How to Heal Depression Without Medication (10 Natural Depression Treatments)

How to Heal Depression Without Medication? (10 Natural Depression Treatments)

Genuine happiness and contentment are available even in our fast-paced and worrisome world.

You can live a more peaceful and productive life and be free from thoughts and feelings that drag you down.

The “good life” isn’t at some distant destination – it is here for the taking.

The only thing you need is willingness to change the way you see yourself and the world around and to consistently practice healthy habits.

Today, you’re going to learn how to live a happy life using simple habits.

Ready? Let’s get started!

Depression Is Real

Depression is painful and sometimes life threatening.

Millions of people around the world are battling depression. Many depressed individuals have been told to “Get over it,” or, “Focus on the positive,” but the truth is no amount of glib advice is going to make depression “go away.”

Depression is caused by multiple factors, and this is why it should be treated using multiple approaches in addition to the standard treatment (antidepressant medication, talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, etc.), such as:

  1. Sleep Health
  2. Physical movement
  3. Fortifying Nutrition
  4. Detoxing Your Physical Body
  5. Limiting Use of Electronic Devices
  6. Stress Management
  7. Addressing Hidden Addictions
  8. Dealing With Unresolved Anger, Guilt, and Fear
  9. Forgiveness
  10. Spiritual Practices

6 Major Types of Depression

Depression, also known as “common cold of mental illnesses” because of how prevalent it is, negatively affects an individual’s thoughts, emotions and behaviors.

People suffering from depression, struggle to even get out of bed in the morning, much less do anything productive.

There are over six major types of depression, each with different causes.

  1. Major Depression
  2. Persistent Depression
  3. Manic Depression
  4. Perinatal Depression
  5. Atypical Depression
  6. Situational Depression

1. Major Depression

Major Depression is one of the most common forms of depression with approximately 17.3 million adults suffering from it in the US alone.

It is also termed as “Major Depressive Disorder”, “Unipolar Depression”, or “Classic Depression”.

This type of depression is characterized by:

  • Too much grief or gloom,
  • Fatigue, tiredness and lack of energy most of the time,
  • Slowed thinking, speaking or body movements,
  • Sleeping disturbance including insomnia or sleeping too much,
  • Loss of interest in activities that once excite you,
  • Reduced appetite and weight loss or increased cravings for food and weight gain
  • Feelings of hopelessness, emptiness, or tearfulness,
  • experiencing anxiety, agitation or restlessness, and
  • Contemplating about self-harm or suicide in some cases.

Major Depression does not typically stem from a person’s surroundings or situation. And it can last for as long as a week or even throughout a person’s entire lifetime.

2. Persistent Depression

Persistent Depression, also known as “dysthymia” or “chronic depression”, is the most recurrent of all types of depression.

It manifests in episodes that last as long as 2 years and might return throughout a person’s lifetime.

Although it’s not as powerful as Major Depression, it can still take it own toll the person.

Some of the common symptoms of Persistent Depression include:

  • Feeling of being sad and hopeless,
  • Low self-esteem, self-criticism or feeling incapable,
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Sleep problems
  • Lack of interest in daily activities,
  • Trouble concentrating and trouble making decisions, and
  • Problem of being happy during joyous occasions.

These symptoms may fade out for a while and come back later as clear and powerful as before.

3. Manic Depression

Also termed as “Bipolar Disorder”, Manic Depression is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood changing without any sensible reason.

These extreme mood swings include extreme emotional highs (mania or hypomania) and lows (depression).

Most of the symptoms of Manic Depression are similar to major depression. However, indications of the manic phase may be:

  • Increased self-confidence,
  • Destructive behavior,
  • High energy,
  • Less sleep, and
  • A euphoric state.

Related: How to Self-Manage Bipolar Disorder Using Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)?

4. Perinatal Depression

Perinatal Depression, also called as Postpartum Depression, is a depressive disorder that affects pregnant women during or after their pregnancy.

During pregnancy, hormones produced can affect the pregnant woman’s mood and causes unusual behaviors. These effect are specially increased when the mother faces difficulties after giving birth such as lack of sleep and constant care of her newborn child.

Symptoms that accompany Perinatal Depression include:

  • Feelings of sadness,
  • Regular anxiety,
  • Worry regarding your baby’s health,
  • Difficulty in caring for yourself or your baby, and
  • Possibly harming one’s self or the baby.

Untreated Postpartum Depression can be extremely risky and dangerous for the mother and child’s health and well-being.

Read More: 10 Best Ways to Treat Postpartum Depression Without Medication

5. Atypical Depression

Atypical Depression is not a long-term depression. It goes away when good things happen and comes back whenever life seems to be getting down.

The term “Atypical” doesn’t refer to its rareness. It actually signify that it has different symptoms than other types of depression, such as:

  • Increased appetite,
  • Insomnia,
  • Sleeping for more hours than usual,
  • Heaviness in your body, and
  • Sensitivity to comments and rejection.

6. Situational Depression

Situational Depression is a depression that is triggered by certain situations in life such as the death of a loved one, an abusive relationship, financial issues, etc.

Symptoms of Situational Depression may include:

  • Frequent crying,
  • Sadness,
  • Anxiety,
  • Social withdrawal and
  • Over-fatigue.

When left untreated, this type of depression may progress into different types of complex and serious mental illnesses and become extremely hard to handle.  

How to Heal Depression?

Why Medication Isn’t Always The Answer?

In psychiatry, the theory that mental illness is due to an inherent flaw in the neurochemistry of the brain, that is altered and corrected by the medications, has been the prevailing for more than half a century.

However, this theory has been refuted by a long list of studies.

In fact, when the hypothesis was first theorized it was based on only a handful of neurotransmitters that were known to exist. However, we now know that hundreds of chemicals in the body function as neurotransmitters or “neuromodulators,” such as amino acids and hormones. It’s delusional to think that medication could balance such a complex system.

Ronald Pies, a psychiatrist at Tufts University and former editor of the Psychiatric Times, addressing chemical imbalance theory said, “In truth, the ‘chemical imbalance’ notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.”

So why medication is still being promoted when so much evidence exists to prove its inefficacy?

One reason is that medication can relieve symptoms of anxiety, sleep difficulties, or depression. But that doesn’t mean that the problem is solved.

In fact, relying on medication prevents one from learning skills to manage stressful situations now and in the future, which, over time, can exacerbates the depression it was attempting to alleviate, while additionally increasing side effects of these medications.

Depending on which study you look at, 60 to 84 percent of patients report side effects, such as nausea, stomach complaints, insomnia, headache, dizziness, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, increased anxiety, sweating, dry mouth, changes in weight, and sexual dysfunction.

In other words, the cure medication offers, is probably creating greater dysfunction, making it even more difficult to recover.

The theory of chemical imbalance, in a way, makes people believe that their minds are broken and prevents them from seeking tools to manage their emotions in the future and make changes in their lives.

For severe types of Major Depressive Disorder, medication might be necessary along with other non-medication approaches. Dr. Ronald Pies says: “For certain severe types of MDD, psychotherapy and non-medication approaches alone may not work well. For example, when MDD includes so-called “melancholic” features, talk therapy alone does not appear to work well. Melancholic features include, for example,

  • loss of pleasure in all or most daily activities
  • lack of reactivity to positive news and events
  • deep feelings of despair and worthlessness
  • sleep disruptions
  • significant weight loss
  • persistent feeling of excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • symptoms of MDD that are worse in the morning”

Before We Begin: Recognize Your Resistance

Recognize your resistance by writing about what holds you back from looking honestly at your depression and seeking help.

Ask yourself what is the story you tell yourself about depression?

Do you tell yourself that you’re a victim of your circumstances? Do you believe that depression was passed down in your DNA? Do you tell yourself that your painful childhood is the cause of your depression?

Now write down a different narrative. Describe your ideal life free of depression.

Ask yourself what have you found to be helpful or unhelpful in relieving your depression? Include the helpful things in your plan, and avoid the unhelpful ones.

#1. Restful Sleep

Not getting enough sleep profoundly impacts our brains, bodies and emotions.

Not getting enough sleep decreases overall activity in brain, reduces the body’s ability to repair injuries to muscles and joints and throws our hormones out of balance including cortisol (stress hormone) serotonin (a neurotransmitter that helps you feel calm and self-confident), dopamine (a neurotransmitter that helps you feel excited and energized), and many other hormones.

This is why by improving the quality of your sleep, your mental and emotional health will improve as well. (1)

The following suggestions will help you improve the quality of your sleep:

1. Spend time outside to benefit from natural light

2. Do a light exercise, such as yoga, stretching, etc.

3. Stay away from heavy, rich, or spicy food close to bedtime

4. Avoid electronics and blue lights close to bedtime

5. Follow a relaxing evening ritual to wind down for bedtime, such as read fiction, taking a bath, journaling, meditating, etc.

6. Keep your room warm (not hot) and dark.

7. Download your day by journaling or writing a list of “what’s on my mind” and writing down your tomorrow’s to-dos list.

8. Keep everything organized and in its place, such as doing the dishes, preparing your bag and outfit for tomorrow, putting the recycling by the front door for you to take it out the next day, etc.

Read More: How to Sleep Better? (18 Proven Tips to Sleep Well at Night and Wake Up Rested)

How to Heal Depression Without Medication how to get restful sleep

#2. Physical Movement to Boost Your Mood

This isn’t rocket science or a brand-new revelation. However, many people underestimate the benefits exercise can have on their mood, body and brain.

Exercise increases the released of hormones that have major impact on our physical and mental health. This includes norepinephrine, (a hormones that improves focus and memory) dopamine, (a neurotransmitter that gives you feelings of joy) serotonin, (a neurotransmitter that helps you feel self-confident and improve your social behavior) and endorphins, (a hormone that is linked to feelings of euphoria and well-being).

The good news is you don’t have to spend hours in the gym to get these benefits. Even a 30-minute walk every day can help you reap the benefits of exercise.

If you find it hard to start exercising or to keep on it, start by asking yourself why? Many people might shy away from exercise for the following reasons:

  • Associating exercise with failure attempts to lose weight
  • Envisioning themselves red faced and sweating profusely
  • Feeling little energy or motivation for physical activity

Recognizing your negative beliefs is the first step to change them and change your behavior.

The following suggestions can help you start exercising:

1. Instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs.

2. Park a little farther and walk.

3. Get a pet and start walking it, or offer to walk your neighbor’s per.

4. Ask your partner, or a friend to join you running or in the gym.

How to Heal Depression Without Medication use physical movement for depression

#3. Use Proper Nutrition to Fend Off Depression

What we eat determines the quality of, not only our physical heal, but also out mental health.

In fact, one study shows that eating fast food is linked to a greater risk of suffering from depression. (2)

The following suggestions will help you change your diet:

1. Reduce or eliminate sugar in your diet. Avoid sugar substitutes, which can be sweeter than real sugar and make you more addicted to the taste of sweet.

2. Increase your water intake. Drink the equivalent of half of your body weight in ounces of water every day.

3. Increase your intake of antioxidants, such as apricots, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, collards, peaches, pumpkin, spinach, sweet potato, blueberries, broccoli, grapefruit, kiwi, oranges, peppers, potatoes, strawberries, tomato.

4. Increase your intake of protein such as turkey, tuna, chicken, beans and peas, lean beef, low-fat cheese, fish, milk, poultry, soy products, and yogurt.

5. Add vitamin B12 to your diet. You can find this vitamin in food like nuts, dark green vegetables, and lean and low-fat animal products, such as fish and low-fat dairy products.

6. Include Omega-3 Fatty Acids in your diet. Good sources of omega-3s are Fatty fish (anchovy, mackerel, salmon, sardines, shad, and tuna)

  • Flaxseed
  • Canola and soybean oils
  • Nuts, especially walnuts
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables
How to Heal Depression Without Medicationproper nutrition to fight depression

Herbs and Supplements to Help Fight Depression

Natural supplements can be effective in reducing symptoms of depression without the unwanted side effects of some medications.

1. Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fats are essential fats that you get from your diet. Some studies in adults suggest that omega-3 fatty acids may be beneficial in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.

A 2020 analysis found that omega-3 fatty acid supplements significantly improved depressive symptoms in pregnant and postpartum women.

Food rich in omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Fish and other seafood (especially cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines)
  • Nuts and seeds (such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts)
  • Plant oils (such as flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil)
  • Fortified foods (such as certain brands of eggs, yogurt, juices, milk, and soy beverages)

2. Saffron

Saffron is a brightly colored spice rich in antioxidant compounds, including the carotenoids crocin and crocetin.

Studies show that saffron can be a natural treatment for depression.

Studies have shown that saffron increases levels of serotonin – a mood-boosting neurotransmitter.

3. Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a critical nutrient that has different roles. Unfortunately, many people don’t have sufficient vitamin D levels.

Studies show that people with depression are more likely to be low or deficient in vitamin D.

Vitamin D helps fight depression by reducing inflammation, regulating mood, and protecting against neurocognitive dysfunction.

A 2020 study found that receiving a single injection of 300,000 IU of vitamin D along with usual treatment significantly improved depressive symptoms and quality of life in people with depression who were deficient in vitamin D.

4. B vitamins 

B vitamins, including folate, B12, and B6, play important roles in the production and regulation of neurotransmitters like serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and dopamine.

A 2020 review suggested that taking vitamin B12 supplements early may delay the onset of depression.

Food rich in vitamin B include:

  • Salmon
  • Leafy Greens
  • Liver and Other Organ Meats
  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Beef
  • Oysters, Clams and Mussels
  • Legumes like chickpeas, lentils and beans
  • Yogurt

5. Zinc 

Zinc is a mineral that’s critical to the regulation of neurotransmitter pathways. It also boasts antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Studies associated zinc deficiency with a higher risk for depression.

One review concluded that participants who took zinc supplements alongside their antidepressant medications experienced significantly lowered depressive symptoms.

Food rich in zinc include:

  • Red meat, including beef and lamb.
  • like oysters, crab, mussels and shrimp
  • Legumes like chickpeas, lentils and beans

6. Magnesium

Magnesium is an important mineral that may reduce depressive symptoms.

One study found that taking 248 mg of magnesium per day for 6 weeks significantly improved depressive symptoms compared with a placebo.

Food rich in magnesium include:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Avocados Cashews, almonds and Brazil nuts
  • Legumes like lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas and soybeans
  • Tofu
  • Seeds like flax, pumpkin and chia seeds
  • Whole grains like wheat, oats and barley, as well as pseudocereals like buckwheat and quinoa
  • Some fatty fish, including salmon, mackerel and halibut
  • Bananas
  • Leafy greens like kale, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens and mustard greens.

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#4. Detox Your Body of Pollutants

Every day, our bodies are exposed to toxic substances and chemicals in our environment, by our food, cleaning products, hygiene products and even furniture.

These toxins can cause fatigue, stress, ADHD, cancer and even depression.

Although the body has multiple organs and systems designed to filter and flush out toxins, the amount of pollutants we are exposed to every day can drain our organs.

This is why it’s important to become intentional about certain choices and behavior and change our lifestyle and diet in a way that will support these organs and systems.

The following suggestions can help you with that:

1. Avoid foods that contain additives and artificial preservatives, food colorings, and/or any variety of chemicals.

2. Avoid alcoholic beverages. One study linked one alcoholic drink a day with an increased risk of brain damage. (3)

3. Avoid chemical sweeteners including Nutrasweet, Equal, Spoonful, and other artificial sweetener found in processed foods or drinks.

4. Avoid processed foods and snacks.

5. Avoid consuming fish from rivers or lakes with high levels of mercury.

6. Eat organic and avoid fruits and vegetables grown with the use of pesticides and herbicides.

7. Drink a cup of dandelion root tea twice a day.

8. Drink two cups or more of fresh-pressed vegetable juice every day.

9. Eat whole foods as much as possible.

10. Drink at least two liters of water a day.

Moving the Blood

11. Dry brush your skin with a soft brush prior to a bath or shower.

12. Exercise for at least twenty to thirty minutes at a time.

Read More: Natural Living: The Beginner Guide to Non-Toxic Living

How to Heal Depression Without Medication detox your body

#5. Technology Detox

Studies show a link between the misuse of modern technology and depression. (4)

The keywords here are misuse and too much. It’s not about technology itself but how and how much we use it. Technology can be addictive and hard to control.

The following signs can give you an idea about how addicted you became to technology and whether you need to cut back on using it:

* You feel nervous when separated from one or more of your devices.

* You are focused on a screen (computer, phone, tablet, TV) for more than two hours a day for reasons other than work.

* You often sleep late because you can’t disconnect from an online activity at bedtime.

* You turn down opportunities to do other things if it means stepping away from your device.

* You feel anxious at the thought of spending an entire weekend offline.

* Your friends and family complain about your excessive use of devices.

* You routinely text while driving or walking.

* You often feel physically drained after lengthy periods of time online.

If most of these signs apply to you, then it might be time to reassess the role of technology in your life and take back your control.

Come up with a plan that will help you reduce the amount of time you spend using your devices.

The following suggestions might help:

1. Leave your phone in another room at night.

2. Turn off as many push notifications as possible.

3. Take distracting apps off your home screen.

4. Try using apps to help you to, well, stop using your apps, such as Offtime, Moment, BreakFree, Flipd, AppDetox, etc.

How to Heal Depression Without Medication technology detox

#6. Reduce Stress

Low-level stress is essential for our survival. It boosts brain activity and productivity and can be a great motivator to make positive changes in our lives.

However, when stress becomes chronic, it becomes a problem to our physical and emotional health, including depression. (5)

Reducing stress, especially ongoing, chronic stress, is essential if you’re struggling with depression.

Moreover, stress increases depression because it tempts up to quit good habits and embrace bad ones to cope. You’re more likely to eat comfort food, or skip the gym, or isolate yourself when you’re stressed out.

The following signs can give you an idea about how stressed you are:

  • Neck and jaw pain from clenching or grinding teeth
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Insomnia and/or disturbing dreams
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Heartburn, stomach pain
  • Diarrhea and/or constipation
  • Feelings of anxiety or nervousness
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Changes in libido, with a decreased interest in sex
  • Changes in appetite, such as overeating or loss of appetite

If you’re experiencing even a few of these symptoms on an ongoing basis, you’re most likely chronicly stressed out and reducing your levels of stress should be your priority.

The following suggestions could help reduce your stress levels:

1. Identify the sources of your stress and make a plan to reduce these stressors and learn to deal with them more effectively.

2. If procrastination or inefficient ways of getting things done are responsible for much of your stress, consider changing the way you do things.

Start using productivity tools and hacks. Read a book on productivity and organization and apply the strategies you learn in your life.

Read More: 10 Ways to Boost Your Productivity: How to Accomplish More & Have More Time?

3. Make a list of healthy ways to relax, such as taking a walk, practicing deep breathing, praying, expressing gratitude, talking to a loved one, playing with your pet, tending to your houseplants, reading, cooking, etc.

Make time every day to do one of these activities.

4. If you tend to eat comfort food when you feel stressed, make a list of alternative healthy food or snacks you can have instead of your comfort food.

Related: 35 Easy Ways to Relax: Beat Stress in as Little as Five Minutes

How to Heal Depression Without Medication reduce stress

#7. Set Yourself Free From Addictions

Working on your emotional and mental health while having bad habits is like sailing without raising the anchor – no matter how well you’re prepared, you’re not going anywhere.

Addictions can be apparent like drugs or alcohol, but most addictions are hidden – even from the person having them.

Additions cover a wide array of behaviors, such as shopping, video game playing, overworking, codependent relationships, etc.

People came to believe that their behaviors are normal and harmless. However, the relief and pleasure an addiction might provide is temporary and does nothing to address the real causes of depression.

In fact, depression gets worse overtime if the person doesn’t explore the root issues. There is a typical sequence of actions and feelings that come along with addiction such shame and guilt, which only adds to your depression.

To assess how addicted you are to a bad habit, consider if the following statements apply to you:

* You keep doing it in spite of clear negative consequences.

* You experience psychological and/or physical withdrawal when you try to stop doing it.

* You avoid activities and social situations where you’re unable to do it.

* You try hard to keep your habit a secret from others, including lying to people you care about.

* You have lost the ability to say no to yourself.

* It takes more of the substance or activity to make you feel satisfied or relieved than it used to.

* You take risks and make serious sacrifices in order to do it.

* You feel that you need this activity just to get through the day.

* Doing this thing makes you feel guilty or ashamed.

If most of these statements apply to you, then you might be struggling with an addiction and freeing yourself from it should be a priority.

It’s important to address an addictive behavior when trying to overcome depression.

Evaluate your addictions even if you believe that your compulsive behavior is not causing you a problem. Being aware of the problem is the first and most important step.

Read More: How to Break Your Bad Habits Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

How to Heal Depression Without Medication quit addictions

Talk to a therapist anytime, anywhere

Find a therapist from’s network. Your personal therapist will be by your side – from start to finish. Guiding you to a happier you through the sections, worksheets, messaging at any time and live sessions (available as video, voice only or text chat).

Plans start at $31,96 per week + 20% off your first month.

#8. Dealing With Unresolved Anger, Guilt, and Fear

Anger, guilt and fear are a trio of emotions within each one of us that, if left unresolved, can hinder our emotional and mental health.

These untended emotions can undermine any progress you make on other fronts on your quest to overcome depression, such as reducing stress, getting quality sleep, exercising.

Instead of burying these emotions away, let them empower you.

Anger, guilt, and fear are healthy emotions when you benefits from their feedback and feel empowered to make a positive change.

Consider healthy ways to help you process your unresolved emotions, such as therapy with a qualified counselor, journaling about it, opening up to a trusted friend, joining a support group, etc.

Related: Facing Your Fears: 5 Truths About Fear And 5 Ways To Conquer Fear And Get Unstuck

How to Heal Depression Without Medication let go of anger, guilt and fear

#9. Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a proven antidote to toxic emotions and unresolved anger, guilt and fear.

To start forgiving, you need to keep in your mind the following facts:

1. The one who benefits from forgiveness is mostly you. By forgiving the one who caused you harm, you help yourself let go of toxic attachment to your pain and move on with your life.

Because as long as we hang on to feelings of injustice and desire to payback, we are keeping the wounds fresh and even deepening them.

2. Forgiveness isn’t about letting someone ‘off the hook,” or, “get away” with something.

3. Forgiveness (or lack of it) bringing you more and more good health (or poor health).

Lack of forgiveness poison your life and increase your likelihood to escape into unhealthy behaviors

Forgiveness, on the other hand, gain momentum and help you brighten our outlook on life in general, shorten your recovery time, and strengthen your mental health. (6)

How to Heal Depression Without Medication practice forgiveness

#10. Using Spiritual Practices to Heal From Depression

Spirituality is a place of hope that adds balance into your life, whether it was praying, meditation, or simply having certain beliefs and ethics.

Practicing spiritual acts everyday is important for your long term recovery. These acts might include:

  • Praying,
  • Practicing gratitude,
  • Coming clean about your mistakes,
  • Meditating,
  • Volunteering,
  • Etc.

Make a plan of actions to incorporate spiritual acts into your life.

How to Heal Depression Without Medication use spirituality

Addressing Cognitive Distortions

#1. Identify Your Cognitive Distortions

By being aware of your thinking pattern and avoiding cognitive distortion, you become more capable of controlling your thoughts and emotions.

Overgeneralizing – by drawing conclusions because of a single instance or statement (i.e., failing one test and immediately think that you’re a stupid and you won’t succeed)

Thinking All-or-Nothing – by using absolute terms to such as never or ever. In other words, people, things or circumstances are either all good or all bad.

Taking Things Too Personally – by believing that everything unfortunate that happens is because of you (i.e. “My mother isn’t happy because I didn’t do my homework.”)

Minimizing the Positive – by disqualifying the positive things that happen because you believe they are by luck or something else out of your control.

Maximizing the Negative – by dwelling on your own mistakes and failures so much that they keep you from being happy.

#2. Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring helps you deal with your “negative automatic thoughts” and replace them with more positive ones.

Here’s how you can do that on your own:

1. Assess your situation and look for the negative aspect that is causing depression.

Describe your negative emotions and thoughts in a journal and rate their intensity.

2. Pay attention to your negative automatic thoughts – the ones that you automatically think of whenever you encounter a difficult situation.

3. Examine these thoughts and evaluate how realistic they are.

Challenge your distorted thoughts by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What evidence do I have that what I believe is actually true?
  • Do I know for certain that the worst will happen?
  • Is there another possible explanation for that person’s behavior that isn’t about me?
  • Am I confusing a thought with a fact?
  • Am I falling into a thinking trap (e.g., catastrophizing or overestimating danger)?
  • What would I tell a friend if he/she had the same thought?
  • Am I 100% sure that ___________will happen?
  • How many times has __________happened before?
  • Is __________so important that my future depends on it?
  • If it did happen, what could I do to cope with or handle it?
  • Am I condemning myself as a total person on the basis of a single event?
  • Am I concentrating on my weakness and forgetting my strengths?
  • Am I blaming myself for something which is not really my fault?
  • Am I taking something personally which has little or nothing to do with me?
  • Am I assuming I can do nothing to change my situation?

4. Change them with more positive and realistic ones.

If you still struggle with finding an alternative

Ask yourself, “If I were talking to a friend who is in the same situation as me, what would I say to them?”

Your response would probably be, “Don’t be hard on yourself,” or, “You have a great potential. That mistake doesn’t make you a failure at all.”

5. Repeat the process as much as needed.

If you feel that things become too hard for you to handle, you should talk to a therapist to help you regain more control.

#3. Tackle Negative Inner Voices

Using your journal, work on replacing negative inner voices in your mind with more nurturing voices to help build up a more positive picture of yourself.

Step 1: Commit to making journal entries for two weeks for ten to fifteen minutes every day, ideally at a regular time.

Step 2: Start by writing about what you are thinking and feeling at the time – express your concerns, wishes, feelings, thoughts and reflections.

Step 3: After a week, look back at your journal and try to identify any negative patterns of negative statements. Can you associate the critical voice with any voices from your past or present? When do you think you might first have heard that kind of statement? Who might have made it and in what setting?

Step 4: Commit to mindfully challenging and replacing the negative voices when you write in your journal next week.

* If you have identified the negative voice as being that of someone you know, ask yourself what reasons they may have prompting them to speak like that. Look for evidence that suggests that the negative voice is inaccurate or too extreme.

* Imagining what you would say to a best friend who is in the same situation.

* Remembering someone from you past or present who is supportive to you, and imagine them responding to your negative statements.

#4. Recognize That Your Feelings Aren’t Necessarily Reality

Your thoughts are largely shaped by your emotions.

When you’re feeling happy, you tend to think positive thoughts. When you’re upset, you may believe that you may never feel good again, even though nothing in your life has significantly changed.

You may find yourself thinking, “I feel miserable because the world is a horrible place.”

For emotionally sensitive people, this can create an emotional roller coaster.

Practical Exercise – Emotions Diary

One way to remind yourself of the fleeting nature of emotions and stop yourself from catastrophizing your emotions, is to keep a diary in which you write about your emotions and the thoughts you had each day.

After a couple of weeks, review what you’ve written.

You’ll notice that your thoughts tend to change with your feelings.

This will help change your beliefs about your emotions and reassure yourself that your thoughts when you’re feeling down, are not necessarily the facts of your life.

Pleasant Activities to Try

  1. Soaking in the bathtub
  2. Taking deep breaths
  3. Recycling old items
  4. Relaxing
  5. Going to a movie in the middle of the week
  6. Jogging, walking
  7. Lying in the sun
  8. Laughing
  9. Listening to others
  10. Reading magazines or newspapers
  11. Hobbies (stamp collecting, model building)
  12. Spending an evening with good friends
  13. Practicing karate, judo, yoga
  14. Repairing things around the house
  15. Working on my car (bicycle)
  16. Remembering the words and deeds of loving people
  17. Wearing sexy clothes
  18. Having quiet evenings
  19. Taking care of my plants
  20. Going swimming
  21. Exercising
  22. Having discussions with friends
  23. Having family get-togethers
  24. Singing around the house
  25. Practicing religion (going to church, group praying, etc.)
  26. Losing weight
  27. Going to the beach
  28. Thinking I’m an OK person
  29. A day with nothing to do
  30. Playing musical instruments
  31. Doing arts and crafts
  32. Making a gift for someone
  33. Cooking
  34. Writing short stories, novels, poems, or articles
  35. Working
  36. Reading books
  37. Discussing books
  38. Sightseeing
  39. Gardening
  40. Going to the beauty parlor
  41. Early morning coffee and newspaper
  42. Playing tennis
  43. Play with children
  44. Daydreaming
  45. Eating a favorite food
  46. Teaching
  47. Photography
  48. Playing with animals
  49. Writing diary entries or letters
  50. Cleaning
  51. Taking children places
  52. Dancing
  53. Meditating
  54. Having lunch with a friend
  55. Thinking about people I like
  56. Doing crossword puzzles
  57. Dressing up and looking nice
  58. Reflecting on how I’ve improved
  59. Lighting candles
  60. Listening to the radio
  61. Being in the country
  62. Making contributions to religious, charitable, or other groups
  63. Doing something nice for my parents
  64. Taking a shower
  65. Canning, freezing, making preserves, etc.
  66. Listening to the sounds of nature
  67. Having friends come to visit
  68. Helping someone
  69. Hearing jokes
  70. Improving my health (having my teeth fixed, getting new glasses, changing my diet)
  71. Loaning something
  72. Coaching someone
  73. Getting up early in the morning
  74. Saying prayers
  75. Giving a massage
  76. Doing housework or laundry
  77. Going to the library
  78. Building or watching a fire
How to Heal Depression Without Medication pleasant activities

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How to Heal Depression Without Medication? (10 Natural Depression Treatments)


  • Portions of this article were adapted from the book Healing Depression for Life Workbook, © 2019 by Dr. Gregory Jantz. All rights reserved.
  • Portions of this article were adapted from the book Healing Depression Without Medication, © 2020 by Jodie Skillicorn. All rights reserved.
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Ronald W. Pies MD

This article has many good suggestions for the management and non-medication treatment of depression, including maintaining good sleep hygiene and a healthy diet;
reducing stress; being physically active; and attending to one’s emotional and spiritual needs. However, since I am quoted (somewhat out of context) in the article, I feel obliged to correct a few mistaken ideas in the piece.

  • First, psychiatrists today do not believe that all mental illness can be explained simply as “an inherent flaw in the neurochemistry of the brain that is altered and corrected by the medications.” Most psychiatrists recognize that clinically significant depression is usually the outcome of numerous factors converging, including one’s genetic predisposition; abnormalities in the way brain regions communicate with each other; possible alterations in brain chemistry; psychological factors, such as a tendency to “catastrophize”; and socio-cultural factors, such as isolation, loneliness, economic hardship; and cultural disadvantages. For any given person, one or more of these factors may predominate.
  • While it is true that a simplistic “chemical imbalance” (such as too little serotonin) is not a helpful way of understanding depression, that doesn’t mean that brain chemistry has nothing to do with mood. Ironically, the article itself points out that brain chemicals such as norepinephrine, serotonin, and dopamine can affect mood and energy (these are not hormones, but neurotransmitters).
  • We must not confuse theories about how antidepressants work with how effective they are. The exact mechanism of action of these medications isn’t fully known, but there is good evidence that they are helpful and effective in moderate-to-severe depression (major depressive disorder, MDD).
  • For certain severe types of MDD, psychotherapy and non-medication approaches alone may not work well. For example, when MDD includes so-called “melancholic” features, talk therapy alone does not appear to work well. Melancholic features include, for example,
  • loss of pleasure in all or most daily activities
  • lack of reactivity to positive news and events
  • deep feelings of despair and worthlessness
  • sleep disruptions
  • significant weight loss
  • persistent feeling of excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • symptoms of MDD that are worse in the morning
  • While some antidepressants can provoke unpleasant side effects, such as GI problems, headache, difficulty sleeping, and sexual dysfunction, these problems can usually be managed with either dosage reduction or changing to a different type of antidepressant.
  • There is no credible evidence that taking an antidepressant “prevents one from learning skills to manage stressful situations now and in the future.” This is simply a myth. In fact, for some types of depression, combining “talk therapy” with medication works better than either strategy alone. Learning coping skills is not affected by the use of antidepressant medication. (There is some evidence that medications called benzodiazepines–such as Xanax or Valium–can interfere with learning cognitive-behavioral techniques).

To conclude: for mild-to-moderate depression, talk therapy, stress reduction, exercise, and other non-pharmacologic methods may be all that is needed. I recommend this approach as the “first-line” treatment of milder cases of MDD. However, antidepressant medication is sometimes needed and can be very effective in more severe cases of MDD. For more details on MDD, see the Mayo Clinic website and articles on the Psychiatric Times website:


Ronald W. Pies,MD
Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry
SUNY Upstate Medical University

Ronald W. Pies MD

Thank you for your reply. I think we can agree that people with clinically significant depression should not assume that medication alone–or any single intervention alone–will somehow magically “fix” their problem. The model used in academic psychiatry–the bio-psycho-social model–encourages people with depression to examine all 3 components of their lives, and to make necessary changes in their life circumstances and/or distorted beliefs when appropriate. See, for example:

Sometimes, when used very conservatively and with fully informed consent, medication can help address the “bio” component.

Ronald W. Pies, MD