Many people suffering from depression are on prescription medications called antidepressants. These drugs are often expensive and of course, come with their own range of side effects, and they need a prescription. If you are feeling a little blue from the isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be wondering how to deal with depression without meds.
There are a number of options available to you and we will explore those in this article. Check out the alternatives explored here and talk to your doctor before you make a decision. They can help you make the best choice for your treatment regimen.
It helps to know the facts about this condition if you believe you or a loved one is suffering from it. It is a medical condition and can be a temporary response to discouragement, loss, or grief.
Someone experiencing a major depressive episode may have at least five of the following symptoms for a period of two weeks or more. The symptoms may fluctuate and you may even have a couple of good days in between them. Here are the symptoms to look out for:
An irritable mood
Sleeping too much
Sleeping too little
Sleeping during the day
A decline in interest in activities you used to enjoy
Decline in self-care
Decline in performance (work or school)
Anxiety or Panic attacks
Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
It is important to note that not everybody going through a depressive episode is suicidal. But help is still needed without evidence of suicidal thoughts or self-harm behavior.
Natural Management of Depression
You should always take depression symptoms seriously, depression is not something that will simply go away. There are a number of ways you can support your mental health outside of tackling your symptoms alone. You will want to talk to your doctor and ask about self-help strategies that can help you through this phase.
If you think a loved one is suffering from depression you can find information and support available in your area by contacting the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357.
Here are some of the ways you can manage your depression naturally while experiencing feelings of isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Get More Sleep
It is a scientific fact that your sleep affects your mood. If you get too little sleep, your mood will be impacted negatively even if you are not depressed. Poor sleep and depression have a complex relationship as it can contribute to the onset of depression, and depression can contribute to the onset of poor sleep.
To encourage better sleep, there are a number of things you can start doing tonight. You want to have consistent sleep and wake times, so set those and stick to those times. You also want to have your bedroom set in an atmosphere for the best sleep. It should be quiet, uncluttered, and dark for bedtime.
Try creating a relaxing bedtime routine for yourself, ensuring there is no screen time involved. Read a book right before your designated bedtime and spend some time outdoors during the day. If you are depressed you may be tempted to hide inside all day and now with the pandemic, it is so easy to do this. A lack of sunshine can make it more difficult for you to sleep at night, so take a brief stroll outside while practicing the measures to stay safe during the pandemic.
This includes not just coffee beverages but also chocolate, tea, and soda as these may contain caffeine as well. If you must get your morning cup, try to have it only in the morning. Reduce and eventually eliminate any caffeine-laden drink in the afternoon onward. If you find yourself craving a cup of coffee or your favorite soda, try to distract yourself by taking a short walk.
Increase Your Vitamin D
There is evidence that indicates that a deficiency of vitamin D may have a role in depression. If your diet and lifestyle are not enabling you to get the required amounts of vitamin D, then you may benefit from a supplement. This may be necessary if you live in an environment where it is hard to find sunshine or you have a lifestyle that doesn't allow you enough time to spend outdoors during daylight hours.
Mild to moderate depression can be treated with a number of dietary supplements that you can't find in your local pharmacy without a prescription from your doctor. These include:
If you choose to take any of these, you should be careful. Check them out with your doctor even though they can be purchased without a prescription. There are some dangers of taking these with other drugs, for example taking St. John’s wort while also taking Prozac can cause serotonin syndrome.
Connect with Your Spirituality
Religion can be a good support system when you are going through isolation-depression, but when we say connect with your spirituality, it doesn't have to mean religion. You can incorporate simple practices like meditation into your daily routine. Meditation is known to be very beneficial for boosting mood and productivity. You can also start a journal and make note of the things you are grateful for each day.
Connecting with your spirituality can help to lower stress and help you to become more aware of your thoughts and how you react to different people and situations. This awareness of self can help you to overcome feelings of sadness, irritability, and an overall bad mood.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) combines mindfulness meditation and cognitive behavioral therapy to help treat depression and help to prevent relapse.
There are a number of different types of meditation but you can try this simple exercise at home and see how it makes you feel.
Find a comfortable place to sit
Close your eyes
Allow your breathing to be natural
As you are breathing, pay attention to how your body feels
If your mind wanders, redirect our attention to your breathing
Implementing an exercise routine doesn't mean you have to start training for a marathon, neither does it mean that you have to go get a gym membership. If you can find half an hour each day to engage in even low-intensity activity, you can improve not only your mood but also your quality of life. If you can take that activity outside, it will be even better for you as the fresh air will do you a lot of good, and so will seeing other people, even from a distance.
While exercise is beneficial for treating and preventing depression, when you are depressed it can be hard to start up an exercise habit. You are already lacking energy and low in mood, so you may feel too fatigued to get up and go. If this is currently the hurdle you are facing, here are some tips to help you get over this one.
Get a friend to join you - Having someone to join you in your daily efforts can really be a boost. If you can't have one friend or family member with you every day, share the responsibility. Create a schedule for who has the time and availability on different days and get out. This will also double as a social connection and those are very important if you are experiencing isolation-depression.
Remind yourself why you are doing it - Getting started with exercise is always hard, even if you are not depressed. When you can remind yourself why you are doing it and how you will benefit from it, this can make the start all the easier.
Start small - the biggest mistake you can make is to start big or to go hard right off the bat. Start small and over time, as the small start begins to seem effortless, you can increase your activity time, frequency, and pace.
Stay Away from Alcohol
Alcohol in and of itself can act as a depressant and can interfere with sleep. For many, it is a quick fix as it helps them to escape their feelings of depression, but it in fact makes the symptoms worse. Added to that, alcohol lowers your inhibitions which may lead to an increase in risky behavior.
If you are taking an antidepressant, whether it is a prescription medication or a natural over the counter option, you really shouldn't be consuming alcohol. If you think you are misusing alcohol or other substances, you should have a discussion with your doctor and you may need additional help to get off the substances while dealing with your depression.
Eat Foods that Boost your Mood
While there is no diet that will cure your depression, watching what you eat is important. Depressed persons tend to overeat and so if you can control your eating, you can feel better.
Although not definitive, foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids such as walnuts, tuna, and salmon have a positive effect on mood. Foods high in folic acid such as avocado and spinach may also help to boost your mood.
Probiotics can also help you to feel better, think about foods like Kombucha, Kimchi, Kefir, and Yogurt. All in all, you should be consuming a low saturated fat diet that is well balanced and rich in nutrients.
You can employ the help of a dietitian or nutritionist to determine if your eating habits could be contributing to your depressive episode.
Mind Your Mood
Your mind and your mood are directly interrelated. By changing the way you think, you could boost your mood. By thinking good thoughts, you can help yourself feel better. This is why keeping a gratitude journal helps people to be more grateful. When you shift your focus to the good things in your life, you can start feeling better. Keeping your mind on negative thoughts will keep you in a negative mood.
If you are struggling with negative thoughts and are overwhelmed by them you should see a therapist. We have a staff of competent professionals here at ESTADT waiting to help you.
Recognize Your Negative Thoughts
Sometimes it can be very obvious which thoughts are negative thoughts. All those times you criticize and berate yourself. Other times it can be a little harder to recognize them. The times you are catastrophizing or going into all or nothing mode. When you can identify when you are thinking negatively, you are now equipped to move onto the next step.
Reframe Negative Thoughts
If you find yourself having a negative thought, try reframing it in a positive way. Shift your attention to your strengths instead of your weakness, choose small things. When you are having difficulty figuring out a way to do something, instead of telling yourself “this won't work,” reframe and think of just the first step in attempting the job at hand. When you get over that first step, you can think of the next step, and so on. Before you know it, the task that could never be done will be done.
When you shift your focus to what is in your power and what your strengths are, you can develop and maintain a positive mindset.
Stress is known to drive up cortisol levels, so persons that are suffering from depression, tend to have higher cortisol levels. You can cope with stress in a number of ways. You can employ meditation, time management, and even what is known as biofeedback training. Other stress management techniques you can employ daily include:
Deep breathing - sit still, taking deep breaths, and focus on your breathing for a few minutes.
Exercise - Get in 30 minutes of physical activity each day.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation - perform intentional tightening followed by relaxation of the muscles in your body. Over time, you can learn to intentionally relax all your muscles quickly to help you relieve stress and tension.
Don't Neglect Your Social Life
You don't have to be alone when you are experiencing isolation depression and it is not encouraged. There are a lot of reasons to reach out to your family and friends even now as we all struggle with isolation during the global COVID-19 pandemic.
Make plans with your loved ones, and make sure to keep the dates once they are made. Here are a couple of things you can try to do to keep your social life up and running.
Join a support group - If you don't have family or friends you want to confide in, join a support group. Having interactions with people who share your struggles can be informative as well as helpful.
Schedule your daily activities - Creating a routine can be helpful to get you back into being social and enjoying the activities that you used to. You will be more inclined to be social if you had scheduled it beforehand.
Volunteer - Join a cause and meet new people, grow your circle, and help others. This avenue will benefit you by increasing your social circle and also giving you the feel-good factor when you put a smile on somebody’s face.
Depression leads people to want to withdraw and this withdrawal further exacerbates any feelings of loneliness and isolation they are having. This in turn makes the situation even worse. It is very important for someone who is depressed to keep social obligations. Try to maintain social relationships, starting with the easier ones. This can be something short and simple, a one on one coffee date with a friend won’t take up more than 20 minutes to half an hour of your time, but you will find that in this interaction you feel better. Of course, this may not be possible in your area due to COVID restrictions, but you can do it virtually too.
Natural antidepressants sold over the counter in pharmacies can have different effects on different people. If you think you are having symptoms of depression, you should speak to your doctor as soon as possible so you can start treatment.
A study seeking to determine the efficacy of prescription antidepressants found that 40 to 60% of those who took the medication saw improvements within 8 weeks. This compared to 20 to 40% of study participants who did not. Natural antidepressants likewise have a different effect from one person to another.
Outside of eating foods and engaging in activities to boost your body’s feel-good hormones, there are some over the counter options available for those suffering from depression.
SAM-e or S-adenosylmethionine is a substance that naturally occurs in the body. There are multiple studies that suggest that this helps to treat depression, but there is no conclusive scientific research. The NCCIH indicates that this OTC drug is not a safe option for those suffering from bipolar disorder as it has a likelihood of increasing mania symptoms.
Others cautioned to avoid the use of SAM-e includes persons living with HIV. This is due to the possibility for SAMe to encourage Pneumocystis jirovecii growth which can lead to pneumonia.
Persons with Parkinson’s Disease should be closely monitored if they are taking SAM-e as it can decrease the efficacy of the drug L-dopa used to treat Parkinson’s.
St. John’s Wort is another popular over-the-counter medication used to treat some of the symptoms of depression. This drug is not safe for use along with a number of prescription medications as it makes them less effective. They should not be combined with antidepressants either or they may cause too much serotonin to accumulate.
There are a number of studies that show St. John’s Wort’s efficacy in treating depression, but the studies have provided inconsistent results. There is not much evidence of how St. John's Wort would affect long-term treatment. There is some research that St. John’s Wort may have an effect on how the brain processes norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine.
There are some studies that show that St. John’s Wort works better than the placebo and as well as tricyclic antidepressants. There is little data to show it is effective for long term depression treatment or severe depression treatment.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids have shown to be effective in improving mood and so can treat symptoms of depression. You can get your omega-3 fatty acids from foods such as albacore tuna and other fatty fish. If you don't eat fish or don't eat enough, you can boost your omega-3 levels by taking supplements.
Researchers are not certain how they work but know that they do reduce inflammation and thereby reduce the cortisol levels. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone.
High doses of omega-3s can cause an upset stomach or a fishy aftertaste. A clinical trial done in 2013 also indicated they may thin the blood. As such, people on blood thinners should be careful when consuming omega-3, ensuring their consumption is regulated.
Lavender is known for its relaxing properties and its ability to help people get a good night’s sleep. Because many people suffering from depression tend to have sleep and anxiety issues, lavender is a good alternative to sleeping pills. Most studies on lavender's ability to improve sleep are small and riddled with methodological issues so more studies are necessary.
There are a lot of people who swear by it and there is a 2015 trial that showed evidence of lavender's efficacy in improving sleep.
5-hydroxytryptophan or 5-HTP works like some antidepressants to change serotonin levels in the brain. There are a small number of studies indicating it has the ability to ease depression symptoms. Some research suggests that it has the ability to deplete certain neurotransmitters to cause worsening of one’s mood over time. There is still not enough research to conclude its efficacy for depression treatment.
5-Dehydroepiandrosterone or DHEA is a steroid hormone that is produced by the adrenal glands. There are a small number of studies that indicate it to be useful for easing some mental symptoms including anxiety, depression, and PTSD. It does have potential side effects to include changing blood sugar, increasing the risk of certain types of cancer, and affecting fertility and menstruation as well as causing bleeding.
Unstudied Natural Antidepressants
There are some antidepressants that remain unstudied. These are still taken to relieve annuity and depression. However, researchers are still unclear as to how they work and whether or not it is just a placebo effect. Some less studied natural antidepressants which are touted to be effective include:
It is generally safe to take these supplements as long as they meet the FDA requirements. However, due to the fact that there is little to no research carried out on them, it is unclear how they work and what their possible long term effects might be.
Potential Side Effects
Every medication has side effects and that includes natural supplements. Side effects can be so mild they are unnoticeable, and they can be noticeable enough to be inconvenient, or on the extreme side of the spectrum, they can be life-threatening.
One’s symptoms could also worsen if clinical treatment is delayed while trying out a natural alternative. Many of these natural antidepressants may have drug-specific side effects that can cause allergic reactions, worsening of depressive symptoms, and drug interactions.
When to See Your Doctor
Depression is a medical condition that can be treated. Yes, there are natural remedies available that can provide relief, but a multi-faceted treatment approach is your best bet for confronting and successfully treating depression. Therapy can be highly effective and can be one of the best ways we know how to deal with depression without meds. Consider seeing a therapist if you are having any of the following symptoms:
Thoughts of suicide
Not seeing relief within a couple of weeks
Depression has you unable to complete your daily tasks
Antidepressants are not working
Having side effects from taking natural antidepressants
If the pandemic has you going through isolation depression, please reach out to us. Let us help you get through this dark time so you can get back to living by giving you some insight on how to deal with depression without meds. It’s particularly important with the COVID pandemic leading many to feel the same way. You may be feeling isolation-depression but you are not alone.