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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One of our rituals was in the week before Christmas, we’d go shopping and each kiddo would choose a keepsake decoration for the tree. This would forever be their decoration. To make sure we’d remember who owned what (a year is a long time!) I wrote their name and year on the box. The idea is that when they leave home, they’ll have a collection of special decorations for their own tree, plump with throwbacks (‘Oh I remember when we bought this!).

Then of course there was Christmas morning. Santa would leave a note on the table and bootprints on the front path, which smelled remarkably like talcum powder. So magical the way the snow was under the boot and never melted, even in an Australian summer! But that’s the magic of Christmas, right?!

We often put so much pressure on ourselves to make Christmas magical. Rituals can make this easier. They get the special memories, you get to make the ‘magic’ without having to come up with something new and different each year.

It’s very likely that there will already be Christmas rituals happening in your family, even if you don’t realise it. Ask them what they remember most, or what they loved most about last Christmas, aside from the presents.

They might surprise you with things you’d completely forgotten about, or which at the time didn’t seem to be a biggie. It can be the simplest things. Maybe they loved the way they were allowed to have ice-cream with pancakes at breakfast last Christmas. (Ice-cream at breakfast?! Told you Christmas was magical!!). 

If it’s what they remember, and if it lights them up, let it become a ‘thing’. Maybe they loved the magic ‘neverending carrot’ sprinkles you put on the scrawny carrot you found in the vege drawer (remembering reindeer groceries can be so hard sometimes!)

You’d be surprised what they find special. It doesn’t have to be big to feel magical.

What are your Christmas rituals? Let’s share ideas in the comments.♥️
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There's no need to enter a code. The books and bundles are already marked with their special sale prices. You'll find them all there - plushies, books, bundles - doing shopping cartwheels, beside themselves excited about helping your young ones feel bigger than anxiety, and shimmy on to brave. 
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It can feel as though the only way to strengthen them against their anxiety is to make sure they have nothing to worry about, but when their worries are real this might not happen quickly. 

Instead, we need to focus on helping them know that even though those worries are there, they will be okay. ‘Not worrying’ isn’t the antidote to anxiety, trust is. This will start with trust in you and your belief that they will be okay, and trust in your reaction if things don’t go to plan. Eventually, as they grow this will expand into trust in themselves and their own capacity to find their way through challenges to a place of hope and strength. 
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Strong steady breathing will reverse the fight or flight physiology that causes nausea, butterflies, or sick or sore tummies during anxiety. BUT telling an anxious brain to take a strong steady breath will potentially make anxiety worse unless strong steady breathing feels familiar. Practising during calm times will make it familiar. 

During anxiety we’re dealing with their amygdala, and it wants short shallow breathing to conserve oxygen. It doesn’t want strong steady breathing and will work hard to resist this. 

An anxious brain is a busy brain and it will be less able to do anything unfamiliar. A few minutes of strong steady breathing each day will set up a strong neural pathway to make strong breathing more automatic and accessible during anxiety. 

In the meantime though, you can do it for them. This is the magic of co-regulation. When you do strong steady breathing during their anxiety, it will calm your nervous system which will eventually calm theirs. You will catch their anxiety, and this will feed into their anxiety. Your strong steady breathing is the circuit breaker. They will catch your anxiety, but they will also catch your calm. Don’t worry if this takes a few minutes (and maybe a few more after that). Anxious brains are strong, powerful, beautiful brains working hard to protect. Breathe and be with. This will open the way for that distressed young nervous system to find its way home. And you don’t need to do more than that.♥️
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Needs and behaviour can get tangled up and treated as one. When you can, separate the need from the behaviour. Give voice to the need - let it find a way to breathe - and redirect the behaviour. 

The need might always be clear, especially if it’s being smothered by angry shouting words. If we stifle the behaviour without acknowledging the need, the need stays hungry. Help usher it into the light by making it clear that you’re ready to receive it. Then wait. Wait for the big behaviour to ease, for bodies to calm, and angry voices to soften - but keep the way to you open. ‘You’re a great kid and I know you know that behaviour wasn’t okay. Talk to me about what’s happening for you.’

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