Clients suffering with anxiety and depression feel really stuck. They feel like they are in a bottomless pit and have no way to get out. I (Vincent) ask them what they can do to help themselves, and they have no reply.
So I bring out my big white board (it is about 52″ wide and 40″ high), and we brainstorm on the board. I like to fill the board up.
That is what Laura and I have done with this list. We have listed at random activities to help improve your anxiety and depression. With so many options, anyone can find something that will help them.
On our podcast Relationship Helpers, we have organized the list into ten categories: God, exercise, slowing down, fun, animals and nature, socializing, aesthetics, creating and learning, touch and smell, and helping.
Here’s the list:
1. Talk to someone about it. By sharing your thoughts with others, you allow them to understand you. When you feel understood, an emotional burden is lifted. You feel like you are not alone. (Galatians 6:2 says, “Carry each others burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”)
2. Go for a walk. According to Harvard Health Publishing, walking for 2 1/2 hours per week can reduce your risk of heart disease by 30 %, and some studies show that walking can be as effective as drugs at reducing depression.
3. Pet a dog. In 2011, psychologists at Miami University and St. Louis University discovered from their findings in three experiments that pet owners displayed less loneliness and higher self-esteem. In 2012, a study in the American Journal of Cardiology showed that dog owners have hearts that adapt better than those of non-pet owners. In a 2008 study presented at a meeting of the American Stroke Association people who never owned a cat had a 40 % increased risk of death by heart attack over 20 year period. So if you don’t like dogs, then I guess a cat will do just as well.
4. Go to the movies and watch a comedy. According to the Mayo clinic, laughter stimulates many organs, activates and relieves your stress response, and soothes tension.
5. Slow your breathing down. Four Square Breathing is a good way to slow your breathing down which will help everything else to slow down as well.
6. Use relaxation imagery meditation. Guided imagery is great way to disconnect from life’s stresses and focus on something positive and up-lifting. With this technique, you find a quiet place to relax and then think about the most peaceful environment you can imagine.
7. Take a bubble bath. A warm, bubble bath is a good way to unwind and relax. Coach Amber McAuley shares how the warmth, the aromas, and the encompassing water soothes her like a big hug.
8. Play a sport. According to the League Network, sports stimulate the body’s production of endorphins, the team participation builds self-esteem, the activity promotes better sleep, and the social engagement provides emotional support by sharing a common interest.
9. Take a leisurely drive in your car. As a child, we would occasionally, usually on Sunday, take a car ride as a family. This was a time to ride around on rural roads looking at nature or new things we had not seen such as a new house.
10. Take a bicycle ride at the park. Cycling can help reduce stress naturally. According to Dr. David Conant-Norville at Vanderbilt University, activities that require quick reactions, balance, and decision-making skills like cycling help control ADHD in children. In a study, adults who performed a short but complex exercise were 40 % more likely to solve a problem that required focus than participants who were idle.
More Ways to Cope with Anxiety and Depression
11. Go to the park and watch the squirrels and the birds. Researchers at the British Trust for Ornithology, the University of Exeter, and the University of Queensland have found that the more the number of birds viewed in an afternoon reduces depression, anxiety, and stress in an individual.
12. Visit an old friend. Healthy individuals have a wide array of support. They have numerous people where they can find emotional support. Even introverted or quiet people can have 4 to 5 people that they are comfortable talking with. Having only one or two persons to speak with really limits a person’s perspective and may keep them stuck in an unhealthy mental state.
13. Listen to your favorite music. When you listen to music you enjoy, your body reacts. Your blood flow increases, stress-related hormones like cortisol decrease and your pain eases. A 2016 study showed that both music and meditation improved the mood of older adults suffering from mental decline.
14. Go to a play or musical. Going to the theatre gives you the opportunity to explore your feelings in a different way. Some shows deal with deep sensitive issues while others help you to laugh and relax you. When you are enjoying a play or musical, you are not enjoying it alone and in the complete dark, but you are enjoying it with a crowd of other people. This sharing of an experience helps to enhance your well-being.
15. Read the Bible. The Bible has many verses and passages that address anxiety. Philippians 4:6-7 states, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Isaiah 41:10 says, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
16. Get up early and watch a sunrise. Taking the time to relax and watch a sunrise can really is a good way to reset your mind. You can take your mind off of all the busy things and focus on the natural aesthetics of nature. When you appreciate beauty, your spirits are lifted.
17. Go fishing. Fishing is a great way to spend time in the outdoors, to get some physical exercise, and relax. Studies have shown that a weekend fishing trip can reduce the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in war veterans for as long as three weeks afterwards.
18. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Volunteering provides you with opportunities to serve someone else. You get your mind off of YOU – when we are too focused on ourselves, we become anxious and maybe depressed. Volunteering at a soup kitchen allows you to focus on others’ needs and in return you benefit. Larry Crabb says, “The more that you learn to love like God, the more your joy increases.” Here are some tips when you go.
19. Eat some ice cream. I am not suggesting that you gorge yourself in ice cream – that would be gluttonous. But researchers in Belgium has found that eating fatty acid foods like ice cream lessen a depressed mood – as us ice cream lovers have long suspected. So a little ice cream “in moderation” can help you feel better.
More Coping Skills
20. Visit a flower garden and smell the roses. The aromas of a therapy garden provide a powerful stimulus that connects you with nature and calms your body. The beautiful colors illicit admiration of its beauty – your mind is taken away from everyday stresses.
21. Read a classic novel. Reading can help you get perspective. Your mind is activated more and you learn more about your state of mind. As you learn more about how you think, then you can learn to change your behavior as well.
22. Visit a state park. Taking a walk or hike in nature will benefit your mental health. A 2015 study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences stated, “Participants who went on a 90-min walk through a natural environment reported lower levels of rumination and showed reduced neural activity in an area of the brain linked to risk for mental illness compared with those who walked through an urban environment.” A 2017 study in Germany corroborates the idea that time in nature is good for our brains.
24. Have friends over for a meal. According to some studies, having close friends may help you fight disease. Inviting people into your home lessens loneliness and solitude that promote depression.
26. Walk on the beach and look for seashells. The color blue has a calming effect. Gazing into the ocean literally changes our brain waves, putting the mind into a meditative state.
27. Pay for someone’s meal at a restaurant anonymously. Being kind elevates self-esteem and can lower the effects of psychological disorders.
28. Paint in watercolor. Watercolor painting is inexpensive and can be done quickly. Studies have found that painting can lower stress hormone levels. Creating artwork provides many health benefits. Art is also a great way to engage children and help them to succeed in other areas.
29. Write in your journal. Journaling has a “purging effect”. It can organize your thoughts. It helps you to look at issues and ways to overcome them. It also helps you to recognize how much you have overcome in the past.
More Ways to Beat Anxiety and Depression
30. Teach a child how to read. Reading with children improves parent-child communication, raises self-esteem, lowers anxiety/stress and increases empathy.
31. Hold your baby. Researchers have found that when mothers hold their babies there is a marked decrease in stress levels. More skin-to-skin time improves mothers’ wellbeing.
32. Blow bubbles outside. Blowing bubbles tricks your body into calming down. You slow and deepen your breath.
33. Visit a cathedral or church to view the stained glass windows. Viewing artwork stimulates the pleasure centers of your brain. It also serves as a positive distraction for those who are chronically ill.
34. Run or walk in a 5K race. For those suffering from mild to moderate depression, running can be just as effective as anti-depressants. Running is so effective, a psychotherapist in California practices “on-the-run” sessions.
35. Cross-stitch. Cross stitchers find that cross stitching creates calm, reduces stress and when done in a group setting, promotes community.
36. Call an old friend. Having no friends leads to psychological dysfunction. Picking up the phone and giving old friends a call is good for mental and physical health.
37. Visit shut-ins at the nursing home. By visiting a shut-in, you not only minister to them, but they minister to you as well. You learn to slow down, focus on someone else, and give love.
39. View the stars through a telescope. Or better yet visit a planetarium. Gazing at the stars is a good way to relax your mind and get your thoughts beyond yourself. This may also be a good date if you have anxiety about eating our and a movie.
More Activities to Combat Anxiety and Depression
40. Go watch a baseball game. It can be relaxing, but it also can be a time that you let some of your emotions out as well. This emotional release around a lot of people can be therapeutic.
41. Take a sculpting class. Sculpting can be a good way to reduce stress and get in touch with your feelings. You may even want to make a family sculpture to better understand your role in your family.
42. Visit a car museum. A 2011 study from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology shows that visiting museums can lower the risk of anxiety and depression in men. Museums reduce stress and have a greater impact on well-being as playing sports do.
43. Go see the fall colors in the mountains. Being in nature and reflecting on nature can alleviate host of mental health issues. Forest therapy where you pay someone to guide you through a forest to remedy ailments is actually practiced in a few areas.
44. Eat at a fancy restaurant. Eating a good healthy meal can fill your tummy, but it can also help reduce anxiety and depression. More expensive restaurants many times provide healthier food – here are some foods that help with depression.
45. Learn some magic tricks. Learning magic tricks is not only fun, but it can help you feel more confident. It can be a great ice-breaker in social settings. Learning magic can help you build many other skills like good hand-eye coordination.
47. Play chess at a local game room. Playing casual games helps to reduce stress according to a recent study. Board games help to reduce isolation, keep the brain younger, and develop social skills.
48. Go for a swim. Aerobic activity reduces depression symptoms. Swimming in particular offers a quick way to release endorphins – the feel good hormones. At the same time, some of the fight-or-flight hormones are taken up as well, reducing anxiety.
49. Watch a mystery movie or tv show. Although watching too much TV can be bad for you, watching a relaxing or intriguing show can help to reduce your stress according to a recent study.
50 More Ways to Reduce Anxiety & Depression
50. Put up a bird feeder so that you can watch the birds. According to a study in Southern England, bird watching in urban areas can reduce anxiety and stress.
51. Plant some flowers or vegetables. Gardening can be very relaxing and therapeutic. It is so effective that there are professional specialists called horticultural therapists. Gardening provides purposeful and meaningful activity while offering restoration and respite from mental stress.
52. Learn to play an instrument. Learning to play an instrument develops self-confidence, especially when you learn to play a piece that is difficult or that you have heard a professional play before. Studies show that it helps to reduce the stress hormone, cortisol.
53. Pray. A study by Dr. Harold Koenig and other colleagues at Duke University showed that six weekly prayers with patients at the hospital reduced their stress and anxiety while raising their optimism.
54. Tense up your muscles and then relax them in a progressive manner. Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) can help alleviate disturbing and disruptive emotional symptoms. This relaxation technique can help your body get out to the fight/flight response.
55. Cook a new and different meal. Cooking provides many mental health benefits like stress relief, relief from boredom, improved memory, attention and focus, increased sensory awareness, and a sense of accomplishment.
56. Go to the driving range. Smacking a golf ball can relieve a lot of tension. Golf requires a lot of concentration which can help get your mind off of other things as well.
57. Learn ballroom dancing. As with other exercise, dancing releases large amounts of dopamine – “the feel good hormone”. Dancing not only provides exercise, but also a lot of socialization.
58. Go get a massage. A massage can lower cortisol, the hormone produced by stress, and increase serotonin, a hormone that reduces pain and anxiety in the body.
59. Write a letter. Letter writing is a great way to express yourself. It forces you to organize your thoughts instead of letting them ruminate in your mind. After writing the letter, you don’t have to send it for it to be helpful.
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60. Go to a local festival. Increased socialization helps to alleviate depression, especially if you attend an event with a friend. Festivals provide a lot of social interaction as well as many new sights and things to learn.
61. Volunteer with the Boy (or Girl) Scouts. Studies have shown that volunteering has been linked to lower blood pressure and less symptoms of depression. Volunteering not only helps you, but also helps the ones you are working with.
62. Listen to a concert. A study from the Royal College of Music in London has shown that live concerts can actually reduce stress and anxiety.
63. Learn a new language. Depression oftentimes limits your thinking. By expanding your knowledge, you expand your world. You have many more opportunities.
64. Fly a kite. Kite flying offers a wide variety of health benefits like being in nature, exercise, socialization, and stress reduction. It is inexpensive and family friendly as well.
65. Pick up trash on a local road. This is a great way to be a part of the community and meet new people. Along with meeting other civic-minded people, you get some good exercise as well.
66. Whistle. Whistling, humming, singing, and laughing are ways to destress and help you to relax. A work-play balance is imperative to keep you emotionally healthy.
67. Play board games with the family. Game night with the family is good way to connect with each other in a healthy environment. Playing games together reduces stress, sharpens cognitive skills, and reduces the risk of mental illness.
68. Take a yoga class. Yoga is a good way to slow your body and mind down. When you are with a class, you are more focused on fitting in. This peer pressure helps you to stay focused and actually do the disciplined yoga that you might not do on your own.
69. Watch a nature show on PBS or the BBC. A study by BBC and the University of California Berkeley has found that watching nature shows causes the viewers to increased happiness and reduced stress. Advanced facial mapping was used to determine a person’s emotional state.
Ideas to Get You Moving in the Right Direction
70. Attend a bible study. Community is important to the wellbeing of those struggling with mental health issues. Finding a group and a church that is not antagonistic towards mental health can provide support for someone struggling with depression and other conditions. More churches and church groups are partnering with mental health professionals to give much needed attention to those suffering from depression and other conditions.
71. Take a class at the local community college. Never stop learning! Learning beyond school-age years can improve our mental wellbeing. It can give us a sense of purpose, improve self-confidence and self-esteem.
72. Tour a historical battlefield. Traveling and sight-seeing can help a depressed person look beyond themselves and boost their confidence. Visiting a historical battlefield is a way of experiencing an event with others and looking back in time.
73. Photograph nature or some interesting cityscape or people. Photography motivates you to get outside and interact with people or nature. It is a way of expressing yourself without using words.
74. Go bowling with friends. Socializing just once a week can lessen one’s chances of suffering from depression, along with improving our immune systems.
75. Make a baby laugh. Children laugh more than adults. Adults have a tendency to be more serious. By intentionally making a child laugh, you are engaging in a social activity that is light-hearted and has many health and mental health benefits. You will be more likely to laugh if you make a baby laugh. Laughter strengthens resilience, which is an important strength in coping. It is a great stress-reliever and can lessen the symptoms of anxiety.
76. Write down what you are thankful for. Making the habit of identifying three things you are grateful each day for even a few weeks can create improvement in depression. In fact, some scientists believe that the impact is as strong as an anti-depressant! Practicing gratitude can also decrease overeating, increase empathy for others and improve self-care.
77. Buy a loved one flowers. Performing random acts of kindness can improve our emotional wellbeing.
78. Clean a specific area in your house. People who view their homes as more cluttered find that their depression increases through the day. Those who see their home as more orderly are less likely to be as depressed as those with messier homes.
79. Horseback riding. Horseback riding has many physical and mental benefits. It helps the rider develop greater confidence and to cope with fear. It increases energy and is a great stress reliever.
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80. Smell the rain. If it is not raining, then smell freshly cut grass or some vanilla. Aromatherapy makes a great compliment to traditional treatments and other therapies for depression. It is relaxing and can bring a person into the present moment, which with depression and anxiety, the sufferer is not typically “in the moment.”
81. Stretch. Studies reveal that stretching calms the mind, giving the mind a mental break.
82. Work on a crossword puzzle. The challenges of regularly performing crossword puzzles improves a person’s ability to solves life’s problems.
83. Watch a cartoon. Psychotherapist Dr. Laurel Steinberg finds that children’s programming promotes community, relationship, family, teamwork and the concept of good overcoming evil. These concepts are an escape from worry and sadness and improves mood.
84. Sing a praise song. Singing lowers the levels of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. It improves life quality and decreases anxiety. Research suggests that singing as part of group even synchs the heart rates of group members, which is almost like a meditative state.
85. Read a biography. Journalist Shane Snow calls reading biographies “self-help in disguise.” By the time the person’s book is written, we get to read how that person overcame obstacles in their life and how they succeeded in life. Reading biographies can be motivating.
86. Eat some candy. Chewing gum can lower nervous tension and increase serotonin levels. Peppermint improves concentration. Chocolate has a few compounds that are mood-boosting!
87. Go sailing. Spending time in nature allows us to slow down and appreciate God’s creation. The chemical composition of salty air balances serotonin levels. The rhythm of waves have a relaxing effect on the body.
88. Start a hobby that is inexpensive. Performing a hobby can lower blood pressure. Finding purpose in your hobby can make what you do more successful. Regularly participating in a hobby lowers depression.
89. Knit a shawl. Studies have shown that knitting is soothing, calming the heart rate and is therapeutic for conditions such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders and post traumatic stress disorder.
11 More Ways to Cope with Anxiety and Depression
90. Lay on your back outside and watch the clouds. Being in nature separates us from the bombardment of technology in our lives and allows us to be alone with our thoughts. Interestingly, a study found that people would rather administer to themselves mild electric shocks than to sit alone with their thoughts. At the onset of the study these same people said they would pay money to avoid being shocked. Modern society has indulged this need to be entertained. Cloud watching is a pleasant form of distraction that will not seem as threatening.
91. Climb a tree. Nothing makes you feel like a kid again like climbing a tree. But it also builds self-confidence and self-reliance. It physically removes you from the stressors of your life.
92. Join a book club. “As a rough rule of thumb, if you belong to no groups but decide to join one, you cut your risk of dying over the next year in half,” says scientist Robert D. Putnam in his book Bowling Alone. Being a part of group also influences the health decisions people make, leading them to healthier lifestyle choices. The more groups you are a part of, the less likely you are to become depressed. If you suffer from depression, joining a group could help you recover and prevent relapse.
93. Visit a zoo. The Attention Restoration Theory claims that an individual will concentrate better after observing nature. Being in the moment with nature also improves sense of well-being, and wakes the senses.
94. Take a ride on a motorcycle. Riding a motorcycle is one of the few rides where the journey is the destination. It requires the driver to develop strong concentration and puts the driver in the “now”. It reduces stress and can improve emotional health.
95. Ride a rollercoaster. Finishing a roller coaster ride helps individuals to step outside of their comfort zones and develop a greater sense of self-confidence. Riding a roller coaster is a type of “controlled danger”. A sense of peace washes over the rider after the ride is over due to the noradrenaline that is released to return the body to its pre-ride state.
96. Participate in a counseling group. Group counseling teaches social skills. It provides you the chance to hear many perspectives on what you’re going through. Group provides support and encouragement as you develop new coping skills. Here are some free counseling groups you may want to explore – Celebrate Recovery, GriefShare, DivorceCare, or Stephen Ministries.
97. Float on a raft or float in a pool. Floating calms the mind and reduces stress. It puts you in a state of sensory deprivation, creating a happier state of mind. It also decreases the sensation of pain.
98. Visit an art museum. Art museums provide positive distractions, have a calming-effect, decreases anxiety, increases optimism, and leads to a reduced sense of social isolation.
99. Find a unique dive to eat at. Trying new things knocks you out of hum-drum routine. It helps you learn more about yourself. Experiencing a new eatery is a good “baby step” into getting outside of your comfort zone, as it may not be considered as threatening as trying other new things.
100. Compliment someone on their appearance. Studies indicate that people with social anxiety are less likely to give compliments. Learning to give compliments helps begin conversations, builds connections with others, and lowers anxiety.
101. Visit a national park. People living more than a mile from a park have a 50 percent chance of experiencing stress than someone less than 300 yards from a natural area.