Depression can happen to anyone - and does happen to one in four of us over our lifetimes. Different factors that make it more likely to happen, include biological make-up, upbringing, or reaction to life events. What keeps it going though, is how we deal with those things. The way we think and what we do affects the way we feel. Depression is often accompanied by other feelings such as guilt, shame, anger and anxiety.

People who are depressed tend to think very negatively about themselves, the future and the world around them. It can be like seeing life through "gloomy specs".

Everything is hopeless - nothing can change
I'm useless, worthless
It's all my fault
The world is a terrible place - everything goes wrong

We can dwell on these thoughts repeatedly, mulling over things, asking ourselves why, thinking regretful things about the past, what we should or shouldn't have done.

Physical Sensations
Tiredness, fatigue, lethargy
Difficulty concentrating or remembering
Sleep changes (sleep more or less)
Eating changes (eat more or less)
Lose interest in hobbies, activities, sex


Because of the tiredness, difficulty sleeping and eating, and negative style of thinking, we tend to do less and less. We stop doing the things we used to do and enjoy. It could get so bad that we can`t even go to work, or do things at home. We want to stay in bed, or stay at home doing very little. We might isolate ourselves from friends and family.

Vicious Cycle of Depression


Vicious Cogs of Depression

By looking at the "cogs" that keep the central problem going, we can target and make positive changes in each of the cogs, which will at least, slow down, and at best, stop, the central problem, for example:

Vicious cogs of depression

Print a blank Cogs PDF and fill in the factors that keep your depression going.


Activity & Physical Exercise

When we're depressed, we can feel particularly tired and lack any motivation to do anything.   Just increasing our activity and exercise levels can make an enormous impact on our mood as it stimulates the body to produce natural anti-depressants.  Just increasing our activity and exercise levels can make an enormous impact on our mood by:

  • Making us feel better about ourselves

  • Making us feel less tired

  • Motivating us to do more

  • Improving our ability to think more clearly

  • Helping us think about something other than focussing on our unhelpful thoughts

  • Using up the adrenaline resources created by anxiety and anger

  • Increasing motivation

  • Giving us a sense of achievement

  • Enjoyment

  • Being with other people

  • Stimulating the body to produce natural anti-depressants

  • Making us generally more healthy

  • Stimulating our appetite

Schedule ACE activities each day which give you a sense of:

  • Achievement

  • Closeness to others

  • Enjoyment


Use an Activity Diary, or the ACE Log  PDFs

It's important to get a healthy balance of activities which give you a sense of achievement, enjoyment and being close to others. Choose activities which are important to you, have positive meanings, or are purposeful, and you might want to plan rest periods too.

Keep your goals realistic and set achievable limits. Eg aim to walk for 15 minutes rather than a half-marathon, or wash the dishes rather than spring clean the whole house. Don`t set yourself up to fail! You can build up your activity over time.

If you struggle with motivation....use the 5 minute rule. Commit to do the activity for just 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, you can choose to stop or continue (and you might find that you want to continue)

Rewarding yourself
When you're doing well, or remembering to pace yourself, doing more of what helps, or doing less of what doesn't - give yourself a treat, a pat on the back.


If lack of activity and tiredness is helping to maintain our negative thinking, and therefore keeping us depressed, then doing more (in spite of feeling tired and depressed) will help us feel better.

Do something different (to what you normally do)


  • Mindfulness - learn Mindful Breathing

  • Focus your attention fully on another activity - Mindful activity

  • Relaxation techniques - try lots and find one that works for you

  • Put on some music - sing and dance along, or just listen attentively (use music that is likely to help you feel your desired emotion - avoid sad songs if you`re depressed)

  • Meditation or Prayer

  • Help others

  • Be with others - contact a friend, visit family

  • Talk to someone

  • Grounding techniques - look around you, what do you see, hear, smell, sense? Hold a comforting object.

  • Physical exercise - walk, swim, go to the gym, cycle

  • Engage in a hobby or other interest - if you don`t have one, find one! What have you enjoyed in the past? What have you sometimes thought about doing but not got around to?

  • Plan more energising activities

  • Write down your thoughts and feelings - get them out of your head.  Just write, or use a thought record sheet.

  • Just take one step at a time - don`t plan too far ahead

  • Pamper yourself - do something you really enjoy, or do something relaxing

  • Positive self-talk - encourage yourself, tell yourself: I can do this, I am strong and capable - find an affirmation that works for you (even if you don`t believe it at first!). Write it down and memorise it for when you need it.

  • Do something creative - make a box of items that remind you to use the techniques that help, or put photos on paper, or write and decorate a list

  • Consider using a Light Box- particularly with Seasonal Affective Disorder (Depression due to lack of natural light, e.g. every winter, although some people experience SAD at other times)

  • Use Safe Place Imagery

  • Colour breathing

  • Tell yourself: "This will pass, it`s only temporary". "I`ve got through this before, I can do it now". When we`re going through a tunnel and become fearful of being trapped, there`s no point in stopping - we just have to carry on in order to reach the end of the tunnel. That light is there, and waiting!

  • Notice the positives - write down or record 3 positive things every day.

Visualise yourself enjoying doing the things you used to enjoy doing, or would like to enjoy doing, and successfully doing the things you need to do.




STOPP! Pause, take a breath
Ask yourself:

  • What am I reacting to? What have I been thinking about here?

  • Am I getting things out of proportion?

  • Is this fact or opinion?

  • How important is this really? How important will it be in 6 months time?

  • Am I expecting something from this person or situation that is unrealistic?

  • What is the worst (and best) that could happen? What is most likely to happen?

  • Am I using that negative filter? Those gloomy specs? Is there another way of looking at it?

  • What advice would I give to someone else in this situation?

  • Am I spending time ruminating about the past or worrying about the future? What could I do right now that would help me feel better?

  • When I think back to that time I made such a bad decision, could I be looking at it with a hindsight bias?

  • Am I putting more pressure on myself, setting up expectations of myself that are almost impossible? What would be more realistic?

  • Am I jumping to conclusions about what this person meant? Am I (mis)reading between the lines? Is it possible that they meant something else?

  • What do I want or need from this person or situation? What do they want or need from me? Is there a compromise?

  • Am I just focusing on the worst possible thing that could happen? What would be more realistic?

  • Is there another way of looking at this?  The helicopter view

  • Am I exaggerating the good aspects of others, and putting myself down?  Or am I exaggerating the negative and minimising the positives? How would someone else see it? What`s the bigger picture?

  • Notice the positives

  • Things aren`t either totally white or totally black, there are always shades of grey. Where is this on the spectrum?

  • This is just a reminder of the past. That was then, and this is now. Even though this memory makes me feel upset, it`s not actually happening again right now.

  • What would be the consequences of doing what I normally do?

  • Is there another way of dealing with this? What would be the most helpful and effective action to take? (for me, for the situation, for the other person)

  • Challenge your automatic thoughts

Visualisation: Breathe in orange (for positive energy) and breathe out blue/black.  Colour breathing  

Print or download Self Help for Depression as PDF

Coping with Suicidal Thoughts

Depression Quick Reference PDF

Depression Thought Record Sheet

Energising vs Draining Activities

Weekly Planner

Increasing Activity

Behavioural Activation Worksheet

Increasing Motivation

Healthy Eating for Depression

Challenge your automatic thoughts

Colour breathing

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Self Help Books

Overcoming Depression: A self- help guide using Cognitive Behavioural Techniques

The CBT Handbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Using CBT to Overcome Depression, Anxiety, Stress, Low Self-Esteem and Anger

Taming the Black Dog: How to Beat Depression

Shoot the Damn Dog

Manage Your Mood: Use Behavioural Activation Techniques to Overcome Depression