Depression is a severe mental health condition that can make you feel helpless, disconnected and alone. The good news is that you're not. There are plenty of natural ways available to relieve symptoms of depression that are entirely in your control.
Despite the availability of so many natural ways to treat depression, doctors and health professionals are still quick to prescribe antidepressant pills. If you're experiencing severe depression and having suicidal thoughts, drugs can be lifesaving, so don't ever ignore the advice of your doctor.
However, if you aren't in need of urgent medication, don't be so quick to reach for your next dose. Antidepressants can cause a range of unpleasant side effects. These might include nausea, drowsiness and fatigue, blurred vision, diarrhea or constipation, insomnia, vivid dreams and sleep disturbances, increased appetite and weight gain, dry mouth and loss of libido.
Prescription medications are intended to treat the symptoms, but they don't always address the underlying cause. If you'd prefer to take some more holistic steps to treat depression naturally, reduce the likelihood of symptoms returning so regularly and avoid the nastier side effects of antidepressants, then you should keep these natural depression treatment alternatives in mind.
Here are some natural, healthy and alternative ways to treat depression without medications.
Get out in the sunshine
When you're depressed, the last thing you want to do is go outside. However, studies show (1) that a vitamin D deficiency plays a role in depression and other mood disorders. The same research also showed that vitamin D is an essential nutrient for mental health and well-being.
Getting out and spending some time in the sunshine can improve your body's vitamin D levels naturally. Even if you merely sit outside on a park bench and soak up the sun's rays for a few minutes each day, you're boosting your vitamin D levels, which can help improve your mood.
If you live in an area where the cold months weaken the sun's rays, you might want to consider light therapy. Specialised lights can provide that extra dose of vitamin D that's not so easy to get when it's outside. Vitamin D supplements may also be an alternative for some people, but be sure to check with your doctor first.
Get out in nature
Living in a city provides fewer opportunities for people to get out and interact with nature as often as they should. Research conducted at the University of Essex found that people who did spend some time in the natural world experienced a 94% improvement in depression symptoms (2).
The research discovered that 71% of people who took a leisurely walk out in nature experienced reduced depression symptoms. The study then compared a group of people who walked in a busy shopping mall for the same amounts of time, only to learn that 22% of those walkers reported feeling more depressed.
Researchers are calling the effect "nature therapy" or ecotherapy. Whether you're pulling weeds or planting seedlings in your yard, walking through the woods or just sitting by the lake enjoying the scenery, you are practicing nature therapy. You also get the extra vitamin D your body needs. All of this should find you feeling better as a result.
Meditation is the simple practice of turning your mind's attention to a single point. You might focus on your breathing or a particular situation. The logic behind meditation is that you turn away from distracting thoughts and focus on the present moment.
Studies published by the Harvard Medical School (3) show that regularly practicing meditation can help relieve symptoms of stress and anxiety, which can be a significant trigger for depression in many people. Learning to meditate for 30 minutes a few times a week can help distance yourself from negative feelings and leave you feeling relaxed.
It's a well-established fact that regular physical activity throughout each week can help reduce depression symptoms and elevate your mood. Moderate exercise triggers your body to release endorphins, your natural "feel-good" hormones. Even if you only take a leisurely stroll in the woods or amble around the park in your own time or stretch your way through a relaxed yoga class, it all counts towards improving your endorphin levels. When you make time each week to do some physical activity, you should find your mood improves, and you'll feel better too.
Healthy food choices
There are no specific foods that are proven to reduce depression. However, some foods might help relieve the severity of symptoms.
Research suggests (4) that foods high in omega-3 fatty acids could help enhance your body's serotonin levels. Examples of omega 3-rich foods include salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, sardines, anchovies, oysters, seafood, soybeans, walnuts and canola oil.
Further studies conducted at the University of Vermont (5) also showed that magnesium could also help reduce the severity of depression symptoms. Common foods rich in magnesium include spinach, broccoli, salmon, tuna, kale, avocado, green beans, banana and raspberries.
Don't skip meals
When you're in a depressive state, it can be easy to skip meals. However, if you're keen to treat your depression naturally, then it's important to try and eat regular meals.
Consistent eating patterns will help keep your blood sugar levels stable. Maintaining this stability will make you less likely to experience mood swings.
Get a good night's sleep
Depression can make it difficult to get good quality sleep. However, not getting enough sleep can worsen depression symptoms.
If you're serious about treating depression naturally, set yourself a routine that ensures you're getting a good night's sleep. Try to get to bed at the same time each night and set an alarm clock, so you get up at the same time each day.
If you struggle to get to sleep, think about removing any distractions from the bedroom and turn off any electronic devices 30 minutes before going to bed. Your brain will have a better chance to unwind appropriately, which could help improve your quality of sleep.
Try something new
A person struggling with depression may withdraw from friends and family and become more isolated. When this happens, it's also likely the person may give up on some responsibilities too, including obligations at home, work or school. After a while, the person ends up in a rut and can't see a way to get back out again.
Trying something different may seem like a challenge when you're in a depressive state. When you try something new, your brain is naturally triggered to release dopamine into your system. Dopamine is a brain chemical linked with feelings of pleasure.
Take the challenge and do something different. Read a book. Visit a museum. Join a class and learn something new. Enroll in a cooking class and learn some healthy new recipes containing ingredients rich in omega-3s or magnesium. Become a volunteer and help out in your local community.
Set achievable goals
When you're in the grip of depression, it can feel like you can't accomplish anything, which results in making you feel even worse. The key to breaking out of this cycle of emotion is to set small, achievable goals each day.
Resolve to make your bed each morning. It may not seem like much, but once you do it, you'll know you have achieved one thing on your list. There is also a psychological benefit to ensuring your bed gets made each morning, as your mind recognizes that you've created some order in the room and you've begun your day by achieving something positive.
Think about other small daily goals you could set that might help boost your mood. Get the dishes done. Prepare a home-cooked meal. Plan to get through 30 minutes of moderate physical activity.
By getting through some simple things each day can leave you feeling as though you are able to achieve the things you set out to do, which helps reduce those depressive feelings.
Create a natural treatment schedule
Depression can destroy the structure of your life, making it seem as though each day melts into the next. Take some time to create a daily schedule that incorporates one or more of your natural depression treatment options.
Your schedule for one day might include some time interacting with nature after you've finished work or school. On another day you might choose to take a leisurely walk or hike in the park, while the next day might be all about spending a bit of time in the sunshine relaxing in your yard with a book or a magazine.
You might schedule a morning on the weekend to join in with a yoga or meditation class or group fitness class. You might dedicate another afternoon to volunteering at a local soup kitchen or another nonprofit organisation.
Think about some of the natural depression treatments you've learned and then work on ways to incorporate them into your regular schedule. When you have structured tasks and activities planned to get through each day, it can be much easier to get back on track.
When you're depressed, it's possible to lose the knack for enjoying life. When you take control of your daily schedule and work in some natural ways to reduce depression, you'll soon relearn how to do it. In time, you'll start feeling more positive and enjoying fun things again.
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