Natural Ways to Treat Depression
What do you do when you feel very sad or depressed? After years of suffering from depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I've devised ways to help overcome episodes of depression. I've found natural ways to treat depression at home rather than constantly relying on the mental health system. I'm thankful professional help is there when needed, but I prefer to manage my illnesses on my own and turn to mental health professionals only when I feel it's necessary.
Check for Distorted Thoughts
Many times, I've found that the root of my depression isn't based in reality. Often, it's my thoughts about a situation that triggered the depressive episode. I have heard this from others who suffer from depression and believe it's very common. Mental health experts call these distorted thoughts "cognitive distortions." They are patterns of thinking and perceiving the world that are problematic. For example, if someone does something that hurts me, my first reaction is to have thoughts like: "People just hurt me." "I need to be alone, because people only ever hurt me." Even though only one person hurt me, I tend to generalize this as expected behavior from everyone. I've learned to recognize such cognitive distortions when they occur and challenge them with statements that reflect the reality of the situation. "One person hurt me." "I'm glad I have friends I can talk to when someone hurts me."
Early Thanksgiving, Anyone?
This tip was given to me by a psychiatrist during my pregnancy while I couldn't take any antidepressants. He told me to eat lots of turkey. The tryptophan in turkey boosts the production of serotonin which is what most antidepressants do. This doesn't mean that people should trade in their antidepressants for a turkey leg, but it may help when the person can't rely on antidepressants alone to manage the depression.
Healthy Coping Skills
Anything relaxing that has no ill effects to the person or others can be a healthy coping skill. Gardening, cooking, painting, sculpting, listening to music, and yoga are examples of possible healthy coping skills. No coping skill works well for everyone. For example, while some people may find drawing incredibly relaxing when they are feeling stressed, other people would find it stressful to draw. I believe each person, whether they suffer from episodes of depression or not, should take time to participate in a relaxing hobby or activity to help them handle stress effectively.
Accept Normal Sadness
People who have a history of depression may feel like it's bad to experience sadness. Sometimes, I am quick to judge normal sadness as depression. When something bad happens, it's okay to be sad for awhile. It's only when the sadness lingers and affects the person's life that it may be a problem. If something bad happens and I feel sad, I allow myself to experience that emotion. I remind myself that I have a legitimate reason to be sad, and I cry it out. I may journal or draw. I might listen to music. I do whatever I feel the need to do to process what happened. Then, I move on knowing that better days lie ahead.
Exercise helps with depression in three ways. During cardiovascular exercise like aerobics, walking, or running, the body releases endorphins. The endorphins are like a natural antidepressant. Exercise also helps by making the person feel self-confident and that they are taking time to care for themselves. In the normal stress response, the body gears up for fight or flight. Exercise helps channel that stress into a physical release instead of holding onto it and allowing the stress to cause ill effects on the mind and body.
Talk to a Friend
Anyone with depression has probably had both good experiences and bad experiences with friends. Some friends just don't understand the struggle of living with depression. However, I think everyone needs a supportive friend who they can turn to when feeling low without being criticized or mocked for the difficulties caused by depression. I have a few close friends who I know will listen and even help me by pointing out a cognitive distortion that I may have failed to recognize. They are patient and encouraging without being judgmental.
Reach for the Stars!
I'm a very goal-oriented person. I thrive when I'm working on a goal, or two or three... I don't think working on long-term goals would work for everyone. It may add more stress than necessary. However, when I'm really struggling, I make small daily goals. A short to-do list is helpful, even if the items are as simple as "take a shower" and "eat something healthy." When stricken by moderate or severe depression, there is a sense of accomplishment in crossing things off a list. As I feel better, I add more to my to-do list and make the items more like what I would normally doing when not depressed.
Know When to Get Help
I know my limits. If the depression has limited my ability to care for myself or suicidal thoughts become stronger instead of being easily dismissed, I call my psychiatrist or go to the emergency room. I try my best to fight the battle against depression without having to be hospitalized, but sometimes it's necessary as a temporary measure to keep me safe. I accept that and use it as needed.