depression relief without meds
June 22, 2010 11:34 AM   Subscribe

Have you found help from depression that did not include medication or talk therapy? If so, please share.

Looking for any ideas that might work to help alleviate depression without taking meds or without seeing a counselor. I live in a sunny environment, so SADs (season affective disorder) is not a problem for me.
Food? (which ones)
DVDs/tapes/CDs? (titles please)
Books? (titles please)
Online resources? (websites please)
New-age ideas? (names please)
Anything else that worked for you? (specifics please)
posted by luvmywife to Health & Fitness (35 answers total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Exercise is a great help.
posted by OmieWise at 11:40 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Spending an evening with several of your friends on a regularly scheduled basis helps.
posted by paulg at 11:44 AM on June 22, 2010

Get a job that makes you feel better. I did medicine and talk therapy as well, but changing jobs helped me a great deal. I started learning again, gained responsibility, etc. I think that had a lot to do with my turnaround.
posted by Gorgik at 11:49 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Volunteer! Nothing makes you feel better about yourself than helping other people out. And in some volunteer situations it also helps you to see how life could always be worse..
posted by Mr. Verge at 11:51 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think when I realized that the purpose of life wasn't to be happy all the time. That helps me understand that it's OK to be sad, sometimes.

I find exercising about 20 hours a week takes the edge off things. Producing art does the rest. Being selfish is, I think, a very straight path to being depressed, so I attempt to help with other people's projects, as much as I can.

And, as little time in front of computers, as I can manage.
posted by alex_skazat at 11:52 AM on June 22, 2010

OmieWise's right about exercise. From the abstract, the authors find that participation in sports increases happiness by three times the amount of happiness lost from losing one's job. Which seems like a lot to me. If you can get some people to exercise with, that can help.
posted by scunning at 11:52 AM on June 22, 2010

May I ask why you're medication/therapy-averse? Cost? Stigma? Time? Aversion to mood-altering chemicals?

You might not be willing to do talk therapy, but the book that everyone always recommends is Feeling Good by David Burns. He has several other related books, including some with more techniques, some for working on issues with a partner, etc.
posted by Madamina at 11:53 AM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Exercise, if it's something you can eventually enjoy. I love working out regularly when I get into a good routine. And it really kicked me out of depression for a while.

However, recognize that just like some people don't respond to certain medication, some people don't get the "high"/energy-boost/balanced well-being from exercise. But also, just because it doesn't work at first, don't give up.

(I recognize "This thing might work. But it might not. But don't quit." is pretty bad advice.)

posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:54 AM on June 22, 2010

I was not depressed, but I experienced brain fog and fatigue. This diet (along with a tiny bit of animal-derived supplements to make it safer and easier) eliminated both of the above symptoms and dramatically improved my mood and ability to cope with life. I'm mostly living off of the fruit and green smoothies from the book, with tons of extra stuff* thrown into them.

Night and day difference within a couple days after I did the initial shopping and got things going. I don't consider myself vegan or vegetarian, and I wasn't expecting this to happen. But I was trying everything, and this worked.

*blackstrap molasses, coconut milk, extra pseudograins, hemp seeds, chia seeds, mixed plant proteins...
posted by zeek321 at 11:56 AM on June 22, 2010 [6 favorites]

Could it be that although you may live in a sunny environment, you still are in relatively dimly lit rooms most of the day? if so, do whatever you can to change that.
posted by serena15221 at 12:03 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I struggled because I felt powerless in my life, so deciding to take control of my environment was what did it for me.

I recognized that which I could not change, and to the extent possible got it out of my life. This meant changing jobs for me. Then I turned my attention to doing things that were constructive, got me out of the house, and for which I had a passion. Creating the choir I now conduct was one such activity, although that wasn't the only thing I did. Doing positive things helps defeat the negative self-talk, in my opinion. Because, when your lizard-brain says "you'll never amount to anything" or "who could want to hang around you" , the rest of your brain now has concrete examples with which to refute the argument.

Can you identify particular things that cause you to feel depressed? Can you take steps to addressing those and then see if the depression is lessened?
posted by LN at 12:04 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Not meds, but a book that may help using supplements and diet: The Mood Cure.
posted by bink at 12:05 PM on June 22, 2010

-Lots of time with my dog, playing and learning new tricks and going for walks
-Driving and hiking the Oregon coast on my own with a big stack of favorite music playing loudly in the car
-Healthy eating -- a real focus on local, fresh, spicy, unprocessed, delicious
-Telling that self critical voice in your head to shut up
-Thinking about all the things that make you a fortunate human being

But don't knock talk therapy with a talented psychiatrist. Someone insightful can really help you stop the self destructive and negative and anxious thinking.
posted by bearwife at 12:07 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Exercise and meditation
posted by Flood at 12:07 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Eat a traditional diet, heavy in protein and fats in the morning, crunchy (not starchy) vegetables and tart fruits in the afternoon, and a light omnivore's supper with the beverage of your choice. Important: very few carbs (maybe 20g) before dinner. No fucking kidding you will feel like you are ten years younger and like six monkeys have climbed off your back. And you can still have ice cream for dessert.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:08 PM on June 22, 2010 [7 favorites]

Are you getting sufficient amounts of high quality sleep? If not, do you have the resources to change that? Reducing light and noise, improving your sleep hygiene, etc. I used to be really congested while I slept and didn't realize it; fixing that made a huge difference in my daily mood.
posted by tantivy at 12:10 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Exercise helped me too. To tack on to what MCMikeNamara says, I'll add that you may have to try more than one kind, as tough as that can be when you're depressed. I loathe running. Loathe it. Have never gotten the runner's high everyone talks about. Anything involving lots of running just makes me cranky. But I get a big boost from other things:

-- lifting heavy weights: even if I can't beat whatever screwed-up thing is going on in my head, I can damn well beat the barbell;

-- rowing machine: I've seen people complain it's boring, but I find the repetitive motion soothing and meditative;

-- aikido: it's rewarding for many reasons, but specifically, it's structured human interaction, which is less scary than freeform being-out-and-about; it's helped me get over an extreme aversion to physical contact; and it's often taught with a healthy dollop of instruction in keeping the mind still and calm, which has been great for me. Hard, but great.
posted by dorque at 12:15 PM on June 22, 2010

I'm currently managing my depression without meds or talk therapy, although last year I did do several months of regular therapy sessions. I don't really think you should disregard drugs or talk therapy as viable solutions, but that's a totally different AskMe question.

What works best for me right now is regular exercise. I'm kind of falling down on this right now, having sprained my ankle last week, but during a good week I'll make myself go to the gym at least 3 times, for a 30-45 minute cardio session. I also do a lot of yoga, specifically for the mind/body connection -- I used to know a psychiatrist who prescribed 2 months of daily yoga to all new patients in conjunction with their regular sessions, in lieu of pills. After 2 months he would reevaluate with the patient, but he said 90% of the time the patient would choose yoga over meds.

What else works for me is making sure I am getting enough sleep, making sure I'm eating healthy foods on a somewhat regular schedule (breakfast!, and big green salads with protein for lunch instead of starving all day and jamming a greasy corndog in my mouth at midnight), and making room in my schedule for socializing AND alone time. This one is key for me -- I'm an introvert so I need plenty of alone time, but too much alone time tends to exacerbate my depression so I've learned the hard way that even if I don't feel like going over to a friend's for dinner, I need to sack up and go. And nine times out of ten, once I'm there everything is fine and I have a great time. It's just the depresso-brain convincing me to self-isolate, and for me that is the first step to spiraling right back into the pit. Pushing against that natural tendency is the hardest thing for me, but it's also the most rewarding thing I can do for myself.

(And although I've been eschewing psych meds for my entire adult life, I'm seeing more and more of my friends going on meds and being really, truly HELPED by them, which is helping to change my tangled and messy views on whether meds are right for me. I figure, fuck whatever stigma still exists. I wouldn't turn down medical help if I had a broken leg, or diabetes, or whatever, so why do I turn it down when it's for my big, beautiful, malfunctioning brains?)
posted by palomar at 12:18 PM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Exercise is a great help. For a lot of people; I never had much luck with it myself (even after 4 years of required workouts).

Is your aversion to medication due to you not wanting to be dependent on it for the rest of your life? Because it doesn't necessarily work like that. From what I was told when I started, it is common to take anti-depressants for a while and then (gradually) stop after you don't need them to stay out of the "I suck" spiral, and that's the way it worked for me.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 12:18 PM on June 22, 2010

Omega-3 supplements have been shown to be effective in helping relieve depression, a recent study shows. A Canadian study says the fatty acid can be as good as anti-depressants.

See the Montreal Gazette article here. The CBC has the story here.
posted by MelanieL at 12:26 PM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Many people are recommending exercise; I would like to add that you should find a type of exercise that you enjoy. Exercise should be fun, especially when you are using it to combat depression. Swimming can lots of fun. Trampoline, bicycling, ping pong (which admittedly requires a partner to play with) and many other physical activities can be fun as well as good for your health, physical and emotional.
posted by grizzled at 12:28 PM on June 22, 2010

I haven't seen it recommended very much, but I kind of think starting a new team sport could help a lot. I admit it only came to mind because I am somewhat doing that myself, but I'm looking at it from this angle:
- you get exercise (BIG for depression, and hard to start doing)
- you get out of the house
- you get social time
- you implicitly set reachable goals

Sure, any aspect of it could be twisted in such a way that it doesn't specifically help your depression, but I think the overall theme is working towards including more constructive things in your life and getting rid of the destructive ones. If you take up lacrosse and they're dicks, well hey you tried it, maybe you can try something else? As suggested above, maybe your office is filled with terrible people and what you really need is a new job with less stress? Same thing. I think it is part of an overall 'change in thinking' or maybe cognitive or behavioural conditioning, things that the drugs and a counsellor would be trying to do to/with you.
posted by BurnMage at 12:29 PM on June 22, 2010

Having a strict schedule, which includes all of the ideas above, to take any guesswork out of your day- all you have to do is follow your schedule.

posted by TheBones at 12:31 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

All the suggestions of exercise, friend-visiting and activities fall under the umbrella of what behavioral psychologists refer to as "behavioral activation". Its the practice of scheduling activities of daily living as well as pleasureable activities to help improve mood. Its been shown to be as effective as cognitive therapy at treating severe depression. You can find a therapist who can help you with it or work on implementing it on your own. Calling around to ask if people use the technique could narrow down a person to help you with it, or a good google search can probably find you a place to start on your own.

A book written for therapists, but I would guess would be potentially useful for a highly motivated lay user is Chris Martell's Behavioral Activation for Depression. The logic behind it is nice and straightforward (no deep childhood secrets involved:) ) and the research is there to support it as an effective intervention. (

I use this technique with a client who doesn't like to talk about her feelings. I'm not sure how well it would go as a self-directed activity. It would likely be more challenging, given that depression makes it hard to get up and do something when you feel so lousy. And it seems to help to have somebody to keep you accountable and problem solve when things aren't working easily. However, you definitely get out of it what you put into it, and sometimes you have to try something for a few weeks before deciding it doesn't work. I would give it a shot solo, since you're not really interested in seeing somebody, and see if it works for you. IANYT, but if you'd like more specific info please feel free to PM.
posted by gilsonal at 12:50 PM on June 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

I managed my depression for years without meds by taking fish oil. Four packets of Coromega a day did a pretty good job of keeping the depression in check.

One other thing I do for my mental health (particularly when I find myself feeling a bit blah) is to avoid reading or watching anything disturbing. I stay away from the news, politics, scary/depressing movies, books and music, etc. I watch a lot of stand-up comedy, read funny books, watch funny movies & TV shows, listen to upbeat music, read self-help books.

I also keep an eye on my thoughts. When I start to feel irritable or down, if I pay attention to my thoughts I'll often find that I'm apparently deliberately looking for additional slights and grievances against the universe to reinforce my mood... maybe there are one or two legitimate things bothering me, but my brain seems to really get into searching around for other stuff, as if it needs to prove that I am the most put-upon, unloved, unwanted, unlucky person in the entire universe.

If I can catch myself going off on these tangents, I can counter the negative thoughts with more positive and realistic ones. For example, I find myself grumbling about how of course I'm in the slow line because I ALWAYS get the slow line, I can remind myself that this store is busy and all the lines are slow, it's not just the universe out to get me personally. If I'm thinking nobody loves me, I remind myself that my dad called me just last week to see how I was, etc.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 1:22 PM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I stopped eating sugar and flour. I mean I really stopped eating sugar and flour...not for everyone but having stable blood sugar is really important for me. And I drink LOTS of water. I think I was in a constant state of dehydration for most of my adult life. Now, if I'm in a "mood" the first thing I try is 48 oz of water. 50% of the time I was just dehydrated.
posted by madred at 1:52 PM on June 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

Workout! Choose an activity that is somewhat intense, like biking, swimming or running.

Why: Often times, people get depressed because they have a chemical imbalance in the brain, too much of some chemicals and not enough of the others.

Anti-depressants are drugs that work to correct the chemical imbalance. Different drugs work on different chemicals. Many many drugs work on serotonin, chemical in your brain (neurotransmitter specifically) that researchers have associated with a sense of well-being--it's the happy hormone! Many folks with clinical depression have low levels of this hormone.

There is a class of anti-depressants that are called SSRI's (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) that are prescribed to lots of people with depression. Basically, what these drugs do is prevent your body from absorbing serotonin so that more is in circulation and can bind to sites in the brain. That's why these drugs make people with depression feel better. There is a way to mimic this effect naturally with activity.

Research has shown that activity that increases your heart rate will increase the serotonin in your brain because the workout trigger your body to produce more serotonin. Bear in mind that walking and other really moderate activity will not really do the trick--you must push yourself a little bit to get the effect. You have to keep it up for several weeks as well.

This worked for my depression and anti-depressants didn't.

Good Luck!
posted by neanderloid at 2:07 PM on June 22, 2010

I changed my job and moved out the city to work as an outdoor instructor for kids. I worked and lived outdoors 24/7 and it did wonders for my health, my sense of accomplishment, and my overall outlook on life. I guess it was a mix of being outdoors, getting regular exercise, working with kids, and having my skills tested all the time. I'm back in the city now, but I really lean on those experiences when I'm having a rough go of it.
posted by ajarbaday at 3:14 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

This book has an 8-week course for meditation to help with depression. However, it's intended to be used when you're not deep in the depression, more to help you from sliding back afterwards.
posted by wyzewoman at 3:19 PM on June 22, 2010

Do something creative, and it can be a very small deal. Make some little something, write something, draw, cook/bake -- it doesn't need to be something you're great at, or even a hobby. If you can't think of anything, that's understandable, since you're depressed. Think back to when you were a kid; you might find an idea there. One black day I thought back to how much I loved "school supplies" when I was in elementary school. I ended up spending an hour finding all my colored pencils, sharpening them, and organizing them by color, then placing them in a shallow box made from shirt cardboard and tape. Lame, huh? But it was the only fun I'd had that week.
posted by wryly at 4:47 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yoga. And having a dog.
posted by radioamy at 6:32 PM on June 22, 2010

get the fuck out of the situation that's making you depressed. once i left the working work and started working for myself, i got 80% undepressed. former coworkers and my doctor would see me and say "wow, you look great!" and i am not a person anyone says that too. my attitude did a complete 180° because i was no longer so fucking depressed and unhappy by my work situation. i was literally standing up straighter, my chest was more open, my skin was clearer. and i was happier.

a lot of people say exercise is super, but i personally haven't found that. it just pisses me off. i'm probably doing it wrong.

talking to some friends, or blogging about it, or just journaling or whatever, can be really helpful. you don't have to do talk therapy with a shrink to talk to someone about what's bothering you.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:59 PM on June 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

These are things that help me in addition to medication:

-Feeling Good (though its efficacy is greatly enhanced if you are concurrently or have in the past had cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a very specific & goal-oriented style of therapy)
-vigorous or lengthy exercise more than twice a week (doesn't have to be formal or organized, just get your heart rate up & start sweating)
-caring for and spending time with my pets (we enjoy each other's company without asking much in return; if you don't have pets, you could volunteer some time at an animal shelter)
-practicing mindfulness (journaling worked for me, but many non-fidgety people meditate)
-no alcohol

Best of luck to you in feeling better!
posted by Fui Non Sum at 10:22 PM on June 22, 2010

Accomplish small things. It doesn't matter too much what they are. Get things done from start to finish. Leave nothing half finished. There is pleasure in doing things and pleasure in getting things done. Being happy is one small thing after another.

Leave the car at home. A car isolates you from life. Get outside. Move around. It doesn't have to look or feel like exercise. Just open the door and go. Walk places. Bicycle places. Hop a train full of real people going somewhere and then get out and walk or bicycle around.

Spend money on events, on trips, on activities. Do not buy things. Things just stack up and don't make you happy. Things get old and have to be shelved or dumped. Fill your head full of events. Give things away.

Be the actor doing the thing and be the observer the actor doing the thing. I am walking through beautiful trees. It is summer 2010 and I am X years old and I am happy in the trees, I am entirely relaxed in the sun, I am breathing fresh air and the sky really is blue and the birds really sing. And not just any bird, not just any tree, but this particular bird is alive on a branch in this particular tree and it sees me. For just this minute, I am in this bird's mind. This particular bird, this small brown bird with the big voice, will forget me in a second but I will remember this bird, this tree, this air, this summer, this sun.

When you close your eyes at the end of a good day, go back and walk through the day again in your mind from start to finish -- let each thing flash upon that inward eye which is the bliss of solitude -- so you can enjoy it again and reinforce the memory of the day and learn what makes you happy. When you close your eyes at the end of a bad day, remember one of the good ones.
posted by pracowity at 3:44 AM on June 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Be the actor doing the thing and be the observer the actor doing the thing[...]When you close your eyes at the end of a good day, go back and walk through the day again in your mind from start to finish

There's a school of thought about the efficacy of therapy, about why it works and how, that suggests that the most important contribution to one's life that therapy offers is the development of this kind of self-relectiveness. To put it in technical terms: developing an observing ego is the goal of good therapy, as individual problems may or may not recur, but an observing ego will help you to solve whatever occurs. There are certainly other ways to develop that, and an observing ego, which notices the good as well as the bad, is different than the belittling self-talk and hyper-criticality that characterizes depression.
posted by OmieWise at 5:05 AM on June 23, 2010

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