Guest post by Marina Lisjonok, MSW, ERYT-500, RRT
There are many helpful and useful strategies when dealing with depression and anxiety without meds. Here are ten I commonly recommend to my clients:
1. Witness Your Emotions
First let’s acknowledge that underlying emotions help drive anxiety and depression. Yet it is the nature of emotions to come and go. Emotions are never permanent. They have no sustainability if you are willing to let them pass. You can either be entangled in your emotions or be a witness to them.
As you mindfully witness your emotions without judging them, they cease fueling your depression and anxiety. Imagine that your emotion is a leaf on a stream. Watch it slowly pass by, carried by the current until it is out of site. Do that again, mindfully, without judgment.
2. Witness ALL of Your Emotions
Each of us are hardwired to have emotions. They are spontaneous and automatic responses to your external experiences or internal environment. When you have depression and anxiety, some of these emotions really stand out – sadness, fear, etc.
But your experiences change constantly, and you will have other emotions in addition to the predominant ones. Look for those other emotional experiences, even if brief. By noticing and letting yourself experience other emotions, the hold depression and anxiety have on your experience begins to be disrupted.
Your breath changes its pattern in response to your emotional state. Check in right now. What is your breath rate? How does it making you feel?
If you feel sad or depressed, your breath is probably more shallow or heavy. If you feel fearful or anxious, you might have a shortness of breath or even be holding your breath. Shifting to consciously breathing deeply and fully automatically switches your emotional state of being.
Your inhalations and exhalations have power when dealing with depression and anxiety without meds.
Inhales and Depression:
As you inhale, you bring energy (oxygen) to your body and brains. Placing emphasis on your inhalation helps you feel brighter and more energetic. Particularly for depression, I suggest using a three-part breath (full ribcage capacity) breath. You may find it helpful to use a pleasant aroma to connect effortlessly and naturally in deepening your inhalations. For example, I love smelling flowers or essential oils.
Exhales and Anxiety:
On the other hand, exhalations get rid of things that no longer serve us (for example, carbon dioxide). Emphasizing your exhalations help shift anxiety. Belly breath is a good idea as it activates restorative state of being.
Make your exhalations longer than your exhalations. Producing a sound with the voice as you exhale naturally helps you exhale deeper. You might try simple humming or singing a slow song to prolong your exhalations. Make it an ongoing practice and see what you notice about your state of being.
4. Connect With Nature
Each of us is a part of nature. Spending time in nature effortlessly brings you into a more peaceful yet alert state of being.
But what if you live in the city and are surrounded by concrete?
Nature is still there. Look at the sky, watch the clouds, see and hear birds, touch a tree or shrub, or notice and explore a flower. By observing nature, you bring yourself into present moment awareness.
Being out in nature replenishes your energy and feeds your body. You can simply sit and observe, or you can go for a walk. Take it all in. While you are in nature, tune in to all your senses: smell the surrounding aromas, hear the sounds, take a deeper look at forms of life, feel the air on your skin, notice the taste in your mouth.
Interestingly, no other life forms constantly introspect about the past or fearfully ruminate on the future. All other forms of life in nature simply are present. Humans this makes humans unique. However, spending so much time unaware of the present moment has consequences.
By consciously observing what is right in front of you, you engage your mind in the present moment. This practice takes charge of your mind, replacing the constant bombardment of distorted thoughts fueling depression and anxiety. This intentional use of present moment focus also helps shift you out of memories that trigger depression and fragments of scary imagination that can trigger anxiety. And it’s all without medication.
5. Observe Children
The smaller children are, the more present and authentic they are in their emotional response. We can learn and take in so much from observing children! Notice how they are:
- Wired for joy
- Very present
- Full of life
- Free from preoccupation
- Responding to what is in front of them, with varying and quickly switching emotions, rather than what is in their memory or imagined in the future.
By observing children, we can tune into their energy and also remember what is like to be a child: innocent, joyful, clear and living in the moment. Using some of these kid attitudes is a helpful strategy when dealing with depression and anxiety without meds.
6. Distract Your Mind, Instead of Fighting Your Mind
Getting stuck in depression and anxiety comes in part from the thoughts running through your mind and the conclusions you make about them. Meditation can help distract from those thoughts as you focus your mind on something else. That something else can be an object that represents peace, tranquility, divinity, or some other calming focus.
Consider trying guided meditation, where your mind is told what to do and visualize. Meditation apps abound, and many specifically focus on depression and anxiety. Some apps I regularly hear good things about are Insight Timer and Calm.
However, be very cautious with self-led, unguided meditation when you are in active depression or anxiety. Thoughts can become more apparent during meditation as they rise up, distracting your mind from the object of concentration. This can make these thoughts feel even more intrusive. Because distorted thoughts are so much a part of depression and anxiety, self-led, unguided meditation could unintentionally deepen your depression and anxiety.
Distracting your mind and doing something that automatically redirects and changes the quality of thoughts would be more useful to you. Here are some ideas:
- Take a walk
- Do art
- Have a conversation with a good POSITIVE friend
- Watch an uplifting movie (not a movie that depresses you or makes you feel even more anxious)
- Listen to either upbeat or calming music
- Do yoga or another form of physical exercise.
7. Question What You Tell Yourself
Pay attention to the stories that your mind runs in your head (which usually is on a loop!). The vast majority of those stories are not true. Katie Byron offers 4 questions to ask yourself whenever you become aware of a thought or belief taking up a lot of mental space. As you consider this thought, ask yourself:
- Is it true?
- Do I know that to be an actual truth?
- How do I react when I think this thought?
- What would I be without this thought?
And a bonus question: Are there any reasons to keep this thought that don’t also produce stress? Questioning your depressive and fearful/anxious thoughts helps you realize the stories you tell yourself are often NOT true.
Once you realize that, then you can work to let go of thoughts that do not serve you. In doing so, your mind can begin to explore other possibilities that feel freer and more optimistic. This is a powerful way to deal with depression and anxiety without meds.
8. Engage Your Support System
Depression and anxiety both tend to isolate those who experience them. Even though you will not feel like it, communicating and being with others is a critical strategy when dealing with depression and anxiety without meds.
It helps to communicate with people who overcame depression and anxiety. Through them you can learn even more strategies to deal with depression and anxiety. They know what you are going through and are happy to be there for you, support you, and lead you to the same result. Check out an Anxiety and Depression Association of America support group – online or in person – to find support.
9. Shift Your Diet
What you eat has a lot to do with what you experience emotionally. If you are prone to depression and feel energetically heavy and sluggish, add more colorful fruits and vegetables to your diet. The more color, the better. They are full of life force and what your body needs to again be radiant.
If you are prone to anxiety, yogic wisdom says you will benefit from grounding food that brings more stability in your state of being. These would be root vegetables, grains, and so forth.
Some nutritionists suggest staying away from processed or GMO foods and sugars to help with mood. With that in mind, a food detox program that helps to eliminate allergens or toxins can be helpful. A book I found helpful is “The Food and Mood Handbook: Find Relief at Last from Depression, Anxiety, PMS, Cravings, and Mood Swings”.
10. Talk to a Therapist
Talking to a professional can help you generate more positive thoughts and release the impacts of trauma, which is highly correlated to depression and anxiety. I often lead my clients through relaxation, breath work, and visualization techniques to help shift emotional states of being and show the power of the mind.
Recently I became trained in Rapid Resolution Therapy, which works on the subconscious mind and shifts the way it processes information. Whether the focus is shifting depression or anxiety, changing a habit, or releasing a trauma, the process is very positive and uplifting. It entails breath, visualization, new ways of thinking, and so much more. It also produces fast and lasting results for many people.
Sometimes medications are necessary for treating depression and anxiety. But know that these interventions are helpful regardless if you choose to use medication or not. From the bottom of my heart I am wishing you well. The whole world is better when you are better, and your mind is updated, refreshed, and clear.
If you or a loved one is struggling with anxiety or depression and are in the Chicago area, call Life Care Wellness today at 630-423-5935 to begin your healing journey. We have offices in Glen Ellyn and the Jefferson Park neighborhood of Chicago.