alternative treatments for depression

alternative treatments for depression

Anti-depressants have come a long way in the last 10 years for the treatment of clinical depression. When combined with alternative therapies, you can feel more like yourself — healthier, happier, and more in control of your life.

I was first diagnosed with depression a few months after my first son was born. My mood didn’t “bounce back” as expected, so I jumped on an anti-depressant that my OB-GYN had prescribed and felt like myself pretty quickly.

My husband and I assumed this was a standard bout of post-partum depression, and I’d shake it off in a few months. We were wrong. Whenever I tried to ease off my medication, I’d find myself mired in clinical depression symptoms.

After dealing with this for 11 years, it has become clear that being on an anti-depressant is the only way to go for me. But I’ve also found some alternative approaches that have kept me on light doses, helping me keep my outlook sunny and on an even keel. I know there are plenty of other alternative approaches to depression management that I have yet to try.

What has worked well for me

  1. Exercise — Since I first became a mom, I’ve gone through peaks and troughs with my exercise program. After my youngest was born, I started running and spent the next 18 months in half marathons all over the Midwest. Most recently, I’ve hired an amazing trainer who has worked with me virtually since this summer, helping me build a lot of gorgeous muscle. I have made exercise a daily routine. When I’m not getting the activity I should, I notice a marked decline in my mood and energy during troughs. It’s easier for me to get into a funk and harder to bounce back from emotional challenges. Regular exercise is something that should always be a part of my life.
  2. Sunshine — There’s a reason why Seasonal Affective Disorder happens in the winter. With the sun disappearing earlier and the temps dropping in most parts of the country, getting outside becomes much harder. For me, getting out in the fresh air and sunshine keeps my outlook bright by boosting my vitamin D and dopamine. I always see a significant difference in my mood when I can’t get regular access to sunshine. So I try to go for walks even during the winter (and since I’m still working from home, it’s much easier for me than when I’m office-bound).
  3. Yoga — A few years ago, a wonderful friend started a yoga studio in her basement, about a block from my house. I’d walk over early in the morning and join her for a sunrise practice. Half the time, I’d end up in tears. She told me that sometimes yoga makes you release what’s inside. That was definitely true for me, given the deep breathing, the stillness, the awareness of my body, and what was happening within me. And starting the day with that shot of bliss kept my mood consistent throughout the day. I’m out of the yoga habit now, and I feel its absence acutely.
  4. Meditation — Of all of the alternative tactics I’ve tried for my depression, meditation has been the most impactful. Sometimes I start the day with meditation; sometimes, I take a break in the afternoon for a quick 10-minute session. The level of calm it provides and the ability to respond proportionately to challenging situations and not “spiral” – as I would have in the past – makes mediation one of my most consistent go-to’s to keep my depression controlled. It puts my mind in the habit of observing my thoughts without being my thoughts.
  5. Guided imagery and relaxation — Much like meditation, this more structured approach brings my mind down a particular path and allows it to practice new ways of being. There is a school of thought that says that depression is just following a particular pattern of disordered thinking repeatedly. That may be partially true (we can’t deny the truth of the brain chemistry at play), and for me, guided imagery and relaxation push my mind away from those disordered patterns and runs it through a mode of thinking in a better way.
  6. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing Therapy) — Used primarily to help people process trauma and reprocess traumatic memories, EMDR was first developed in the 1980s. This therapy aims to use the back and forth movement of the eyes or stimulation of the hands to get the brain thinking differently about a traumatic memory, to more fully process it, and ultimately disconnect it from ongoing thought processes and beliefs. When depression is tied to trauma, as it often is, this is a worthwhile approach to investigate with a trained EMDR therapist. I found the process to be cathartic and the result to be fewer trauma-triggered overreactions.

When it comes to mental health, I’m a firm believer in using every tool in your toolbox.

What I haven’t tried yet

There are multiple therapies available that I haven’t yet explored. That doesn’t mean I never will. When it comes to mental health, I’m a firm believer in using every tool in your toolbox. Other possible therapies include:

  1. Massage — Human touch promotes relaxation and releases serotonin and dopamine. Often relied on to help with chronic pain; it has many believing that the neurotransmitters released during a massage can also help manage depression symptoms.
  2. Reflexology — Those who practice reflexology believe that stimulating nerves in the hands and feet can promote healing in other areas of the body. They also believe that depression can be healed using this technique.
  3. Acupuncture — According to the Cleveland Clinic, a recent clinical study showed that acupuncture effectively decreases depression after three months, compared to usual care. For people who suffer from both pain and depression, acupuncture is better than counseling and standard care at reducing both symptoms. 

Depression is a serious illness. I would never recommend that anyone leave the medical recommendations of their doctor behind in favor of alternative treatments. My personal experience has taught me, however, that these practices are excellent complements to traditional anti-depressants. And for me, that has meant a happier life where I can enjoy the people around me and achieve more, while keeping my depression under control.

If you’re struggling with depression and don’t know where to turn, your primary care physician is a great place to start. Or, if your workplace offers an Employee Assistance Plan, you can start there too. 

No matter how you treat depression, remember that DEPRESSION LIES. It tells you things are worse than they are and that they’ll never get better. If your depression is causing you to think about harming yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline to talk to someone now at 800-273-8255. There’s always someone on the other end of the line, waiting to help.

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