Depression affects the way people act, feel and think. It can also have an impact on a person’s physical health and other aspects of a person’s life.
Many people take medications, to treat depression, such as antidepressants, but a variety of natural methods can also help manage symptoms and reduce the future risk.
Depression can happen at any age, and it can affect anyone, but according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), people are more likely to get it if they:
- have a family history of depression
- have been through trauma, stress, or a life-changing event
- have a physical illness, such as cancer
- use certain medications or other substances
The following tips can help people who are living with depression manage or avoid the symptoms.
1. Avoid stress
There is some evidence for a link between stress and depression or anxiety.
People who have a predisposition to depression may have a higher risk of developing it if they are chronically stressed.
Some people have increased risk as they are born with genetic factors. Others may develop a vulnerability during childhood, for example due to neglect or abuse.
A 2012 study of veterinary students found that stress negatively impacted mental health, life satisfaction, and general health.
It is not always possible to avoid stress, but taking steps to do so can help. These include:
- get enough sleep and rest
- learn to say “no” to additional requests
- take breaks from work
- practice breathing and meditation exercises
- exercise regularly
Always check with a doctor before taking any supplements or over-the-counter (OTC) medications to make sure it is suitable for use.
Research shows that physical activity can act as an antidepressant, and experts are encouraging doctors to include it as a treatment.
A 2018 review describes exercise as an underused treatment for depression. The authors note that it can improve physical and mental well-being.
Depression can make it difficult for some people to start exercising, but a lack of activity can also make symptoms worse.
People who find it difficult to start exercising may try just 5 minutes of walking or another enjoyable activity in the morning and another 5 minutes in the afternoon. From there, build up gradually over the coming days and weeks.
Current guidelines recommend aiming for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week, divided into sessions that may last 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, etc.
Healthy eating can help prevent depression and improve mental well-being. A 2019 study concluded that dietary interventions may play a role in treating depression.
Research suggests that the following foods may help:
- fresh fruits and vegetables
- green tea
- soy products
- healthy oils, like olive oil
- whole grains
At the same time, people should also limit their intake of the following:
- red meat and meat products
- prefabricated bakery products
- trans fats
- sweet desserts and sodas
Fresh fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants. These help protect the body from cell damage and oxidative stress.
According to an article in Antioxidants, processed foods can harm the gut microbiota, which could increase the risk of depression.
There is a strong link between depression and insomnia, according to an older article. Lack of sleep can make symptoms of depression worse, and it’s a common symptom too.
Here are some tips people can try to improve their sleep naturally:
- Every day, go to bed and get up at the same time, including weekends.
- Try to make sure the room is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature.
- Avoid large meals, caffeine, and alcohol before sleeping.
- Exercise during the day.
- Remove electronic equipment from sleeping area and turn it off 30 minutes before bedtime.
- Get up if you don’t fall asleep within 20 minutes. Read or find another distraction for a while, then try again.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Close to bedtime, avoid drinking too much fluid too.
- Limit exposure to bright light at night.
Other tips include breathing or relaxation exercises before sleeping. The 4-7-8 breathing technique can also calm anxiety.
Talk to their doctor before using any supplements or medications to make sure they are safe to use.
5. Alcohol and drug use
The use of alcohol and certain recreational drugs can increase the risk of depression and make symptoms worse.
Many people suffer from both depression and drug and alcohol use disorders. However, it is not always clear how the disorders affect each other.
A person who uses drugs or alcohol unhealthily and suffers from depression may need help with both conditions.
Anyone who has concerns about using alcohol or drugs, with or without depression, should see a doctor or other specialist who can help.
Hotlines are available 24/7 for confidential advice, such as the SAMHSA National Hotline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
6. Talk therapy
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can help people identify the causes of depression and find practical solutions.
The options include:
- advice for specific problems, such as bereavement
- cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which can help a person find new ways of acting and thinking
- psychoanalysis, which often looks at problems from the past
Therapy can be one-on-one, with a group of people meeting just for therapy, or with partners or family members.
7. Avoid common triggers
Various factors can trigger symptoms of stress and depression, and these vary from individual to individual. To some of these triggers, it may be possible to avoid or reduce exposure.
A person may be able to avoid these triggers:
- exposure to news, certain films and other media
- use alcohol or drugs, unless the person has a related disorder
- having too little sleep due to late nights
While avoiding triggers is not an option, it may be possible to reduce exposure, for example, by choosing a specific time of day to check emails or watch the news.
To reduce the impact of triggers other strategies could be:
- asking someone to help you occasionally, for example, if you are a caregiver
- join a support group so there is someone to talk to when unwanted feelings arise
- ask your employer about changes in the workplace that may help, such as swapping tasks with a colleague or rearranging shifts
There is no guarantee that anyone can avoid their triggers, but being mindful of them can help find ways to minimize their impact.