Depression got you down? Try these 3 self-care strategies

The Bottom Line

  • Depression is not a normal part of aging; although it can affect anyone, some people might be at higher risk.
  • Depression should be treated by a health care provider, but certain self-care strategies can help relieve symptoms.
  • Physical activity and therapy involving meditation or sharing memories might help older adults prevent or reduce the symptoms of depression.

Coping with depression can be an uphill battle. You may feel like you have a boulder in tow as you move through your day, and this weight can leave you feeling sad, upset, angry, anxious, worthless, or guilty. Depression can rob you of your will to carry out daily activities – even those that you once enjoyed. You may also have trouble thinking, sleeping, and eating. You may even think about suicide (1;2).

Some people are more at risk than others. For example, you are at a higher risk of depression if a close family member has had a mental illness, if you have a chronic illness, or if you have had depression before (2). As of 2012, about 2% of Canadians aged 65 or older were identified as having depression in the past 12 months (3). Although it is common, it is important to remember that depression is not a normal part of growing older (1).

Depression can be diagnosed by your doctor and treated with medication, psychotherapy and alternative approaches. These treatments may be prescribed alone or in combination (1). In addition to the treatment recommended by your doctor, the following self-care strategies may help.

1. Keep active

When you are depressed, motivating yourself to exercise can be a challenge. But research shows that exercise is a great antidepressant – without the negative side effects. In fact, physical activity such as aerobics, strength training, Tai Chi, or dancing can provide a big boost to your mood and sense of well-being (4). Older adults who practiced Tai Chi on a regular basis had significantly fewer symptoms of depression than people not practicing Tai Chi (5). Walking in groups were also found to keep depression at bay in older adults (6).

2. Practice mindfulness

There has been increased interest in mindfulness in recent years, and for good reason. If you have experienced recurrent depression, mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) could help prevent it from happening again. MBCT uses meditative practices that focus on being in the present moment. Research shows that people who try this type of therapy are less likely to relapse than people taking antidepressants or using other types of therapy (7). MBCT is also available over the internet, making it relatively easy to access (8).

3. Share memories

Have you ever noticed that a particular sight, sound, smell, or taste can bring forth a rush of vivid memories? Reminiscence therapy, which involves sharing personal stories and memories in groups led by a trained facilitator, can be a powerful way to remember happier times (9). Talking about accomplishments, happy memories, or sharing experiences can promote comfort and help people connect the past to the present (10). For people living in long-term care homes, this approach has been shown to reduce feelings of loneliness and depression (9).

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  1. Mayo Clinic. Depression (major depressive disorder) [Internet]. Mayo Clinic, 2018. Available from
  2. Government of Canada. What is depression? Public Health Agency of Canada, 2016. Available from 
  3. Findlay, L. Health reports: Depression and suicidal ideation among Canadians aged 15 to 24. Statistics Canada, 2017. Available from
  4. Heinzel S, Lawrence JB, Kallies G et al. Using exercise to fight depression in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Gero Psych. 2015; 28(4):149-162. 
  5. Chi I, Jordan-Marsh M, Guo M et al. Tai Chi and reduction of depressive symptoms for older adults: a meta-analysis of randomized trials. Geriatr Gerontol Int. 2013; 13:3-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1447-0594.2012.00882.x.
  6. Hanson S, Jones A. Is there evidence that walking groups have health benefits? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Br J Sports Med. 2015; 49:710-715. doi: 10.1136/bjsports-2014-094157.  
  7. Kuyken W, Warren FC, Taylor RS, et al. Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy in Prevention of Depressive Relapse: An Individual Patient Data Meta-analysis From Randomized Trials. JAMA Psychiatry. 2016;73:565-74. doi: 10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2016.0076.
  8. Spijkerman MPJ, Pots WTM, Bohlmeijer ET. Effectiveness of online mindfulness-based interventions in improving mental health: A review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. Clin Psychol Rev. 2016; 45: 102-114. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2016.03.009.
  9. Apostolo J, Bobrowicz-Campos E, Rodrigues M et al. The effectiveness of non-pharmacological interventions in older adults with depressive disorders: A systematic review. Int J Nurs Stud. 2016; 58:59-70. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2016.02.006.
  10. Franck L, Molyneux N, Parkinson L. Systematic review of interventions addressing social isolation and depression in aged care clients. Qual Life Res. 2016; 25(6):1395-1407. doi: 10.1007/s11136-015-1197-y.

DISCLAIMER: These summaries are provided for informational purposes only. They are not a substitute for advice from your own health care professional. The summaries may be reproduced for not-for-profit educational purposes only. Any other uses must be approved by the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal (

Many of our Blog Posts were written before the COVID-19 pandemic and thus do not necessarily reflect the latest public health recommendations. While the content of new and old blogs identify activities that support optimal aging, it is important to defer to the most current public health recommendations. Some of the activities suggested within these blogs may need to be modified or avoided altogether to comply with changing public health recommendations. To view the latest updates from the Public Health Agency of Canada, please visit their website.