Luckily, there are a number of natural remedies that may help you manage your symptoms without medication. Of course, before you try these, you should talk to your doctor to evaluate your condition and discuss treatment options—but once you get the go-ahead, here are a few to consider.
More accurately, if you’re dealing with depression, you need to make sure you’re getting enough sleep—and most of us aren’t. According to the CDC, 1 in 3 Americans aren’t getting the 7 hours most of us need to function properly. This can work both ways—sleep problems are a common symptom of depression, but research has also shown that sleep deprivation may actually lead to depression. (Having trouble sleeping? Try these 100 simple strategies for a better night’s sleep.)
Depression can sap your motivation, so getting to the gym isn’t always the easiest thing in the world—but it’s worth pushing yourself. Exercise can boost your level of endorphins, mood-boosting chemicals in your brain, says Ashwini Nadkarni, MD, a psychiatrist and director of digital care at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Along with the endorphin rush, exercise can get you out of the house and get your mind off of negative thoughts. (If you’re short on time, try Prevention’s new 10-minute workouts and 10-minute meals to lose weight for good.
Research has shown it only takes 15 minutes for bright light to start improving your mood, which is why light therapy is such an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression that strikes during the short-and-gloomy winter days. Even if you deal with depression year-round, sunlight can help by boosting your levels of the mood-regulating chemical serotonin (which is similar to how many antidepressants work).
Probiotics may be better known for their ability to keep certain other bodily functions regular, but recently they’ve been getting hype for their ability to help manage mild depression. The research is still in the early stages, but the results have been promising so far—and since probiotics have so many health benefits, it definitely can’t hurt to add some to your diet.
A few years ago, a Spanish study found that drinking wine could lower your depression risk—but the biggest benefits were seen among the group that drank between 2 and 7 glasses each week. Any more than that, and you could risk having the opposite effect. “Since alcohol acts as a depressant, it can worsen symptoms of depression,” Nadkarni says. And if you start experiencing anxiety after the alcohol wears off, you may want to cut it out altogether.
Not only can meditation help reduce stress and improve focus, but there’s evidence that a specific form—called mindfulness meditation—may actually help treat depression and prevent relapses. “This type of treatment holds great promise,” Nadkarni says. Getting started is simple: Sit cross-legged on the floor and focus on your breathing. If you find your mind wandering, no worries—just turn your attention back to your breathing.
Writing down your thoughts can help you get a handle on your depression symptoms. “Journaling can be an outlet for emotions and serve as a way for someone to obtain a sense of catharsis,” Nadkarni says. “This may be helpful in letting go of pent-up emotions.” It can also help you notice patterns—like what you worry about the most, or what triggers a low mood.
Social isolation isn’t just a symptom of depression—it can also make it worse, so schedule time for social activities you enjoy, like a book club or a community yoga class. You may even want to consider joining a depression support group where you can connect with people who understand what you’re going through. “Support groups are an excellent way to meet people and make social connections,” Nadkarni says.