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Depression is one of the most misunderstood and misdiagnosed mental illnesses in America today. It affects nearly 19 million adults every year.
But the harsh reality is many people suffering from depression never seek treatment.
Those who do seek help from their physician are often prescribed antidepressants in order to help them feel better. While medication is often very effective (and can be lifesaving) if you aren’t quite ready to go down that road, it may help you to know that there are also natural ways to boost your mood.
Here are 9 natural approaches to overcoming depression and getting on the path to happiness.
When you’re feeling depressed or anxious, exercise is often the very last thing that you want to do. However, several studies suggest that exercise can perform at least as well as pharmaceutical medications in reducing symptoms and helping to prevent a relapse.
Exercise releases feel-good brain chemicals like neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids and increases your body temperature, which can have a calming effect. Exercise also helps you stop focusing inward, facilitates engagement in social interaction, and helps you feel better about yourself – all vital things in the fight to overcome depression.
2) Get Your Daily Dose of Sunshine
If you’re depressed, you may be tempted to hide away in a dark room and watch Netflix all day. Don’t do it! There is a strong correlation between low Vitamin D levels and depression. In 2006, the CDC reported that one fourth of the American population was deficient in vitamin D. While you may also need supplements, the best way to get your fill of the sunshine vitamin is to get outside!
Greeting the sun in the morning can also help regulate your circadian rhythm, which maintains your internal clock and facilitates better sleep. Consistently sleeping well and getting into a good routine will definitely make a difference to the way you feel, and help you in overcoming depression.
3) Work Hard and Sleep Well
It is very important to follow a healthy routine as much as possible, at the very least throughout your working week, even if you aren’t feeling it. This keeps you busy doing productive things and not dwelling on negativity.
Try to create a regular sleep schedule and stick to it, going to bed at the same time each night and waking up around the same time in the morning. Unfortunately, depression often brings on insomnia as a side effect – meaning you may feel unable to fall asleep, too tired to do anything, and anxious for what the night will bring. When you’re exhausted, everything seems worse. Protect your sleep, stop bad habits that contribute to sleeping disorders, and find natural ways to combat insomnia.
4) Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Support Groups
Sometimes it helps to talk to someone who can put depression into better perspective. For that, the best thing you can do is to find a professional who is proficient in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). They can help you understand how thoughts trigger feelings and how to challenge negative ideas with positive, logical ones as you work on overcoming depression.
When patients learn to be more self-aware, they can then change destructive patterns. Participating in support groups can also aid in recovery, because you realize that you aren’t alone with your struggles and can learn coping mechanisms from others. Seeing people who have overcome mental illness can also encourage you that it is possible, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Adding mindfulness exercises to your CBT (called mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) can also help to prevent relapses after overcoming depression.
5) Talk with Your Doctor
Many people go to their doctor seeking anti-depressants to help with overcoming depression. While these medications certainly help many people, they can also cause unwanted side effects. It’s important to realise that, just like high blood pressure or joint pain, depression may be a symptom of an underlying issue. Here are a few topics to discuss with your doctor at your next visit:
Check for Vitamin Deficiencies
Ask About Natural Therapies
You should also talk with your doctor about natural supplements to treat depression. Most of these supplements boost serotonin levels. Therapies currently showing promise include SAMe, folic acid, B12, fish oil, 5-HTP, St. John’s Wort, Saffron and L-Theanine.
Blood Sugar and Diet
The healthier your diet, the healthier your head. Try to eat fresh, whole foods and avoid eating out of a box or fast-food bag. Diet modification is very effective at treating depression.
Poorly regulated blood sugar levels can also contribute to mood swings. Eat a diet that will stabilize your blood sugar and avoid energy crashes. In fact, managing my blood sugar was the final strategy I employed to completely cure my depressive episodes!
Check for Hormonal Imbalances
Hormones can play havoc with our moods, energy, and happiness. Postpartum depression is just one example of how swings in hormones bring about the baby blues.
Depression can be a symptom of underlying medical issues. Talk with your doctor about checking thyroid levels (such as TSH, free T4, free T3, total T3, and thyroid antibodies), adrenal hormones (cortisol, DHEA-S and pregnenolone) and sex hormones (estradiol, progesterone, free and total testosterone).
A full health check and discussion with your doctor can help you work out if medication is, in fact, for you. Also, don’t discount the value of counselling or talk therapy. Having someone to talk to can be just as – if not considerably more – helpful as an anti-depressant in the long-term.
6) Pursue Goals and Responsibilities
While it may be tempting to pull away from everything while battling depression, setting small daily goals and taking on responsibilities can help you find purpose in life. You might also want to volunteer and help others, which prevents introspection by moving your focus to other people.
Part of the deception of depression is that life has no purpose and you have no value. When you find yourself doing something productive, you can combat destructive thinking by seeing that your efforts do make a difference which will help to overcome depression.
Learn from these 50 Personal Development Bloggers for inspiration and how-to’s.
7) Try New Things, Socialize, and Have Fun!
While it may seem like the last thing that you want to do, going through the motions of having fun can bring about actual fun. It’s a classic “fake it till you make it” strategy. Embrace new activities and laugh with friends. You’ll be surprised how good you feel!
Researcher William Fleeson found that those who’d acted “talkative” and “assertive” throughout their day – even if they were introverts – were more likely to report feeling positive emotions such as excitement and enthusiasm, which can help when overcoming depression. However, it’s important to note, if you are an introvert, you should focus on balancing socializing with other fulfilling solo activities like reading or enjoying one of your hobbies.
8) Take a Deep Breath and Do Yoga!
Deep breathing has proven effective for many people in overcoming depression and anxiety. Deep-breathing exercises stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for activities when the body is at rest.
Yoga is a great activity to combine with deep breathing, as it puts the body into relaxing poses. Among its many health benefits, enhanced moods and a relaxed mentality are especially helpful for depressed people. Take a look at our post about the benefits of yoga for all the encouragement and information you need to get onto the mat today.
9) Pet Therapy
Did you know that having or spending time with a pet can help you treat depression? Pets provide unconditional love, touch, companionship and give their owners purpose. Pets – especially dogs – get you outside and moving everyday. Petting furry animals increases oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that can combat depression.
Improved mental health from pets is well documented; which is why many hospitals and nursing homes promote pet therapy for their patients. Visit your local animal shelter or online pet finder to learn more about bringing a new fur kid into your home. Don’t have the money or space for a dog of your own? Don’t worry. Check out Wag! and find out how you can walk a local dog today.
Aquariums also help reduce to anxiety and depression. The sound of running water is soothing, and watching fish swim promotes tranquility. Why do you think so many dentists and doctors set up fish tanks in waiting rooms?
While overcoming depression can sometimes seem overwhelming, there are many natural treatments available to help you lead a happy, healthy life. Remember, while depression may feel like it will last forever, it is often only for a small season of your life. Depression doesn’t have to become your identity. Keep seeking answers until you find the treatment that enables you to find your inner joy again.