When it comes to managing mental health, self-help can be a powerful tool for helping you develop coping skills, gain a deeper understanding of yourself, and cultivate a more positive outlook on life. In other words, the practice of self-help can be an empowering, transformative catalyst in your life. But how effective is self-help for depression and anxiety? Can you really tackle these beasts on your own? And how can you recognize when self-help isn’t enough?

The origins of self-help for anxiety and depression can be traced to the ancient Greeks and Romans. 

It’s no surprise that the great philosophers of Greece and Rome believed in the power of the mind to understand and positively navigate life. 

From Socrates to Marcus Aurelius, the idea that the mind is equipped to come to its own rational, beneficial, and sustaining conclusions is nothing new.

Over time, the idea of self-help evolved to include a variety of practices and techniques, all aimed at improving mental health and emotional well-being. 

With the rise of the self-help industry in the 20th century, books, workshops, and support groups became widely available. People began to take a proactive approach to their mental health and seek support and guidance.

At the heart of self-help for anxiety and depression is the recognition that you have the power to influence your own well-being. 

What does self-help for anxiety and depression look like?

Through various techniques and practices –  such as mindfulness meditation, journaling, exercise, and a shift in self-talk – you can learn to manage and even overcome struggles with anxiety and depression.

Here are 8 methods of playing a leading role in your own mental and emotional well-being:

  • Mindfulness meditation is a practice. It helps you focus your attention on the present moment without dwelling on worries or regrets from the past or future. Being in a mindful state means you are able to observe your own thoughts and feelings without judgment.

    By bringing your mind into the present, you can train it to be more resilient. And resilience is the difference between those who become victims of their stress and those who become victors over it.

  • Journaling is another tool that can be helpful in managing anxiety and depression.
    Writing down your thoughts and feelings helps you track progress and identify patterns in your thoughts and emotions. By processing and making sense of them, you reduce their power over you. 

    Feeling too stressed or unmotivated to put thoughts to paper? Use these journaling prompts for anxiety and depression to help you get started.
  • Exercise is another important aspect of self-help for anxiety and depression.
    Physical activity releases endorphins, the body’s natural mood-boosters, which can help you feel more positive and energetic.

    Regular exercise can also help you manage stress and improve sleep, both essential steps toward good mental health. You don’t need to run a marathon. Just get outside and move.
  • Self-talk: Reframing negative thoughts with more neutral and accurate ones can help improve mood and self-esteem.
  • Deep breathing exercises: Controlled breathing can help reduce stress and anxiety in the moment.

    I know it sounds cliché to say, “breeeathe,” but there is actually good science behind deep breathing. From supplying oxygen to your brain to stimulating the calming effects of the parasympathetic nervous system to connecting you to your body. Deep, intentional breathing is a powerful tool that is always available.
  • Social support: Building and maintaining positive relationships with friends and family can help reduce isolation and improve mood.

Still asking “How effective is self-help for depression and anxiety?”

Read here for more suggestions and their benefits. 

First, an important caveat: If symptoms are severe or persistent, speak with a mental health professional for a proper evaluation and treatment plan. 

Self-help techniques should not be used as a substitute for professional help if needed. There is no shame in admitting, “I can’t do this alone.”

Sometimes self-help is sufficient on its own. And other times it is the perfect companion to the professional therapeutic journey.

Jane: A case study of self-help for depression and anxiety.


Jane, a 35-year-old woman, has been feeling low and anxious for several months. She has trouble sleeping, feels tired all the time, and has lost interest in activities she used to enjoy. 

She has seen her doctor, who has diagnosed her with depression and anxiety and prescribed medication.

But Jane is hesitant to take the meds and wants to try self-help techniques first.

Self-help techniques used:

  1. Mindfulness: Jane starts practicing mindfulness meditation every day for 10 minutes. She focuses on her breathing and tries to let go of her thoughts and worries.
  2. Exercise: Jane starts going for a daily walk and gradually increases the duration. She finds that physical activity helps boost her mood and reduce her anxiety.
  3. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): Jane learns about CBT and starts to challenge her negative thoughts and beliefs. She writes down her thoughts in a journal and reframes them in a more accurate light.
  4. Social support: Jane joins a support group for people with depression and anxiety. She finds comfort in talking to others who are going through similar experiences and learns coping strategies from others.


After several weeks of practicing these self-help techniques, Jane notices a significant improvement in her mood and anxiety symptoms. 

She feels more energized, sleeps better, and is able to engage in activities she once enjoyed. 

Jane’s encouraged by her progress and continues to use these techniques as part of her ongoing self-care routine.

Jane is just one example of using self-help to manage depression and anxiety.

While self-help strategies can be effective for coping with mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety and depression they may not be as helpful for more severe cases.

It’s always important to set realistic goals and manage expectations for progress and outcome related to self-help methods.

In some cases, self-help may be a good first step. 

But you have to be willing to ask yourself, “How effective is self-help for depression and anxiety in my current circumstances?” What may have been effective for you at one time may not be effective now.

It’s important to seek professional help if symptoms persist or worsen, as medication and/or therapy may be needed.

Ultimately, the key to success is persistence and dedication.

It takes time and effort to change patterns of thought and behavior, but the rewards are well worth it. When you take control of your own mental health,  you gain confidence, peace, and purpose.

What are the benefits of self-help for anxiety and depression?

  • Sense of agency and control. By taking an active role in your own healing, you reclaim more agency over your thoughts, emotions, and experiences. This can help increase your confidence and self-assurance so you can approach life with a greater sense of hope.

  • Deepened self-awareness. By exploring your thoughts, feelings, and experiences, you can gain a greater understanding of yourself and your needs.

    Newfound insight can then help you make more informed choices about your life and build healthier, more fulfilling relationships with others.

  • Development of valuable coping skills and ways to manage stress and anxiety. You can learn techniques that will help you navigate life’s challenges with greater ease and resilience.

    Whether it’s through mindfulness meditation, journaling, exercise, or reframed self-talk, you’ve got this!

  • Lasting and meaningful change in your life. Investing time and effort into your own mental health means you can cultivate a more positive outlook.

    You also develop stronger relationships and live a life filled with purpose, meaning, and joy.

Self-help for anxiety and depression is a journey of self-discovery and empowerment that can bring about profound change in your life.

It provides you with resources you need to take control of your own mental health and to live a more fulfilling and joyful life.

Remember, though, that the journey toward better mental health is unique to each individual. It’s also unique to where you are in your life at any given time.

That’s why it’s crucial to work with a mental health professional to determine the best course of treatment for your specific needs.

Self-help strategies are a way of taking control of your own well-being. You can reclaim your mental health with the support of self-help techniques and find peace in a world that can otherwise be overwhelming.

For more articles on depression and anxiety, read here.

Dr. Elayne Daniels is a private-practice psychologist, international consultant, and coach. Over the last 25 years, she has helped people heal and deal with depression and anxiety. To learn more about how she might help you, contact her here