Are there ways to naturally overcome depression without medication?
I’ve never suffered from depression, so I can’t give you a definitive answer. But there has been a lot of research that suggests there are many things we can do to reduce depressive symptoms and prevent them from returning.
Did you know that women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression?
It’s also one of the most prevalent mental health disorders today, and effects approximately 17.3 million adults in the United States.
Through my work as an empowerment mentor and retreat leader, I’ve encountered many women who are struggling with depression and have been prescribed medication as a solution.
The problem is the medication is often not solving the root problem, and it has serious side effects which aren’t conducive to feeling good.
So, what’s the solution?
Let’s not ignore the fact that depression is a serious mental health problem, and many people suffering from it will need treatment to get better.
But there are some ways to overcome depression without medication, and prevent or fight depressive symptoms. This can be in tandem with medication, or without it.
It’s likely you won’t feel motivated to do any of the things on this list if you’re depressed. Remember that it’s normal to feel this way. But also remember that it’s worth trying something new and making changes in your life now more than ever. Even if your mind tells you it won’t work, be open to change.
Try and do as many of these things each day as possible—all of them if you can. But don’t allow this list to overwhelm you and be another thing you feel like you’re failing at. Focus on building these ideas and practices into your everyday routine. Make it enjoyable, have fun with it.
A gentle reminder: Don’t ditch your prescribed medication without consulting your doctor. And if medication works for you, then stick with it. But it’s worth giving these a try too.
1. Consider why you might feel depressed
Depression can often be triggered by something going on in our lives that is a particularly large source of stress or unhappiness.
Be honest with yourself about any imbalances in your life.
Are you feeling unappreciated or exhausted at work?
Is your marriage failing, but you’re not ready to admit you need to walk away?
Are you feeling sexually or spiritually unfulfilled?
Is your body out of shape or in pain, and unable to function properly?
Are you on birth control (like the pill), and could this be the cause of your depression?
Are you having financial issues and constantly worrying about money?
One of the best ways to overcome depression naturally without medication is to get to the root cause of your depression. Because there’s always a root cause.
Medication deals with symptoms, and is rarely able to heal the root of depression.
2. Practice gratitude
Just because you’re having a challenging time right now, and your mind is quick to focus on the negatives, it doesn’t mean there is nothing to celebrate in your life.
Think about all that’s good today.
Even if it’s something really small like, “I’m grateful for my breath,” or “I’m grateful for this warm, soothing cup of herbal tea.”
Write a short list, or say them out loud.
What we focus on expands. Research has also shown that gratitude can boost your overall mental health.
3. Show yourself love & compassion
Now more than ever you need to be accepting and compassionate towards yourself and what you’re going through.
It can be easy to criticise and berate yourself for not being healthy or “normal” but this isn’t going to feel good or help you feel better.
Regardless of whether we suffer from depression or not, we all have our own challenges in life. This is what connects us as human beings. These challenges are usually teaching us something and helping us grow. But if we beat ourselves up or place blame or shame on ourselves, we only end up feeling worse and unable to move forward.
So, how can you show yourself love today? How can you be more compassionate? And how can you practice acceptance of where you are?
4. Be mindful
Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT) has been proven to be helpful in treating depression as well as preventing future relapses. This approach combines cognitive-behavioural therapy with mindfulness meditation.
Mindfulness is all about being present in this moment, right here. This requires you to let go of the past, and forget about the future, which is easier said than done. But when you are fully in the present, you’re not anxious or stressed about anything. This makes it one of the most effective ways to naturally overcome depression without medication.
Stopping to take some deep breaths, meditation and yoga can all be effective ways to practice mindfulness. These may feel a little strange or unnatural at first, but be open to them. Be open to trying something new.
5. Get outside
There’s a special form of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is triggered by a lack of sunlight. Depending on where you live, this can happen during the winter months when the nights are generally longer, and sunshine is less frequent.
But regardless of what kind of depression you suffer from, sunshine and fresh air can be incredibly healing.
Try and take a ten minute walk each day, even if you don’t feeling like braving the outside world. Go somewhere green and leafy if possible, and just enjoy being with nature. This will also help you regulate your sleep cycles, making it easier to sleep at night.
6. Move your body
Exercise should feel good. If it doesn’t then you haven’t found the right kind of exercise for you!
Think about the things you love doing or try out some new ways to exercise:
- Go for a walk or run
- Attend a workout class
- Go to the gym
- Go to a yoga class
- Or do a yoga class at home
- Go hiking
- Surf or snowboard
The list is endless.
Many of us know that exercise releases feel-good chemicals in our body called endorphins. But regular physical activity is also linked with the treatment and prevention of depression.
I know this is easier said than done when you’re depressed. Your energy and motivation are at an all-time low, and you may not feel like doing anything.
Here are some things you can try to help you exercise:
- Find a friend to exercise with you and hold you accountable
- Remind yourself of the benefits of exercise
- Start with a really small step (like a walk around the block)
Moving your body for at least 30 minutes each day has been found to be effective in improving your mood as well as your overall quality of life.
7. Eat well
What we eat and drink each day has a direct effect on how we feel, how much energy we have and how we think. One of the ways to overcome depression without medication is to take a look at your current diet and see if it’s benefitting you or fuelling your problems.
It’s always important to get a balanced diet, but if you’re suffering from depression this is vital. If you need help with this, speak to a doctor or nutritionist. You can also find a lot of information online.
Depression can also be triggered by nutrient deficiencies, so it’s worth seeing if your current diet is lacking anything essential. Your doctor may prescribe a supplement to balance this out.
What should you avoid?
Anything with a lot of caffeine in it (tea, coffee, even some chocolate). If coffee is your morning vice, that’s okay. But try and limit it to the mornings because otherwise it can effect your sleep.
It’s also best to avoid alcohol completely. This is because it’s a depressant, and will only magnify your current symptoms.
Generally try and steer clear of r minimise processed food that is high in fat.
What should you eat?
Try and eat as much unprocessed and plant-based food as you can.
Fruit and veg is always good. In particular, leafy greens are packed with minerals, vitamins, omega-3s and antioxidants. This includes spinach, kale and swiss chard.
Research has also found that people who eat a lot of fish are less likely to have symptoms of depression. This is because they’re high in omega-3s, which help neurotransmitters (like serotonin) function in the brain.
Nuts are another good source of omega-3s and natural fats. And probiotics that promote good gut health (kefir, kimchi, and kombucha) are also said to boost brain health.
Listen to your body and learn to trust it. It will always tell you what it needs.
8. Give yourself daily responsibilities
When you’re depressed, it’s natural to want to take a step back from life and give up on all your commitments and responsibilities. Everything can feel exhausting and pointless.
But maintaining daily responsibilities will make you feel accomplished and productive. They will help fill you with purpose and keep your mind away from other negative thoughts.
Check in with yourself and always start with small steps. If full time work or school feels overwhelming, why not try part-time, taking an online course or workshop, or volunteering?
9. Talk it out
So many people who aren’t depressed enlist the help of a coach or therapist. Having someone to talk to who you can trust and gain inspiration and comfort from is invaluable.
If you struggle to open up to your friends or family about your feelings, it’s worth talking to someone else who can be completely non-judgemental and will create a safe space for you to feel heard.
This is one of the best ways to naturally overcome depression without medication.
10. Do things you love
If you’re regularly feeling low or sad, then try and make time to do more things that bring you joy.
If you don’t know what these things are yet, that’s okay. Think about what you loved doing as a child. Usually, we still love those things when we grow up.
For example, I always loved arts and crafts when I was little, along with writing. And when I’m not writing or working these days, I love being creative and drawing, scrapbooking or making something out of fabric.
For you it might be baking, gardening, playing the piano, reading, making candles or bath teas.
Can you make time to spend at least 30 minutes doing something you love each day?
11. Do something new
You may have found yourself in a rut where every day feels samey and uninspiring. If this is the case, then you need to push yourself to change things up and do something different.
When we do something we’ve never done before (or don’t often do) chemical changes happen in the brain. Dopamine can increase, which helps us feel joy and pleasure.
Think about something new you can try today.
Take a walk in a different park. Watch an inspiring documentary. Hop on a train and get off at a random stop that looks exciting. Volunteer somewhere. Take a cooking class. Head to an art gallery. Go to a dance class.
Push past your initial resistance and try something new with an open mind and heart. See what happens. If you do absolutely hate it, you haven’t wasted much time and you don’t have to do it again!
12. Force yourself to be social
One of the best ways to overcome depression without medication is to make sure you’re spending time with positive, empowering people.
Make plans with friends and family, go on dates, or join a local club.
When you’re depressed, your instinct may be to withdraw from everyone. But this will only lead to you feeling more isolated and alone.
As with all things on this list, you may not feel like doing them, but try and find the motivation to move beyond that feeling. Just get yourself out the door, or invite someone over. And check in on how you feel after spending time with some awesome people.
Do you feel better, lighter, more positive?
If you do, then use this as motivation to keep making plans with people.
13. Reframe negative thoughts into positive ones
When someone is depressed, their mind will usually automate to the worst possible scenario or feeling. And even if it’s completely irrational (which it usually is) you won’t recognise this and are likely to be swept up in the negative whirlwind. People who aren’t depressed struggle with this on a daily basis too.
The solution to this is awareness. Practice becoming more aware of your thoughts. Recognise that these thoughts are not you, you are not your thoughts.
Once you’re aware of them, you then have the power to change them.
If you find yourself thinking, “there’s no point in going outside today,” you might swap this for, “being in fresh air and with nature will make me feel better once I’m out there.”
Remember, you always have the power to let go of thoughts that aren’t serving you, and swap them for empowering ones.
14. Set small, attainable goals for yourself
Setting small goals for yourself can help build your motivation levels back up, and get you wanting to do more. The key here is not to be unrealistic or set yourself a huge task that will only overwhelm you.
Make sure it’s something you can control, it’s manageable and realistic and you’re able to measure whether you’ve completed it or not.
And even if you don’t manage to reach it, try not to judge yourself. Instead, ask yourself what you can learn from this.
15. Create a sleep ritual
You want to make sure you’re getting adequate sleep each night, but not too much. Staying up late and sleeping in will only feed depression.
Choose a time to be in bed by (no later than 10 P.M.) and set your alarm for when you want to wake up (before 9 A.M is best).
If you don’t yet have a sleep ritual, then I invite you to create one.
This means switching off all screens a few hours before you want to be asleep. Avoid doing anything stressful at this time. Opt for relaxing things like taking a bath or a hot shower, or reading a book. You may even want to spend some time journaling and reflecting on the day.
These are just some of the ways to overcome depression without medication.
They make take some time and practice to build into your daily routine, but they’re worth the effort. Small changes like these can have a transformational effect on how we feel and our general wellbeing. So, I invite you to give them a try.