For a good chunk of this past year, I was suffering with depression.
Life felt thick and heavy. My motivation was at an all time low. I cried all the time. My parents were worried about me.
One of my best friends passed away, I went through a challenging breakup, and I’m more genetically prone to depression than a lot of people. I was in a multi-month funk and I could feel my brain’s reward centre being totally shut down. The things that used to make me happy didn’t make me happy anymore.
When I finally acknowledged that I was likely struggling with some ongoing situational depression, I went into research mode (as I do).
The data didn’t look good…
Apparently, treated (aka medicated) depressive episodes averaged 3-6 months in length, and untreated (non-medicated) depressive episodes lasted an average of 6-9 months.
Being as stubborn as I always am, I thought to myself, “I wasn’t included in this study. Those statistics don’t apply to me.”
For me, medication is always a last resort. I wanted to do whatever I could to cure my depression naturally, without drugs.
The following seven science-backed things are the highest leverage tools that I used to overcome my depression naturally in under a month. In fact, many of the following tips have been proven to be just as effective (if not MORE effective) than medication for depression.
(Side note: I’m not a doctor. Do your own research. Consult a doctor if you’re really worried. Some depressed people will need drugs to get out of their depressive episodes and that’s just fine).
7 Things You Can Do To Cure Your Depression Naturally
When you’re depressed, your motivation is at an all time low. It can be difficult to make yourself breakfast, or even get out of bed when you’re really in it.
Because of this, I’ve included a ‘seed habit’ tip in each section. The seed habit in each section is the easiest and most immediately actionable way to get yourself to engage in the behaviour, without having to overcome a major hurdle each time you lean into it. Think of it like your quick-start, easier-to-implement action step that you can take on today in order to get yourself on the fast track to feeling better.
You’ve heard me harp on this point in at least a dozen other articles for a reason.
Exercise rewires/heals your brain, it boosts your self-esteem, and it releases endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine (happy chemicals) that play an important part in regulating your brain’s functioning and your mood.
During my depression, I thought of exercising as my medication. I told myself that exercising at least three times per week was my non-negotiable, had-to-be-done thing. If I wasn’t going to try any drugs, then exercise would be my medicine.
Even if it feels absolutely ridiculous or pointless, just try it. Work up a sweat… you’ll feel better.
Exercise – seed habit: Enlist the help of a friend and go outside/to the gym/play sports a few times per week and you’ll feel slightly more human. By asking someone else to keep you accountable you’ll be that much more likely to actually do it. Make the exercise that you engage in something that you find moderately enjoyable and it’ll be that much more compelling.
2. Eat the right foods
If you eat nutrient-stripped, overly processed foods, you’re going to feel like shit. Garbage in, garbage out.
To the best of your ability, eat a diet loaded with vegetables, lean proteins, and fruit. Too much sugar, caffeine, alcohol/drugs, and (for some people) dairy and grains will lead to a lot of inflammation and bad/erratic moods. If you can’t muster up the energy to make your own nutrient-dense, home made meals, then ask a friend, family member, or significant other to make your meals for you.
I can’t stress this point enough…
I felt a noticeable turning point in my cognitive functioning, mood, and ease of getting to sleep, when I started taking vitamin d, omega 3’s, and a B vitamin complex. It was a night and day difference and it largely happened within the first week of taking them on a daily basis. I wish I had done it sooner.
Omega 3’s especially have shown to be an extremely promising antidepressant replacement, with zero side effects.
Stephen Ilardi, the author of The Depression Cure, writes:
“Because the brain needs a steady supply of omega-3s to function properly, people who don’t eat enough of these fats are at increased risk for many forms of mental illness, including depression. Across the globe, countries with the highest level of omega-3 consumption typically have the lowest rates of depression.
Clinical researchers have even started using omega-3 supplements to treat depression, and the results so far have been highly encouraging. For example, British researchers recently studied a group of depressed patients who had failed to recover after taking antidepressant medication for eight weeks. All study patients stayed on their meds as prescribed, but some also took an omega-3 supplement. About 70 percent of those who received the supplement went on to recover, compared with only 25 percent of patients who kept taking only the medication. This study–along with a handful of others like it–suggests that omega-3s may be among the most effective antidepressant substances ever discovered.”
If you want to read more on this, I deep dive further into eating for anxiety and depression in tip #2 of this article.
3. Prioritize quality sleep
If you’re slamming coffee, isolating yourself indoors, and only sleeping for an hour a night, it is absolutely inevitable that you’ll feel terrible within a week (whether you classify yourself as depressed or not).
Sleep is when we recharge at the deepest level. This is when we regenerate and rest.
Do whatever you need to to prioritize high quality sleep. It can be challenging to do when your mind is racing, but there are steps that you can take to overcome this.
Do as many of the following as possible/as you feel called to do:
– Cut off your interactions with all tech/blue screens at least two hours before you go to sleep. The blue light messes with your sleep patterns.
– Keep your bedroom at a cooler temperature. People have an easier time falling asleep and staying asleep when the room is a few degrees below normal room temperature.
– If you do have to look at screens before bedtime (maybe watching TV/Netflix relaxes you) then make sure that you wear blue light blocking glasses.
– Hang blackout curtains in your room to block out all excess light. The darker the room, the more likely it is you’ll fall asleep with ease and stay asleep until your body wants you to wake up (as opposed to just waking up when the sun rises).
– Read a part of a fiction book before bed or anything that engages your mind away from ruminative thinking.
– Journal out your thoughts before you go to bed. If you write them down on paper, it will feel like you’ve somewhat let go of them and allowed the book to hold your thoughts so that you don’t have to.
– Cuddle someone and/or have sex. Physical touch releases happy brain chemicals that relax you. If you don’t have access to someone to touch, then give yourself a massage (you can use lavender essential oil or magnesium oil for added benefit) or cuddle with a stuffed animal or pet.
– As much as is possible, try to go to bed at a consistent time. You train your body how to sleep. If you always go to bed around 10pm, it will come to expect it from you and falling asleep will become easier over time.
– If you lie down in your bed and can’t fall asleep within twenty minutes, get up and do something else for a while. Massage yourself, read fiction, meditate, breathe deeply, etc. Then come back after a while and try again. If you lie in bed growing increasingly frustrated with your lack of ability to sleep, then your mind will begin to associate your bed with frustration as opposed to associating it with rest.
– A guaranteed way to slow your heart rate down and feel more calm is to breathe in the following specific pattern. Breathe in through your nose for a slow count of four seconds, suspend your breath for four seconds, exhale through your nose for eight sounds, and suspend at the end of the exhale for four seconds. Four in, pause four, exhale eight, pause four. Repeat. Put your fingers on your pulse and watch it slooooowww right down.
4. Get sunlight during the day
Sunlight is a natural antidepressant that has been proven to balance your immune system, improve cognitive function, improve hormonal regulation, and stabilize and improve your mood. So if you’re working in a cubicle all day, staying indoors all the time, or wearing sunglasses 24/7, then you might be missing out on a natural and effective cure for depression.
If you live in a part of the world that doesn’t get much sunlight, you can supplement with light therapy and a high quality liquid vitamin d3 supplement.
Getting sunlight – seed habit: go outside for thirty minutes a day. While you’re at it, walk around. Ideally walk around outside with a friend. If there’s no sun where you are this time of year, supplement with liquid vitamin D and pick up a light therapy kit and use it daily.
One thing that depression would often have you do is stay inside by yourself and not connect with anyone. While being left to your own devices, you will inevitably ruminate on all of the things that feel awful about your life and you will downward spiral further. The solution? Socialize. Especially if you don’t feel like socializing.
Meet up with friends or family members. Meet up with anyone who cares about you. Meet up with anyone who makes you laugh.
One of the best things that you can do for your mental health is to frequently surround yourself with people who make you feel seen, supported, and loved.
Go for walks with them. Go to movies and/or stand-up comedy shows with them. Anything that gets you out of the house and socializing is a huge win. It will also help you to have more structure in your life by having set plans in your calendar.
Socializing – seed habit: enlist the help of a few close friends and let them know that you’re suffering. Tell them that you need to see them semi-regularly in order to have a break from being in your own head all day.
6. Engage in flow states
We’ve established that ruminative time allows you to downward spiral further into your mind and your depressive thought processes. Is there anything other than socializing that gets you out of your head and back into feeling engaged in your life? Why, yes there is.
Anything that you do that puts you into a flow state.
In positive psychology, a flow state is a mental state of operation that makes it feel like you are fully immersed and time just flies by. A guitarist playing music on stage… a writer writing feverishly in a crowded coffee shop… a world class gamer playing his favourite video game while an audience of thousands cheers him on.
Whatever your flow states are, they are unique to you. Ask yourself, ‘What do I do that, when I do it, time seems to fly by?’
For me, even at my most depressed, certain flow states never seemed to fail me. I can reliably trust that I’ll get into a flow state by playing guitar, writing, listening to my favourite music, or having a philosophical discussion with someone whose mind I respect and feel challenged by.
What are your personal flow state inducing behaviours?
Flow state – seed habit: engage in flow states that appeal to you… if only for a few minutes, every day.
7. Take action
In the past, when I have felt at my most depressed, I become very prone to staying indoors and ruminating on what it is that I should do to fix the problems that I perceive with my life.
Do I need to process more emotions? Do I need to change something about my career? Is there some old emotional wounding that I haven’t fully healed? Thoughts and questions circle around in a flurry of chaos in my mind.
The thing that always snaps me out of it and back to reality… taking action.
The following quote by my homie Napoleon Hill wasn’t originally intended to be about anxiety or depression, but I feel that it is very useful in this context.
“The greatest cure known for loneliness, discouragement, and discontentment, is work that produces a healthy sweat.
Emotions are sometimes strange, volatile, and unpredictable. They do not always respond to logic and reason. They do, however, respond to action. If you have occasional feelings of loneliness, discouragement, or discontentment, the best way to kill such negative emotions is to work them to death. Almost nothing is as bad as it first seems, and there’s nothing like a hard day’s work to put everything in proper perspective. When you begin to feel negative emotions, dwelling on your misfortunes only makes you feel worse. Do your best to put them out of your mind and think about more positive, constructive things. Physical labor can help. Choose a task that doesn’t require a great deal of concentration, and then focus on accomplishing the task at hand.”
Whether you do some laundry, make yourself a healthy meal, throw out old things that you don’t want anymore, or anything else, the point is to take action. Do something, and you’ll inevitably feel a sense of accomplishment for having done it.
Take action – seed habit: write down a short list of things that you want to do, and commit to doing them today. You’ll be amazed at how much it moves the needle on your sense of self-esteem and well being.
How To Cure Depression Naturally – TL;DR
None of these things in isolation will necessary take you from 0-60 overnight… but the cumulative effect of them will absolutely make you feel better.
Many of these things have been proven to be more effective than most major antidepressants. Do the majority of them, and you’ll feel it.
If you wanted a high leverage action plan of what to do on a daily basis, I’d recommend that you start by:
– Engaging in outdoor play with friends (soccer, football, tag… anything)
– Taking action on anything in your life that feels doable (laundry, cleaning, work, creating art, etc.) on a daily basis
– Reaching out to your core group of friends/family members, and/or having them reach out to you in order to force yourself to socialize
Do the above, even a few times per week, and your brain will be back up and running faster than any statistic would have you believe.
And remember… there’s no reason to be too hard on yourself to rush through this process. Depressive episodes often have spiritual gifts to teach us… for example, about the things that we need to shift in our lives.
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Ps. Do you know someone who might be suffering with depression? Make sure to pass this on to them, or share this article on your social media. You never know who might be hurting more than they’re letting on.
This post originally appeared at JordanGrayConsulting.com
Photo courtesy of DepositPhotos.com