Fighting anxiety, depression, or the combination of both is no easy task. The good news is that there really are so many ways to combat both anxious and depressive symptoms, with or without medication. If medication is helpful to you, I fully support that. Many people take medications and find great benefit in them. But, as a therapist, I do get a lot of questions from clients and families who are interested in combating anxiety and depression without using psychotropic medications. Most of these tips are lifestyle changes, which can be done in conjunction with any other type of treatment. I always recommend that you consult with your doctor and/or therapist before making any significant treatment changes. I hope these tips help you on your holistic health journey!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor, so please do not take this as medical advice. I am a mental health practitioner, but I cannot write prescriptions or recommend psychotropic medications within my scope of practice. These are supplements that I believe have evidence-based effectiveness through my own personal research. I always recommend checking with your doctor before starting any new supplements.
B-vitamins: If you’re frequently anxious, you may feel like you’re in constant “fight or flight” mode, which shows an overexertion of the sympathetic nervous system. B vitamins can help you calm down, while also increasing natural energy throughout the day.
Omega 3’s– These are the healthy fats found in foods like avocados, olive oil, and coconut oil. You can take them in fish oil capsules too. You’re looking for EPA and DHA as the main ingredients.
Magnesium– Feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, insecure, and irritable could trace back to a Magnesium deficiency. This article from Psychology Today on the benefits of Magnesium shows the results of some fascinating case studies. Whole grains, leafy greens, nuts, and beans are ways to eat your Magnesium, and supplements are usually recommended in 400-800mg daily doses. You could also try an Epsom salt bath, as many Epsom salts include Magnesium as an active ingredient, and it can be effectively absorbed through the skin!
Vitamin D– If you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, take Vitamin D during the winter to help boost your mood. It’s that lack of sunshine!
Meditation is a wonderful way to reduce symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression, and mindful meditation is now integrated into evidence-based therapeutic techniques because it has proven itself effective in numerous studies. If you’re a meditation beginner, these techniques are some of my favorites.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction- MBSR is actually an 8 week program that was originally pioneered by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a professor of medicine and a mindfulness practitioner. This combination of medical and holistic knowledge makes MBSR really valuable. Here are a few MBSR techniques to start with.
– Breath with focusing and awareness: Take a breath in and choose to focus on one particular thing, such as an internal feeling or an external object. Practice continual focus on this one subject for several breaths. Then, switch to awareness. With a breath, step back to observing everything that is happening instead of one thing. Think of your mind as a stream of consciousness. You’re not trying to focus on anything, you just observe all thoughts, feelings, and sensations that pass through. Practice switching back and forth.
– Body Scan: Lie on your back and slowly focus on your body, from your feet up. Pause and notice specific sensations as you “scan.” Stop at tight or uncomfortable spots and focus your energy and breath there for a minute before continuing the scan.
– Walking Meditation: Take a walk and simply practice being aware of the world around you. Focus in on specific sounds, the sensation of the wind, the temperature, the light, whatever it might be. Practice the focusing and awareness techniques while walking.
Guided Visualization – A guided visualization is basically a meditative practice that focuses on a peaceful place or sensation. You may get to the point where you can sit and speak your visualization aloud, but start with someone else guiding you to get used to it. There are dozens of guided visualizations on YouTube. I enjoyed this one, which mainly focuses on a walk along a beach.
3. Essential oils
Aromatherapy is a simple and effective way to quickly combat symptoms and help you feel more at east. Some of the best oils for anxiety are Bergamot, Lavender, Chamomile, and Franckincense.
Some of the best oils for depression are Ylang Ylang, Lemongrass, Tangerine, Sandalwood, and Orange. They’re all fantastic pick-me-ups.
I personally like using Aura Cacia oils. Their oils are a quality grade with responsible sourcing, but also affordable. I generally use my oils topically or in a diffuser. This one is pretty similar to the one I have at home! Some oils are safest when you dillute them with a carrier oil.
For more info on carrier oils, check out this post from Everything Pretty about common carrier oils and this infographic from the My Natural Family blog.
I am not an expert on which brands of oils are safe for oral use, so definitely consult a health practitioner before ingesting oils. Oral use also depends on the general safety of the oil itself. This is a helpful list of oils that are generally safe for oral consumption. When you think about it, it’s a fairly common sense list, as most of these oils are derived from foods and herbs. Check it out here.
Get creative with your use of oils!
– Add to a spray bottle with water and spritz them on yourself when needed, probably 30-40 drops for a 10-12oz bottle.
– Put the oils in a diffuser with water and enjoy the scent as it fills the room.
– Add a few drops to the floor of your shower. The hot water and steam acts as a diffuser.
– Apply topically, but make sure your oils are rated safe for topical use. I often apply on my wrists or behind my ears.
Another way to use aromatherapy is with other products that include the oil or scent. For example, drink chamomile or lavender tea instead of using the oils. Buy bubble bath or soap that features these scents. Find ways to incorporate therapeutic scents in your daily life.
Yoga is not only a fantastic way to get healthier and stay in shape, but it can also be very effective to ease stress, anxiety, and depression. Seeing visuals of yoga poses always helps me get them down. Here are a few great articles and infographics featuring therapeutic yoga poses: (link however you like)
Yoga Poses to Cure Anxiety from Stylecraze
Yoga for Stress and Anxiety – from Spotebi
Happiness Boosting Flow – from Spotebi
Another great way to get your flow on is to practice at home with these apps! They all are either free or at least allow you to access the main features for free. No gym needed, it just takes you and your mat.
– Down Dog for iOS and Android
– Yoga Academy for iOS and Android
– Skimble Workout Trainer for iOS and Android
– FitStar Yoga for iOS and Android
– SWORKIT for iOS and Android
5. Epsom Salt Bath
I already discussed the benefits of Magnesium in Epsom salts, but just the experience of an Epsom salt bath is so relaxing and stress relieving! I love adding Lavender or Eucalyptus bubble bath to my Epsom salts. Lavender is fantastic for relaxation, and Eucalyptus is great for cleansing and clarifying. I really Dr. Teal’s, and it’s one of the more affordable brands.
6. Cut down on caffeine
This one is very difficult for me, as I love coffee, but all the research is there. Too much coffee is bad for you. Period. Research generally agrees that you’re good to have a morning cup of joe, but a morning pot of joe…or a cup every hour…or a Red Bull a day… not so good.
Caffeine can increase stress and anxiety, and it can also eventually affect your natural cortisol levels, making it more difficult for you to recover from “fight or flight” situations. Hot water with lemon and green tea are often recommended as morning alternatives. And there is a thing called decaf! It’s not truly 100% decaffeinated, but can be a good alternative if you can’t let the taste of coffee go.
My doctor recently “prescribed” 45 minutes of strength training 3x a week for me, to increase mood and energy (with the bonus of fitness, of course). Plus there’s the “runner’s high” – the endorphins you get from working out! Exercise has been shown to help boost your mood and relieve stress, over and over again.
8. Get out in nature
Studies have shown that even 5 minutes of walking outside and getting fresh air helps clear your mind and get toxins out that you’ve built up over a day of working inside and getting stressed. Try eating lunch or walking around at a local park after work. For me, bigger nature excursions once a month or so are pretty much a necessity. Taking a whole day for nature helps me clear my mind, renews my perspective, de-stresses me, and encourages me to keep going.
Journaling can be incredibly helpful for processing your thoughts and feelings. One way to get started is with free writing. It’s the process of sitting down and writing literally anything that comes to mind. That creative release alone can have tons of benefits! If you want a more structured approach, there are lots of journal prompts out there to help get you started.
Journal Prompts for Self Reflection– from Reflections From a Red Head
A Year of Journaling (52 Prompts)– from The Girl Who Loved to Write
Journal Prompts to Reflect on Relationships– my prompts, centered around relationships in different seasons
Therapeutic Journal Prompts for Self Care – also from Ivory & Pine. I wrote these with DBT and ACT therapeutic techniques in mind.
10. Massage or Float Therapy
Regular massage therapy can be great to ease muscles. Our bodies hold stress, often in the form of back and shoulder pain. Massage therapy is a great way to release this tension, as well as toxins that have built up in your body. Plus it feels luxurious and relaxing!
Another up-and-coming option is float therapy. During a session, you essentially climb into a tank unclothed and float in a buoyant mixture of water and Epsom salts. There are so many salts in the tank that you float effortlessly, almost like being in zero gravity. Because of this, your body can completely relax, with no stress on it whatsoever to keep you floating or upright. It’s an interesting experience at first, but if you let yourself go, it can be really incredible.
11. Meet with a Therapist
If you’ve been trying other methods, and still find that depression or anxiety seems to be significantly and negatively affecting your life, it’s time to meet with a therapist. Psychology Today is a great resource for finding a local therapist to see in person. Psych Central and Good Therapy have therapist databases as well. While some clients consistently prefer traditional, in-person therapy, online therapy is growing rapidly as an effective alternative. Talkspace and BetterHelp are two websites that offer online therapy from the comfort of your couch with professional, licensed therapists. I believe they have both text therapy and video chats, similar to Skype or Face Time. It’s cheaper, more convenient, and a little less intimidating than in-person therapy.
I hope you find that these techniques help you in your fight against depression or anxiety! These are just a few out of countless ideas to get you started. In addition, I can’t stress enough the positive power of having supportive people in your life to help fight mental illness. If these people aren’t already in your life, there are so many supportive online communities. Love and kindness to you on your journey.