4 Powerful Ways to Treat Depression Without Medication

“woman sitting near open window” by Natalia Figueredo on Unsplash
A few weeks ago, depression hit me the hardest it ever has in my life.

Nearly a month later, I am grateful to say that I am well on my way to recovering from this episode. I know that I am not free from future bouts of depression, and I am okay with that.

What I’ve learned along the way (that I hope can help you with your depression) has been a source of great consolation for me.

I knew as my depression was getting worse in mid-September that I would need to see a therapist. I nervously asked and was able to get an appointment from one that I had seen before.

As I went in to talk with him, I was amazed at the simplicity of the treatment options that he gave me. As a disclaimer, I am not a licensed therapist, but these ideas do come from one that I saw.

Which, if you’re struggling to see a therapist, that’s what they’ll often do, is just simply explore how you’re feeling and various treatment options.

Here’s what I’ve learned. I hope it helps you.

Exercise

My therapist told me that exercise is the most effective form of treatment for depression. That blew me away.

He explained that research shows that when we exercise, our physiology changes and our health improves.

Recent research indicates that exercise may even be more about the brain than the body, and is vital for good mental health.

Get out for a run, or even just a simple walk.

Just after I saw the therapist I was still feeling unwell enough to get the strength to get out for a run. I just simply went out for short walks at first, until eventually, I felt like getting out for a run. Which I now do regularly.

When beginning, it’s more important that you just get out than you do something rigorous.

Sleep & Rest

Sleep was a very close second to exercise for the positive effect on mental health.

Your body needs 8 hours per night. Get those 8 hours no matter what it costs you and you will be able to do more with less waking hours than you can with less sleep.

As with exercise, recent research is showing that sleep is also more about the brain than the body.

I include rest here because this is another important component that may not necessarily mean sleep.

If you’re a “Type A” personality like me, you may feel like you still have to do and be everything perfectly, even when you’re depressed.

This is just simply untrue. You need to cut back and slow down a little (and maybe a lot) especially when you’re depressed. This might mean taking more time to just sit on the couch and watch TV, look at funny cat videos on YouTube, or whatever helps you unwind from the stresses of each day.

Diet

Diet was not as thoroughly discussed, but again, as with the others, research is showing that diet affects the brain more than we ever previously thought.

Work to move away from processed foods and towards more natural foods. It’s more about learning to enjoy the foods that are good for you than trying to force yourself to eat something that you don’t like.

And, to be honest, “diets” as we often call them, don’t really work. Improving what you eat is more about improving your mental relationship with the food you eat.

For example, a few years ago I was getting sick of always taking sweets into the movie theater, so when going to see Interstellar I brought a bag of carrots. Trying to chew as quietly as I could, I felt much more satisfied than I had with the sweets.

Today, I have a near addiction to carrots and I love the way it makes my mind and body feel when I eat them. I’ve also done better to add apples and other fruits and vegetables to my diet.

A healthy diet of natural foods can dramatically improve your mental health.

Just work on one thing at a time.

Boundaries

This one was the most difficult for me to grasp, but I’ve since my visit to the therapist I’ve learned some techniques that have helped me understand it better.

Boundaries are all about learning to say “no” at the right time. Doing so can help improve our mental health.

It takes effort and practice to know yourself well enough to know when you need to say “no.” That means that you will make mistakes as you try to say no more frequently.

At first, it’s better to overcorrect and say “no” too often.
You’ll learn as you practice.

I’ve found that the book Essentialism by Greg McKeown is an incredibly useful resource to gain more knowledge about what it really means to say “no,” and why we should do it more often.

Learning to say “no” has been a wonderful help to my mental health.

In Summary

Most effective is exercise, followed closely by sleep. Then your diet, and finally, but not least effective, is boundaries, or learning how to say “no” more often.

Each of these steps takes practice. They take baby steps at first to get just right.

If you’re not feeling well enough to do these steps, medication may be necessary and your therapist can help you determine if that option is right for you.

My therapist told me that often what he will do is prescribe medication for at least 6 months. What the medication has the power to do is get an individual feeling well enough to work on these four techniques, forming them into habits.
By the time the 6 months is done, either the techniques are habits or the stresses that originally caused the depression are no longer an issue, and the person can continue to be mentally healthy without medication.

I felt like I was always going to be in darkness before I saw a therapist and learned about these steps.

Now, I’m on my way out of this battle with depression, and I have the weapons to help me win my personal war with it.