25 ways to fight depression that don't involve drugs

There are many natural ways to alleviate depression and boost mood. These alternatives can be employed by those that suffer from mild, moderate and severe depression

Updated: Apr 20, 2017 12:43:52 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

Depression can strike anybody, anytime, anywhere. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly 57 million, or 1 in every 22 Indians suffer from depression. Depending on the symptoms, depression is termed as mild, moderate, and severe. The reasons for depression can be an external event (like loss of a job, death in the family or romantic break-up) or internal, due to hormonal or biochemical imbalances. Typically, depending on the severity of the depression, psychiatrists treat depression, with drugs like tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and selective serotonin noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SSNRIs).

But not all of those who are depressed, want to be treated with drugs due to side effects, that include nausea, loss of sexual desire, low appetite, drowsiness, blurred vision and insomnia.

There are many natural ways to alleviate depression and boost mood. Each of the 25 natural ways have been researched to determine that there are studies that prove their efficacy. These alternatives can be employed by those that suffer from mild, moderate and severe depression. Results will vary from person to person, and may not be a complete cure, but will help with managing depression better. We don’t advise stopping medication if it has been prescribed, and we are big believers of talk therapy as an ongoing process, to deal with more than just the symptoms. Do consult with your therapist before starting on any natural alternatives.

Here are 25 ways to curb depression naturally.

1) Exercise: It's simple; any form of exercise, releases feel good chemicals like endorphins, dopamine and serotonin. Do what you love doing; be it swimming, running, yoga or walking and you can have an immediate impact on your well-being and boosting mood.

2) Do the new: Changing your routine can help. Visit the library. Go on a walking tour. Visit a new cafe. Plan a day trip. Anything new can help change the way you are feeling and may lead to feeling more mindful. It also activates the dopamine pathways in your brain that is in charge of rewards.

3) Smile more: Smile and the world smiles with you. Cry and you cry alone. The old adage is probably true. Smiling makes you likeable, therefore more sociable, it also makes you feel good in the head because everytime you smile you release dopamine, endorphins and serotonin in your head. Did we also mention that is great for your physical health? Say cheese, please!

4) Gratitude: Being grateful multiplies our happiness. It forces the brain to shift focus on what’s going wrong to what’s going right. Research from University of Indiana and University of California Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center suggest that being grateful leads to well-being and decreased depression. Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be once a year!

5) Mindful meditation: Close your eyes, sit in a quiet spot and focus on your breathing or watch your thoughts float by, be aware of your body. Zen Buddhist and Indian monks have known this for centuries. Perhaps that explains why they look so peaceful. Mindful meditation slows the mind down and helps it to focus on the present, quelling anxiety, and lowering depression. According to the 47 studies analyzed in JAMA Internal Medicine meditation lessens pain, depression and anxiety.

6) Listen to music: According to a paper published in the UK-based Journal of Advanced Nursing, listening to music can lower depression by 25 percent, and it is also known to improve self-esteem. Listening to your favorite music can put you in a good mood and even get you to shake a hip.

7) Nature: Cities, with its traffic, closed spaces, office cubicles and tall buildings can make us depressed. Spending time in green spaces: with trees, water bodies, animals and birds can restore us emotionally, spiritually, physically and psychologically. Make an effort to get out of the city, or find green oases within the city, to restore inner balance and stay refreshed.

8) Eat right: Being depressed sometimes can lead to a reduced appetite. This in turn could to lead to health-related complications that might further worsen the depression. Eating well-balanced meals at the right time can alleviate mood. Also, eating certain foods rich in Omega-3 (salmon, sardines), greens, legumes, berries, walnuts, lean meat, dairy, and whole grains can lead to a reduction in depression.

9) Aroma therapy: According to Mayo Clinic, essential oils extracted from plants and flowers that are used in aromatherapy can have a soothing effect on our moods. It can also reduce pain and improve sleep. Essential oils made from extracts of bergamot, lavender and Roman chamomile help with specifically alleviating depression.

10) Animals: Pets are great mood boosters. They offer unconditional love, never judge, and they are there in time of need of emotional support. In a world where everything is transactional, they come as a breath of fresh air, as they don’t demand anything back other than care. Studies suggest that having a cat or a dog as a pet has therapeutic effects. Animal-assisted therapy has become a globally accepted form of therapy for those who are depressed, anxious or suffer from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

11) Dance: Moving the body to a beat is an age old way to celebrate and feel joyful. Dance is part of social ceremonies, religious ceremonies and romantic dates. Dance movement therapy has been used to help individuals express themselves and free themselves of emotions that kept them fettered. Science backs this theory up. In a study titled ‘The effect of dance over depression’ it was found that dance lowers levels of depression.

12) Talk therapy: Psychotherapy has been widely to treat depression. Sharing one’s thoughts, feelings and experiences helps in the unburdening of negative emotions that’s pulling one down. Talk therapy has been widely acknowledged as one of the most proven and effective ways to treat depression. Even those with severe depression, already on medication, can help from talking to a qualified counsellor or psychologist.

13) Journalling: Sometimes just the act of putting feelings down on paper works wonders on peeling layers of emotions and thoughts that are causing depression. Journaling helps those who are depressed, to articulate what’s bothering them, and labeling the negative feelings and bad experiences. In doing so, the person begins to understand and think through the current situation, and in the process ends up feeling better, or perhaps arriving at a solution.

14) Motivational books and movies: Reading a motivational book or quote, watching a movie that inspires or seeing a poster that has uplifting message and imagery can be a huge mood booster. It can alter negative thinking and allow the depressed individual to feel positive. The books, quotes, movies and posters that might help with depression vary from person to person. Get online and read reviews to form an opinion on what might work for you individually.

15) Feeling depressed about feeling depressed: This may come as a surprise. But just the mere acceptance of the fact that you are depressed may help deal with depression. Sometimes depression is caused by unforeseen events like bad health, job loss, death, divorce or failure in exams. This leads to feelings of sadness and low-esteem. One of the issues is the expectation of false appearances where one is supposed to be “fine” all the time. In many cases, not feeling fine, and feeling low, can lead to more feelings of despondency, because one feels low about feeling depressed. This can exacerbate depression. Accepting that this too shall pass helps managing negative feelings better.

16) Work hard: Those who are depressed sometimes feel that they don’t want to get out bed, get dressed and go to work. Depression is a sure fire to lose the plot, dig oneself into a hole, and feel like not doing anything. The best way to snap out of this is shake off the feeling and get down to work. This is easier said than done because it is so difficult. Forcing oneself to action against the will to stay still provides almost immediate benefits. Seek the help of a family member, friend or colleague to push you to do this.

17) Have fun: Discovering things that you enjoy doing and gives you pleasure is an important aspect to reclaiming your life and striving for emotional wellness. Doing things that are fun and happiness inducing can strip away the stresses locked within. These activities will be different for different individuals. One way to lock down on these activities are to look back at what brought a smile to your face and makes your heart feel lighter.

18) Yoga: The ancient practice of yoga with its many physical poses, deep breathing and meditation provides a burst of positivity, the ability to deal with pain, increases awareness, reduces depression and promotes good physical health. In many studies and trials yoga has time and again proven that it is a powerful weapon against depression. No wonder it has become a global phenomenon. The good thing is that is that yoga can be practiced by all, regardless of whether they are young or old; fit or unfit; and flexible or stiff.

19) Get sun: The lack of Vitamin D could be a reason for being diagnosed with depression. Most of our current jobs mostly involve spending time inside an office and going home after the sun has set. A lack of sun leads to a Vitamin D deficiency, which in turn, can lower moods and cause depression.

20) Spend time with friends and family: Social relationships are a very important part of mental, emotional and physical well-being. The saying that no man is an island is true. When depressed, the natural tendency is to withdraw from social interactions, and be by oneself. This can make things worse. Reaching out to loved ones, be it friends or family, can be an immediate pick-me-up.

21) Think through the depression: The inability to handle life’s daily stresses over a prolonged time can lead to depression. These stresses, which are caused by external sources, are handled by some individuals but some others end up feeling depressed. Other than clinical depression, which needs both medication and psychotherapy, certain forms of depression that’s caused by negative thinking can be reversed through using logic. Chronic worrying can lead to depression. Using a process of rational thinking this kind of worry and stress can be reduced thereby curbing depression.

22) Volunteer or be altruistic: Here’s a great way to do good and to feel well. Volunteer, give to charity or perform a random act of kindness. According to a study by University of Exeter Medical School, volunteering can decrease depression, and also lead to a longer life. Donating or performing acts of altruism can have similar effects on upping mood and bettering well-being.

23) Follow a creative pursuit: Solving a puzzle, playing video games, learning a musical instrument, painting, gardening or pottery can be a way to have fun and also put a dampener on depression. These creative outlets assist in decoupling feelings of depression and leads to feeling elevated. Go on, pick your favorite hobby or interest sign up for it, and give it whirl.

24) Set goals: When depressed, it’s a natural tendency to lose sight of what’s important, slack off at work, and have no structure. It therefore becomes important to forcefully set goals and start following up on them. Seek help of family, friends and colleagues to keep you accountable and gently nudge you towards your goals. The brain is wired, to provide a reward every time you hit one of your goals, and this in turn can help fight depression.

25) Forgive and forget: Not forgiving and holding on to past grudges foments anger, resentment, leads to physical ailments; and most importantly, causes depression. This may sound like it is a Bible teaching but it has the underpinning of a deep psychological truth that is backed by science. Forgiveness needs to work three ways: forgiving others for their misdeeds, asking for forgiveness if you have wronged others, and thirdly forgiving yourself.

Caveat: Please consult with a qualified psychiatrist when you feel depressed and also review all the natural alternatives mentioned with them before starting on any. These natural alternatives will work in varying degrees for different people. If you are feeling suicidal, we would suggest you immediately call up a suicide prevention helpline - eg Vandrevala Foundation Helpline - 1 860 266 2345 (24x7), Aasra - +91 22 2754 6669 (24x7). We can’t guarantee response or quality of the interaction.

(YourDOST was a part of the Forbes India 30 Under 30 Class of 2017)

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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