There is a reason there are so many ads for drugs like Zoloft, Paxil, Wellbutrin and others. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in eight Americans were taking antidepressants in 2014, or about 12.7 percent of the population — a 65 percent increase since 1999.
Unfortunately, sometimes people experience side effects, such as weight gain, lower sex drive, tiredness, nausea, trouble sleeping, dry mouth and more. That’s why some people are interested in finding natural ways to alleviate feelings of depression instead.
Seeing a therapist is usually the first step in relieving depression, and in fact, studies have shown that cognitive behavior therapy can be as effective as medication in many cases.
However, if you’re already seeing a therapist and you’re looking for more ways to feel better, here are five things you can try.
- Eat a Healthy Diet
Studies have shown that diets high in sugar, fat and processed foods are linked to higher instances of depression, while diets consisting of lean meats, fish, whole grains, nuts and veggies can improve our moods. That’s because many of our neurotransmitters are produced in our gut, and when your gut flora is out of balance — by taking too many antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, or other medications — our guts can’t make the needed neurotransmitters, leaving us feeling depressed.
One of the most important things you can do to avoid depression Tanya Tanzillo, DNP, a functional medicine practitioner at the Center for Holistic Medicine, recommends avoiding sugar, which can cause blood sugar spikes and affect your mood. Also, because vitamin B and vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to depression, she recommends eating lean protein like chicken and fish, as well as lentils, almonds and spinach, which are all high in vitamin B, and spending time in the sun or taking a vitamin D supplement to boost your vitamin D levels.
- Get a Good Night’s Sleep
According to the National Sleep Foundation, people who suffer from insomnia are 10 times more likely to develop depression than those who don’t. That’s why getting a good night’s sleep is so important. Dr. Cheryl Schwartz, DO, at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says there are lots of things you can do to improve your sleep habits such as setting a regular bedtime and wake-up time, developing a consistent bedtime routine, removing all electronic devices from the bedroom, and taking a small amount of melatonin if necessary.
- Try Homeopathic Remedies
Dr. Jerry Gore, MD, the clinical director at the Center for Holistic Medicine, says there are several homeopathic remedies that are especially good for treating depression. And, unlike antidepressants or other medications, side effects from homeopathic remedies are usually minimal. For example, if you are feeling stuck in your life and having trouble making positive changes, he may recommend walnut flower essences, which are a type of energy medicine made by letting sun-soaked flowers float in water to extract its energy. Or, if you are suffering from feelings of grief and loss, due to a change in a relationship or loss of a job or loss of a loved one, Gore may recommend using ignatia, which is made from the seeds of the Ignatia amara plant. However, because everyone’s needs are different, Gore says it’s important that you make an appointment with a practitioner to find out your correct dosage before using any flower essences.
- Address Your Physical Pain
A 2008 study published in the journal Depression and Anxiety said that patients who complained of muscle pain, headache or stomach pain were 2.5 to 10 times more likely to screen positively for generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder or major depression disorder. Sometimes, anxiety and depression lead to physical pain, because stress causes our muscles to tense up, which can lead to pain in the neck, back and shoulders. Other times, persistent physical pain may actually cause depression, as people become hopeless that they’ll never be able to resume their old activities.
Either way, seeking help for your physical pain can often make you feel more hopeful. “If somebody has musculoskeletal pain, that can lead to depression or certainly sad thoughts and frustrations. So alleviating the pain could certainly lead to a better frame of mind,” says Dr. Mitchell Katz, a chiropractor at the Center for Holistic Medicine.
Dr. Richard Bisceglie agrees. He practices naprapathy at the Center for Holistic Medicine, which is a technique for relieving compression on the joints by manually manipulating the soft tissue that surrounds them. “By relieving compression in the spine and addressing the muscle tension that is usually associated with pain, mood and anxiety can lighten. Using gentle manual techniques — such as specific naprapathic connective tissue release, LASER/Infrared, vibration and light muscle modalities — can all help achieve this,” he says.
- Start Exercising
Depression can often leave people to feel sluggish and unmotivated, but if you can talk yourself into getting off the couch and move your body, you’ll most certainly feel better. Studies have shown that exercising a few times a week can ease the effects of depression. That’s because exercise boosts your endorphins, which reduces stress, and can improve your sleep, which has an affect on your mood as well. Plus, by committing to a regular exercise routine, you can improve your self-esteem, too.