Depression is an extremely common psychological diagnosis in the U.S., and depressive disorders can cause significant impairment to one’s life. While psychotropic medication can be very helpful for many people, clients often report unpleasant side effects, among other things. For some, medication never worked or stops working; for others, Western medication as treatment for depression just doesn’t seem too palatable. People may have a hard time finding the right medication for them, and this process of playing “science experiment” on one’s brain can result in feelings of disillusionment, frustration or even hopelessness.
A more holistic, integrative, mind-body approach to depression treatment can often feel far more empowering than relying on medication. The truth is, there are plenty of things that you can do to help yourself out, create more serotonin in your brain and feel like you have a sense of control over your psychological health. “Pills don’t teach skills”, so while medication can be very helpful in terms of getting people unstuck and out of crisis mode, the reality is that in order to truly manage depression, it’s necessary to make behavioral and lifestyle changes.
Here is a list of 10 things you can do every day to help yourself out and keep your depression in check:
A great body of research exists on the benefits of exercise for mood disorders and mental health. Working out – even for just 30 minutes each day – can release endorphins, block stress hormones and produce serotonin. Find the right regimen for you, whether it’s running, swimming, yoga or anything else that gets your heart rate up!
2. Get outside in nature
While the science behind it isn’t completely understood, burgeoning research does indicate that spending time outside in nature can decrease depression. A recent study conducted at Stanford University showed that compared to people who walked in an urban setting, people who walked for 90 minutes out in nature had decreased brain activity in regions associated with depression. Being out in nature has numerous benefits for our mental health, deriving from various factors including breathing in the fresh air, absorbing vitamin D from the sunshine and simply spending time in “green” (trees, plants, grass) and “blue” (bodies of water) spaces.
3. Connect with other people
Social connection is essential to our mental health, and has been scientifically shown to decrease depression. We are essentially social creatures, and human beings need to feel a sense of connection as much as we need food and water. Depression often leads us to withdraw, isolate and generally pull away from others, so try to pick up the phone, talk to a friend or go meet someone for a meal instead.
4. Use a Vitamin D Lamp
Buy a sun lamp and leave it in your bathroom while you get ready in the morning, or on your desk at work. Research has shown that even just 30 minutes of vitamin D can help decrease depression. Natural sunlight is not always available to us, but we need the sun’s light to regulate our circadian rhythms and therefore our hormones.
5. Make a list of the positive
Depression results in a mind frame of “glass half empty”, and reinforces our mind’s inherent, natural tendency to focus on the negative (our “negativity bias”). In his book “No Mud, No Lotus”, renowned Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh offers that in order to combat our mind’s natural tendency toward the negative, we must actively work to cultivate a focus on the positive. Write down all of your accomplishments from a given day (even if the accomplishment is simply getting out of bed!) or make a gratitude list. Let yourself “savor” the positive aspects of your day just as much as you ruminate on the negative experiences.
No matter who or what you pray to, asking your Higher Power for help is a powerful way to decrease depression. When we get stuck in depressed mode, our minds have the driver’s seat: we’re ruled by the stories in our heads and all the mind chatter, which is negative, judgmental and self-critical. Praying allows us to surrender, to remember that we aren’t in control and find comfort in that realization. Connect with your heart and you’ll find relief from your mind.
7. Yell, cry, let it out!
This is one of my personal favorites 🙂 When we’re feeling depressed, we often compound our pain by beating ourselves up, invalidating our emotions or generally not allowing ourselves to not be okay. In Buddhist terms, this is the difference between pain and suffering: pain is something that happens to us and is not in our control (ie, feeling depressed as a result of hormones or other neurochemicals) and suffering is our reaction to the pain, and therefore it is in our control. We suffer when we don’t relate well to what we feel. Buddhism teaches us to always “say yes” to whatever we feel, and to lean in to that experience. All feelings are valid; they aren’t who you are, they’re simply weather in your sky. So let it be okay to not be okay! Cry, yell into a pillow, break things (safely!) – do whatever you need to do to validate and express your distress. Paradoxically, by saying “yes” to depression (as opposed to resisting it), we start to feel better.
8. Listen to music you love
A song can often have a great impact on our mood. Whether you need help crying or want to get out of a funk, listen to music that speaks to your soul. Let music help you cry or offer you a new perspective.
9. Read something inspirational
When we’re depressed, we ruminate and perseverate and get stuck in the vicious cycle of our minds. Reading something – a quote, blog post, book or anything else – can often help shake us out of it. Reading about someone else’s journey through depression, for example, can help you feel less alone. Other inspiring words can help you reconnect with your heart and soul, the place within you that is always calm and at peace.
10. Spend time with your pet
Finally, spend some time with a furry friend. Research has shown that dogs have a powerful mood-boosting effect and can reduce depressive symptoms. Dogs are uniquely attuned to human emotions and can offer incredible comfort and support. Whether you’re a dog lover, prefer canines or love any other type of animal, spending time with your pet can help snap you out of your funk and reconnect with the power of caring for another creature.
The above list is just a snapshot of the numerous activities you can do to help manage your depression. If you don’t like the idea of taking medication, or simply want to learn a more natural, organic way to care for your mental health, try some of the activities mentioned above and see how much power you really have to help yourself out! (And of course, make sure you’re getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet!)