Natural ways to combat depression

Contents

9 Steps to Treat Depression Naturally

2. Eliminate Triggers of Inflammation

Certain foods and substances create inflammation in our bodies, including in our brains, which leads to depression. The usual suspects are sugar, gluten, dairy, caffeine, and alcohol. Some people, like my daughter, may have more dramatic reactions to dairy, whereas others, like my son, are more affected by gluten. Me? I can’t go near sugar if I don’t want the death thoughts to return. You won’t really know until you do an elimination diet and get rid of everything for a few weeks, and then gradually add them back in (that is, if you tolerate them fine). I will warn you, though: You can’t cheat for those few weeks, because your system has to be totally clean for you to identify the problem. A spike in cytokines, proteins that are pumped into our bloodstream when our immune system is fighting off a foreign agent, happens when people are depressed. The process looks the same as when a person is fighting an infection of any kind. Unfortunately, a lot of fun, processed foods that taste really good, like Twinkies and Doritos, can cause inflammation — but clearly some people are more sensitive to others. Here’s an easy rule to follow: If a food comes in a nicely marketed package (even with the words “gluten free,” “dairy free” and ESPECIALLY “sugar free”), and its ingredients contain a bunch of words that you don’t know how to pronounce, it’s not going to make you any saner.

And not to be a total killjoy, but it’s worth examining what other kinds of toxins you are immersed in daily. Those could be causing inflammation, too. Not until three months ago did I realize that swimming in chlorine a few times a week was probably contributing to my gut problems and thyroid issues, both of which are critical in establishing a stable mood. So I switched to hot yoga (step five), and I began to feel better.

3. Go Green

Dark, leafy greens like spinach, Swiss chard, and kale fuel every system in your body more completely than any other kind of food. They are nutrition powerhouses, packed with vitamins A, C, E, K, and folate; minerals like iron and calcium; carotenoids; fiber; antioxidants; omega-3s; and phytochemicals. They are also a major source of chlorophyll, which, according to Green for Life author Victoria Boutenko, “heals and cleanses all our organs, and even destroys many of our internal enemies, like pathogenic bacteria, fungi, cancer cells, and many others.”

I started to feel a little better when I swapped my sandwich at lunch for a salad full of greens, and made a conscious effort to eat mood-lifting foods during the day. But I began to really heal when I started drinking green smoothies. I realize I sound like an infomercial at this point, but the only way my body was able to easily absorb and process all the nutrients in the greens was when they were blended into very small pieces. Like most people who have been on medications for decades, my stomach acid was very low, so eating lots of raw vegetables and greens was producing bloating and gas. I was not happy when my husband spent $500 on a refurbished Vitamix, but it has proven to be one of the smartest investments we’ve ever made. Now I try to drink two smoothies each day, and I really believe it has made a substantial impact on my health.

4. Heal Your Gut

Embedded into the walls of our intestines is an intricate enteric nervous system, consisting of some 100 million neurons, that is often referred to as our second brain. In fact, the nerve cells in our gut manufacture 80 to 90 percent of our body’s serotonin. There’s also a complex collection of bacteria living in our guts that a substantial volume of research says impacts our mood. It’s fascinating stuff for people like me who have always suffered from gastrointestinal problems and never before connected the dots. In my article 10 Ways to Cultivate Good Gut Bacteria and Reduce Depression, I outline some of the steps I have taken to clean up my gut. Among them, I believe it’s important to consume prebiotic foods, like garlic, onions, artichokes, leeks, and dandelion greens, and probiotic foods, like active-culture yogurt, kefir, pickles, and fermented foods. It’s also good to avoid the use of antibiotics as much as possible.

5. Do Yoga

Any kind of workout or movement lifts your mood — boosting our brain’s dopamine levels and providing endorphins — but some kinds of exercises are much more healing than others, especially for people who have been depressed for decades or have stress-related conditions like adrenal fatigue. Unlike other aerobic workouts, like running or CrossFit, that raise cortisol levels and essentially wear out your body, yoga lowers levels of this stress hormone that is critical to the maintenance of homeostasis and regulating immune responses, blood sugar, and central nervous system functions. Several studies illustrate how yoga tames the stress response by priming the parasympathetic nervous system, and is therefore an effective therapy for depression and anxiety. I have tried different types of yoga, but the one in which I feel the most benefit is Bikram, a sequence of 26 Hatha yoga positions, and two breathing exercises, designed to engage and heal all of the systems of your body. It’s not for everyone, as you’re stuck for 90 minutes in a room heated to 105 degrees (sweating helps flush out the toxins). But when I can get there on a regular basis (at least four times a week), I feel a profound, calming effect —and I’ve heard the same from several other people who struggle with chronic anxiety and depression.

6. Reduce Stress

Depression is ultimately a stress disorder: a disease where stress is poorly managed by our bodies. It’s as if many of us with depression and anxiety have a new intern sitting at command central of our nervous system, and she keeps categorizing stress responses incorrectly, sending them to the wrong department in our body. Moreover, she sits right next to the fire alarm and keeps ringing it every time there is a hint of panic. But new research from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital has found that by eliciting the relaxation response, we can immediately alter our gene expression tied to inflammation, metabolism, and insulin production — all of which impact our mood. We engage the parasympathetic nervous system by practices like meditation, yoga, deep breathing, massage, and prayer. Even a few long, deep breaths when you start to feel panicky can message the intern not to sound the fire alarm.

But I have found that doing a “stress inventory” is also critical to getting well, an exercise where you list on one side of a sheet of paper everything that stresses you out, and list on the other half everything that helps you feel better. Next, you sit with all those things on the left side of the paper (what stresses you out) and have a brutally candid talk with yourself about why you are doing them (people-pleasing hang-ups? ego? confused priorities?), followed by a session where you find creative solutions to cross out as many as you can. I had a stress inventory with myself a few months ago where I finally conceded that my health is not worth my trying to become a blogging superstar and bestselling author like Gretchen Rubin like I’ve always wanted to be, or running a formidable nonprofit like BringChange2Mind. It was an epiphany moment when I realized that I don’t have to be anyone else in order to be OK. By working at my own snail pace, I have enough time to do more of the things on the right side of the paper that make me feel good.

7. Take the Right Supplements

It can be overwhelming trying to figure out which supplements may be helpful, and how to distinguish between quality brands. Consumer Lab lists third-party-tested supplements which should be safe to take. I’ve done a bit of research, too, and found these manufacturers to be reputable: Prothera, Klaire Labs, Pure Encapsulations, Douglas Laboratories, Nature Made, Orthomolecular Products, Metagenics, Vital Nutrients, Truehope, OmegaBrite, and Carlson Laboratories.

In my post 12 Patient-Approved Natural Supplements for Depression, I list various vitamins and minerals that are good to take for your mood. But here are the critical ones that I would start with: an omega-3 supplement, a probiotic, vitamin D, vitamin B-12, and a multivitamin. Because I have low stomach acid (as do many people who have been on medication for years), I find better results when I take a powder or liquid. I get my vitamin D and B-12 as a liquid from Pure Prescriptions. Blogger Lisa Richards has compiled an excellent list of the best commercial probiotics, her favorite being Healthy Origins 30 Billion or Prescript-Assist. I take Ther-Biotic Complete Powder because it contains all of the different strains of bacteria that I need for my unique gut situation (Crohn’s plus significant intestinal bacteria). A few months ago I started taking a multivitamin called EmpowerPlus Powder from TrueHope after I read through all the research studies using this specific micronutrient to help treat different mood disorders and watching Julia Rucklidge’s inspiring TEDx Talk about nutrition and micronutrients. Finally, I get my omega-3 supplement from OmegaBrite, because their capsules contain 70 percent EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) in a 7:1 ratio of EPA to DHA (docosahexaenoic acid). New research has confirmed the positive effects of EPA on mood, even more so than DHA, as it provides a natural balance to omega-6 arachidonic acid. Nordic Naturals is also a reliable brand. If you do have a MTHFR gene mutation, it’s a good idea to supplement with l-methylfolate, the bioavailable form of folate.

8. Protect Your Sleep

From all my research on mood disorders over the last ten years, and from conversations with people who can’t get well, I’d say that chronic stress and disrupted sleep cycles are the two biggest factors that prevent a person from climbing out of the depths of depression. Unfortunately, where there is depression, there are usually sleep issues. Volumes of studies have documented the devastating effects of sleep on mental health, like the one by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine that found that the heritability of depressive symptoms in twins with very short sleep was nearly twice the heritability in twins sleeping seven to nine hours per night.

Because I am such a fragile creature, I’ve had to move sleep up on my priority list from about No. 7 to No. 1. I protect it with everything I have. This means I no longer wake up at 5 a.m. to work out. I sleep in, exercise later, and am much less productive during the day (step six). But by sleeping eight hours a night, I am more resilient to mood swings. I’ve had to adopt strict sleep hygiene rules to ensure that I don’t end up with the kind of miserable insomnia I had two years ago: I shut off the computer at 7 p.m., leave my phone downstairs (not next to my bed) and don’t check messages after 8 p.m., and try to be in bed by 10 p.m. every night. I’ve also started to use lavender oil, and take melatonin and a combination of magnesium and calcium at night, which does seem to calm me.

9. Find a Purpose

Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” Last summer, when I began to think that I would never be without debilitating death thoughts, I clung on to that logic, and to the inspiring words of Holocaust survivor and famous psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, MD, PhD. If a person has found a purpose in life, he explains in his classic Man’s Search for Meaning, “even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by doing so change himself.” Upon finishing that book, I had no doubt about my purpose in life: to help persons who have been battling depression and anxiety for most of their lives…those that, like me, have spent years in the offices of psychiatrists trying so many drugs, and yet dream of a flattened pulse. So I started my two forums and a nonprofit dedicated to treatment-resistant depression. They haven’t cured me of my symptoms, but I can honestly say that committing to a purpose last summer is what brought me hope in a period of desperation. For the first time, I could see myself living a meaningful life despite the persistent ruminations clogging up my brain. When I began to help another person off the ledge, I often forgot about my own obsession to jump. I think Nietzsche and Frankl are right. Meaning and purpose can serve as a kind of anesthesia to pain; focusing on your small role to make the world a better place positions your suffering into a larger perspective that leads to peace.

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Depression Treatment

Therapy, medication, self-help? If you’re confused by all the different treatment options for depression, here’s how to decide the best approach for you.

When you’re depressed, it can feel like you’ll never get out from under a dark shadow. However, even the most severe depression is treatable. So, if your depression is keeping you from living the life you want to, don’t hesitate to seek help. From therapy to medication to healthy lifestyle changes, there are many different treatment options available.

Of course, just as no two people are affected by depression in exactly the same way, neither is there a “one size fits all” treatment to cure depression. What works for one person might not work for another. By becoming as informed as possible, though, you can find the treatments that can help you overcome depression, feel happy and hopeful again, and reclaim your life.

Depression treatment tips

Learn as much as you can about your depression. It’s important to determine whether your depression symptoms are due to an underlying medical condition. If so, that condition will need to be treated first. The severity of your depression is also a factor. The more severe the depression, the more intensive the treatment you’re likely to need.

It takes time to find the right treatment. It might take some trial and error to find the treatment and support that works best for you. For example, if you decide to pursue therapy it may take a few attempts to find a therapist that you really click with. Or you may try an antidepressant, only to find that you don’t need it if you take a daily half hour walk. Be open to change and a little experimentation.

Don’t rely on medications alone. Although medication can relieve the symptoms of depression, it is not usually suitable for long-term use. Other treatments, including exercise and therapy, can be just as effective as medication, often even more so, but don’t come with unwanted side effects. If you do decide to try medication, remember that medication works best when you make healthy lifestyle changes as well.

Get social support. The more you cultivate your social connections, the more protected you are from depression. If you are feeling stuck, don’t hesitate to talk to trusted family members or friends, or seek out new connections at a depression support group, for example. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness and it won’t mean you’re a burden to others. Often, the simple act of talking to someone face-to-face can be an enormous help.

Treatment takes time and commitment. All of these depression treatments take time, and sometimes it might feel overwhelming or frustratingly slow. That is normal. Recovery usually has its ups and downs.

Lifestyle changes: An essential part of depression treatment

Lifestyle changes are simple but powerful tools in the treatment of depression. Sometimes they might be all you need. Even if you need other treatment as well, making the right lifestyle changes can help lift depression faster—and prevent it from coming back.

Lifestyle changes to treat depression

Exercise. Regular exercise can be as effective at treating depression as medication. Not only does exercise boost serotonin, endorphins, and other feel-good brain chemicals, it triggers the growth of new brain cells and connections, just like antidepressants do. Best of all, you don’t have to train for a marathon in order to reap the benefits. Even a half-hour daily walk can make a big difference. For maximum results, aim for 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic activity on most days.

Social support. Strong social networks reduce isolation, a key risk factor for depression. Keep in regular contact with friends and family, or consider joining a class or group. Volunteering is a wonderful way to get social support and help others while also helping yourself.

Nutrition. Eating well is important for both your physical and mental health. Eating small, well-balanced meals throughout the day will help you keep your energy up and minimize mood swings. While you may be drawn to sugary foods for the quick boost they provide, complex carbohydrates are a better choice. They’ll get you going without the all-too-soon sugar crash.

Sleep. Sleep has a strong effect on mood. When you don’t get enough sleep, your depression symptoms will be worse. Sleep deprivation exacerbates irritability, moodiness, sadness, and fatigue. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep each night. Very few people do well on less than seven hours a night. Aim for somewhere between seven to nine hours each night.

Stress reduction. Make changes in your life to help manage and reduce stress. Too much stress exacerbates depression and puts you at risk for future depression. Take the aspects of your life that stress you out, such as work overload or unsupportive relationships, and find ways to minimize their impact.

Ruling out medical causes of depression

If you suspect that you may be depressed, and lifestyle changes haven’t worked, make an appointment to see your primary care doctor for a thorough checkup. If your depression is the result of medical causes, therapy and antidepressants will do little to help. The depression won’t lift until the underlying health problem is identified and treated.

Your doctor will check for medical conditions that mimic depression, and also make sure you are not taking medications that can cause depression as a side effect. Many medical conditions and medications can cause symptoms of depression, including sadness, fatigue, and the loss of pleasure. Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, is a particularly common mood buster, especially in women. Older adults, or anyone who takes many different medications each day, are at risk for drug interactions that cause symptoms of depression. The more medications you are taking, the greater the risk for drug interactions.

Psychotherapy for depression treatment

If there is no underlying medical cause for your symptoms of depression, talk therapy can be an extremely effective treatment. What you learn in therapy gives you skills and insight to feel better and help prevent depression from coming back.

There are many types of therapy available. Three of the more common methods used in depression treatment include cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, and psychodynamic therapy. Often, a blended approach is used.

Some types of therapy teach you practical techniques on how to reframe negative thinking and employ behavioral skills in combating depression. Therapy can also help you work through the root of your depression, helping you understand why you feel a certain way, what your triggers are for depression, and what you can do to stay healthy.

Therapy and “the big picture” in depression treatment

One of the hallmarks of depression is feeling overwhelmed and having trouble focusing. Therapy helps you step back and see what might be contributing to your depression and how you can make changes. Here are some of the “big picture” themes that therapy can help with:

Relationships. Understanding the patterns of your relationships, building better relationships, and improving current relationships will help reduce isolation and build social support, important in preventing depression.

Setting healthy boundaries. If you are stressed and overwhelmed, and feel like you just can’t say no, you are more at risk for depression. Setting healthy boundaries in relationships and at work can help relieve stress, and therapy can help you identify and validate the boundaries that are right for you.

Handling life’s problems. Talking with a trusted therapist can provide good feedback on more positive ways to handle life’s challenges and problems.

Individual or group therapy?

When you hear the word “therapy” you might automatically think of one-on-one sessions with a therapist. However, group therapy can be very useful in depression treatment as well. Both group and individual therapy sessions usually last about an hour. What are the benefits of each? In individual therapy, you are building a strong relationship with one person, and may feel more comfortable sharing some sensitive information with one person than with a group. You also get individualized attention.

In group therapy, listening to peers going through the same struggles can validate your experiences and help build self-esteem. Often group members are at different points in their depression, so you might get tips from both someone in the trenches and someone who has worked through a challenging problem. As well as offering inspiration and ideas, attending group therapy can also help increase your social activities and network.

When the going gets tough in therapy…

As with remodeling a house, when you take apart things that haven’t worked well in your life, it often makes them seem worse before they get better. When therapy seems difficult or painful, don’t give up. If you discuss your feelings and reactions honestly with your therapist, it will help you move forward rather than retreat back to your old, less effective ways. However, if the connection with your therapist consistently starts to feel forced or uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to explore other options for therapy as well. A strong trusting relationship is the foundation of good therapy.

Finding a therapist

One of the most important things to consider when choosing a therapist is your connection with this person. The right therapist will be a caring and supportive partner in your depression treatment and recovery.

There are many ways to find a therapist:

  • Word of mouth is one of the best ways to find a good therapist. Your friends and family may have some ideas, or your primary care doctor may be able to provide an initial referral.
  • National mental health organizations can also help with referral lists of licensed credentialed providers.
  • If cost is an issue, check out local senior centers, religious organizations, and community mental health clinics. Such places often offer therapy on a sliding scale for payment.

Medication treatment for depression

Depression medication may be the most advertised treatment for depression, but that doesn’t mean it is the most effective. Depression is not just about a chemical imbalance in the brain. Medication may help relieve some of the symptoms of moderate and severe depression, but it doesn’t cure the underlying problem, and it’s usually not a long-term solution. Antidepressant medications also come with side effects and safety concerns, and withdrawal can be very difficult. If you’re considering whether antidepressant medication is right for you, learning all the facts can help you make an informed decision.

Even if you decide to take medication for depression, don’t ignore other treatments. Lifestyle changes and therapy not only help speed recovery from depression, but also provide skills to help prevent a recurrence.

TMS therapy for depression

If you’re suffering from major depression that has been resistant to therapy, medication, and self-help, then TMS therapy may be an option. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) therapy is a noninvasive treatment that directs recurring magnetic energy pulses at the regions of the brain that are involved in mood. These magnetic pulses pass painlessly through the skull and stimulate brain cells which can improve communication between different parts of the brain and ease depression symptoms.

While TMS may be able to improve treatment-resistant depression, that doesn’t mean it’s a cure for depression or that your symptoms won’t return. However, it could provide sufficient improvements in your energy and drive to enable you to begin talk therapy or make the lifestyle changes—such as improving your diet, exercising, and building your support network—that can help preserve your depression recovery in the long term. For more on TMS and depression, read Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) Therapy.

Alternative and complementary treatments for depression

Alternative and complementary treatments for depression may include vitamin and herbal supplements, acupuncture, and relaxation techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, or tai chi.

Vitamins and supplements for depression treatment

The jury is still out on how well herbal remedies, vitamins, or supplements work in treating depression. While many supplements are widely available over the counter, in many cases their efficacy has not been scientifically proven. If your depression symptoms are in part due to nutritional deficiency, you may benefit from vitamin supplements, but this should be on the advice of your healthcare professional.

If you decide to try natural and herbal supplements, remember that they can have side effects and drug or food interactions. For example, St. John’s Wort—a promising herb used for treatment of mild to moderate depression—can interfere with prescription drugs such as blood thinners, birth control pills, and prescription antidepressants. Make sure your doctor or therapist knows what you are taking.

Other alternative depression treatments

Relaxation techniques. As well as helping to relieve symptoms of depression, relaxation techniques may also reduce stress and boost feelings of joy and well-being. Try yoga, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation.

Acupuncture. Acupuncture, the technique of using fine needles on specific points on the body for therapeutic purposes, is increasingly being investigated as a treatment for depression, with some research studies showing promising results. If you decide to try acupuncture, make sure that you find a licensed qualified professional.

Money Crashers

You’re feeling sad, unmotivated, and just don’t have the energy to visit friends or family members. Sound familiar? These signs – and many more – are signs of depression, a serious mental condition that can turn your mood and motivation upside down. If you feel this way, you’re not alone: 15 million Americans suffer from depression annually.

Unfortunately, with the U.S.’s economic turmoil, we all can’t afford to see special therapists or receive state-of-the-art treatment to fix our moody blues. So if you can’t pay your way to good help, what can you do?

Don’t despair just yet – there are several simple ways you can improve your mood without drugs, expensive therapy, or special medical treatments.

Ways to Deal With Depression

1. Start Exercising

Going for a good jog probably isn’t on your mind – after all, depression can even make getting out of the house a tiring endeavor. But if you can commit to it, you’ll do yourself a big favor. People who exercise more often are less depressed; conversely, studies show that regular exercise can do wonderful things to a person’s poor mood and self-esteem.

The Evidence
According to a 2005 study published by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, exercise is essential for improving your mood. Adults aged 20 to 45 who had depressive symptoms exercised for 30 minutes, three to five times a week. Researchers looked at how exercise improved their mood, and the results were astounding: Their symptoms were reduced by as much as 50%.

Dr. Madhukar Trivedi, who authored part of the study, said that exercise’s effects on depression were even comparable to therapy or antidepressants, commonly used methods used to treat clinical depression. Now that’s uplifting news.

Recommendation
In the above study, participants used aerobic exercise to improve their mood, so consider using aerobic exercise sessions to feel more uplifted. You don’t need to exercise to death – just a few 30-minute sessions are enough to release those feel-good endorphins to boost your mood and self-esteem.

For the best relief, stick to moderate exercise instead of low intensity exercise, which appears to be better at improving depression-like symptoms. Walking, dancing, biking, or using an elliptical trainer are some ways to get in that good-for-you moderate exercise.

2. Create Your Own Support Group

Depression thrives in isolation, but having a support group, either online or offline, can drastically improve a person’s depression symptoms. Just the act of hearing others talk about their problems in groups can have profound effects on a person’s depression prognosis.

The Evidence
According to a 2011 review reported by the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, self-help groups can be just as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy at treating depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a highly effective type of talk therapy that teaches depressed patients to stop thinking negatively and learn ways to think more positively.

Patients who joined self-help groups felt like they could bond and help others with similar problems, a type of bond that patients can’t typically get from a therapist or doctor. There’s also the relation factor – people in self-help groups can relate better to other group members than to therapists who have never experienced the disease first hand.

Online self-help groups can also be very beneficial. A Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine study, which evaluated the effects of online self-help groups on depressed people, showed that people who used these groups more frequently were more likely to stop feeling depressed.

Recommendation
For additional support during depression, consider joining a self-help group in your community. Self-help groups can be quite effective at alleviating many depression symptoms. They can also help you open up and express your feelings, and allow you to relate to people just like you.

You can find offline self-help groups locally through the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. If joining a face-to-face group is too frightening, consider the online route – seek an online self-help group for support and friendship, such as Psych Central’s Depression Forum.

3. Make Sure to Get Enough Sleep

Depression can have devastating effects on your sleep. You either can’t get enough sleep from excessive self-worry, or don’t want to get out of bed because you’re too unhappy.

Coincidentally, changes in sleep patterns can also trigger depression-like symptoms, such as irritability, overwhelming feelings of sadness, and anxiety. Not getting enough sleep and clinical depression often go hand-in-hand.

The Evidence
Several reviews have drawn connections between sleep deprivation and depression. For instance, a 2005 study conducted by the University of North Texas showed people who suffered from frequent insomnia were up to 17.35% more likely to have depression or anxiety.

Increased bouts of insomnia also increased the rate of depression and anxiety symptoms. According to Psychology Today, insomnia can also trigger depression. In many cases, simply regulating sleep patterns decreases or alleviates depressed mood.

Recommendation
If you suffer from mild to moderate depression, take a hard look at your sleeping habits. Are they irregular? Do you get only four hours of sleep a night and constantly feel tired? If so, consider setting up a plan for getting enough sleep, such as going to bed earlier or cutting out stimulants like caffeine which can cause insomnia. Also, try avoiding any activities that can make it harder to fall asleep, such as exercising late at night and eating too much right before bed.

Certain supplements or medications, such as weight loss supplements, may also contain ingredients that can increase the risk of insomnia. Ask your doctor if your medication regimen can be modified to reduce this risk.

4. Use Pet Therapy

While the evidence isn’t clear-cut, spending some time with a pet may help brighten a person’s mood, easing depression. It isn’t a cure for depression, but many people have reported feeling more motivated and happier after bonding with a furry creature.

The Evidence
According to California-based psychologist Teri Wright, Ph.D., pets can help alleviate depression symptoms by making people feel wanted or important. Depressed people often feel unwanted or invisible to the world, so just owning a pet can change some of a depressed person’s thoughts about him or herself.

For instance, dogs depend on their owners for food and play, and are incredibly loyal. Pets also help depressed people feel less lonely, since most pets, especially dogs, enjoy bonding and spending time with their owners. Furthermore, animals seem to have an innate ability to put a smile on people’s faces with their antics and behaviors.

Recommendation
Consider adopting a pet for companionship if you’re willing to commit – that means using your time and resources to raise and take care of the animal. Pets such as cats, small dogs, and rabbits are good companionship animals that are easy to take care of and feed. Some argue that big dogs are the best animals for this purpose.

Consider volunteering to take care of dogs, cats, or other animals at animal shelters. Plenty of animal shelters can use your help, and these animals will love you and bond with you in return. Plus, being able to help the helpless is a really great feeling!

5. Seek Help From a School or Community Therapist

While the previous recommendations are helpful for reducing depression symptoms, these recommendations aren’t necessarily substitutes for therapy. Depression experts recommend therapy as an effective, long-term way to alleviate all types of depression, so it’s worth your while to get help if you need it and can afford it.

For immediate and affordable help, first consider school or university therapists. Many universities have therapists which can help people deal with mood problems such as depression at a reduced or free cost. Community therapists may also offer sliding fee scales to the less fortunate to make it easier to get help.

Final Word

Many of us are going through tough times, both financially and emotionally, but it is best that you do not ignore such problems. Ignoring depression only makes it worse, affecting your ability to do your job, have a social life, or feel emotionally happy.

Regardless of how you go about it, make the effort to get help. If you have health insurance, call your provider to find out if it covers mental health problems. You may have access to more experienced and qualified therapists in your area that can help you overcome your depression at an affordable price. If not, do your best to fight your disease. Sure, you may not think it’s serious enough, but everyone deserves to be happy – including you.

Jump to: Herbal Supplements Meditation and Yoga Exercise

Some people with depression prefer non-drug approaches to help them manage their symptoms. Research shows that approximately 30-40% of patients with depression have only a partial response to pharmacological and psychotherapeutic interventions.1

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.

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Herbal supplements

Herbal extracts are gaining popularity as natural alternatives to SSRI’s, which can include unpleasant side effects.

  • Curcumin: One study found that curcumin, the primary active ingredient of the spice turmeric, is a safe and effective alternative in patients who do no display suicidal ideation or have a concurrent psychotic disorder.2
  • Saffron: Extracts made from saffron (C. sativus) have also been shown to be effective natural antidepressants. A small study that compared the effects of saffron to the effects of fluoxetine (Prozac) and found that both produced the same improvements.3
  • St. 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.
  • SAM-e: 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.5

Meditation and Yoga

By reducing perceived stress an anxiety, yoga practice can modulate stress response systems by reducing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. One study on the benefits of hatha yoga versus health education found that yoga does alleviate symptoms of depression, and the effects were long term.6 Hatha yoga includes physical poses, controlled breathing, and a short period of deep relaxation or meditation.

Meditation is an active training of the mind and involves 30-40 minutes per day of acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment and relaxation of the mind and body. Researchers at Johns Hopkins found that meditation can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.7

Exercise

Daily exercise can help lower stress, increase relaxation, and decrease symptoms of depression. Exercise has the added benefit of improving balance, energy levels, and flexibility.

According to the American Psychological Association, daily exercise eases symptoms of depression by increasing levels of serotonin. It also helps normalize sleep patterns and improves outlook by returning to normal activities.8

While many complementary and alternative treatments require further study to determine the benefits over time, it might help to bring some of these options to your treatment team to help ease your symptoms.

Article Sources Last Updated: Sep 4, 2019

5 Ways to Help Yourself Through Depression

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If you feel depressed, it’s best to do something about it — depression doesn’t just go away on its own. In addition to getting help from a doctor or therapist, here are 5 things you can do to feel better.

  1. Exercise. Take a 15- to 30-minute brisk walk every day — or dance, jog, or bike if you prefer. People who are depressed may not feel much like being active. But make yourself do it anyway (ask a friend to exercise with you if you need to be motivated). Once you get in the exercise habit, it won’t take long to notice a difference in your mood.
    In addition to getting aerobic exercise, some yoga poses can help relieve feelings of depression. Try downward-facing dog or legs-up-the-wall pose (you can find these poses on yoga websites). Two other aspects of yoga — breathing exercises and meditation — can also help people with depression feel better.
  2. Nurture yourself with good nutrition. Depression can affect appetite. One person may not feel like eating at all, but another might overeat. If depression has affected your eating, you’ll need to be extra mindful of getting the right nourishment. Proper nutrition can influence a person’s mood and energy. So eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and get regular meals (even if you don’t feel hungry, try to eat something light, like a piece of fruit, to keep you going).
  3. Identify troubles, but don’t dwell on them. Try to identify any situations that have contributed to your depression. When you know what’s got you feeling blue and why, talk about it with a caring friend. Talking is a way to release the feelings and to receive some understanding.
    Once you air out these thoughts and feelings, turn your attention to something positive. Take action to solve problems. Ask for help if you need it. Feeling connected to friends and family can help relieve depression. It may also help them feel there’s something they can do instead of just watching you hurt.
  4. Express yourself. With depression, a person’s creativity and sense of fun may seem blocked. Exercise your imagination (painting, drawing, doodling, sewing, writing, dancing, composing music, etc.) and you not only get those creative juices flowing, you also loosen up some positive emotions. Take time to play with a friend or a pet, or do something fun for yourself. Find something to laugh about — a funny movie, perhaps. Laughter helps lighten your mood.
  5. Try to notice good things. Depression affects a person’s thoughts, making everything seem dismal, negative, and hopeless. If depression has you noticing only the negative, make an effort to notice the good things in life. Try to notice one thing, then try to think of one more. Consider your strengths, gifts, or blessings. Most of all, don’t forget to be patient with yourself. Depression takes time to heal.

Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD Date reviewed: August 2016

How to Fight Depression Without Medication

In more dramatic cases when you’re experiencing big life changes or the death of someone close to you, it’s a big problem if you don’t feel sad. You must feel an emotion in order to let it go.

But, sometimes sadness and depression persist. When this happens, it’s ok to seek professional help.

The serotonin model of depression

For decades, the answer for why people get chronically depressed was simple: an imbalance in brain chemistry. Doctors and researcher thought if they could just balance your neurotransmitters (specifically the happy-making neurochemical, serotonin), then you’d be cured. But there are a couple of problems with this theory. First of all, it’s impossible to accurately measure serotonin levels in a live human brain. Second, the drugs that pharmaceutical companies are making to alter serotonin levels in depressed people aren’t working.

In one analysis of published and unpublished data on antidepressant drugs, it turns out that most, if not all, the benefits of these drugs are thanks to the placebo effect.

Does your doctor still think these things work? Bad science is to blame. In a famous New England Journal of Medicine analysis, researchers found that a whopping 88% of clinical trials showing that antidepressants don’t work weren’t published. That means your doc is seeing a huge bias in favor of antidepressants in the published literature.

So if serotonin levels aren’t to blame for depression, what is?

The inflammatory model of depression

A growing number of doctors are looking at a new theory of depression – that high levels of inflammation from infection or other stressors are to blame.

Depressed people have higher levels of inflammatory markers called pro-inflammatory cytokines in their blood and some research shows that inflammation slows down the growth of new brain cells.

Depressed people also show signs of extreme oxidative stress and lower overall antioxidants levels. When you have less antioxidant activity, you end up with more oxidative stress, and your brain is especially vulnerable to it. Ongoing oxidative stress leads to chronic inflammation, which is bad for your brain.

Nutrient deficiencies and depression

There’s other evidence that nutrient deficiencies can lead to chronic depression. Lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, zinc, magnesium, and vitamin D are all linked to lower levels of brain function and can contribute to depression.

You can test your nutrient levels with a functional medicine or naturopathic doctor. If you want to avoid prescription drugs, you’ll have to get to the root cause of the issue.

Side effects of antidepressants

The jury is still out on whether or not prescription antidepressants even work. It’s not my job whether or not to tell you to take them or not. Prescription drugs, in general, are overprescribed and the number of prescriptions written rise year after year with no sign of stopping.In 2016, doctors doled out 4.4 billion prescription drugs in the U.S., up 1.9% from 2015.

For all the claims of happiness, antidepressants sure come with a lot of risks. Here are just a few of the most common side effects of antidepressants:

  • Stomach upset
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Weight gain
  • Sleep disturbances

I think we can do better.

Getting to the root cause of depression

Since hacking my brain and body, I’ve learned to tune in to the root cause of my depression and anxiety. It takes time, but with the following hacks, I’ve been able to build a brain and body that’s more resilient to the stressors that come with being a dad, husband, and CEO.

5 science-backed hacks for a stronger brain

Whether you’ve been diagnosed with chronic depression or simply have the blues now and then, building a better brain through lifestyle hacks and better nutrition can help you rebound mentally and physically. Here are my top hacks to build a more resilient brain:

1. Meditation and mindfulness

This might sound annoyingly simple. But new clinical applications of mindfulness-based cognitive therapies (MBCT) for depressed patients are showing really promising results.

Studies out of the University of Exeter are finding that daily 30-minute mindfulness meditation sessions are better than drugs or counseling alone for depression. Three-quarters of patients in one study felt good enough to stop taking antidepressants after four months with no other intervention besides MBCT.

The science is young, but mindfulness and meditation studies are showing promising results alleviating symptoms like pain, stress, anxiety, depression, and disordered eating. I know it has for me!

2. Get outside more

Humans evolved over millions of years living outside. Only in the last several thousand years have we migrated into the sheetrock caves we now call offices. Getting out into nature, specifically under some big trees (aka forest bathing) rapidly lowers stress hormone levels, blood pressure, pulse rate and heart rate variability compared with exposure to a city environment.

Sunlight also helps you relax and destress through the release of endorphins. These hormones can also help reduce pain, support hormone regulation, and even inhibit cancer growth.

Sunlight also increases dopamine release and dopamine receptors in your body. This is good news if you suffer from depression or seasonal affective disorder, which suggest low levels of dopamine, and even Parkinson’s disease, where dopamine neurons are damaged.

3. Exercise

Short bursts of vigorous exercise naturally increase BDNF, a compound that increases the production of new neurons and neuronal connectivity. This is likely just one of the ways exercise reduces stress and improves depressive symptoms. And if high-intensity intervals aren’t for you, there’s plenty of evidence that running and lifting can help alleviate anxiety and depressive symptoms. Some forward-thinking doctors are even prescribing exercise instead of antidepressants, taking into account the poor risk-to-benefit in patients with mild depression. In other words, exercise is more effective and safer, at least for people with mild depression.

4. Nutrition

Possibly the most effective way to keep depression at bay is to decrease inflammation and support your nutrient levels with a nutrient-dense diet. The Bulletproof Diet eliminates most food allergens responsible for inflammation. It’s also rich in nutrient-dense veggies, herbs, spices, and healthy fats and protein.

The Bulletproof Diet is also high in omega-3 fats, clean saturated fats, and moderate amounts of animal protein to give your body what it needs for a stable mood, but not too much to cause inflammation.

Get the details on the Bulletproof Diet.

5. Decrease oxidative stress

When you don’t have enough antioxidants present to counteract the free radicals in your body, you begin to suffer from oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is a sign of mitochondrial problems, and scientists believe it is a cause of many diseases including cancer, ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder), autism, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, chronic fatigue syndrome, and depression.

Glutathione is a protective antioxidant that serves as mitochondria’s main line of defense against damage from oxidative stress, but sometimes your body doesn’t make enough of it. There are, however, ways to get your mitochondria to increase their production of antioxidants like glutathione:

  • Eliminate crappy fats like canola oil, peanut oil, safflower, oil, and other bad fats as outlined in the Bulletproof Roadmap.
  • Increase your polyphenols with an abundance of fresh herbs, darkly colored fruits and veggies, and a ton of colorful, anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric.
  • Increase your natural production of glutathione, your body’s master antioxidant. (I also supplement).

Lifestyle interventions alone may not be for everyone suffering from depression – especially those diagnosed with major depressive disorder. But all of the hacks in this article are safe to try alongside drugs if you’re already on them. And they all work together to mitigate stress and help you build a stronger, more resilient brain.

Using a combination of high doses of fun, bright lights or nature exposure, the right kind of exercise, and the Bulletproof Diet, you can help fight mild depression and optimize your mental performance.

READ NEXT:

What to Eat for a High-Performance Brain

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How To Manage Depression Without Meds

This guest article from YourTango was written by Dr. Deb Schwarz Hirschhorn.

What a difference a few years makes.

“New Cures for Depression” shouted the 1986 essay in New Woman magazine; “Dramatic Progress against Depression,” blared a New York Times Magazine piece in 1990. Its subtitle was revealing: “The success of new drugs is prompting debate on their overuse—and the value of talk therapy.” That story smugly said that the new wave of antidepressants, including the then two-year old Prozac, which took the country by storm, had “proved to be as effective as the older ones and often safer.” What’s more, the article went on to say that these amazing new drugs worked when old-fashioned talk therapy didn’t. Psychotherapy was relegated to the dustbin of history.

Fast-forward just a couple of years. Suddenly, the manufacturer of Prozac, Eli Lilly, was being sued by families of people who either committed suicide or tried to do so while taking the drug. In the next 15 years, lawsuits for other antidepressants piled up against other manufacturers for the same reason: Forest Pharmaceuticals, maker of Celexa; Lilly (again), maker of Cymbalta; Pfizer, maker of Zoloft; and GlaxoSmith Kline, maker of Paxil.

More from YourTango: 5 Fool-Proof Ways to Fight Depression

At the same time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration started coming down hard on pharmaceutical companies for promoting “off-label” uses of their products, that is, uses that had not been approved by the FDA. To accomplish their goals, big pharmaceutical companies would pay doctors to prescribe various drugs already in use for symptoms not related to the drugs’ stated purpose.

Not only did the drug industry promote off-label uses, but many of the research papers that touted the benefits of the medication were fraudulent. Doctors on the drug makers’ payroll would submit fictitious results to such prestigious journals as the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association. Journals subsequently added to their editorial policies a requirement that all submissions include the funding sources for the research.

And now, the latest blow to the pharmaceutical industry: research shows that not only are dummy pills, called placebos, just as effective in routing out depression as antidepressants, but in some cases they are even more effective! What’s more, the latest technology shows that both the dummy pills (used in scientific research as “controls”) and talk therapy change the brain’s wiring. That means we can take psychotherapy out of the dustbin and restore it to the place of honor—and hope—where it belongs.

When it comes to depression, we need that hope. According to a 2009 study in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy (JMFT), close to 16% of people will be diagnosed with Major Depression during their lives; in fact, the World Health Organization states that, of all health problems, depression is the second from the top. Of interest, more women than men suffer from depression in marriage.

If depression is that serious, how could psychotherapy work where drugs have given us a bouncy ride (like side effects and how they can just stop working if they had any effect in the first place)? How does talk therapy have the robustness to counteract what pharmaceutical companies have billed as a chemical imbalance in the brain? Most importantly, how could counseling tackle the kind of depression that comes out of strained personal relationships?

The good news is that brain chemistry “imbalances” in depressed people have never been found. That is, there is nothing about the brain of a depressed person that doesn’t work right. When there is less serotonin (a neurotransmitter that signals good feelings) in their brains, it is a reflection of their depression, not a cause of it. More good news is that talk therapy is actually the best solution to the kind of depression that comes out of strained personal relationships. According to JMFT research, both couples counseling and individual therapy can improve depression, but only relationship therapy improves relationships.

More from YourTango: How to Deal with Depression – 4 Simple Solutions

Research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) demonstrates that drugs, placebos, and talk therapy all can change brain chemistry. But how could drugs have the same effect on the brain as placebos? Scientists hypothesize that these dummy pills work because of the attention and care that the researchers give to the people participating in the experiment. And wouldn’t you know: Psychotherapy research comes down to the same thing. When talk therapy works, it does so because of the quality of the therapeutic relationship. So of course the pharmaceutical will work because it is distributed by researchers who talk to—and listen to—the research volunteers. What we’re saying here is that the way we’re treated changes brain chemistry.

Studies in the animal kingdom shed more light on this. In 1986, Discover Magazine reported research by Jacqueline Crawley with Siberian hamsters, animals that are unusual because, like most humans, they mate for keeps. When a female is taken away from her mate, the male not only acts depressed, but serotonin levels in the brain go down—a sure sign of depression. But look at this: to raise those serotonin levels back to normal, all the researchers had to do was re-introduce that mate!

In other words, how you feel about your relationship really is in your head, but that doesn’t mean it started there. Sometimes correcting external factors is all that is needed to correct what’s not right in the brain.

There’s another external factor that has a powerful effect besides the care and attention mentioned above. Another JMFT article noted that more women than men initiate separation and that when they do, if they started out depressed, their depression lifts. One conclusion you should not draw is that a separation from the s.o.b. was the right move. It doesn’t prove that at all.

The authors speculate that the person who initiates separation has more control over events at that moment and that is why the depression lifts. One of the hallmarks of depression is the hopelessness that comes from being out of control of the situation. The real solution is for the therapist to work with the controlling partner to relinquish control, be a listener, and behave respectfully—in addition to being caring and attentive. Then, just as in the case with the Siberian hamsters whose depression lifted simply by changing external circumstances, a partner’s depression can lift, too.

There’s a huge bonus to therapy. Partners in a relationship can be taught how to make each other happy rather than fight over why the other person was making them unhappy. In other words, partners can learn how to inject serotonin into each other’s brains with just a well-placed smile and a thoughtful gesture. That’s so much more powerful than drugs, isn’t it?

More great content from YourTango:

  • The Key to Eliminating Anxiety – Without Medication!
  • How to Be Happy: It’s a Process, and We’ll Show You How
  • 10 Uplifting Quotes to Make Your Day

How To Manage Depression Without Meds

Treatment


Clinical depression

If you decide to have ECT, you’ll be asked to give your permission (consent) to have the treatment.

You should also be reminded that you can withdraw your consent at any time.

Your health will be closely monitored during and after each session of ECT.

Treatment will usually be stopped as soon as you start to feel better, or if the side effects outweigh the benefits.

In some cases, what’s known as “maintenance” or “continuation” therapy may be recommended.

This is where treatment is given less frequently (once every 2 to 3 weeks) to ensure your symptoms do not come back.

You can read more about the NICE recommendations for the use of electroconvulsive therapy.

Lithium

If you have tried several different antidepressants and there’s been no improvement, your doctor may offer you a medicine called lithium in addition to your current treatment.

There are 2 types: lithium carbonate and lithium citrate. Both are usually effective, but if you’re taking one that works for you, it’s best not to change.

If the level of lithium in your blood becomes too high, it can become toxic. You’ll therefore need blood tests every 3 months to check your lithium levels while you’re on the medicine.

You’ll also need to avoid eating a low-salt diet because this can also cause the lithium to become toxic. Ask a GP for advice about your diet.

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