When you look around our societies today, almost everyone is on antidepressants or knows someone who is. People who are depressed suffer from dominating sadness, a blue mood, emotional numbness, empty feelings, anxiety, hopelessness, loss of self-worth, indecision, or some combination of these. When you’re depressed, it often feels like nothing in the world can make you feel better.
Antidepressant medications help to manage depression, but these drugs often only treat the symptoms of depression and not necessarily the causes. Sometimes you may need to do more than take a pill to lift your mood and beat depression to feel good about yourself again.
Here are eight ways that may help fight depression (without medications) so you can enjoy life again.
1. Share what you’re going through with people you love and trust.
Don’t feel embarrassed confiding in a friend or voicing your struggles. Talking about your problems or worries is not a self-centered or self-pitying endeavor; it’s an act of courage. It can be the best thing you do for yourself to lighten the burden and begin the process of regaining your happiness. The people you talk to don’t have to be able to fix you, they just need to be good listeners. Sometimes all we need is a listening ear.
2. Keep a “thought log.”
Whenever you experience negative thoughts or sudden burst of sadness, jot down the thoughts and what triggered them as clearly and succinctly as possible. The act of writing down your worries is calming and therapeutic. Review your log when you are up to it. Read it with an open mind. Consider if the negative feelings were truly warranted. Question if there’s another way to view the situation. Worries and doubts oftentimes dissolve under scrutiny. If that happens, that’s great. However, if the worries are based on genuine risks, take additional measures to manage them.
3. Redirect your focus to the positive.
Of course, this is easier said than done when you have depression. That said, studies show that when people pay more attention to the positive it leads to improved moods due to a corresponding increase in their serotonin levels. An imbalance in serotonin levels may influence mood in a way that leads to depression. One technique that can help to redirect attention to the positive is meditation. Meditation has been shown to increase dopamine levels, serotonin levels, and boost feelings of happiness. Use meditation to “turn on” a state of happiness that can replace sadness. You can also try Heart Math training, which has been shown to strengthen the part of the brain responsible for turning on the “happy state.”
4. Go outside more.
The importance of regulated sunshine and light exposure for lifting moods (as well as energy levels) is huge. Light increases your productivity and happiness. Studies show bright light exposure may also help increase serotonin levels in the brain and alleviate depression symptoms. Aim for at least 15 minutes of sunlight a day to lift your mood. If you live somewhere with little winter sunshine, think about installing some halogen bulbs in your work area or getting a wakeup light.
5. Practice relaxation techniques.
As already hinted, daily relaxation practices bring real benefits to people with depression. They increase dopamine levels, which reduces stress and increases feelings of happiness and well-being. A daily relaxation practice can help relieve symptoms of depression. Apart from meditation, try relaxation practices like yoga or tai chi to calm your mind and increase your energy. You may add a motivational element to some practices by repeating a mantra or a word or phrase of self-affirmation as you move.
6. Get the right kinds of exercise.
A review of many of the available studies concluded that exercise is extremely effective for improving both mood and depressive symptoms. So much so, some government agencies are prescribing exercise instead of antidepressants, explaining that “the risk–benefit ratio is poor for antidepressant use in patients with mild depression.” So get exercising. Aim for about 30 minutes of exercise per day. You don’t have to sweat strenuously. You’re not training for the Boston Marathon. Exercises that are continuous and rhythmic (rather than intermittent) are good choices. This gives you lots of options like walking, swimming and stationery biking.
7. Change the types and amounts of food you eat.
This is possibly the most effective way to fight depression and improve mood. Studies show that consuming a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids, clean saturated fats, and moderate amounts of animal protein can give your body what it needs to improve mood. Some of the proteins in whey or milk serum can actually improve mood after just a few hours. In cases of light to moderate depression, tryptophan can also help to improve mood. Even in healthy individuals who are slightly more irritable than usual, small amounts of tryptophan can make them less irritable and more agreeable.
8. Adopt a pet.
Nothing can replace the joy and pleasure of human-to-human connection, but pets can bring a lot of joy and companionship into life. They help you feel less lonely and isolated. Caring for a pet can also take your mind off your own troubles, forcing you to get up and about more. Let’s face it, if you get a dog you’ll have to walk them sooner or later. All of these examples are powerful antidotes to depression.
If you find your depression is getting worse, seek help from a physician as soon as possible. If you know someone who seems to be showing symptoms of depression, encourage them to see a doctor.
Depression is an illness (not just a mood) that can be treated. You can feel better!
Featured photo credit: Sad and depressed young woman via shutterstock.com