Is it possible to cure depression without antidepressants? There is a simple answer to this question: Yes. Yes, it is. Most people don’t know that you can treat depression at home, medication-free. If they do, most people don’t know how. The fact is, you don’t need pills to reduce depressive symptoms or even to recover from depression. By making a few lifestyle changes at home, your symptoms may decrease significantly or disappear altogether. This text introduces five different treatments for depression and none of them includes antidepressant medication.
So, what are the five treatments for depression?
Well, similar to a car engine, the human body needs a few basic conditions to stay in a good mood. According to health research, there are at least five different ways to treat depression at home, without medication, by making lifestyle changes. Fortunately, four out of five ways are completely free. Here they are:
1. Diet as depression treatment
You can’t drive a car without proper fuel and a poor diet will likely contribute to depressive symptoms. Perhaps, quite a lot. Our first medication-free depression treatment is about changing your diet.
In 2017, Esther Vermeulen (PhD candidate in nutritional epidemiology at the University of Amsterdam) and her colleagues found that people who eat a lot of red meat, added sugars, high-fat dairy products, fried foods and creamy sauces experience more depressive symptoms and depressed moods than others. 4969 people participated in the HELIUS study. This means that sugar and fat equals low mood. It also means that a meal at our nearest fast food restaurant is not as cheap and convenient as it seems. We eventually pay for it with our mental health.
You get the point. It’s a good idea to stay away from too much fat and sugar when depressed. But what foods will act as a depression treatment?
What to eat to treat depression
The best way to start treating depressive symptoms is to add:
- Vegetables (especially green leafs)🥬
- Fruit 🍇
- Nuts (including almonds) 🌰
- Seeds 🌾
to your diet. It will actually decrease depression, because a well-nourished body is better at handling stress, recovering from illnesses and difficult life events.
World-leading expert on diet and mental health, Professor Felice N Jacka at the Department of Psychiatry at Deakin University, has studied the effects of the traditional Mediterranean diet on depression. The antidepressant diet includes whole grains, fish, vegetables, fruit, berries, nuts, seeds and, of course, the unrivaled cold pressed olive oil. Professor Jacka and her colleagues conducted the SMILES trial in 2017. It showed that 30% of depressed participants recovered from depression just by changing their eating habits. It means that you can too.
If you want to know exactly what and how much to eat and what to avoid to reduce depressive symptoms, check out the free therapy app from Flow Neuroscience: Download for free. It’s a complete treatment programme for depression, including facts, exercises and helpful tools for how to treat depression with the antidepressant diet.
Or, read more about how your diet can help you recover from depression in this article: An easily digested guide to diet and depression.
Now, let’s move on to our next medication-free depression treatment.
2. Exercise as depression treatment
When writing about different medication-free depression treatments, it would seem almost criminal not to mention regular exercise. Regular exercise is just as effective as antidepressant medication or psychotherapy for treating depression. In 2016, Professor F. Schuch at the Federal University of Santa Maria, Brazil, concluded that exercise is an evidence-based treatment for depression. Think about it. Few people would let their precious car just stand in the driveway and rust. Similarly, your body needs movement to stay in a good mood.
How much exercise is enough to treat depressive symptoms?
Is it enough to do some stretching or do you need daily spin classes to recover from depression? The answer is somewhere in between. Regular walking is an excellent strategy for treating depressive symptoms without medication. Dr. Wendy Suzuki, Professor of Neural Science and Psychology at New York University, gives us the exact recipe:
- 30-40 minutes of exercise 3-4 times a week is enough to get out of depression
You don’t need more than that, but it’s important to work up a sweat. If you’re new to exercising, you might experience some side effects: skin flushing, heart racing and heavy breathing. Don’t worry. This is not some sort of allergy, just a greeting from your sympathetic nervous system. A lot of people struggle with exercise, especially when going through depression. Try to start small if you’re a beginner. That is, take a 10-minute walk instead of a 30-minute jog and add a few minutes every time you go out.
This video summarizes the benefits of exercising for treating depression:
Why does exercise work as depression treatment?
How can simple walking be so beneficial for the brain and just as effective as medication for treating depressive symptoms? Neuroscientists Dr. Julia C. Basso and Dr. Wendy Suzuki explain the effects of exercise on mood, cognition and neurophysiology in their science review from 2017. When you exercise, chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin are released in your brain. They make you feel happiness and pleasure. This means that working up a sweat is the only strategy that has an immediate effect on depressive symptoms. Long-term, exercising actually creates new brain cells, making your brain more resistant to depression and other diseases.
Now, here comes the third medication free depression treatment:
3. Meditate to protect yourself from depression
Another tool that will help you treat depression without medication, is regular meditation exercises. Regular meditation practice can prevent you from falling back into depression a second time. It will help you handle emotions better so they don’t trigger another depression. You can think of it as maintenance for your mood. Just as a car engine needs to be checked every once in a while, meditation will help you discover early signs of depression and make it easier to stop depressive symptoms from worsening. This might seem more complicated than it is. Meditation can basically be defined in three simple steps:
- Direct your focus to the present moment (for example by noticing your breathing).
- Try not to judge what you find.
- When you get distracted by thoughts (because you will), bring back your focus over and over again.
This is great exercise for your brain and it will help you treat depressive symptoms. At the bottom of this section, you’ll find more information about where and how to begin.
Mindfulness meditation and depressive thoughts
Meditation is a good way to decrease depressive symptoms without medication, partly because mindfulness meditation helps you handle depressive thoughts and feelings. Negative thoughts can become a painful and crippling part of depression. Maybe you have noticed that negative thoughts automatically pop into your head? The first video shows how a negative thought can turn into a depressive spiral. The second video shows how a person can stop this spiral at an early stage, using mindfulness techniques.
Can meditation change the structure of the brain?
Meditation will most likely help your brain handle strong emotions better, which can be valuable when trying to recover from depression without medication. In 2010, Dr. Norman Farb (Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, Canada) and his colleagues wanted to find out if people who meditated regularly reacted differently to sadness than those who didn’t. As it turned out, they did. People who meditated regularly used the “present moment network” in their brains when feeling sad. Meaning, they could experience the feeling of sadness, without becoming caught up in it or making it worse with worrying thoughts. The non-meditators used the “evaluation” network of the brain. Meaning, they got caught up in thoughts about sadness, such as “why do I feel this way?”, “how can I stop this?” “there’s something wrong”. Here’s a picture of their brains:
The study by Dr. Farb can probably explain some of the reasons why mindfulness meditation can decrease depressive symptoms and work as relapse prevention for depression. If you’re searching for a medication-free depression treatment, regular meditation practice is definitely recommended.
Explaining how mindfulness meditation can be antidepressant
Are you still not convinced that meditation can help you treat depression? Maybe this video will help explain some of the benefits:
How much meditation is enough to decrease depressive symptoms?
The best answer available is: we don’t really know yet. More research is needed to determine what dose of mindfulness meditation will most effectively reduce depression. At present, the recommendation is 10-30 minutes a day. That’s a good start.
Don’t know how to begin meditation practice?
Don’t worry. There’s an app for that. It shows you how to make regular meditation a part of your medication-free depression treatment. You can download the free therapy app from Flow Neuroscience (it’s actually 100% free). It includes a complete meditation module with both theory and meditation exercises for beginners. Download now
Read more about How to use mindfulness for depression in 5 simple steps and Top 3 beginner meditations for depression.
Let’s move on to depression treatment number four:
4. Sleep as depression treatment
Another thing that can decrease depressive symptoms and serve as regular maintenance for your mood is sleeping. And, there are many things you can do at home to create healthy sleeping habits for free. According to recent sleep research, sleep can act as a form of overnight therapy, making us better at handling strong emotions.
How can sleeping better help you treat depression?
The number one tool for better sleep
Whatever your sleep pattern looks like, there are some excellent tools to help you improve it. As a natural consequence, your depressive symptoms will decrease. Sleeping is one of the best medication-free depression treatments we have, and the tools are the same, regardless if you’re sleeping too much or too little. There is a number one tool for improved sleep, recommended by Dr. Matthew Walker (Professor of neuroscience and psychology at the University of California, Berkeley):
- Wake up at the same time every day and establish a bedtime ⏰
So, the best thing to do to improve your sleep is to decide to wake up at the same time every day and to go to bed at the same time every night, even during weekends. Use 90 minutes to unwind before bedtime and set an alarm for when your unwinding-time begins. There’s no use going to bed when you don’t feel tired. Also, if you find yourself lying awake unable to sleep, get out of bed after 20 minutes and do something relaxing until you feel sleepy again. Then, return to bed. If you lie awake in bed for too long, your brain will start to associate the bed with wakefulness.
If you don’t like this sleep tool, or think it’s too challenging to start with, check out these strategies for improving sleep and reducing depressive symptoms:
- Find 8 hours of sleep “opportunity” every night 😴
- Have around 18 degrees in the bedroom 🌡
- Take a hot bath/shower before bed 🛀
- Use mood lights at night🕯
- Install software that decreases the blue LED light on screens 💻
- No screens 2 hours before bedtime📱
- Have a really dark bedroom (or use a sleeping mask) 🌚
- No caffeine after 12.00 ☕️
- Unwind 90 minutes before bedtime🧘
If you need more information about these sleep tools before starting making changes, download the free therapy app from Flow Neuroscience (it’s actually 100% free). It includes a complete sleep module with both theory and homework for beginners. Download now
So, sleep was our fourth way of treating depression without medication. Let’s move on to depression treatment number five:
5. Treat depression with brain stimulation
Our fifth medication-free depression treatment is about brain stimulation. Brain stimulation has been used to treat depression for decades. Still, few people know about this option. First of all, the technique called tDCS is very different from electric shock therapy (the current is 400 times weaker!). Recently, Flow Neuroscience developed a wireless headset with gentle electrical stimulation that you can use at home to treat depressive symptoms. This is the first portable tDCS device approved for medical use in the UK and EU (Read more about The Flow headset and safety) and it’s available to buy online. This means that you can combine making lifestyle changes with an evidence based treatment and escape the side effects that usually comes with antidepressant medication. This is the only strategy on our list that costs a bit of money, but it can be a really good investment if it helps you recover from depression. Here are some of the benefits:
- The treatment is available to buy online in the UK and Sweden.
- Flow Neuroscience offers a money-back guarantee.
- It’s a medication-free depression treatment with fewer and less severe side effects than antidepressant medication.
- 24% completely overcome depression with the technique used in the Flow headset.
- 41% notice that at least half of their depressive symptoms disappear within 6 weeks (Read more about The Science behind the Flow depression treatment).
- You can recover from depression in the comfort of your own home.
- The headset goes with a therapy-app that gives you step-by-step instructions on how to make lifestyle changes that significantly reduce depressive symptoms.
- The Flow device is CE-certified (approved for medical use in the UK and EU).
For more information about the Flow headset, read more here or buy now
As you can see, there are several ways of getting out of depression and more than one depression treatment to choose from. Hopefully, you found this page helpful. If you want more help making lifestyle changes, download the Flow app with a full medication-free treatment programme for depression.