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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Big feelings, and the big behaviour that comes from big feelings, are a sign of a distressed nervous system. Think of this like a burning building. The behaviour is the smoke. The fire is a distressed nervous system. It’s so tempting to respond directly to the behaviour (the smoke), but by doing this, we ignore the fire. Their behaviour and feelings in that moment are a call for support - for us to help that distressed brain and body find the way home. 

The most powerful language for any nervous system is another nervous system. They will catch our distress (as we will catch theirs) but they will also catch our calm. It can be tempting to move them to independence on this too quickly, but it just doesn’t work this way. Children can only learn to self-regulate with lots (and lots and lots) of experience co-regulating. 

This isn’t something that can be taught. It’s something that has to be experienced over and over. It’s like so many things - driving a car, playing the piano - we can talk all we want about ‘how’ but it’s not until we ‘do’ over and over that we get better at it. 

Self-regulation works the same way. It’s not until children have repeated experiences with an adult bringing them back to calm, that they develop the neural pathways to come back to calm on their own. 

An important part of this is making sure we are guiding that nervous system with tender, gentle hands and a steady heart. This is where our own self-regulation becomes important. Our nervous systems speak to each other every moment of every day. When our children or teens are distressed, we will start to feel that distress. It becomes a loop. We feel what they feel, they feel what we feel. Our own capacity to self-regulate is the circuit breaker. 

This can be so tough, but it can happen in microbreaks. A few strong steady breaths can calm our own nervous system, which we can then use to calm theirs. Breathe, and be with. It’s that simple, but so tough to do some days. When they come back to calm, then have those transformational chats - What happened? What can make it easier next time?

Who you are in the moment will always be more important than what you do.
How we are with them, when they are their everyday selves and when they aren’t so adorable, will build their view of three things: the world, its people, and themselves. This will then inform how they respond to the world and how they build their very important space in it. 

Will it be a loving, warm, open-hearted space with lots of doors for them to throw open to the people and experiences that are right for them? Or will it be a space with solid, too high walls that close out too many of the people and experiences that would nourish them.

They will learn from what we do with them and to them, for better or worse. We don’t teach them that the world is safe for them to reach into - we show them. We don’t teach them to be kind, respectful, and compassionate. We show them. We don’t teach them that they matter, and that other people matter, and that their voices and their opinions matter. We show them. We don’t teach them that they are little joy mongers who light up the world. We show them. 

But we have to be radically kind with ourselves too. None of this is about perfection. Parenting is hard, and days will be hard, and on too many of those days we’ll be hard too. That’s okay. We’ll say things we shouldn’t say and do things we shouldn’t do. We’re human too. Let’s not put pressure on our kiddos to be perfect by pretending that we are. As long as we repair the ruptures as soon as we can, and bathe them in love and the warmth of us as much as we can, they will be okay.

This also isn’t about not having boundaries. We need to be the guardians of their world and show them where the edges are. But in the guarding of those boundaries we can be strong and loving, strong and gentle. We can love them, and redirect their behaviour.

It’s when we own our stuff(ups) and when we let them see us fall and rise with strength, integrity, and compassion, and when we hold them gently through the mess of it all, that they learn about humility, and vulnerability, and the importance of holding bruised hearts with tender hands. It’s not about perfection, it’s about consistency, and honesty, and the way we respond to them the most.♥️

#parenting #mindfulparenting
Anxiety and courage always exist together. It can be no other way. Anxiety is a call to courage. It means you're about to do something brave, so when there is one the other will be there too. Their courage might feel so small and be whisper quiet, but it will always be there and always ready to show up when they need it to.
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But courage doesn’t always feel like courage, and it won't always show itself as a readiness. Instead, it might show as a rising - from fear, from uncertainty, from anger. None of these mean an absence of courage. They are the making of space, and the opportunity for courage to rise.
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When the noise from anxiety is loud and obtuse, we’ll have to gently add our voices to usher their courage into the light. We can do this speaking of it and to it, and by shifting the focus from their anxiety to their brave. The one we focus on is ultimately what will become powerful. It will be the one we energise. Anxiety will already have their focus, so we’ll need to make sure their courage has ours.
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But we have to speak to their fear as well, in a way that makes space for it to be held and soothed, with strength. Their fear has an important job to do - to recruit the support of someone who can help them feel safe. Only when their fear has been heard will it rest and make way for their brave.
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What does this look like? Tell them their stories of brave, but acknowledge the fear that made it tough. Stories help them process their emotional experiences in a safe way. It brings word to the feelings and helps those big feelings make sense and find containment. ‘You were really worried about that exam weren’t you. You couldn’t get to sleep the night before. It was tough going to school but you got up, you got dressed, you ... and you did it. Then you ...’
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In the moment, speak to their brave by first acknowledging their need to flee (or fight), then tell them what you know to be true - ‘This feels scary for you doesn’t it. I know you want to run. It makes so much sense that you would want to do that. I also know you can do hard things. My darling, I know it with everything in me.’
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#positiveparenting #parenting #childanxiety #anxietyinchildren #mindfulpare
Separation anxiety has an important job to do - it’s designed to keep children safe by driving them to stay close to their important adults. Gosh it can feel brutal sometimes though.

Whenever there is separation from an attachment person there will be anxiety unless there are two things: attachment with another trusted, loving adult; and a felt sense of you holding on, even when you aren't beside them. Putting these in place will help soften anxiety.

As long as children are are in the loving care of a trusted adult, there's no need to avoid separation. We'll need to remind ourselves of this so we can hold on to ourselves when our own anxiety is rising in response to theirs. 

If separation is the problem, connection has to be the solution. The connection can be with any loving adult, but it's more than an adult being present. It needs an adult who, through their strong, warm, loving presence, shows the child their abundant intention to care for that child, and their joy in doing so. This can be helped along by showing that you trust the adult to love that child big in our absence. 'I know [important adult] loves you and is going to take such good care of you.'

To help your young one feel held on to by you, even in absence, let them know you'll be thinking of them and can't wait to see them. Bolster this by giving them something of yours to hold while you're gone - a scarf, a note - anything that will be felt as 'you'.

They know you are the one who makes sure their world is safe, so they’ll be looking to you for signs of safety: 'Do you think we'll be okay if we aren't together?' First, validate: 'You really want to stay with me, don't you. I wish I could stay with you too! It's hard being away from your special people isn't it.' Then, be their brave. Let it be big enough to wrap around them so they can rest in the safety and strength of it: 'I know you can do this, love. We can do hard things can't we.'

Part of growing up brave is learning that the presence of anxiety doesn't always mean something is wrong. Sometimes it means they are on the edge of brave - and being away from you for a while counts as brave.
Even the most loving, emotionally available adult might feel frustration, anger, helplessness or distress in response to a child’s big feelings. This is how it’s meant to work. 

Their distress (fight/flight) will raise distress in us. The purpose is to move us to protect or support or them, but of course it doesn’t always work this way. When their big feelings recruit ours it can drive us more to fight (anger, blame), or to flee (avoid, ignore, separate them from us) which can steal our capacity to support them. It will happen to all of us from time to time. 

Kids and teens can’t learn to manage big feelings on their own until they’ve done it plenty of times with a calm, loving adult. This is where co-regulation comes in. It helps build the vital neural pathways between big feelings and calm. They can’t build those pathways on their own. 

It’s like driving a car. We can tell them how to drive as much as we like, but ‘talking about’ won’t mean they’re ready to hit the road by themselves. Instead we sit with them in the front seat for hours, driving ‘with’ until they can do it on their own. Feelings are the same. We feel ‘with’, over and over, until they can do it on their own. 

What can help is pausing for a moment to see the behaviour for what it is - a call for support. It’s NOT bad behaviour or bad parenting. It’s not that.

Our own feelings can give us a clue to what our children are feeling. It’s a normal, healthy, adaptive way for them to share an emotional load they weren’t meant to carry on their own. Self-regulation makes space for us to hold those feelings with them until those big feelings ease. 

Self-regulation can happen in micro moments. First, see the feelings or behaviour for what it is - a call for support. Then breathe. This will calm your nervous system, so you can calm theirs. In the same way we will catch their distress, they will also catch ours - but they can also catch our calm. Breathe, validate, and be ‘with’. And you don’t need to do more than that.

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