Treating Depression Without Medication: 4 Strategies

Reviewed by Rashonda Douthit, LCSW

Published 01/11/2021

Medication is typically a standard part of treating depression; however, many people cannot do it for various reasons, such as being pregnant or wanting to avoid any possible risks or side-effects that may come with them. Luckily, there are still many options for non-medical treatment for depression to help people relieve symptoms of it and start feeling better, medication-free. This article will share some of the most effective ones you can enjoy.

Find Goals & Activities That Keep You Engaged To Help Navigate Your Depression

Depression can have a profoundly harmful impact on a person's motivation and can make it difficult to be productive.

However, one way people can try to ward off depression is to try to create realistic and meaningful goals that they can achieve.

Sometimes people become depressed because they feel that their life is stagnant and they’ve lost direction. This can make it seem like they aren’t achieving anything, which can drag down a person’s mood and sense of self-worth.

To overcome the feeling of being lost, an individual can do a few things:

  • Think about what’s important to them
  • Assess what makes them happy
  • Consider trying new hobbies and activities.

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  • Find areas that could be improved upon
  • List out future aspirations.

As mentioned before, goals should be realistic, but this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t aim high either. As long as the goals don’t overwhelm you and they’re done for you and only you, you may see a positive change.

It also helps if goals are measurable; some people feel like they aren’t getting anywhere and feel depressed because they can’t see their progress. For example, going on a diet to lose weight in mind, and seeing the changes on the scale after committing to the diet for a while, will give you a definitive answer on if it’s working and you’re reaching your goals.

This can give a person more drive to keep doing what they are doing or even consider new ones that give them a sense of fulfillment. However, goals don’t always need to be large to positively impact your life, and even little changes can add up.

For example, striving to have a regular bedtime and avoiding oversleeping, and stopping procrastinating on daily tasks are a couple of short-term goals that can change how you approach each day and fight depression.

Even if a goal isn’t achieved on the first try, you can always ask yourself what you can do differently from what you’ve learned, and it doesn’t hurt to try again because you’ve most likely improved from your experience. After all, if a person quits something, it will guarantee that they never reach the goals that they want to achieve.

How A Healthy Diet and Exercise Can Help Your Depression

Dieting was mentioned in the previous section as a possible goal idea, and exercise certainly can be as well.

These two things can certainly help people achieve health and fitness goals that they would never have achieved if they didn’t try it and commit to it, but these two concepts can also have a role in combating depression outside of goal-setting.

Most people understand that nutrition is vital for their well-being; however, it’s also widespread for people to go against this and eat poorly.

Unfortunately, this is true for those who struggle with depression because many partake in something known as “comfort eating,” also known as emotional eating.

This is where people eat foods that taste good, like processed junk food, that are low in essential nutrients but are filled with fat and sugars that provide a sense of satisfaction and a spike of energy. [1]

This spike will eventually come down, and people’s energy levels will crash, and they will continue to crave food that is not healthy for them and doesn’t provide any long-term benefit.

In fact, the effects of comfort eating can be extremely harmful to a person by damaging their self-esteem. People who use food to cope with may feel lonelier and might have a poor sense of self-image because of its weight gain association.

Replacing these foods with a healthy diet can provide a person with a stable energy source that positively affects their mood, and it can also help them manage their weight if there is an issue with it.

Physical activity is also great for this reason as well, and when used in conjunction with a great diet, people can notice significant changes in their mood and physical appearance.

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Exercise is known to help fight off feelings of depression and anxiety not only because it can help people create realistic and achievable goals for themselves but also because there is a biological component to it - when people exercise, it releases natural chemicals in the body known as endorphins which can make a person feel better after a productive workout.

Work On Sleep Habits to Help Your Depression

Depression is notorious for affecting people’s ability to sleep properly, making symptoms worse.

Whether it’s staying up too late due to insomnia or sleeping-in for too long, or simply being on an inconsistent sleep pattern, sleep disturbances can aggravate depression. Unfortunately, it can become a chronic issue.

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Sleep is vital for all parts of the body, especially the brain. It consumes a significant amount of calories with the various tasks it needs to do each day, and ruminating and fighting with depressive thoughts only contributes more to this.

When you don’t get enough sleep, it prevents your brain from resting and recovering and getting you ready for the next day.

Most people have had times when they didn't have a great night of sleep and immediately noticed the effects of waking up. Even just one night of little to no sleep can have a noticeable effect on a person’s mood and productivity.

However, at the same time, if people still get in enough hours of sleep, it’s possible to experience a sleep disorder known as hypersomnia, which is excessive daytime sleepiness, which is very common in those who have depression.

When this happens, people can feel very groggy despite getting enough sleep, making it difficult to concentrate and focus on things, such as work or school.

It can seem incredibly difficult to get enough sleep if depression keeps you awake or making you sleep too much, but by practicing good sleep hygiene, you can improve it without the need to take sleep medication.

Maintain A Support System - Friends, Family, & Therapy

When depressed, it’s common to want to stay inside and isolate yourself from others, even your family and closest friends. While it’s okay to have time to yourself to reflect, it’s not the solution to treating depression, even if that’s what your brain is telling you to do.

Being alone with your thoughts can allow depression to linger because it allows you to analyze everything wrong or cause you to feel the way you do. However, even if there isn’t a specific reason you’re depressed, isolation allows negative thinking patterns to become persistent.

Despite what’s going on internally, you should strive to surround you with people who support you and uplift your mood.

Fight the urge to stay inside and try to go out and do fun activities and appreciate each others’ company, and there’s a good chance that you’ll be glad that you didn’t isolate yourself from others.

In addition to the individuals you enjoy spending time with, people who struggle with depression will benefit from working with a therapist experienced in helping people cope and manage mental health conditions, including anxiety, which often coexists with depression.

A therapist will give you the skills you need to cope with what you’re feeling by helping you identify the negative thinking patterns and behaviors you’re having and providing you ways to address them.

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People can also learn how to practice mindfulness with therapy, which means that they will try to keep their minds in the present instead of dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. It can be easy to daydream or ruminate, but through mindfulness, you can bring yourself back into what’s currently happening in reality and stay focused on it rather than negative thoughts, like self-judgment and doubt.

By being able to think more positively and productively, people can keep depression under control and focus on other aspects of their lives that matter most to them.

Do You Have Depression?

According to the World Health Organization, over 264 million people around the globe struggle with depression. [2]

Unfortunately, many people live with symptoms for years without fully understanding what is happening to them, leaving them untreated.

By learning about the signs and symptoms of depression and taking this free short depression test, you can get valuable information about the condition and look into getting professional help for treating depression.

Conclusion

There are times when depression can be treated without the use of medication. Hopefully, this article has given you some idea of treating depression without medication, and you can start managing the condition and getting better. You’re not alone, and even without medication, professional help in the form of therapy, life coaches, nutritionists, and even personal trainers can help you reach your goals and overcome depression.

References

  1. Godman, H. (2017, August). Struggling with emotional eating? Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/struggling-with-emotional-eating
  2. World Health Organization. (2020, January 30). Depression. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression