These are my personal tips for how to overcome depression without medication, learned from my many years of dealing with depression and anxiety.
Medication is not the only answer
I’m not advising anyone to stop taking their medication as that is a decision between you and your doctor, but for me personally antidepressants have not been the solution. It took me a long time and a lot of trial and error to realize this, but I was kind of stuck in a medication loop, where I would spend a lot of my time just waiting to see whether the latest medication would be effective. When I wasn’t doing that, I was dealing with the various side effects which would actually make it difficult for me to do the things that would help me, such as diet, exercise, sleep etc.
Eventually, I realized that this medication loop was only making me worse and each time I would get my hopes up I would be let down again. Once I finally took matters into my own hands and focused what little energy I had into doing the things and making the changes necessary to improve my mental health on my own, things finally started to improve for me.
I did a lot of reading, started walking daily and made some changes to my diet (still got a lot of improving to do on that one though!) and spent more of my time on Psychology based solutions like CBT and ACT. That’s when I felt like I actually had a chance of beating depression. Reading Dr. Russ Harris’ books gave me actionable strategies and also gave me hope. I also owe a lot to the Destroy Depression system as it gave me the tools and instruction I needed to help myself to get better, rather than hoping a pill would somehow make me better.
Support is important
Personally, I’m more of a lone wolf. I spent a lot of time alone and had convinced myself that nobody could possibly understand or help me, and it was better for me and better for the world if I spent my time alone. I always thought I could get through it all without anyone else’s help.
When things would get bad I would reach the point of needing help. I would finally summon the courage to reach out to friends and family and was pleasantly surprised by the amount of support I would get. It took me a long time to realize (I’m a bit slow sometimes!) that having a strong support network is something I should focus on regularly, not just when I’m feeling at my lowest.
Having support is not just a one way street. It is important that you also offer your own support to those that are looking after you. Not only does it help someone who matters to you, but it also has the added benefit of increasing your sense of self worth and feeling better about yourself through social connections.
Find things to be grateful for
This was another big one for me. It’s so easy to get caught up in your own negativity cycle which only enforces the feeling and belief that EVERYTHING is bad. It’s all going to be bad if we choose to view it that way.
But choosing not to view everything as bad is a really hard change to make, especially when you are depressed. It is far easier said than done…or is it?
The simplest way to put a bit of positivity into your life and give yourself a sense of hope that not everything about life sucks is to focus on gratitude.
I started doing it with my kids at the dinner table where we would each say two things that we were grateful for from that day. I couldn’t sit there in front of my kids and say I have nothing to be grateful for (especially when my kids are something I am grateful for!) so in a way it forced me to look for the positives. It wasn’t easy at first, as that type of thinking was almost foreign to me, but I found the more I did it the easier it became.
Not only that, but I found it started to come more naturally at other times. Situations I would normally find upsetting, difficult or stressful would become easier to manage because I could now see the positive in those situations. Gratitude built my resilience up.
Exercise isn’t just for fitness
It’s been many, many years since I had a gym membership or took part in any team sports. It’s fair to say fitness is something more from my teens than my adult years.
On my doctor’s advice, I started doing daily walks. I wasn’t doing them for fitness though. Initially I was simply doing them because enough doctors had told me to do it and I wanted to shut them up, but after a few weeks of regular walks they became an important part of my daily routine.
My walks were slightly different to what my doctor had intended for it to be. Imagine me, strolling along, puffing on a cigarette and drinking a coffee! Hardly inspirational stuff at all!
The benefits I would get from these walks were unexpected, but welcomed. Sometimes, especially in the early stages, it would be really difficult to force myself to go out for a walk, but when I did I would get a great sense of accomplishment and achievement. Even more so when I had to fight harder to force myself to do it. These walks would then set me up nicely for the rest of the day. I’ve already achieved something, so what is next on the list?
The other benefit my walks gave me was a small amount of social connection. By buying a coffee each time I went on a walk, I quickly got to know the staff at the local cafes I would walk to and would have a 5 minute conversation each day. Walking time also became my thinking time. Going for a walk was achieving something to me, which is a great frame of mind for thinking about other problems and how to resolve them. My walk was my daily strategy session with myself.
You don’t have to suffer from depression to work on your mental health
Do we only go to the gym when we are unfit? Or do we go to become more fit than we currently are? It’s the same with mental health. We don’t need to be struggling with our mental health to do things to improve it, we should be doing daily things to improve it regardless of how we feel.
I’ve been guilty of this on more than one occasion. I started at a low point and did all of the work to get myself feeling better, and then once I did feel better I stopped doing most of the things that got me there in the first place and just went back to my old habits. It took me a while to realize that working on my mental health needs to be a daily activity regardless of where I am at with my depression. In a way this got reiterated to me by my children’s school. Every day they would have a mindfulness meditation session as well as doing regular work on things like resilience and gratitude. They are important skills to have and are needed every day, not just the bad days.
Meditation actually works, even when you don’t think it does
I always thought I was no good at meditation because I would constantly find my mind wandering and drifting off to other thoughts while trying to do it.
The whole point is that there is no pass or fail when it comes to meditation and you are not judged on how many times your mind wanders off. The point is to bring yourself back to the present every time your mind wanders off. For some people that is 5 times in 10 minutes and for others it is 50 times. It doesn’t actually matter, as long as you are bringing yourself back to the present each time.
Once I came to terms with this fact, I stopped looking at meditation as a waste of time for me. After each attempt I would see it as something that helps me, no matter how mindful and present I was, rather than something that just doesn’t work for me.
Now, I set aside 15-20 minutes every day for mindful meditation. I’m not into listening about leaves in a stream or the sound of the ocean meeting the shore, I prefer to do my meditation in silence and just feel everything in the present. Often when I am laying in bed and unable to sleep I will do a body check meditation. This basically involves starting at your toes and working your way up and feeling each body part that you are focusing on (not literally feeling with my hands, but feeling in my mind).
Try to continue as normal
One of the problems I have had with my depression is that I close myself off and shut the world out. Staying in bed or on the couch becomes the normal when my depression gets worse. What I then find is that I stay in that situation expecting that once I feel better then I will return to my normal daily routine.
The problem with this line of thinking is that I won’t get better by sitting around doing nothing and shutting the world off, and waiting is not going to solve anything.
I need to get out there and continue doing the things I would normally do each day. Just because they become harder to do when times get more difficult doesn’t mean I should stop doing them. In fact, I should be even more determined to keep doing my usual daily activities.
By keeping up my normal routine I am building resilience in myself. By doing it when it’s harder to do I am building more resilience. It’s that resilience that will help me to feel better and will help me to successfully manage the tough times.
Fighting depression and anxiety requires help. One of my personal go to resources for that help is Destroy Depression. It’s a 7 step system for fighting depression without the use of medication. The things I learned from this course have helped me to get to a place where I can feel that I am in control of my depression these days. I still use what I learned from Destroy Depression every day.
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