When it comes to managing depression and anxiety, there’s no right answer.
For some people, medication is a vital part of keeping their condition under control. For others, lifestyle changes let them work towards naturally improving their mental health.
This article outlines several ways to manage depression and anxiety without the use of prescription drugs, but it’s not intended to suggest that medication may not be necessary. At St. Joseph Institute for Addiction in Pennsylvania, we encourage you to discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider to determine a treatment approach that best fits your needs.
Eat a Healthy Diet
What you eat plays a key role in affecting your mood. If you are struggling with depression and anxiety, the following diet tips can help you manage your condition:
- Eat whole-grain bread and other complex carbs to boost the brain’s level of serotonin.
- Choose snacks with tryptophan, such as turkey, chicken, peanut butter, sesame seeds, nuts, bananas, milk, oats, or cheese. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin and provides similar mood-boosting effects.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are most often linked to improved brain function, but they also show promise in easing depression symptoms. Fish, nuts, dark leafy green vegetables, flaxseed oil, and canola oil are all good sources of omega-3s.
- Make sure your breakfast includes a source of protein to provide energy and keep your blood glucose levels steady.
- Carry a water bottle with you to stay hydrated throughout the day.
- Minimize caffeine intake, since too much caffeine can cause anxiety and make it harder to sleep at night.
Physical activity is a vital component of any healthy lifestyle. Exercise can increase your energy levels, release mood-boosting endorphins, minimize the physical signs of stress, and promote a positive body image.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity with strength training for all major muscle groups at least two times a week. However, if you’re currently leading a very sedentary lifestyle, it’s fine to work your way up to this amount. Try starting with a walk after dinner or a bike ride with your kids. Small changes can have a significant impact if you’re consistent.
Activities that involve spending time outside will offer the added benefit of increasing the body’s production of vitamin D. It is difficult for the body to obtain enough vitamin D through food alone, so sunlight is the most important source. Vitamin D deficiency is often found in people who have depression and anxiety.
Practice Good Sleep Habits
Insomnia is a common problem in the early stages of sobriety, but poor-quality sleep can lead to fatigue, cognitive impairment, and low mood. Good sleep habits to promote a more restful slumber include:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day.
- Avoid using computers, smartphones, or other electronics at least 30 minutes before bed.
- Keep your bedroom dark, quiet, cool, and clutter free. If necessary, invest in a new mattress, pillows, and/or bedding.
- Develop a relaxing bedtime routine, such as taking a warm bath or meditating.
- Avoid eating heavy, rich, spicy, fried, or fatty foods in the evening. These foods can often cause heartburn or digestive trouble that will make it hard to sleep.
Do not rely on naps to make up for inadequate sleep. A nap of more than 30 minutes can cause problems by making you too alert to fall asleep at night.
Make Time to Socialize
Depression and anxiety can zap your motivation to socialize, but nurturing relationships with others is good for your mental health. Get together with friends or family for fun sober activities such as a movie or game night. Structured activities are perfect for socializing when you’re feeling vulnerable since you won’t feel pressured to make small talk. If you decide you’re ready to talk, you can follow up by checking out a local coffee shop or heading to a nearby park to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
If you need to expand your social circle, consider volunteering at a local non-profit organization. Depending upon your interests, you could collect food for the hungry, help animals in need, provide companionship for senior citizens, or clean up a local park. You’ll be helping others and staying busy while you make new friends.
Pursuing Hobbies and Special Interests
Hobbies and special interests provide you with a way to relieve stress and boost self-esteem. Creative activities, such as drawing, painting, singing, or writing in a journal, can be particularly helpful for people with depression because they offer a chance to explore emotions in a safe and non-threatening way.
If you decide that you’d like to try a new hobby, remember that the goal is to enjoy yourself and have fun. Resist the urge to compare your progress to others. You are one-of-a-kind and your recovery journey is as unique as you are.