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Depression and other mood disorders are major issues that affect millions of people each day. While medications are effective in managing many cases of depression, they are not always the ideal or only solution.

Whether a person prefers to avoid drugs for a personal reason or because they found medications to not be as effective, natural approaches can boost mood and alleviate depression. Some focus on simple lifestyle changes, others are more involved, and some are alternatives to medications.

Build a Routine

Even people who do not typically thrive on schedules benefit from having a routine when their lives become unpredictable or stressful and symptoms of depression flare up. These routines must go beyond responsibilities like school and work.

Start by focusing on controllable things. Some people like to exercise at a certain time each day, and others like to clean at specific times. Following a routine adds predictability and a feeling of focus and productivity, which can alleviate feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Senior Gentleman Exercising Virtually at Home FatCamera / Getty Images

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Exercise

When it comes to natural ways to manage depression, exercise is one of the best. Studies even show that for some people, a regular exercise routine is as effective as antidepressants. Basically, exercising triggers a domino-like series of events in the body that then have greater impacts.

In the short-term, exercise causes the body to release feel-good chemicals called endorphins, which is why some people feel a “runner’s high.” Consistent exercise encourages the release of neurotrophic proteins that improve brain function and form new connections. All of this occurs alongside benefits like better sleep, lower blood pressure, and general improvement of health markers. Together, these factors can dramatically improve depression symptoms.

Rear view of a woman standing in front of stairs in the park Dobrila Vignjevic / Getty Images

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Balanced Eating

When depression strikes, our diets often suffer the consequences. Getting up and cooking a proper meal can feel like a massive task, so many people turn to fast food or unhealthy snack foods. However, the gut has a direct link to the brain and diet plays a big role in mental health.

Eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of nutrients can have serious long-term benefits when it comes to fighting depression, anxiety, and similar issues. A big part of this means avoiding options that often make people feel worse, like overly greasy items or those processed beyond recognition. Achieving better nutrition doesn't have to mean spending hours in the kitchen each day, either. Research quick, simple snacks and meals that get your nutrients in without eating up all your spare time.

Young Asian woman enjoying a healthy meal for lunch. She is having fresh and colourful vegan salad bowl with organic greens and fruits at a vegan restaurant. Healthy eating, go green lifestyle d3sign / Getty Images

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Get Enough Sleep

It is common knowledge that sleep is a key part of overall health, but it can be difficult to get enough in the modern world. Between jobs, school, family, and other responsibilities, sleep schedules often fall by the wayside. However, poor sleep quality is a major risk factor of depression, and, unfortunately, depression itself can cause insomnia.

Finding ways to get adequate sleep despite this is a key part of alleviating depression. Listening to white noise, ASMR, or similar sounds helps some people, while others benefit from changing their bedding, adjusting the temperature, or even just keeping their bedroom clean. Exercising a couple of hours before bedtime can also make falling asleep easier.

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Add to Your To-Do List

As depression symptoms worsen, people often start pulling away from the world. They avoid social interactions, hobbies they love no longer hold their interest, and they may stop attending work or school. While this is a complex symptom to handle, one of the best ways to do so naturally is to actively seek things to do.

Not only does this keep the mind occupied, but spending time with friends or doing something we enjoy helps fight depression symptoms.

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Try St. John's Wort

St. John’s wort is a type of shrub native to areas of Europe. The plant’s flowers and leaves are full of a variety of active ingredients, such as hyperforin. Studies show that St. John’s wort has a therapeutic effect on mild to moderate depression when taken as a supplement in tablets, liquids, topical applications, or even teas.

However, it is worth noting that St. John’s wort can interact with many prescription drugs, so speak with a doctor before you add this one to your daily regimen.

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Try Omega-3s

Omega-3 fatty acids are compounds that naturally occur in fish oil and certain marine algae. Reports indicate that depression is less widespread in areas where people eat large amounts of fish. Many experts attribute this to omega-3 fatty acids like eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. Meta-analyses show that omega-3s are likely effective in treating symptoms of depression and other mood disorders.

While the mechanism and ideal dose are still unclear, the lack of side effects has many health professionals recommending fish oil supplements to the majority of their patients.

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Consider Meditation and Yoga

For many people, stress and anxiety trigger periods of depression. Meditation is a great way to naturally limit the power of these triggers and depression symptoms. During meditation, the brain’s amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex become less active, weakening the negative sensations of anxiety and stress.

Meditation also appears to increase gray matter density in the brain, which experts associate with less severe depression. Yoga is another option for people who prefer to stay moving, as many forms of yoga combine the calming mindfulness of meditation with the depression-fighting power of exercise.

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Keep an Eye on How Caffeine Affects You

Caffeine may provide the burst of energy that millions of people need every workday, but it may also affect depression. Studies indicate that coffee can lower the risk of depression in some people. However, this does not carry over to other caffeinated drinks, meaning the benefit lies exclusively with coffee.

Evidence shows that caffeine itself worsens the risk of depression in children and can increase feelings of anxiety in some people. So, a bit of coffee in the morning may help with depression symptoms, but slamming energy drinks could just make things worse.

Top view of woman sitting by the window in coffee shop enjoying the warmth of sunlight and drinking coffee d3sign / Getty Images

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Consider Avoiding Alcohol

For millions of people, drinking is a way to unwind and relax, whether it is a glass of wine in the evening or a pint of beer while out with friends. However, there is a strong link between alcohol and depression, and alcohol use disorder is far more common in people with major depression.

In some cases, this is because people try to self-medicate using alcohol. In others, it is because alcohol is a depressant that affects the brain. As with many aspects of life, it is important to find moderation and consider what is healthier for each personal case. For some people, avoiding alcohol may be a simple way to alleviate depression.

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Go Out in the Sunshine

It may seem too simple or even a bit flippant, but there is some truth to the idea that just going outside, soaking in the sun, and touching some grass can help with depression. Interacting with nature has a powerful effect on the brain. Just a 20-minute break outside lowers stress hormone levels.

While experts have not reached a consensus on what type of nature break is best or if the location matters, they all agree that being outside can be a simple—but powerful—tool in treating mood disorders.

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Talk to Someone

Another of the simpler but more effective options for managing depression is social interaction. When a person has depression, they report having more negative social interactions and tend to view typically neutral social interactions more negatively. This, along with other symptoms, leads to social isolation. However, researchers found that people with depression also receive greater benefits from positive social events. Maintaining rewarding relationships with friends and family fills the need to belong, helping with feelings of depression.

Beyond this, discussing problems with a psychiatrist, therapy group, or a trusted individual can allow a person to move past events that would typically aggravate depression. Talk therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy are some of the most effective treatments for mood disorders.

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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.