What are Three Therapeutic Exercises to Reduce Depression?

Sara Robinson, BS
June 30, 2023


With the rising rates of major depressive disorders, it is extremely important to learn ways to manage symptoms associated with depressive episodes and improve clients’ overall quality of life. Approximately 21 million individuals experienced at least one major depressive episode in 2020. This represents 8.4% of the total adult population within the United States; the highest prevalence was within women and individuals 18-25 years old. The figure below displays how prominent depressive episodes are within U.S. adults, analyzed by race, age, and biological sex. In 2020 alone, 66% of individuals with depressive disorders received treatment [1]. Some individuals do struggle to seek out treatment and could benefit from therapeutic exercises to calm major episodes. Three therapeutic exercises to reduce depression are listed below.  

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Deep Breathing/Meditation

Deep breathing and meditation have proven to be extremely beneficial techniques to calm the mind, enhance positive feelings, and compose breathing. When individuals experience strong feelings of anxiety, shallow breathing can create feelings of dizziness, light-headedness, and increase shortness of breath [2]. Meditation soundtracks, like those that are easily accessible on platforms like YouTube, assist with individualized deep breathing techniques, while playing calming and peaceful musical soundtracks or nature sounds. These soundtracks are extremely beneficial for individuals because they can be practiced anywhere if someone has accessible internet coverage. Meditation rates are increasing within America with very positive feedback, especially within the area of mental health. Four techniques to enhance the meditative experience are (1) find a quiet location with limited distractions, (2) use a comfortable posture, (3) maintain an open attitude, and (4) focus on a certain aspect of oneself (i.e., the breath, an object, or certain words) [3]. By using deep breathing and meditation strategies, individuals can reduce symptoms of depressive episodes. Adhere.ly has several animated and audio-narrated deep breathing exercises that therapists can use in-session and send to their clients to practice during the week.

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring aims to combat and challenge unhelpful thoughts to improve emotional and client outcomes. Cognitive restructuring aims to change these negative thoughts into more adaptive, positive ones by using predominantly verbal and activity-based intervention strategies [4]. Clients can begin by recording their thoughts, feelings, and resulting behaviors during the week. They can also begin learning different types of cognitive distortions such as black and white thinking, magnification and minimization, and catastrophizing. Then they can practice recognizing their own cognitive distortions during the week and challenging them by coming up with alternative thoughts. There is substantial data showing that cognitive restructuring reduces depression and anxiety and significantly improves quality of life [5]. Adhere.ly includes exercises to support cognitive restructuring both during and between therapy sessions.  

Behavioral Activation

Behavioral activation is one of the most effective treatments for depression [6]. Clients begin by monitoring their daily activities and rating them in terms of enjoyability and importance. Then clients and therapists create a list of what clients value related to different life areas. These being: relationships, education/career, daily responsibilities, mind/body/spirituality, and recreation/interest. Clients and therapists then make a list of enjoyable and important activities that align with each of their values. These activities are scheduled in the coming weeks to replace other activities that are less important and enjoyable, helping to maintain depression. This process is usually conducted using paper worksheets. In the coming months Adhere.ly will have pre-programmed activities that align with common values that therapists and clients can schedule when using Behavioral Activation to treat depression.


With rising rates of depression it is important to be aware of therapeutic mental health exercises that can help treat it. These three exercises can be very beneficial for relieving depressive symptoms in patients, and have positive long-term effects of therapy if completed correctly and continuously. Adhere.ly can help facilitate this process for therapists.


[1] Depression. In: National Institute of Mental Health [Internet]. National Institute of Health; NIH Publication No. 21-MH-8079; Revised 2021. Available from: Here

[2] Deep Breathing Meditation. [Internet] HelpGuide; 2022. Available from: Here

[3] Meditation: In Depth. In: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health [Internet]. National Institute of Health; 2016. Available from: Here

[4] Crum J. Understanding Mental Health and Cognitive Restructuring With Ecological Neuroscience. [Internet] Front Psychiatry; 2021; 12: 697095. Available from: Here

[5] Ford JD. Treatment of adults with traumatic stress disorders. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. [Internet] Academic Press; 2009. 183–222. Available from: Here

[6] Kanter, J. W., Manos, R. C., Bowe, W. M., Baruch, D. E., Busch, A. M., & Rusch, L. C. What is behavioral activation?: A review of the empirical literature. [Internet] Clinical psychology review; 2010. 30(6): 608-620. Available from: Here