where patients are in isolation and have chronic health issues. Yet, study participants showed significant improvements in outlook and attitude after receiving laughter therapy.

You may not need formal laughter therapy to boost your mood and fend off depression symptoms, either. Although it may be more difficult when you're down, take a moment to think of the things that usually make you laugh. Maybe it's an old movie or sitcom you've watched a thousand times, a silly YouTube video or that standup special that's been in your Netflix queue for months. Or maybe you need to spend some time with friends and make someone else crack up for a bit. Whatever it is, don't discount the power of a good laugh.

4. Seek physical contact

Depression is often linked with loneliness and isolation, and there are probably many reasons for that. One of the most significant ones may be that isolation means we're deprived of human touch.

Numerous studies have shown that simple physical touch is not just pleasant -- it's critical to our survival. Newborns essentially require it to regulate a number of physiological responses and develop proper parental bonds. It's still essential as we grow and develop into adulthood, too. Touch deprivation has been linked with higher instances of depression, anxiety and stress. Conversely, receiving physical contact calms our nerves and, in romantic contexts, triggers the release of oxytocin to strengthen bonds and increase pleasure.

Touch need not be romantic to be effective, though. Embracing a friend or a simple touch on the shoulder -- these are powerful gestures that can boost your mood. If you're especially stressed, you might consider spending money on a massage, manicure or pedicure. It might feel like a splurge, but if it changes your outlook, it may be well worth it.

5. Start exercising 

As far as depression treatments go, exercise may be one of the best natural remedies available. In some cases of mild depression, it even works as well as medications, according to Harvard Health. 

The reasons why aren't entirely clear, but experts have several theories. Exercise releases powerful pleasure-inducing endorphins in the body, leading to what's often called the "runner's high," a common buzz that many feel after working out.

Even more significant, though, may be the long-term effects of exercise on cell growth. This can stimulate growth and nerve cell connections in the brain, particularly in the hippocampus, where mood regulation occurs.

Before you let thoughts of running laps drop your mood further, take a deep breath. Exercise can be broadly defined to include all sorts of activities, from a brisk walk or hike to swimming laps or playing pickleball. Find activities you enjoy that get your body moving and your heart pumping. Your mind will feel the effects.

6. Declutter your space

Talking about clutter may conjure up memories of your mom yelling at you to clean your room. But she may have had a point. 

Research shows a strong connection between clutter and stress, which is closely related to depression and anxiety. It's not clear which usually comes first -- the clutter or the stress -- but it's clear that reducing clutter can lower stress levels and calm your mood.

Decluttering wardrobe and piles for donation, keep and discard.
AndreyPopov/Getty Images

So, if you're looking for a quick mood boost, try starting at home. Rather than living with a cluttered bedroom, office or living space, take some time to throw out what you don't need and organize what's left. You may feel better simply knowing where things are when you need them.

7. Do good for others

One of the most pernicious effects of depression lies in how it can cause you to turn increasingly inward, hyper-focusing on your own thoughts and feelings and becoming less attuned to the world around you. It makes sense, then, that an activity that forces you to focus on others could help relieve depression symptoms.

According to Psychology Today, that's just what happens. When you focus on "compassionate goals" of helping others and being unselfish, it boosts your self-esteem, lifts your mood and improves your relationships -- all of which can combat depression.

One study, in particular, focused on seven ways to practice compassionate goals:

  • Support others.
  • Express compassion and understanding when others make mistakes.
  • Practice simple acts of kindness.
  • Build up others with your words.
  • Avoid harming others.
  • Focus on others, not just yourself and your internal struggles.
  • Try not to do anything unhelpful (like leaving behind a mess).

Too long; didn't read?

The human brain is complicated, and mood disorders like depression have vexed doctors and mental health professionals for centuries. If you're feeling down, you might just need to eat a good meal. Or you may need professional help. No matter the cause, it may help to include these mood-boosting strategies in your battle against depression. Establishing new habits and daily rhythms can improve your outlook and help you build a foundation for a healthier life.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.