6 Most Effective Ways to Fight Depression Without Drugs

Depression affects 350 million people worldwide and is commonly treated with prescribed medications and/or psychotherapy. Recently, there has been a lot of professional and personal interest in alleviating depression without the use of drugs or other pharmaceuticals. Feeling depressed and hopeless can be debilitating and looking for immediate relief is common.  It’s important to recognize that depression is resolved through time and that patience will be required.  A quick fix or immediate solution doesn’t exist (even pharmaceuticals take 6 weeks to get the full benefit), but there are things you can start today to improve your mood.  Here are the 6 most effective ways to fight depression without drugs.


1. Routine

Change it up. Do something new. Rearrange the schedule. Break up a routine. We are creatures of habit and this is normally to our benefit. Our brains and bodies get good at things we do over and over. Think of a sport you learned to play: at first you weren’t very good but with practice you learned the mental strategy of how to win and at the same time your body became more efficient at doing what your mind told it to.  However, with depression that routine feels like a rut. By changing how we do things, we create variety and promote learning.

What if I’m so depressed I don’t have a routine? Start one. Using the same brain hack that allows us to improve our sports performance, we can improve our lives. By ritualizing our behavior, we can get things done nearly automatically. Have you ever driven to work but don’t remember the details of how you got there? Your brain was on auto-pilot and you managed the very mentally complex task of driving without conscious thought.  Likewise, if you create a routine then in time that activity can become automatic. Accomplishing those tasks can be a powerful antidepressant as it combats a sense of worthlessness. How can I be worthless when I’ve done so much?


2. Exercise

The cure all for the modern world, exercise crushes depression. Studies have shown that exercising to fatigue improves our mood.  It makes sense because most of our existence on this planet was spent hunting and farming – both labor intensive lifestyles. Naturally, our bodies are designed to cope with that kind of life, but in today’s society many of us have sedentary lives.  We work sitting at a desk, we drive home sitting in the car and we watch TV sitting on the sofa. All of that sitting robs us of two important benefits of exercise.  First we can improve our Serotonin function with 30 minutes of exercise.  Serotonin is the brain chemical that most modern antidepressant medications target and improvements with this neurotransmitter show similar improvements in mood.  The second benefit is exercising until you are tired. By going the extra distance while exercising, we can naturally produce tryptophan. Famous for making Americans fall asleep after the Thanksgiving meal, tryptophan not only works as a sleep aid, but creates a sense of wellbeing.  So start moving!


3. Set Goals

Depression robs us of our motivation but by setting goals and deadlines, we create a sense of forward thinking and accomplishment. Share your goal with a friend and the added accountability will increase your chances of success.  The National Institute of Mental Health suggests breaking the goal into smaller, more manageable tasks. If the goal is “visit every museum in the cultural district” that’s too big for today.  Instead, look at the steps needed to meet the goal:

  • Search the internet for the museums in the cultural district

  • Make an exhaustive list

  • Find out when they’re open

  • Pick one to visit this weekend

  • Invite a friend

With this plan, the previously overwhelming goal begins with an easy internet search and self-congratulations start today. Rather than waiting months until the end of this artistic pilgrimage, something is accomplished very quickly. What do you really want to start?

I have six suggestions in this article I would highly recommend.


4. Get Outside

We live on a fantastic planet designed to nourish us. The earth, animals, water and the air surrounding us all serve our wellbeing. Why do we hide away from it? Research tells us a free, natural antidepressant hangs in the sky above us in the Sun.  There is even a condition when our mood darkens because we don’t get enough sunlight called Seasonal Affective Disorder. Sunlight provides not only a psychological boost, but our skin absorbs vitamin D, contributing to a sense of wellbeing. Expose yourself to 30 minutes of sunlight each day to brighten your mood.


5. Eat Right

Like exercise, a healthy diet is a modern cure all for a variety of ailments. Our eating habits have moved from a hunter/agrarian diet to a diet full of fat, salt and sugar. These taste so good because for much of our history they were rare and our bodies rewarded with pleasure when we ate them.  Today, they’re in overabundance and it’s been suggested that a protein rich diet with lots of good amino acids can greatly impact mood.  Other important nutritional elements are vitamin D, magnesium, vitamins B6 and B12, iron, folate, iodine and zinc. Next visit to the grocery store, treat yourself to some green leafy vegetables, fresh fruit and handful of favorite beans.


6. Meditate

Want to cure depression? There is a body of research coming from radiology (not psychology) that shows that meditation over time can teach your brain to be happy. Researchers used medical imaging of the brain over several long term studies showed that regular meditators could change their brain physiology to counteract depression. Here are some steps to get started today:

  • Find a clean, quiet place in your home

  • Sit comfortably with good posture

  • Focus on your breath

  • When your mind wanders, bring it back to your breath without judgement

  • Mentally going away and coming back are part of the meditation, it’s normal.

Meditation may not be easy, but the results are well worth it.  Not only does meditation improve mood, but many find that they have better self-control and work through negative thoughts faster and more easily.

The ultimate prescription: Set a goal to start a routine beginning today.  This routine consists of a brief time of meditation followed by a healthy snack and 30 minutes of outside exercise.


A final note about severe depression: Severe depression is a serious condition with potentially life-threatening consequences, so these recommendations are for mild to moderate depression. Research has shown these techniques to be effective supports for severe depression, but medication and psychotherapy are the primary interventions. If you find yourself contemplating suicide, call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).