Non-Drug Ways to Manage Depression

Non-Drug Ways to Manage Depression
Depression is an illness that affects your thoughts, feelings, behavior and physical health. It is different than being sad or “down-in-the-dumps” because depression is a chemical change or imbalance, which occurs in the brain. It also can last for extended periods of time and interferes in daily life. Symptoms might involve major changes in sleep, appetite or energy, difficulty thinking, concentrating or remembering, physical slowing or restlessness, lack of interest in or pleasure from activities that were once enjoyed, feelings of guilt, worthlessness, hopelessness, or emptiness and in the most extreme cases, recurrent thoughts of death or suicide. Unfortunately, it is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. from medical illness, but fortunately, most people can be successfully treated!

A primary care or mental health practitioner can diagnose depression through a physical exam, patient interview and diagnostic tests. There are many causes of depression including, family history, a person’s personality, extreme life changes, or long-term stress.

Depression is often treated with medication, however, there are many non-drug way to help move from depression to feeling happier with more energy. Some non-pharmacologic treatments include, exercise and movement, nutrition and mind/body approaches.  


Over 1,000 research projects have studied the effects of exercise on depression. The results of these studies have shown that exercise helps people with depression just as much as prescription medications do AND with no side effects.
It is recommended that if you have not been exercising, to start slowly. Choose an exercise that you enjoy (walking, biking, hiking, swimming, tennis, etc.) so that it is easier to maintain a consistent regimen. Exercise for at least 25-40 minutes 3-4 times a week. If it’s helpful, find a group exercise program or a friend that will help motivate you to get moving.   


What we eat can also affect our mood and behavior. Diets high in sugar have been associated with higher incidences of depression. Caffeine intake has also been linked to depression. Too much caffeine artificially over-stimulates the autonomic nervous system leading to fatigue and an irregular sleep/wake cycle.
In general, try to eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and omega 3 essential fatty acids (found in cold-water fish, nuts and flax seed). The body also needs B vitamins to make serotonin—the hormone that helps regulate mood. This hormone may be lacking in women with poor nutrition, those who abuse alcohol, or elderly women with atrophic gastritis. For those individuals it may be worth considering a B-100 complex vitamin to boost serotonin levels.

Mind & Body

Mind and body approaches to depression focus on a physical health in addition to mind and spirit. These treatments for depression may help prevent recurrences of depression in the future. Research has shown, in some cases, that counseling is as effective as prescription medication for treating depression but may not be as fast acting. Cognitive therapy, interpersonal therapy and positive psychology are recommended.

•    Cognitive therapy targets negative or distorted thoughts and replaces them with positive or more accurate ones
•    Interpersonal therapy focuses on relationships and communication patterns. There are many healing effects that occur through healthy, human relationships and often patients develop satisfying relationships with others as a result from this type of therapy.
•    Positive psychology is a new field of psychology but it aims to strengthen positive aspects of a person’s life rather than trying to relieve the negative ones.
Whatever kind of therapy you choose, it is most important that the counselor or psychologist you work with is one whom you feel good about and is the right fit for you.

Other Treatments

Ultraviolet light helps the body make hormones to stay healthy. Light exposure stimulates the production of neurotransmitters that help alleviate certain types of depression. Using a light box for at least 20 minutes twice daily may be helpful in treating depression.
Aromatherapy is another way to treat depression. Essential oils of lavender (for insomnia), citrus (for men), rose and chamomile have been found to be the most beneficial. Inhalation therapy three times daily is recommended.

While many prefer non-drug ways to ward off depression, for others, a clinical evaluation and intervention—in addition to the methods above—are needed to bring relief. If you have concerns about your mood or lingering feeling of sadness, talk to your health care provider. Or give our office a call; we’re here to help.  

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