How to Treat Depression Without Medication
Many people turn up in our offices wishing that they didn’t have to go on meds but suspecting that they will have to. By the time they decide to see us, they have already spent several weeks feeling hopeless and sleep-deprived, and they’ve lost their normal enjoyment in every day life.
Even if they would rather not use anti-depressant medication, they want the pain to stop yesterday!
There are many alternatives to anti-depressants we prescribe for people who would prefer not to get started on medications. While we’ve previously discussed how bright light can be as effective as medication, here’s a more complete and holistic list of recommendations.
Of course, if you think you may be depressed or are experiencing suicidal feelings, consult a mental health professional and make sure that they follow your progress until you feel better.
Pull an All-Nighter – Stay up all night for one night. Use someone or something (good movies?) to help with the enforced wakefulness.
Get Bright Light in the Morning – The next morning, preferably at your regular wake time, get at least half an hour of bright light. Here, bright light means 10,000 lux or greater. If the light is dimmer, it will take longer, but it must be above 2,500 lux to be effective. (It can be hard to know how bright light is and to track your exposure, which is why we invented SunSprite.)
A walk in the sunshine would be best, but if that’s not feasible, use a bright light and sit close enough to get 10,000 lux intensity through your eyes.
Keep getting your daily dose of bright light every morning.
Avoid Bright Light at Night – The day after you stayed awake all night, go to bed a little earlier than your regular bedtime and sleep as you usually would. At least a half hour before you go to sleep, dim any lights you have on. Install software on your computer and phone to reduce your exposure to blue light. When you’re ready to go to sleep, make sure the room is completely dark. Also, if there’s too much noise to get to sleep, use white noise to drown out the noise. Then upon waking, get your bright light in the proper dose, and continue this for the duration.
Exercise – Build in at least 30 minutes of exercise a day, ideally outdoors. Taking a walk on sunny mornings can get you your bright light and exercise in one shot!
Eat Well – Have at least 3 meals per day, including some of your favorite foods.
Be Social – Have social contact with someone, even a “familiar” stranger such as a neighbor or shop owner daily. Try to build in time with old friends with whom no pretense is necessary.
Do Something You Think Is Useful – Try to establish a routine with some part of each day qualifying as productive according to your value system.
Get Into a Groove – Build some “flow” activities into your daily schedule. Flow activities are activities that are so compelling to you that you don’t notice the passage of time and you can improve at them. Some examples include biking, drawing, playing an instrument, knitting, playing video games, and editing pictures.
Many people might say “Well, if I could do all that, I surely wouldn’t be depressed.” But the research data tells us that chronotherapy, the combination of staying awake for one night followed by bright light therapy every morning, is as effective as anti-depressant meds and it works faster! If you also exercise, eat well, and establish a good sleep schedule, you’re likely to feel much better. Plus, you won’t experience the decreased sexual interest and weight gain that often accompanies the use of anti-depressant medications.