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

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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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.

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During adolescence, our teens are more likely to pay attention to the positives of a situation over the negatives. This can be a great thing. The courage that comes from this will help them try new things, explore their independence, and learn the things they need to learn to be happy, healthy adults. But it can also land them in bucketloads of trouble. 

Here’s the thing. Our teens don’t want to do the wrong thing and they don’t want to go behind our backs, but they also don’t want to be controlled by us, or have any sense that we might be stifling their way towards independence. The cold truth of it all is that if they want something badly enough, and if they feel as though we are intruding or that we are making arbitrary decisions just because we can, or that we don’t get how important something is to them, they have the will, the smarts and the means to do it with or without or approval. 

So what do we do? Of course we don’t want to say ‘yes’ to everything, so our job becomes one of influence over control. To keep them as safe as we can, rather than saying ‘no’ (which they might ignore anyway) we want to engage their prefrontal cortex (thinking brain) so they can be more considered in their decision making. 

Our teens are very capable of making good decisions, but because the rational, logical, thinking prefrontal cortex won’t be fully online until their 20s (closer to 30 in boys), we need to wake it up and bring it to the decision party whenever we can. 

Do this by first softening the landing:
‘I can see how important this is for you. You really want to be with your friends. I absolutely get that.’
Then, gently bring that thinking brain to the table:
‘It sounds as though there’s so much to love in this for you. I don’t want to get in your way but I need to know you’ve thought about the risks and planned for them. What are some things that could go wrong?’
Then, we really make the prefrontal cortex kick up a gear by engaging its problem solving capacities:
‘What’s the plan if that happens.’
Remember, during adolescence we switch from managers to consultants. Assume a leadership presence, but in a way that is warm, loving, and collaborative.♥️
Big feelings and big behaviour are a call for us to come closer. They won’t always feel like that, but they are. Not ‘closer’ in an intrusive ‘I need you to stop this’ way, but closer in a ‘I’ve got you, I can handle all of you’ kind of way - no judgement, no need for you to be different - I’m just going to make space for this feeling to find its way through. 

Our kids and teens are no different to us. When we have feelings that fill us to overloaded, the last thing we need is someone telling us that it’s not the way to behave, or to calm down, or that we’re unbearable when we’re like this. Nup. What we need, and what they need, is a safe place to find our out breath, to let the energy connected to that feeling move through us and out of us so we can rest. 
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But how? First, don’t take big feelings personally. They aren’t a reflection on you, your parenting, or your child. Big feelings have wisdom contained in them about what’s needed more, or less, or what feels intolerable right now. Sometimes it might be as basic as a sleep or food. Maybe more power, influence, independence, or connection with you. Maybe there’s too much stress and it’s hitting their ceiling and ricocheting off their edges. Like all wisdom, it doesn’t always find a gentle way through. That’s okay, that will come. Our kids can’t learn to manage big feelings, or respect the wisdom embodied in those big feelings if they don’t have experience with big feelings. 
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We also need to make sure we are responding to them in the moment, not a fear or an inherited ‘should’ of our own. These are the messages we swallowed whole at some point - ‘happy kids should never get sad or angry’, ‘kids should always behave,’ ‘I should be able to protect my kids from feeling bad,’ ‘big feelings are bad feelings’, ‘bad behaviour means bad kids, which means bad parents.’ All these shoulds are feisty show ponies that assume more ‘rightness’ than they deserve. They are usually historic, and when we really examine them, they’re also irrelevant.
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Finally, try not to let the symptoms of big feelings disrupt the connection. Then, when calm comes, we will have the influence we need for the conversations that matter.
"Be patient. We don’t know what we want to do or who we want to be. That feels really bad sometimes. Just keep reminding us that it’s okay that we don’t have it all figured out yet, and maybe remind yourself sometimes too."
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 #parentingteens #neurodevelopment #positiveparenting #parenting #neuronurtured #braindevelopment #adolescence  #neurodevelopment #parentingteens
Would you be more likely to take advice from someone who listened to you first, or someone who insisted they knew best and worked hard to convince you? Our teens are just like us. If we want them to consider our advice and be open to our influence, making sure they feel heard is so important. Being right doesn't count for much at all if we aren't being heard.
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Hear what they think, what they want, why they think they're right, and why it’s important to them. Sometimes we'll want to change our mind, and sometimes we'll want to stand firm. When they feel fully heard, it’s more likely that they’ll be able to trust that our decisions or advice are given fully informed and with all of their needs considered. And we all need that.
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 #positiveparenting #parenting #parenthood #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #adolescence 
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"We’re pretty sure that when you say no to something it’s because you don’t understand why it’s so important to us. Of course you’ll need to say 'no' sometimes, and if you do, let us know that you understand the importance of whatever it is we’re asking for. It will make your ‘no’ much easier to accept. We need to know that you get it. Listen to what we have to say and ask questions to understand, not to prove us wrong. We’re not trying to control you or manipulate you. Some things might not seem important to you but if we’re asking, they’re really important to us.❤️" 
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#neurodevelopment #neuronurtured #childdevelopment #parenting #positiveparenting #mindfulparenting

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