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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Anxiety is a sign that the brain has registered threat and is mobilising the body to get to safety. One of the ways it does this is by organising the body for movement - to fight the danger or flee the danger. 

If there is no need or no opportunity for movement, that fight or flight fuel will still be looking for expression. This can come out as wriggly, fidgety, hyperactive behaviour. This is why any of us might pace or struggle to sit still when we’re anxious. 

If kids or teens are bouncing around, wriggling in their chairs, or having trouble sitting still, it could be anxiety. Remember with anxiety, it’s not about what is actually safe but about what the brain perceives. New or challenging work, doing something unfamiliar, too much going on, a tired or hungry body, anything that comes with any chance of judgement, failure, humiliation can all throw the brain into fight or flight.

When this happens, the body might feel busy, activated, restless. This in itself can drive even more anxiety in kids or teens. Any of us can struggle when we don’t feel comfortable in our own bodies. 

Anxiety is energy with nowhere to go. To move through anxiety, give the energy somewhere to go - a fast walk, a run, a whole-body shake, hula hooping, kicking a ball - any movement that spends the energy will help bring the brain and body back to calm.♥️
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#parenting #anxietyinkids #childanxiety #parenting #parent
This is not bad behaviour. It’s big behaviour a from a brain that has registered threat and is working hard to feel safe again. 

‘Threat’ isn’t about what is actually safe or not, but about what the brain perceives. The brain can perceive threat when there is any chance missing out on or messing up something important, anything that feels unfamiliar, hard, or challenging, feeling misunderstood, thinking you might be angry or disappointed with them, being separated from you, being hungry or tired, anything that pushes against their sensory needs - so many things. 

During anxiety, the amygdala in the brain is switched to high volume, so other big feelings will be too. This might look like tears, sadness, or anger. 

Big feelings have a good reason for being there. The amygdala has the very important job of keeping us safe, and it does this beautifully, but not always with grace. One of the ways the amygdala keeps us safe is by calling on big feelings to recruit social support. When big feelings happen, people notice. They might not always notice the way we want to be noticed, but we are noticed. This increases our chances of safety. 

Of course, kids and teens still need our guidance and leadership and the conversations that grow them, but not during the emotional storm. They just won’t hear you anyway because their brain is too busy trying to get back to safety. In that moment, they don’t want to be fixed or ‘grown’. They want to feel seen, safe and heard. 

During the storm, preserve your connection with them as much as you can. You might not always be able to do this, and that’s okay. None of this is about perfection. If you have a rupture, repair it as soon as you can. Then, when their brains and bodies come back to calm, this is the time for the conversations that will grow them. 

Rather than, ‘What consequences do they need to do better?’, shift to, ‘What support do they need to do better?’ The greatest support will come from you in a way they can receive: ‘What happened?’ ‘What can you do differently next time?’ ‘You’re the most wonderful kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen. How can you put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
Big behaviour is a sign of a nervous system in distress. Before anything, that vulnerable nervous system needs to be brought back home to felt safety. 

This will happen most powerfully with relationship and connection. Breathe and be with. Let them know you get it. This can happen with words or nonverbals. It’s about feeling what they feel, but staying regulated.

If they want space, give them space but stay in emotional proximity, ‘Ok I’m just going to stay over here. I’m right here if you need.’

If they’re using spicy words to make sure there is no confusion about how they feel about you right now, flag the behaviour, then make your intent clear, ‘I know how upset you are and I want to understand more about what’s happening for you. I’m not going to do this while you’re speaking to me like this. You can still be mad, but you need to be respectful. I’m here for you.’

Think of how you would respond if a friend was telling you about something that upset her. You wouldn’t tell her to calm down, or try to fix her (she’s not broken), or talk to her about her behaviour. You would just be there. You would ‘drop an anchor’ and steady those rough seas around her until she feels okay enough again. Along the way you would be doing things that let her know your intent to support her. You’d do this with you facial expressions, your voice, your body, your posture. You’d feel her feels, and she’d feel you ‘getting her’. It’s about letting her know that you understand what she’s feeling, even if you don’t understand why (or agree with why). 

It’s the same for our children. As their important big people, they also need leadership. The time for this is after the storm has passed, when their brains and bodies feel safe and calm. Because of your relationship, connection and their felt sense of safety, you will have access to their ‘thinking brain’. This is the time for those meaningful conversations: 
- ‘What happened?’
- ‘What did I do that helped/ didn’t help?’
- ‘What can you do differently next time?’
- ‘You’re a great kid and I know you didn’t want this to happen, but here we are. What can you do to put things right? Do you need my help with that?’♥️
As children grow, and especially by adolescence, we have the illusion of control but whether or not we have any real influence will be up to them. The temptation to control our children will always come from a place of love. Fear will likely have a heavy hand in there too. When they fall, we’ll feel it. Sometimes it will feel like an ache in our core. Sometimes it will feel like failure or guilt, or anger. We might wish we could have stopped them, pushed a little harder, warned a little bigger, stood a little closer. We’re parents and we’re human and it’s what this parenting thing does. It makes fear and anxiety billow around us like lost smoke, too easily.

Remember, they want you to be proud of them, and they want to do the right thing. When they feel your curiosity over judgement, and the safety of you over shame, it will be easier for them to open up to you. Nobody will guide them better than you because nobody will care more about where they land. They know this, but the magic happens when they also know that you are safe and that you will hold them, their needs, their opinions and feelings with strong, gentle, loving hands, no matter what.♥️
Anger is the ‘fight’ part of the fight or flight response. It has important work to do. Anger never exists on its own. It exists to hold other more vulnerable emotions in a way that feels safer. It’s sometimes feels easier, safer, more acceptable, stronger to feel the ‘big’ that comes with anger, than the vulnerability that comes with anxiety, sadness, loneliness. This isn’t deliberate. It’s just another way our bodies and brains try to keep us safe. 

The problem isn’t the anger. The problem is the behaviour that can come with the anger. Let there be no limits on thoughts and feelings, only behaviour. When children are angry, as long as they are safe and others are safe, we don’t need to fix their anger. They aren’t broken. Instead, drop the anchor: as much as you can - and this won’t always be easy - be a calm, steadying, loving presence to help bring their nervous systems back home to calm. 

Then, when they are truly calm, and with love and leadership, have the conversations that will grow them - 
- What happened? 
- What can you do differently next time?
- You’re a really great kid. I know you didn’t want this to happen but here we are. How can you make things right. Would you like some ideas? Do you need some help with that?
- What did I do that helped? What did I do that didn’t help? Is there something that might feel more helpful next time?

When their behaviour falls short of ‘adorable’, rather than asking ‘What consequences they need to do better?’ let the question be, ‘What support do they need to do better.’ Often, the biggest support will be a conversation with you, and that will be enough.♥️
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#parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting #anxietyinkids

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