In the past, depression was a condition swept under the rug. Many people were embarrassed to admit they were struggling with negative emotions. It was common to hear “get over it,” or “others have it worse than you do.” This is often referred to as toxic positivity, meaning that you should always maintain a positive mindset approach to life no matter how dire or challenging a situation is. Unfortunately, if overcoming depression was this easy, everyone would do it.
If there is any silver lining when it comes to mental health in modern times, more attention has come to addressing these conditions and reducing the stigma that’s been attached for several decades. Fewer people are afraid to express how they feel. Even better, more people admit to seeking therapy to cope with the symptoms of their depression. Although the issue has become more prevalent in our society, significant portions of the population still struggle with the condition.
According to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, an estimated 17.3 million Americans suffer from major depression in a given year, translating to about 7 percent of the entire United States population over the age of 18. Depression is not an easy condition to contend with, and a study from the Journal of The American Medical Association found it is more prevalent in women than men.
Although there aren’t “cures” for depression, the condition can be managed. With the right channels for help, most people report their symptoms as minimal, and the long-term prognosis is bright. However, varying types of depression require a more intense approach. There are other differences as well that affect them adversely, such as their home environment or if they’re dealing with a substance use disorder in conjunction with depression.
Below, we’ll go over some approaches to treating depression without medication and what natural approaches you can take.
The Most Common Types of Depression
Depression is a tough condition to endure, but some may not realize it can also be a risk factor for dementia and heart disease. Depressive symptoms can occur for various reasons, such as dealing with cognitive or mood changes that last for more than a few weeks. You should always consult with a mental health specialist or your primary care physician to sort out potential causes.
The four most common types of depression include persistent depressive disorder, major depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder.
- Major Depression: Major depression is the most common type of depression, and it’s a state where a dark mood consumes every piece of a person’s mind, leading them to lose interest in activities they once enjoyed. Symptoms of major depression include changes in appetite or weight, trouble sleeping, loss of energy, and feeling like you have no purpose in this world. Vivid thoughts of death and suicide can occur as well. Although it’s commonly treated with psychotherapy and medication, there are other ways to overcome it naturally. However, in severe cases, electroconvulsive therapy might be needed.
- Bipolar Disorder: People with bipolar disorder, which was once known as manic-depressive disease, experience episodes of severe depression. However, the difference is they might also go through periods of unusually high activity or energy. Manic symptoms appear like the opposite of depression symptoms, including unrealistically high-self esteem, grandiose ideas, thoughts and activity at higher speed, decreased need for sleep, and an increased pursuit for pleasure. These include overspending, sex sprees, and extreme risk-taking. Individuals report mania to feel great, but its short duration can lead to self-destructive behavior followed by debilitating depression. Bipolar disorder requires medication to be treated and can’t be fixed alone.
- Persistent Depressive Disorder: Formerly known as “dysthymia,” this form of depression refers to a low mood lasting for two years or more but won’t reach the same intensity as major depression. Many people with this form of depression will function normally in their day-to-day routine, but they’ll experience lows and be joyless most of the time. Other depressive symptoms will include sleep and appetite changes, low self-esteem, low energy, and continued hopelessness.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): This form of depression appears when the days shorten in the fall and winter seasons. The mood change is caused by alterations in the body’s natural daily rhythms, our sensitivity to light, and how chemical messengers like melatonin and serotonin function. The most effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder is light therapy. It involves daily sessions where a person sits close to an intense light source.
Natural Ways to Manage Depression
You should always take your symptoms of depression seriously, especially if they don’t go away. Fortunately, there are many ways to support your mental health, but you should never try to handle it alone. Speak with your doctor to discuss self-help strategies that support your treatment. Here are some of the following steps you can take to help manage symptoms of depression naturally.
Your mood and the amount of sleep you get go hand in hand. If you don’t get enough sleep, you’re bound to be a bit crabby the following day, whether you’re depressed or not. You must make sure you have what the experts call “good sleep hygiene,” meaning you go to bed at the same time each night, wake up the same time each day, and your bedroom is set up for a good night’s rest. You must have a relaxing bedtime routine that doesn’t involve watching TV, scrolling through social media, or doing anything that keeps your mind active.
Drink Less Caffeine
Despite its effectiveness, too much caffeine can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to depression. A cup of tea or coffee in the morning is fine, but don’t drink later in the afternoon. If you’re craving a cup of coffee, take a walk around the block instead, which will also help if you’re feeling depressed.
Get More Exercise
Feeling good about yourself can help significantly with depression, and exercising can help you achieve goals to feel the way. You don’t necessarily have to train for a marathon, but putting in a half-hour of low-intensity activity every day can help your mood. Going outdoors and getting fresh air while getting natural endorphins flowing is a great way to help with depression.
Physical activity not only helps existing depression, but it can help prevent it as well. Yes, it can be hard to exercise if you’re depressed and not in the mood. Lack of energy and low mood is a part of depression, meaning you might feel too tired to get up and be active. Some ways to overcome this include:
- Inviting friends or family: Inviting a friend or loved one to do some exercise a few times a week can help a lot. When you have the support of friends or family, they’ll encourage you to stick with it, allowing you to get into a routine. It can also help you maintain social connections when you’re not feeling great.
- Remind yourself of the benefits: Try to remind yourself of how you feel after you exercise. Besides, has there ever been a time in anyone’s life when they said, “I regret that workout?” No, not once. The benefits certainly outweigh the negatives, so try to remind yourself of how much better it feels after you’re finished to keep building those positive habits.
- Start small: Remember, you don’t have to train for a marathon or triathlon to boost your mood. By starting small, you can build up to bigger goals. Even if it’s walking a few minutes each day, you’re taking the first step, which is most often the hardest. Remember, you have to crawl before you can walk.
Don’t Drink Alcohol or Use Drugs
Many people might turn to drugs or alcohol in an attempt to mask their emotions and self-medicate. Unfortunately, this is an unhealthy means of coping. While it may help elevate your mood in the short term, it’s not feasible and will eventually catch up to you. Alcohol is a depressant, and it will drag you down and invite more problems like an alcohol use disorder (AUD).
Alcohol will also lower your inhibitions, causing you to take part in risky behavior like using illicit drugs, driving while under the influence, or having unprotected sex. All of these actions can cause you to feel much worse and add to the burden of your depression.
In short, altering your diet, exercising, and avoiding drugs and alcohol are the first steps you can take to treating your depression. Unfortunately, these aren’t always enough and may require intervention from a doctor and medication. If you’re struggling with depression, speak with your doctor about the best options for you.