7 non-medication ways to get your life back

26 Jan 7 non-medication ways to get your life back

Is it possible to recover from depression? 7 scientifically researched non-medication ways to get your life back.

It is hard to have hope when you’re depressed or, as the saying goes; it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel that is depression. This is exactly what many people struggle with; the feeling that there’s no hope and no way to overcome depression and get their lives back. But as hard as it may be to believe, it’s important for everyone to know that recovering from depression is highly possible when you receive the kind of treatment that’s right for you. Taking anti-depression medication is one option, and the one that’s usually prescribed by family physicians and psychiatrists. But non-pharmacological treatments exist, which are as likely and sometimes even more likely than medication to help alleviate symptoms of depression in certain cases.

This is especially important for pregnant and breastfeeding women who are experiencing depression and anxiety. This is the reason why I have decided to summarize the current literature on different treatment options, methods and techniques that have been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of depression. Some are therapies, which can be conducted by licensed professionals such as registered psychologists while others are self-help methods or practices that are often offered in the community.

  1. Cognitive-Behavioral-Therapy (CBT) is a therapy that combines behavioral changes with changes in the ways a person thinks and engages in self-talk (that’s the cognitive part). CBT explores how thoughts, feelings, behaviors bodily sensations and the environment are inter-connected. By making some lifestyle changes, such as exercising and devoting time to self-care and, by changing unhelpful cognitions (e.g., thoughts, beliefs), many can overcome depression. CBT is a short-term therapy. It lasts 12 weeks on average and homework is assigned every week. Registered Psychologists are often well-trained in this type of therapy.
  2. Regular exercise has been shown to reduced symptoms of depression by up to 60%. In a famous study out of University of California in Los Angeles participants were assigned to either a regular exercise group or a group that received anti-depressants (in this case, Paroxetine also known as Paxil). The exercising group received professional training 5 times per week. At the end of the study, people in both groups improved significantly and almost identically in terms of numbers. There was, however, one difference between the two groups; in a two-year follow up, the exercising group was doing better than the medication group!
  3. Mindfulness Meditation– This type of practice borrows ideas and techniques from Buddhist tradition. There are different kinds of mindfulness but they all involve learning to become aware of what’s true moment by moment. Encouraging us to be in the present, no matter what it is. Sounds simple, right? But actually many people find it hard to be present in the present. Who doesn’t think about hurts, frustrations and disappointments from the past and who doesn’t worry about the future? Well, it turns out that some people are better than others at focusing on the present and it also turns out that doing so fosters good mental health. True, this practice doesn’t change the past or the future but, it does seem to provide certain peacefulness that creates positive changes in the brain and that positively affects people’s mental health. With recent developments in neuropsychological research, relying on brain imaging such as fMRI, researchers have been able to prove that real changes occur in the brains of people who practice Mindfulness Meditation and these images support the subjective reports of people who have recovered from depression with the help of this practice. Many registered psychologists are trained and can guide their clients to use this practice. Mindfulness Meditation can be used on its own or in conjunction with other therapies, such as CBT, to treat depression.
  4. Emotionally Focused Therapy– This therapy was developed for couples, mostly by Dr. Sue Johnson. It focuses on the couple’s relationship and specifically on their emotional bond. It builds on bonds that already exist and expands and helps to secure them. EFT has had a very high success rate in enhancing couples’ relationships and has also been found to be highly effective in the treatment of depression, especially when the couple’s relationship is distressed. Only certain psychologists and marriage and family therapists are trained in EFT and have had experience using it to treat depression.
  5. Bright Light Therapy (BLT)-This type of therapy was originally developed for the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is depression that often sets in during the last part of summer and continues through fall and winter. It turns out that some people are sensitive to the reduced amount of daylight that is common during these seasons, especially in northern countries such as Canada. Unlike what people may think, it’s not the cold weather that brings on symptoms of depression for those people but rather the fewer hours of day light, which explains why the onset of SAD is usually in mid-August when days start to get shorter while it may still be warm.


Bright Light Therapy has recently been found to be helpful to some people who have depression which is not seasonal. BLT uses specially designed light boxes that people sit in front for various lengths of time, usually for half an hour first thing in the morning. These bright light boxes can be purchased online and in certain stores and pharmacies. Bright light therapy can be easily combined with other treatment modalities for depression. A registered psychologist can advise on the probable benefits of BLT and can also combine it with another type of psychotherapy. It is important to consult with a psychologist or a physician before starting treatment with BLT as there are also some risks involved, especially for people who have bipolar depression (which used to be referred to as manic depressive illness).

  1. Yoga-As you may know, there are many different types of yoga, like Hatha, Kundalini, reconstructive, hot yoga, etc. Yoga practice has been proven to contribute to stress reduction and tends to increase the sense of well-being, on top of contributing to flexibility and toning of the body.


Recently, the practice of yoga has been researched as treatment for depression. Although research in the area is limited at the moment, some promising results have supported the idea that by enhancing the relaxation response in both the body and the mind, symptoms of depression may abate.  More research is needed in this particular area but it seems safe to say that, the practice of yoga, by itself or in combination with psychotherapy, can greatly contribute to overcoming depression. Look for a yoga studio or lessons in a community centre near you. Pregnant women should practice perinatal yoga only, especially if they have not been practicing yoga before pregnancy.


  1. Ecotherapy-This type of therapy for depression may be the least known of them all. Ecotherapy, or Green Therapy, is the practice of immersing oneself in nature. It may sound to you intuitively true as it has sounded and felt to me, for years. I’ve always experienced walking along the seawall or in the forest as a great mood-enhancer.


Recently, researchers have started to look into this practice and compare it to other practices in an attempt to assess whether walking in nature, for example, was superior to walking around an urban neighborhood or the mall. So researchers from the University of Essex in England compared two groups of people with depression. One group walked in nature and the other walked around a mall. A whopping 69% of participants who walked in nature reported significant improvement in their sense of well-being, compared with only 45% of the mall walkers. Interestingly, 22% of the mall walkers felt more depressed after walking!  We know that exercise in itself is beneficial to mood, as discussed in point no. 2,  but an important add on to that is that, walking in a green environment significantly increases the positive effect of being active, on mood.


In summary, recovering from depression is not only possibly but likely, with the right treatment. People who suffer from depression may be open to taking anti-depressants or they may not be. Medication can also be combined with each one of the above methods. Information regarding non-pharmacological options to recovering from depression is important to have, so that decisions regarding the appropriate treatment are based on information and knowledge rather than on fear. This information is important to everyone but especially to pregnant and lactating women who may not wish to take medication at particular times in their lives.


If you have any questions or, if you would like to come in for a consultation or an assessment of your mood, please don’t hesitate to contact me.