11 Ways to Deal With Depression Symptoms Without Drugs

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For many people dealing with depression, prescription medications can be wonder drugs. Antidepressants, especially the newer selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac (fluoxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline) work all sorts of mood-lifting magic. They can have side effects, though, and often they're pricey, especially when health insurance coverage for mental illness is skimpy.

There are many ways to counter some of the symptoms of depression that don't involve prescription meds. If you have depression and would like to try handling it without drugs, or if you'd like to supplement your antidepressant with other tactics, check out these alternatives and then talk to your doctor about which might make sense as part of your treatment regimen.

1. Get More Sleep

Sleep and mood go hand in hand. Get too little of the former and the latter is bound to flag (whether you have depression or not). Make sure you have what sleep experts call "good sleep hygiene." This means you keep consistent bedtimes and wake-up times, your bedroom is set up for sounds sleep (dark, quiet, uncluttered), you have a relaxing bedtime routine that doesn't involve sitting in front of a screen, and so on.

2. Cut Back on Caffeine

Coffee, tea, and even chocolate are steeped in this stimulant. It's fine to indulge in a reasonable amount of caffeine in the morning—it will perk you up—but time your last hit of caffeine for no later than late afternoon so it doesn't interfere with sleep.

3. Get More Vitamin D

There's some evidence that a deficiency of this important nutrient could play a role in depression. If you aren't getting enough dietary D, which is also plentiful in many foods, ask your doctor if you should try taking a supplement. Deficiencies of several important nutrients can play a role in depression symptoms.

4. Go Natural

For treating mild to moderate depression, dietary supplements such as St. John's Wort, S-adenosylmethionine (SAM-e), and 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) may be worth a try. Be careful with these substances though: Do not take any of them without checking with your doctor first. Just because they're sold without a prescription and are touted as natural doesn't mean they're always safe. For example, mixing St. John's wort with an SSRI such as Prozac can lead to a complication called serotonin syndrome.

5. Tap Your Spirituality

No need to join a church or synagogue or mosque (although certainly for many people dealing with depression religion can be an impactful source of support). But simple daily practices such as meditation or adding to a list of things you're grateful can help boost mood and overall well-being.

6. Get More Exercise 

This doesn't mean train for a marathon. It does mean putting in a half-hour or so of low-intensity activity each day, which has been found to be more effective at increasing energy levels than more intense activity. Even better, take it outdoors: Fresh air and sunshine are especially healing for folks dealing with a special form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

7. Hop On the Wagon

Or at least take a ride once in a while. Alcohol in and of itself is a depressant. Oddly enough, drinking can interfere with sleep, and quality sleep is key to battling the blues. And if you're taking any sort of antidepressant, you really shouldn't drink at all: Alcohol doesn't interact well with medication.

8. Eat Good-Mood Food

What you put in your mouth can have a direct effect on how you think and feel. Make sure to eat a well-balanced diet, one that's rich in nutrients and low in saturated fat and calories. A nutritionist or dietitian can help you analyze your eating habits and pinpoint potential deficiencies that could contribute to depression.

9. Think Positive

Pollyanna-ish as it may sound, thinking good things can help you feel good. Your thoughts truly do have a direct bearing on your mood. If you're struggling with negativity, consider seeing a therapist to help you learn ways to counter it.

10. Get a Handle on Stress

Stress can drive up levels of a brain chemical called cortisol, which has been found to be higher in folks with depression. There are lots of strategies for coping with stress, such as time management, meditation, and biofeedback training.

11. Tend to Your Social Life

When you're depressed, there's no reason to go it alone—and all sorts of reasons to reach out to friends and family. Make plans with loved ones and keep those dates. Join a club or sign up for a group activity—a local dodgeball league, for example, or a French class.

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