December 19, 2011 By Marc Hunter
If you or someone you know has recently been diagnosed with clinical depression, there’s a good chance that drug therapy is an integral part of treatment. After all, antidepressants have been shown by depression research to be of real benefit in a majority of patients.
And with the rate of depression on the rise in the U.S., it’s no wonder that more and more commercials for new and improved antidepressants—all with laundry lists of warnings and potentially harmful side effects—are showing up on TV. If only non-drug options were given equal time. Because the truth is, while pharmacotherapy is important, there are other effective ways to reduce the symptoms of depression that do not involve drugs, and patients should be made aware of them.
With that goal in mind, here’s a look at 7 proven ways to fight depression, along with or without prescription drugs. NOTE: Never discontinue drug therapy for depression without first consulting your physician.
Chances are you already know that exercise can play an important role in reducing the symptoms of depression. After all, it’s a proven fact that depression is associated with lower levels of certain bio-chemicals in the brain that help to support a more positive mood. It’s also known that exercise can help with depression by boost the levels of these chemicals, especially endorphins, which bind to receptors in the brain and help generate feelings of well-being, while at the same time reducing stress and improving the quality of sleep.
Exercise can also help counteract the weight gain often associated with depression, creating greater self-esteem and a more positive outlook on life in general. In fact, studies have shown that depressed patients who adopt a program of moderate aerobic exercise on a regular basis show just as much improvement as non-exercising patients placed on medications, which can have undesirable side-effects. Whenever possible, you should try to exercise in the fresh air of the outdoors.
2. Adopt an Attitude of Gratitude:
When you’re feeling depressed it’s not easy to focus on the good things that life has given you. However, those who make it a point to find something good about each and every day tend to be happier than those who dwell on the negatives. A great way to start is to document 3 things that you are grateful for each day in a notebook, or gratitude journal. This exercise will help you to look and recognize the good things that happen to you each day. These don’t have to be major things. The key is to recognize and write them down consistently. Over time you will find that your outlook on life is brighter.
3. Learn to Meditate:
Although meditation conjures up images of people pleasantly tucked into the lotus position, eyes closed, chanting mantras, effective meditation takes on many forms. It can be as simple as 10 minutes of peace and quiet, listening to your favorite music, or just taking a few moments to focus on breathing in and out.
The goal with meditation is to just be, to listen, let go and relax. You can even meditate while on a morning walk or when thinking about what to write in that gratitude journal. Those who meditate regularly have been shown to be happier, have less stress in their lives, and enjoy better all-around health than those who don’t. They also tend to live longer.
4. Plan a Positive Activity and Write It on Your Calendar:
One of the common complaints of those who feel depressed is a lack of enthusiasm for the lives that they live. A way to create more genuine enthusiasm in your life is to permit yourself to plan for and participate in events that will bring you pleasure. These don’t have to be major events. Maybe it’s just taking a stroll in the country or a drive along the beach, or meeting a friend for lunch. Planning for events adds purpose to your days, and those who have a sense of purpose tend to be happier than those who don’t.
5. Commit a Conscious Act of Kindness:
A very effective way to put all of your worries and cares on the back burner is to seek out and offer useful service to those who are less fortunate. This is particularly important for those who experience more sever bouts of depression during the holidays. Volunteering at the local homeless shelter, or visiting shut-ins in rest homes and convalescent centers, along with other compassionate gestures, helps to put your problems in their proper perspective and often improve your outlook on life.
6. Surround Yourself with Positive Things:
Whether at home, in your car, or in the workplace, the more positive your surroundings are the more positive your outlook will be. If you enjoy certain music then play it and play it often. Pictures of your favorite people and places should be kept nearby. Fresh flowers and plants can also go a long way in making your surroundings more cheerful. And don’t forget your favorite smells, as pleasantly scented candles and aromatic oils have been shown to improve mood.
7. Adopt a pet:
Studies have shown that people suffering from depression who have pets tend to deal with their symptoms better than those in similar situations who don’t. Pets are especially beneficial to those who live alone and deal with feelings of isolation. And it’s not hard to see why. Pets make great companions. Plus, having a pet gives a person a greater sense of well-being that comes from knowing that they are needed and relied upon.
Again it should be noted that, while all of these methods have been shown to be beneficial in helping patients battle depression, they are not intended to replace a physician prescribed antidepressant drug regimen.
Marc Hunter is a freelance writer who specializes in depression research.