Prescription pharmaceuticals can literally save the lives of many people who suffer from depression. The most frequently prescribed medication for depression is an antidepressant, such as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) like Prozac (fluoxetine) or Zoloft (sertraline). While they are frequently effective, they can also have side effects and be expensive depending on your health insurance coverage.
Some of the symptoms of depression can be treated in a variety of ways without the use of prescription drugs. If you suffer from depression, you might want to try treating it without medication or as a supplement to your antidepressant. If so, look over these natural options and then discuss with your doctor which ones might be appropriate for your treatment plan.
Symptoms of Depression
A major depressive episode is defined as experiencing five or more of the following symptoms every day (or most days) for two weeks or more:
Depressed or irritable mood
Sleep problems (i.e., sleeping too much or too little; sleeping mainly during the day)
Change in interests (i.e., not being interested in what you used to enjoy) or low motivation
Excessive guilt or unrealistically low self-image
Significantly low energy and/or change in self-care (i.e., not showering anymore)
Significantly worse concentration (i.e., sharp decline in grades or performance)
Changes in appetite (i.e., eating too much or too little)
Agitation or severe anxiety/panic attacks
Suicidal thoughts, plans or behaviors — including self-harm (i.e., intentionally cutting or burning yourself)
So, what, according to research, are the 5 most effective drug-free treatments for depression?
1. Cut Back on Caffeine
Caffeine is a common ingredient in coffee, tea, soda, and even chocolate. If you love it, you can have some caffeine in the morning, but limit your intake after late afternoon to prevent it from disrupting your sleep.
If you do have a tendency to rely on caffeine, try reducing your intake gradually to prevent unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Instead of indulging your urge for soda or coffee, consider taking a little stroll around the block.
2. Get More Exercise
Exercise is a potent, all-natural treatment for depression that is as effective as both medications and psychotherapy. Think about the chemistry: when you exercise, your body releases substances called endorphins. In addition to making us “feel good,” endorphins also function as an analgesic and lessen our perception of pain.
According to neuroscientists Dr. Wendy Suzuki and Dr. Julia C. Basso, your brain releases dopamine and serotonin when you exercise. You experience pleasure and happiness thanks to these molecules. And the benefits of working up a sweat aren’t only immediate. Long-term, exercise really produces new brain cells, strengthening your brain’s resistance to depression and other disorders because of all that greater flexibility.
3. Eat ‘Good Mood’ Food
Consuming fruits, nuts, and leafy greens can aid the body’s ability to combat sadness. In fact, one study found that people who consume fewer fruits and vegetables are more prone to experience depression.
Other foods, such as omega-3-rich walnuts, can enhance brain health and lessen depressive symptoms. Numerous studies also appear to support the idea that a Mediterranean diet, which emphasizes whole grains, seafood, vegetables, fruit, berries, nuts, and seeds, as well as the legendary cold-pressed olive oil, is an excellent means of treating depression.
Some foods that may be especially beneficial when you have depression include:
Fish: Research has found that people who ate a diet high in fish were less likely to have symptoms of depression.14 Fish are high in omega-3 fats, which play a role in helping neurotransmitters such as serotonin work in the brain.
Nuts: Nuts are also a good source of omega-3 fats and one study indicated that people who ate walnuts were 26% less likely to have symptoms of depression.
Probiotics: Research is increasingly pointing to a connection between gut and brain health. Foods high in probiotics include yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and kombucha.
4. Sleep Regularly: Try to keep a regular sleep schedule
Achieve equilibrium by getting the right amount of sleep. A surefire method to fuel depression is to stay up late one night and then sleep in a lot the next day. Don’t attempt problem-solving late at night when your brain is just partially awake.
Recognize your progress in overcoming depression when you use these coping mechanisms.
When patients invent an excuse as to why they are unable to do these tasks, depression is more likely to persist. The key to treating depression, regardless of the medicine you’re taking, is to engage in several of these activities every day, even when you don’t feel like it. Although developing these healthy coping mechanisms may take some time and effort, if we don’t make the effort to be healthy today, subsequent “unwellness” may be thrust upon us.