10 Ways to Treat Depression Without Antidepressants

WIKI-HappinessSarah Landrum, Contributor
Waking Times

You’ve probably been told that antidepressants correct the chemical imbalance in your brain. As it turns out, that’s not quite true. In fact, antidepressants might be doing you more harm than good.

Even if antidepressants do work, the fact remains that they’re insanely expensive. Considering how depression treatments can last a lifetime, it’s impractical to spend something like $21 to $1,000 a month just to keep the blues under control. Depression is already a burden enough by itself, without all the financial consequences that come with it.

It’s better to view antidepressants as a last resort, and try some – or all – of these alternative treatments first.

1. Practice Mindfulness

When you’re depressed, negative thoughts pour into your mind like water from a broken dam. You become paralyzed by fear and helplessness, because you feel like nothing can keep those thoughts under control.

Nothing – except meditation.

“In the group work that I’ve done with sufferers of anxiety or depression, I’ve found (mindfulness meditation) very beneficial because it calms the mind,” says psychologist Katie Sparks. That’s because you’re purposefully limiting your attention to the present moment, which helps you see things in a different – and more positive – light. So the next time you feel like beating yourself up again, take out a comfortable mat, sit on it in a lotus position and say ohm.

2. Laugh

Then again, maybe being an almost-Buddhist isn’t your thing. Maybe you’d rather do something that lifts your spirits within seconds, rather than something that takes several weeks to work.

In that case, try exposing yourself to funny TV shows/movies/books/what-have-yous. As it turns out, laughter really is the best medicine. It doesn’t matter if what makes you laugh is childish or stupid or weird. What matters is you get your daily recommended dosage of hilarity.

3. Don’t Isolate Yourself

Depression is a manipulative and malicious little monster. Every day, it sits on your shoulder, and whispers in your ear about how worthless you are and how you don’t deserve to be anywhere near the rest of society.

Don’t listen to it.

“In depression, social isolation typically serves to worsen the illness and how we feel,” says Stephen Ilardi, PhD, an associate professor of psychology and author of “The Depression Cure.” Apparently withdrawing from social interactions increases the brain’s stress responses. So, keep in touch with the people who matter to you, and don’t hesitate to let them know if you need their help.

4. Cut Toxic People Out of Your Life

On the flip side, you’re not doing yourself any favors by hanging out with people who dismiss your depression as something to snap out of. That makes about as much sense as mentally shrinking your rogue cells when you have cancer, or draining your blood sugar levels when you have diabetes.

To quote Deborah Serani, Psy.D, author of Living with Depression. “Part of living with depression requires you to learn how to reframe negative thoughts into positive ones, so having people in your life that are affirmative, nurturing and accepting of who you are will help ground you in a better healing environment.”

5. Consider Alternative Drugs

Granted, you have to be careful with cannabis and psilocybin. Both of them may have antidepressant properties, but both of them also have the potential to become drugs that worsen mental illness. Try them if you have no other option, but do remember to take the necessary precautions.

6. Eat the Right Foods

We’ve talked about how vitamin D can alleviate depression, dementia and diabetes. But there are other nutrients that keep depression at bay as well, including amino acids, folate, iodine, iron, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, vitamin B complex and zinc. Thankfully, many of these nutrients are in the foods you eat every day.

As for the foods you shouldn’t eat every day, avoid alcohol, caffeine, artificial sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, processed food, refined sugars and sodium-rich foods. All of these can wreak havoc on your nervous system, destabilize your blood sugar levels and/or damage your brain, among others.

7. Consider Acupuncture

According to a study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, acupuncture can help alleviate depression. When the researchers administered depression-specific acupuncture on 150 pregnant women, 63 percent saw their symptoms improve. Although more tests have to be done to arrive at a definite conclusion, there’s no denying the promise shown in the study. Even if you’re not expecting, you may benefit from acupuncture.

8. Get Up and About

To be fair, depression does zap you of every bit of energy left in your body. However, exercise is still worth a try, since it has been proven to work just as well as – if not better than – antidepressants. No one knows exactly why this is, although the release of endorphins and norepinephrine during exercise might have something to do with it.

9. Grow a Garden

Can’t bring back your passion for your old hobbies? Try your hand at gardening. As we’ve reported before, gardeners are generally happier than non-gardeners. I suppose literally reaping what you sow brings out all these positive feelings buried deep inside you – no pun intended. Also, you have the benefit of getting fresh, uncontaminated vegetables right in your own backyard.

Don’t fret if gardening isn’t your thing. As long as your new hobby is meaningful and relaxing for you, it doesn’t matter what it is.

10. Volunteer for a Cause You Believe in

At some point, talking about depression with people you already know won’t be enough. You’re going to want to reach out of your established social circle and seek out the company of others. That’s a good sign.

Seek out organizations whose missions speak to you, and volunteer your services for them. Who knows; you might just reduce your depression symptoms, boost your well-being, and reduce your risk of dying by 22 percent.

Bonus: Don’t Stop Fighting

Here’s the thing about depression: You might have to fight it for the rest of your life. That’s because it has a nasty habit of sneaking up on you, and roundhouse-kicking you in the face when you least expect it. That said, if you’re able to cope with it using the tips above, you’ll always be able to roundhouse-kick it right back.

About the Author

Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and health enthusiast sharing advice on living a happy and healthy life. She is also the founder of Punched Clocks, a career development site that helps professionals find happiness and success in their careers. Follow Sarah for more advice @SarahLandrum

©2015 Waking Times, all rights reserved. For permission to re-print this article contact wakingtimes@gmail.com, or the respective author. 

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  • D.

    Articles like this are as dangerous as they are foolish. Many people use the word depression to mean a bad mood, the blues, or going through a bad patch. In these cases, the above suggestions might help. If you have been diagnosed with clinical depression and are taking antidepressants, DO NOT STOP without consulting your health care provider. 40,000 people in the U.S. die of depression-related suicide each year. If you are about to jump off the bridge because life is too painful to bear, laughing or planting a garden will not help you. The cost of antidepressant medication is irrelevant if your meds are the only thing keeping you alive. Shame on you, Sarah Landrum, if your article causes even one person to avoid taking meds and fall into the vortex of suicidal depression. National suicide hotline: 800-273-8255.

  • Kathryn

    What a crock.
    It was clear from the first few paragraphs and a quick skim of your ‘tips’ that you have never suffered depression. You are simply perpetuating myths as you sit on your high happy horse.
    Depression is not a choice. Depression is living in another reality, another dimension where things like ‘laugh’ing and ‘getting toxic people out of your life’ and all the other bull you talked about (but I can not bother scrolling up to include in this list because they don’t deserve my attention) cannot touch you. You are in limbo. You can not CHOOSE to be out of it. You can’t Choose happiness when clinically depressed.
    I was catatonic and it was only through the right concoction of medically prescribed drugs from professionals (not someone writing an incorrect blog post) was I able to be aware of the world I was inhabiting and eventually interact with it enough to improve my recovery with psychological therapy.
    While you might not like it, drugs play a fuckin part in treating depression. Depression is a sickness with a chemical basis that no ‘be positive’ bullshit bandage can ever have a hope of curing.
    Please don’t go advising people in need when you have no true experience of it. articles like this can only worsen the experience of people with depression as they can feel like they are failing when it doesn’t work and it perpetuates a harmful myth of depression that harms us further.
    What a disappointing and overall infuriating read/skim.

    • D.

      You are so right. I wonder if the author would tell a diabetic to stop taking insulin and find a volunteer job.

  • Anonymous

    Clearly you have not suffered from clinical depression. There is a significant difference between the blues and depression.

  • V

    These tips are helpful for mild depression or the blues . It’s irresponsible however to suggest discounting the use of medication. Depression is a complex disease which is different for everyone one inflicted and the heading demonstrates a lacking of understanding and is grossly negligent.
    To the author – Please consider your responsibilities when publishing something as misunderstood and difficult to treat especially in regards to such a dibilitating medical affliction.

  • Astrid

    Only someone who does not have to live with depressions can say “JUST do this or do that”… It’s not a “blues”. From my experience, I believe you cannot treat depression with these practices. Some of them might help some people in some situations. But in general, a depressed person (without treatment) won’t even get out of bed. It’s like telling somebody with a broken leg: “Just get up and walk.”
    We live in a time where we actually have the support of medication. And I think until some point we should embrace it. If you can avoid putting chemicals in your body: Good for you! But if you really have depressions, and not the blues, herbs and meditation are definitely no treatment.
    Best regards…

  • someone

    What cracked me up is I already do nearly all of this stuff. I have depression and arthritis, and it seems “eat well, exercise, and drink lots of water” is the cure-all for practically everything. Well, I tried everything that wasn’t dangerous or directly anti-scientific–and which did not require going to a doctor, since I don’t have healthcare. I get exercise despite having chronic pain, and I’m in much better shape than most people. I bike absolutely everywhere and don’t own a car, I run, and when weather permits I swim. I eat so well it’s borderline orthorexia and I’m a social pariah because I have to check the ingredients of everything I eat for gluten or processed sugars or anything else I don’t like. I eat a diet that would make a doctor swoon, with local, pastured meat and eggs, wild-caught fish, fresh organic fruits and veggies, and the occasional boost of rice or potatoes when I feel like I need extra carbs. I listen to my body. I study both CBT and Buddhist philosophy, and try to “fix” my thoughts. I have a garden. I have good friends, and not bad ones. I lead a peaceful, low-stress life. Even though my diet is so good, I take a multivitamin + multimineral, in case there’s some trace thing I’m missing, and I take fish oil and vitamin D. I didn’t get any drugs that were illegal, but I’ve used various herbal supplements that were touted as cure-alls, from ginseng to maca root to holy basil. I believe volunteering is for rich people and I’ve had my unpaid labor exploited enough times to not find that attractive, but when I have the energy for it, I involve myself in political activism, which gets me pretty engaged. I have a sense of humor and I watch a lot of funny, easygoing kids’ shows. Some of these things may have made subtle improvements in my life. I feel like I have less physical pain than before I got into healthy living.

    But you know what? I’m still depressed.

    Over the last week, I got hit with a “roundhouse kick” of a depressive episode. I started pushing all my friends away, deleting my social media, and thinking about death. I could see it coming, and I did everything I could think of. I rode my bike 30 miles. I read books in the sun. My diet, as always, was impeccable. I drank plenty of goddamn water. I was as perfect as you could ask for. But it didn’t “roundhouse kick” my depression back. Instead my depression got worse, and I began to get seriously afraid I would hurt myself if this continued without intervention.

    I’ve come to think that all this healthy living stuff exists more to victim-blame than to guide people. I do it all, I do even the things I’m not sure will help, because I hope they’ll help, and also so no one can say to me, “Of course you’re depressed/in pain, you’re doing this wrong/not doing this right!” It seems like to escape from this constant finger-pointing blame, you have to try everyone’s special theory or fad. You have to try yoga, you have to try being vegan, you have to try travel even if you can’t afford it. And having tried so many of these things, I can say: they don’t really do much. There might be a slight improvement with things that genuinely improve your health. Same as it would slightly improve the functioning of someone who wasn’t sick to begin with. But this tweaking doesn’t make you not sick. My chronic pain isn’t gone, no matter how I eat well, supplement, exercise, meditate, whatever. Most people I know who are sick buy it, though, they think the reason they’re sick is because they don’t do all this stuff, they feel bad and blame themselves. I’m here to prove it isn’t their fault. You can do everything right and STILL be sick. And people will attack you for saying that. They’re so sure I must still be doing something wrong somewhere. Not enough carbs, too many carbs, more meat, no meat! Everyone’s so goddamn sure they can fix me with almost no effort, it’s downright insulting.

    What finally did pierce the depression wasn’t being good, by the way. It was something nearly everyone warns against for depressed people. I got good and drunk, and that made me able to talk about some of this stuff with a friend that I couldn’t say before. Alcohol is a wonder drug, it’s legal and easily available and to be honest it’s helped me before. I’ve also gone plenty of stretches without it, so no, I’m not addicted, and it isn’t secretly the cause of my problems.

    Despite depression being so common, there’s almost no actually useful resources on it online. It’s all this “live healthy” crap which I already do, salads and regular runs haven’t saved me from depression yet, or woo stuff I absolutely know won’t do anything for me because I’m not religious. I’m not going to pray to Jesus, take homeopathic water, or tap my meridians. (And no, lack of religion is not the cause of my depression OR my arthritis. Please stop.) We’re told that short of that, the only option is to completely surrender to doctors and let them do anything to us. Even if I could afford that, it’d be unappealing to me. I was in therapy for a while, and I don’t feel it helped me. Worse, I don’t feel I can safely talk to anyone like that when it gets bad. Sometimes I get suicidal ideation but I know I’m not really going to kill myself, but I can’t talk about that stuff without getting my life disrupted and locked away, which in all honesty is the most DANGEROUS thing they could do to me, because like…okay I didn’t want to really kill myself BEFORE you kidnapped and assaulted me. Recovered depressed people act like brainwashed drones praising the system, I try not to criticize what works for them but it freaks me out. There’s almost no depressed person to depressed person HONESTY. No one will talk about how it actually feels to be depressed, it’s all couched in this narrative, which if you’ve been depressed is more a nice kids’ story to explain to your friends and family in a way they’ll understand and like. No one will say, hey maybe alcohol CAN bust you out of a major depressive episode. No one will say salads and ohms don’t actually fix major depression. They’re nice to do, and it’s good to be healthy for its own sake, but they’re simply not a cure.

    I would still recommend healthy living to people. I’m going to continue doing it. But please, we HAVE to stop promising people these miracles. It’s doing more harm than good.

    • D.

      I feel your pain, sweetheart. Please keep in mind alcohol is a central nervous system DEPRESSANT. Clearly you don’t need any of those! It sounds like you are not taking anti-depressant medication. Would you consider trying medication? It can be a long, discouraging road because there can be a lot of trial and error before you find one that works for you. On the other hand, you may feel much better on the first try – it does happen. Your best bet is to find a psychiatrist to work with. Have patience and trust the process. May you find relief soon. My heart is with you.

  • PaytonB

    Sarah, you are a “health enthusiast” but not a medical doctor of any sort.

    Please don’t go around trying to give medical advice, unless you want to be held responsible for the lives of those you harm with your pseudoscience.

  • dimitri

    Rhodiola Rosea

  • cate macgowan

    Are you a qualified doctor?
    Are you willing to accept responsibility when some one stops their meds and tries your cures and kills themselves?
    Depression is an illness,stop writing rubbish to make money and get a life!!!!

    • Lena

      No, dear Cate, modern society in which you grow up told you/teach you that certain state of being is called #depression, is #illness, meds are must.
      There are other opinions/experiences/views, you agree? Like in any matter. Maybe sharing helps someone.
      And, at the end, everyone is RESPONSIBLE for their own choices. Even if you try, you can not takeover from someone else responsibility for life that each of us carries, as it is immanent to existence.

      • E. Grogan

        I agree that no one else is responsible for your choices; however, when you are given misinformation, it’s on the person who gave the bad info. Also, as another commenter pointed out, these tips are fine for folks with mild depression and they may help someone with moderate to severe but people in the latter category need more, they almost always need meds. I worked as a mental health therapist for almost 20 yrs and most of my clients had depression; for those with serious major depression, these things simply weren’t enough. I have also had major depression myself for most of my life and I’m 60 y.o. – I need meds as well as regular exercise etc.. One important factor is the CAUSE of depression. For those with depression from low thyroid, for example, the thyroid gets fixed and working right and they don’t have depression any more.

        • ilsa

          I agree with E.Grogan. Logically, these ideas make sense, but sufferers of severe depression often need more help to get to a point where they can actually take the steps to do what’s logical. I myself suffered for more than 20 years and it wasn’t until I took a particular anti-depressant medication for one year that I truly felt like I could cope so I could take the steps, many mentioned on your list, to overcome it.

          Also, think it is irresponsible to suggest alternative drugs to treat this illness and I resent that you trivialize depression by calling it ‘the blues’

  • All of these suggestions have been proven to be helpful to some degree, especially for mild depression and for prevention of depression. But for moderate to severe depression these lifestyle practices will probably not be sufficient. More severe forms of depression are usually linked to “layers” of related issues that can included any number and combination of things such as current stressors, toxic relationships, patterns of thinking and behaviour, trauma, loss, self-esteem, etc., etc.

    There is increasing research evidence (see http://www.energypsych.org/research) demonstrating that newer, integrative, mind-body techniques that utilize aspects of Cognitive Therapy in conjunction with interventions that directly modulate felt sensations and emotional feelings can be more effective in treating depression as well as anxiety, stress, and PTSD.

    Energy Psychology techniques combine tapping on acupuncture points (which alleviates the negative feelings very quickly) while focusing cognitively on aspects of the problem. The “layers” that underlie the issues surface easily and organically while the mind is distracted by the tapping.

    Treatment with EP techniques not only results in reducing symptoms, but it also consistently results in spontaneous cognitive reframing – i.e. perceiving a problem or a situation in a new manner more conducive to healthy functioning – that is not experienced as a result of effort, or of “mind over matter” but that is experienced as an “organic” shift in perception.

    The Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology (ACEP) has been a leader in the advancement of, and training in these techniques for over 15 years. We have also advocated for strong research in this field, and acted as a source of reliable information. http://www.energypsych.org

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