Being depressed can make you feel helpless. You’re not. Along with therapy and sometimes medication, there’s a lot you can do on your own to fight back. Changing your behavior — your physical activity, lifestyle, and even your way of thinking — are all natural depression treatments.
Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) can be used with traditional medicine approaches or on their own to target symptoms of depression. Given a lack of sufficient research (and, in some cases, mixed results) on various natural remedies for depression, it’s a good idea to focus on a team approach to treatment, which can include CAM.
Here are the 12 Non-Drug Remedies for Depression:
1. Move your body
Exercise can relieve depression, possibly by altering the mood-regulating brain chemicals norepinephrine and serotonin.
It may also release the endorphins responsible for the “runner’s high” that some experience.
It is recommended to exercise three to five times a week for 20 to 30 minutes. Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking on a treadmill, is best, but “any degree of exercise is better than none,” he says.
2. Mood diary
Therapy that teaches people about positive thinking can relieve depression, research suggests.
Keeping a mood diary is a good idea. “This is a tool used to train someone to keep track of positive things that are happening in their lives and not let single negative events wear them down,” he says.
A mood diary keeps negative events in perspective and serves as a reminder that good days do happen. Dr. Doraiswamy recommends not writing in a diary daily if it feels like too much work; once-a-week entries are easier to stick with.
3. Consider why you might feel depressed
Sometimes depression is a symptom of something circumstantial in your life, rather than biochemical imbalances. Does your job require you to sell out your integrity every day? Have you been unable to admit that you need to end your marriage? Are you feeling spiritually disconnected or sexually restless? Are you suffering from creative blocks? Is your body failing you? Are you facing financial ruin? Be honest with yourself about what might be off-kilter in your life, and make an effort to get to the root of why you might be feeling depressed.
4. Eat healthy
There is no magic diet that fixes depression. It’s a good idea to watch what you eat, though. If depression tends to make you overeat, getting in control of your eating will help you feel better.
Although nothing is definitive, Cook says there’s evidence that foods with omega-3 fatty acids (such as salmon and tuna) and folic acid (such as spinach and avocado) could help ease depression.
5. Get enough sleep.
Depression can make it hard to get enough shut-eye, and too little sleep can make depression worse.
What can you do? Start by making some changes to your lifestyle. Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. Try not to nap. Take all the distractions out of your bedroom — no computer and no TV. In time, you may find your sleep improves.
6. Fish oil
This supplement contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish, including salmon, albacore tuna, and herring.
Studies on fish oil are inconclusive, but it is thought that being deficient in this fatty acid at certain times (like during the postpartum period) can cause mood swings and depression.
In areas where consumption of foods with omega-3 is high, people tend to have lower rates of depression.
Promising research suggests that meditation may play a role in preventing depression relapse. The research focused on mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, which combines traditional meditation with cognitive behavioral approaches.
In two studies, people were treated with antidepressants until their symptoms subsided. Then one group continued taking the medication while another went on a regimen of meditation therapy.
Relapse rates for people using meditation were the same as those taking antidepressants (about 30%), and lower than those on a placebo (about 70%) in one study.
The second study found that 47% of the meditation group relapsed, compared to 60% of the people on antidepressants alone.
8. Take on responsibilities
When you’re depressed, you may want to pull back from life and give up your responsibilities at home and at work. Don’t. Staying involved and having daily responsibilities can help you maintain a lifestyle that can help counter depression. They ground you and give you a sense of accomplishment.
If you’re not up to full-time school or work, that’s fine. Think about part-time. If that seems like too much, consider volunteer work.
9. Challenge negative thoughts
In your fight against depression, a lot of the work is mental — changing how you think. When you’re depressed, you leap to the worst possible conclusions.
The next time you’re feeling terrible about yourself, use logic as a natural depression treatment. You might feel like no one likes you, but is there real evidence for that? You might feel like the most worthless person on the planet, but is that really likely? It takes practice, but in time you can beat back those negative thoughts before they get out of control.
10. John’s Wort
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health warns that although St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been used for centuries to treat mental health conditions and is commonly prescribed to treat depression in Europe, it can have some serious side effects. Side effects range from minor inconveniences (upset stomach) to major and life altering (confusion, muscle stiffness, significant drop in body temperature, and psychosis). Results on effectiveness of St. John’s Wort to relieve symptoms of depression are inconclusive and it is not FDA approved to treat depression at this time.4 It can be effective in treating very mild cases of depression.
When taken as a supplement, SAM-e (pronounced “Sammy”) affects the manufacture of brain chemicals responsible for mood regulation. Research shows that SAM-e is as effective in relieving symptoms of depression as tricyclic antidepressants.
Striking a pose may alleviate stress and symptoms of depression. Studies have shown that in both people with emotional distress and major depression, practicing yoga reduces stress, hostility, anxiety, and depression, and improves energy, sleep quality, and well-being.
Although there aren’t too many studies on the topic, yoga may prove to be a simple, low-risk tool for improving depression.