7 Non-Medication Ways to Improve Depression and Anxiety

7 Ways to Improve Depression and Anxiety without Meds

Depression and anxiety exist on a spectrum, but what do we do when it starts happening too often and it doesn’t it go away? Medication can be a useful option for many people, but there are also many ways to improve depression and anxiety without using medication.

If you are on medication, it’s critical that you don’t withdraw from this without the guidance or supervision of your doctor. 

The strategies that work best, or the combination that works best, will be different for everyone. Here are some that have been proven by research to have the capacity to ease depression and anxiety, but it will be important to be patient, consistent, and kind to yourself along the way.

  1. Journaling – write your way out.

    You don’t have to be good at writing to start journaling. No one has to read it. It’s a space to express however you feel at the moment. It can be your way to understand your thoughts and feelings. After you put every single thought that causes chaos inside your head on paper, your thinking will become clearer, giving you a chance to make plans to do something about it. There is increasing evidence to support the notion that journaling has a positive impact on physical well-being.  Writing engages and occupies the left side of your brain, leaving the right side free to create and feel. Journaling is a great tool to remove your mental blocks, so you’ll be able to use all of your brainpower to better understand yourself and the world around you.

  1. Self-talk – “Mirror, mirror on the wall”.

    Talking to a friend is something that we all should do when we are feeling depressed and anxious, but the person who can understand you best is you. Try getting in front of a mirror and having a deep conversation with yourself, through your thoughts. Give yourself some encouragement, stop blaming yourself for being depressed and even speak out loud, telling yourself how amazing and valuable you really are. The results of the study, in which participants were practicing motivational self-talk, showed that self-talk can enhance self-confidence and reduce cognitive anxiety. 

  1. Irrational thoughts – don’t believe everything you think.

    Feeling self-compassion and self-love can be tricky when you’re feeling anxious or depressed. There are certain thoughts that can come between you and your feeling of self-worth, self-belief, or the future that’s in front of you. Seeing only the worst possible outcome in everything is an example of a problematic thought. It’s important to identify those irrational thoughts and minimize their meaning, since they are only products of your current emotional distress. Irrational beliefs have been shown to be related to a variety of disorders such as depression and anxiety.

  1. Self-help – get inspired to find a solution.

    Self-help books for psychological disorders, particularly, have become increasingly popular. What does science have to say about self-help books, their overall usefulness, and the extent to which it offers specific guidance for implementing the self-help techniques? The most highly rated books tended to be those having a cognitive-behavioral perspective, those written by mental health professionals, those written by authors holding a doctoral degree, and those focusing on specific problems. 

  1. Exercise and eat healthy.

    Healthy life habits are an unavoidable weapon of any “fight” against depression or anxiety. Even though exercise requires motivation, that can be hard to find when feeling anxious or depressed, once you get motivated, exercise can make a big difference. Regular exercise probably helps ease depression in a number of ways, which may include: releasing feel-good brain chemicals that may ease depression, reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression and increasing body temperature, which may have calming effects. When it comes to eating habits, it’s important to consume only moderate amounts of sugar and foods containing added sugar, limit caffeine intake and eat regular meals and snacks throughout the day. A balanced diet should give you all of the nutrients your body needs but some supplements containing particular vitamins can be useful when battling depression.

  1. Explore psychotherapy.

    If depression or anxiety is getting in the way of your everyday life, it may be time to consider psychotherapy. Anxiety and depression are treatable, and the majority of people can be helped with professional care. Every person is different and treatment must be tailored specifically for each individual. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is mostly used for treating depression. In CBT therapy the patient is actively involved in his or her own recovery, has a sense of control, and learns skills that are useful throughout life. Explore different possibilities that psychotherapy has to offer in order to find the one that gives you the most benefits.

  1. Music-therapy.

    After recognizing the power of music, professionals started using it while working with people on their mental health. Could they really succeed in treating depression or anxiety with music? There are scientific evidences that the music-therapy group had less depressive symptoms than the psychotherapy group. The study pointed out that depression is caused by lower dopamine levels and a lower number of dopamine receptors in the brain. Since music helps stimulate the areas of the brain connected to feeling rewarded it can provide intense pleasure in that area. This increases the positive affect which helps reduce depression.

When going through depression or anxiety, it’s important to be aware that there are many helpful options for you, such as positive self-talk, reevaluating your thoughts, exercising and eating healthy. You can also explore available self-help material or start with psychotherapy or music therapy.


About the Author: Marcus Clarke

Marcus has a degree in psychology, a masters degree in health psychology and has worked within the NHS as well as private organisations. Marcus started psysci a psychology and science blog in order to disseminate research into bitesize, meaningful and helpful resources.

8 Comments

raisabebita

I have an anxiety for more than 3 months and every time anxiety attack I felt chest pain and my blood pressure increase. I take medicine but I felt getting worse everyday.

Reply
Ali

My son has been diagnosed severe general anxiety, although I suspect depression as well. I am at a loss as to what to do and say when he suddenly snaps into a tirade. Nothing helps so I shut up. I want him to know I am there for him and care.

Reply
Karen Young

When people are in high emotion, it’s impossible for them to hear any logic we might want them to hear. All you can go is let the storm wash over and then talk to him about it. Let him know the impact on you, and talk about other things he can do. I’m not sure about the age of your son, but here is an article that might help make sense of things for both of you https://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-or-aggression-children/. If he is a teen, this might help https://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-teens/ and if he is younger https://www.heysigmund.com/anxiety-in-kids/. It sounds as though you are a wonderful support for him. He will get through this.

Reply
Dee

Music therapy seems interesting to me and I’d love to earn more about it. I’ve always found music to be helpful form me.

Reply
Lisa

Thanks for this. I’m working on a music curriculum for a private school founded on ‘multiple intelligence theory’…your last point is leading me to think I should include some work in musical therapy…teaching children to help themselves through dark times with music…valuable.

Reply
Duncan

It’s great to see music therapy included on this list, and it’s worth mentioning it alongside other arts therapies (as they’re known to us arts therapists!) such as art psychotherapy, drama therapy, dance movement therapy, and even play therapy. These modalities have decades worth of research showing their clinical efficacies match and often exceed the results of purely verbal therapy, such as CBT. Indeed, art psychotherapy has been clinically proven to benefit even those dealing with the symptoms of psychoses, including paranoid schizophrenia, for example. It’s also worth mentioning that somatic psychotherapy is another fantastic modality, especially for those living with symptoms of trauma/PTSD. It’s a pity though that so many mental health treatments are prescribed by psychiatrists who often have little experience of engaging their patients in psychotherapy due to their reliance on using only medication.

Reply
Sunny

Yes, yes, yes. The Heart of Madness is a wonderful movie about art therapy. Also, pet therapy.

Reply

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The temptation to fix their big feelings can be seismic. Often this is connected to needing to ease our own discomfort at their discomfort, which is so very normal.

Big feelings in them are meant to raise (sometimes big) feelings in us. This is all a healthy part of the attachment system. It happens to mobilise us to respond to their distress, or to protect them if their distress is in response to danger.

Emotion is energy in motion. We don’t want to bury it, stop it, smother it, and we don’t need to fix it. What we need to do is make a safe passage for it to move through them. 

Think of emotion like a river. Our job is to hold the ground strong and steady at the banks so the river can move safely, without bursting the banks.

However hard that river is racing, they need to know we can be with the river (the emotion), be with them, and handle it. This might feel or look like you aren’t doing anything, but actually it’s everything.

The safety that comes from you being the strong, steady presence that can lovingly contain their big feelings will let the emotional energy move through them and bring the brain back to calm.

Eventually, when they have lots of experience of us doing this with them, they will learn to do it for themselves, but that will take time and experience. The experience happens every time you hold them steady through their feelings. 

This doesn’t mean ignoring big behaviour. For them, this can feel too much like bursting through the banks, which won’t feel safe. Sometimes you might need to recall the boundary and let them know where the edges are, while at the same time letting them see that you can handle the big of the feeling. Its about loving and leading all at once. ‘It’s okay to be angry. It’s not okay to use those words at me.’

Ultimately, big feelings are a call for support. Sometimes support looks like breathing and being with. Sometimes it looks like showing them you can hold the boundary, even when they feel like they’re about to burst through it. And if they’re using spicy words to get us to back off, it might look like respecting their need for space but staying in reaching distance, ‘Ok, I’m right here whenever you need.’♥️
We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety have magic in them, every one of them, but until they have a felt sense of safety, it will often stay hidden.

‘Safety’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what they feel. At school, they might have the safest, most loving teacher in the safest, most loving school. This doesn’t mean they will feel enough relational safety straight away that will make it easier for them to do hard things. They can still do those hard things, but those things are going to feel bigger for a while. This is where they’ll need us and their other anchor adult to be patient, gentle, and persistent.

Children aren’t meant to feel safe with and take the lead from every adult. It’s not the adult’s role that makes the difference, but their relationship with the child.

Children are no different to us. Just because an adult tells them they’ll be okay, it doesn’t mean they’ll feel it or believe it. What they need is to be given time to actually experience the person as being safe, supportive and ready to catch them.

Relationship is key. The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains in our way. When we feel someone really caring about us, we’re more likely to open up to their influence
and learn from them.

But we have to be patient. Even for teachers with big hearts and who undertand the importance of attachment relationships, it can take time.

Any adult at school can play an important part in helping a child feel safe – as long as that adult is loving, warm, and willing to do the work to connect with that child. It might be the librarian, the counsellor, the office person, a teacher aide. It doesn’t matter who, as long as it is someone who can be available for that child at dropoff or when feelings get big during the day and do little check-ins along the way.

A teacher, or any important adult can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
There is a beautiful ‘everythingness’ in all of us. The key to living well is being able to live flexibly and more deliberately between our edges.

So often though, the ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ we inhale in childhood and as we grow, lead us to abandon some of those precious, needed parts of us. ‘Don’t be angry/ selfish/ shy/ rude. She’s not a maths person.’ ‘Don’t argue.’ Ugh.

Let’s make sure our children don’t cancel parts of themselves. They are everything, but not always all at once. They can be anxious and brave. Strong and soft. Angry and calm. Big and small. Generous and self-ish. Some things they will find hard, and they can do hard things. None of these are wrong ways to be. What trips us up is rigidity, and only ever responding from one side of who we can be.

We all have extremes or parts we favour. This is what makes up the beautiful, complex, individuality of us. We don’t need to change this, but the more we can open our children to the possibility in them, the more options they will have in responding to challenges, the everyday, people, and the world. 

We can do this by validating their ‘is’ without needing them to be different for a while in the moment, and also speaking to the other parts of them when we can. 

‘Yes maths is hard, and I know you can do hard things. How can I help?’

‘I can see how anxious you feel. That’s so okay. I also know you have brave in you.’

‘I love your ‘big’ and the way you make us laugh. You light up the room.’ And then at other times: ‘It can be hard being in a room with new people can’t it. It’s okay to be quiet. I could see you taking it all in.’

‘It’s okay to want space from people. Sometimes you just want your things and yourself for yourself, hey. I feel like that sometimes too. I love the way you know when you need this.’ And then at other times, ‘You looked like you loved being with your friends today. I loved watching you share.’

The are everything, but not all at once. Our job is to help them live flexibly and more deliberately between the full range of who they are and who they can be: anxious/brave; kind/self-ish; focussed inward/outward; angry/calm. This will take time, and there is no hurry.♥️
For our kids and teens, the new year will bring new adults into their orbit. With this, comes new opportunities to be brave and grow their courage - but it will also bring anxiety. For some kiddos, this anxiety will feel so big, but we can help them feel bigger.

The antidote to a felt sense of threat is a felt sense of safety. As long as they are actually safe, we can facilitate this by nurturing their relationship with the important adults who will be caring for them, whether that’s a co-parent, a stepparent, a teacher, a coach. 

There are a number of ways we can facilitate this:

- Use the name of their other adult (such as a teacher) regularly, and let it sound loving and playful on your voice.
- Let them see that you have an open, willing heart in relation to the other adult.
- Show them you trust the other adult to care for them (‘I know Mrs Smith is going to take such good care of you.’)
- Facilitate familiarity. As much as you can, hand your child to the same person when you drop them off.

It’s about helping expand their village of loving adults. The wider this village, the bigger their world in which they can feel brave enough. 

For centuries before us, it was the village that raised children. Parenting was never meant to be done by one or two adults on their own, yet our modern world means that this is how it is for so many of us. 

We can bring the village back though - and we must - by helping our kiddos feel safe, known, and held by the adults around them. We need this for each other too.

The need for safety through relationship isn’t an ‘anxiety thing’. It’s a ‘human thing’. When we feel closer to the people around us, we can rise above the mountains that block our way.♥️

That power of felt safety matters for all relationships - parent and child; other adult and child; parent and other adult. It all matters. 

A teacher, or any important adult in the life of a child, can make a lasting difference by asking, ‘How do I build my relationship with this child (and their parent) so s/he trusts me when I say, ‘I’ve got you, I care about you, and I know you can do this.’♥️
Approval, independence, autonomy, are valid needs for all of us. When a need is hungry enough we will be driven to meet it however we can. For our children, this might look like turning away from us and towards others who might be more ready to meet the need, or just taking.

If they don’t feel they can rest in our love, leadership, approval, they will seek this more from peers. There is no problem with this, but we don’t want them solely reliant on peers for these. It can make them vulnerable to making bad decisions, so as not to lose the approval or ‘everythingness’ of those peers.

If we don’t give enough freedom, they might take that freedom through defiance, secrecy, the forbidden. If we control them, they might seek more to control others, or to let others make the decisions that should be theirs.

All kids will mess up, take risks, keep secrets, and do things that baffle us sometimes. What’s important is, ‘Do they turn to us when they need to, enough?’ The ‘turning to’ starts with trusting that we are interested in supporting all their needs, not just the ones that suit us. Of course this doesn’t mean we will meet every need. It means we’ve shown them that their needs are important to us too, even though sometimes ours will be bigger (such as our need to keep them safe).

They will learn safe and healthy ways to meet their needs, by first having them met by us. This doesn’t mean granting full independence, full freedom, and full approval. What it means is holding them safely while also letting them feel enough of our approval, our willingness to support their independence, freedom, autonomy, and be heard on things that matter to them.

There’s no clear line with this. Some days they’ll want independence. Some days they won’t. Some days they’ll seek our approval. Some days they won’t care for it at all, especially if it means compromising the approval of peers. The challenge for us is knowing when to hold them closer and when to give space, when to hold the boundary and when to release it a little, when to collide and when to step out of the way. If we watch and listen, they will show us. And just like them, we won’t need to get it right all the time.♥️

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