Part 4 of a 4-Part Series
This article is the final segment in a series about non-pharmaceutical strategies for reducing or eliminating depression. In my previous articles, I discussed the therapeutic benefits of good nutrition, the use of herbs and supplements, and healthy lifestyle habits. Whether you are currently taking medication for depression, looking to discontinue it, or opposed to taking it in the first place, these natural alternative remedies can be helpful in improving your mood.
Combatting Depression with Alternative Therapies
Here are some of the alternative therapies that can be effective for combatting depression:
Despite what many Christians may believe, meditation does not have to be anti-Christian. There are many ideas and voices on the topic of meditation that are compatible with our faith, or are at least neutral. I believe that meditation has potential health benefits. One definition of meditation is “contemplation, thought, pondering, consideration, reflection, and concentration.” You could practice it by pondering and reflecting on the Word of God, considering a topic or question to the exclusion of all other mental stimulation, mindfully observing a process (such as your breathing or your heart beating), or even focusing on an object. Another rendering of meditation is “a state of deep peace that occurs when the mind is calm and silent.” This would involve emptying your mind of all thinking to achieve inner quietness. A third definition that I found describes meditation as a technique for “resting the mind,” which frees it from agitation and distraction. This can involve emptying or focusing your thought. It is a method of disciplining the mind, which can at times seem so out of control.
Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand, and relaxation can be an effective mitigation for both. There are many ways to “relax,” such as taking a walk, petting a cat, reading a book, taking a bubble bath or sitting in a hot tub, laying on the beach, crocheting, etc. Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique designed to loosen tension in the physical body. It involves deliberately tensing a particular muscle group or area of the body, then releasing that tension and allowing it to flow out of the body, “progressively” moving to other muscle groups until the entire body is relaxed. Regularly practicing this type of intentional relaxation contributes to a greater sense of physical and mental well-being.
Besides feeling good and being relaxing, a massage can alter the body’s biochemistry. Therapeutic touch and pressure can help to relieve pain and tension, thus promoting relaxation. The hormone cortisol, which inhibits the immune system and increases blood pressure and blood sugar, is typically reduced after a massage, and the neurotransmitters associated with a positive mood are increased.
4) Neurofeedback (EEG Biofeedback)
An EEG, or electroencephalograph, is a test that measures the brain’s electrical activity. Every thought, emotion, and sensation is a result of the electrical firing of nerve cells called neurons. An EEG “brain map” provides a visual representation of this activity. Studies indicate that poor mood is associated with the right frontal area of the cortex being more active than the left. Neurofeedback trains the left frontal area to be more active than the right. So instead of merely masking symptoms with medication, the brain is actually being reshaped.
The use of essential oils to enhance mood and provide other health benefits is popularly called aromatherapy. There is an abundance of anecdotal evidence for the effectiveness of oils in treating depression, but unfortunately few clinical studies. Aromatherapy works by impacting the limbic system of the brain, which has to do with instinct, memory, and emotion. Oils commonly considered beneficial for low mood are jasmine, sandalwood, chamomile, ylang-ylang, clary sage, basil, bergamot, rose, geranium, neroli, orange, citrus blend, and petitgrain. Methods of application include diffusion, room spray, massage, and baths.
6) Use Your Imagination
Imagine that you are hiking on a meandering trail through a thick and lush forest with exotic birds and plant life, or walking along the shore on a warm beach, or enjoying yourself and laughing in the company of many friends and loved ones. Taking an emotional break from negative thoughts and emotions by visiting a specific “happy place” in your thoughts can ease symptoms of depression. This process is meant to enhance the body-mind-spirit connection. Physical relaxation and a peaceful state of mind are achieved through intentional visualization, often combined with music or words (guided imagery).
7) Music Therapy
Classical music, instrumental music, and nature sounds are often soothing and relaxing because they help to reduce states of arousal. However, the benefits of music with regard to mood tend to be largely determined by individual preference. Worship music, with its Biblical message, can bring hope and remind you that God loves you, is near, and is faithful. Meaningful lyrics from any genre can encourage, inspire, and help you to feel understood and not so alone. Sounds and melodies that are cheerful, energizing, catchy, or otherwise pleasant stimulate positive thoughts and feelings that can bring a smile. Moreover, professional music therapists are skilled at using music to achieve specific therapeutic goals.
8) Light Therapy
Light therapy is traditionally used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that results from insufficient exposure to sunlight (think Western Washington). This therapy involves sitting or working in artificial light that mimics natural full-spectrum sunlight, using a phototherapy box or lamp. Natural light is thought to affect mood through brain chemistry. Alternatively, a device called a “dawn simulator” gradually increases the amount of light in your bedroom during the early morning, convincing your brain that it is July when it’s really December, which improves mood for many users. As with many alternative therapies, there is far more anecdotal evidence than there are clinical studies to support its efficacy. But if it helps, it helps, so who cares? There are some contraindications for the use of light boxes (such as specific medical conditions and the use of certain herbs and medications), so be sure to do your homework and be well-informed. All this being said, nothing beats the real thing. Spending time out of doors on sunny days can do wonders for your soul.
9) Hormone Therapy
Hormones are produced by glands referred to as the endocrine system. The under and over functioning of endocrine glands lead to various psychiatric symptoms, including depression. Hormones from the hypothalamus-pituitary-thyroid axis, gonadal steroids (testosterone and ovarian hormones), melatonin, and adrenal cortex hormones are most often implicated. Bioidentical hormone therapy can alleviate symptoms in affected individuals. However, the same depressive symptoms can have more than one causative factor. A blood test is necessary in order to determine whether a hormone imbalance is part of the equation.
10) Mood Diary or Journal
The purpose of keeping a mood diary is to learn to monitor mood changes in order to recognize and feel your unfelt feelings. Theorists promote the idea that non-situational depression that seems to “come out of nowhere for no reason” is disconnected from the actual feelings that precipitate it. Chronic stuffing, denying, avoiding, and repressing can lead to a big ball of sadness, guilt, regret, and other depressing emotions that don’t seem to make sense. These unacknowledged feelings may be triggered by relationship interactions, memories, or things heard, seen, or read about in the course of your life. Keeping a diary increases awareness of your defense system and forces you to face what bothers you and bums you out. Building an awareness of the hurts, fears, anger, and events that spawn those feelings can feel scary and overwhelming at first. But by sticking with it, patterns emerge and you learn new things about yourself and become more authentic. This can be very empowering and freeing.
Journaling can be used for “keeping it real,” but it can also be used as a means of self-encouragement. The psalmist David often wrote about his fears and sorrows in one breath, but followed this with praise to the Lord for His provision and faithfulness. A “gratitude journal” focuses on everything there is to be thankful for, even in the midst of tough circumstances and depressed feelings. Biblically speaking, God inhabits or dwells in our praise, so when we are giving Him thanks in the midst of our despair, we can know that He is near.
Instead of turning inward and dwelling on the morass of heaviness, talk to a friend, counselor, or life coach, or join a support group. Push through your emotional resistance to reaching out and let someone in. Talking can be cathartic, and getting stuff out and on the table can make monster emotions less threatening, especially since you are not dealing with it alone. Galatians 6:2 commands all believers to bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Ideally, we take turns bearing and receiving care.
Christian Counseling in the Struggle against Depression
If depression has darkened your door, don’t let pride, shame, or hopelessness keep you from seeking guidance and loving support.
Yoga International: https://yogainternational.com/
Mayo Clinic: mayoclinic.org
National Center for Biotechnology Information: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
“So bored,” courtesy of SEVENHEADS, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Touching Hands,” courtesy of Splitshire.com; “Footsteps in the Sand,” courtesy of Ana Gabriel, unsplash.com