The usual treatments for depression are prescribed antidepressant medications which, in theory, work by increasing levels of “feel good” brain chemicals. But prescription antidepressants work for less than half of those who try them and have a high relapse rate. Let's not get into the side effects of those.
If you’ve gone the medical route with little success or are hesitant to try medication, there is no reason to feel hopeless. There's a lot more you can do. Fortunately, there are many natural ways to beat depression that have been scientifically proven to work often as good as or even better than antidepressants.
Here’s a look at 5 of the most important steps to take in order to beat depression.
1. Stress Less
Depression is ultimately a stress disorder: a disease where stress is poorly managed by our bodies. It’s as if many of us with depression and anxiety have a new intern sitting at command central of our nervous system, and she keeps categorizing stress responses incorrectly, sending them to the wrong department in our body. Moreover, she sits right next to the fire alarm and keeps ringing it every time there is a hint of panic.
2. Sleep Right (and enough)
Chronic stress and disrupted sleep cycles are the two biggest factors that prevent a person from climbing out of the depths of depression. Unfortunately, where there is depression, there are usually sleep issues. Volumes of studies have documented the devastating effects of sleep on mental health, like the one by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine that found that the heritability of depressive symptoms in twins with very short sleep was nearly twice the heritability in twins sleeping seven to nine hours per night.
Physical exercise is one of the best things you can do for elevating your mood. It increases circulation to deliver more oxygen, glucose, and nutrients to your brain while clearing out toxins and metabolic debris. Exercise builds a healthier brain by increasing the levels of brain chemicals that promote new brain cell formation and new neural connections. It actually reorganizes the brain so that it responds better to stress. Regular physical exercise has been found to work better for depression than SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors), the drugs usually prescribed for depression.
The evidence is overwhelming that regular meditation is one of the best ways to beat depression. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University sifted through over 18,000 meditation studies and concluded that meditation is beneficial for mental disorders of all kinds and one of its best uses is for depression. Meditation works on many levels. It increases levels of both serotonin, your “happiness molecule,” and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), the relaxing neurotransmitter, and it reduces levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which significantly contributes to depression. It also puts out the fire of brain inflammation, which is associated with depression. And it quiets the mind and reduces negative self-talk, a problem for everyone but especially for those with a mood disorder.
5. Be Grateful
Incorporating a daily practice of gratitude can improve your health, relationships, self-esteem, and sleep. Research shows that it can also make you happier.
Gratitude and depression are inversely proportional.
In studies, people who are depressed express nearly 50 percent less gratitude than control groups. Conversely, the more grateful a person is, the less depressed he is likely to be. Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of California, is considered the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. His research confirms that gratitude effectively increases happiness and reduces depression.