Not for everyone. Not all of the time.
Angel Chang recently posted on LittleThings.com “The 10 best natural ways to treat depression.” (See http://www.aol.com/article/2015/11/06/the-10-best-natural-ways-to-treat-depression/21260290/?ncid=txtlnkusaolp00001357) While she does acknowledge that “clinical depression is triggered from within, and very often need[s] medical attention” and “it’s imperative to consult your physician if you notice an abrupt change in your mood, feelings, or sense of well-being,” her article is about “easy” ways to treat depression yourself.
Unfortunately, her tips are not very helpful for me and many others who suffer from clinical bipolar or unipolar depression. Here’s how I respond to them.
Meditate. This is both nearly impossible when you have racing thoughts and a way to sink even lower if you can’t clear your mind of negative thoughts, which is one of the hallmarks of depression. And if you’re manic, even sitting still in one place for any length of time can be a challenge. After you’re stabilized on medication – go for it.
Eat Foods With Vitamin B. It may be true that vitamin B has been linked to neurotransmitters that we need more of, but preparing them is not realistic when I’m in the Pit of Despair. I try to imagine myself preparing a meal of fish, Swiss cheese, spinach, and eggs, and I just can’t. Or shopping for them, for that matter. I might be able to scramble an egg in the microwave, but that’s about it. (I wrote about food and depression recently: http://wp.me/p4e9Hv-db.) I do take a multivitamin along with my bedtime psychotropics, so I guess I can follow this advice a bit.
Set goals. Chang recommends starting with “small, daily goals.” When in full-blown depression, mine are about as small as you can get. Get out of bed. Make it through the day without crying. Take my meds. Poof! Out of spoons! The expert Chang quotes gives an example of a goal to work up to as washing the dishes every other day. To me, that implies a series of goals: Gather up dishes. Find soap. Fill sink. Wash a dish. Put in drainer. Repeat. My tip: Wash the spoons first!
Sleep on a schedule. Going to bed at the same time every night may be do-able, but getting up at the same time isn’t possible for me, which is one of the reasons I can’t hold a regular job. An alarm clock awakening me before my body is ready leaves me groggy and unfit to work. And there’s no guarantee that I’ll actually sleep during those scheduled hours, even with Ambien. Chang advises not taking naps, but I seldom make it through the day without one, even if I have slept eight (or nine or ten) hours. In fact, I love naps and consider them therapeutic, for me at least. Naps are my friends.
Get out of your rut. Structure is the only thing that keeps some of us going. And if we could find joy in a painting class, a museum, or making a new friend, as Chang suggests, we probably wouldn’t be depressed in the first place. J. K. Rowling described the Dementors in the Harry Potter books: “Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you. … You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.” She has stated that they are metaphors for depression. With every good feeling sucked out of you, you can’t see anything but the rut. I am told that for some people, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) lessens the tendency to keep traveling in the rut. But “easy” and “natural”? I don’t know.
Talk. Chang is advocating talking with trusted loved ones, which is good as far as it goes. What it ignores is that friends and loved ones are not universally understanding of depression or supportive in dealing with it. She never suggests talking with a therapist or doctor. I don’t know why that’s less “natural” than talking with someone who has no training. Except you have to pay them (or your insurance does), but painting or language classes or art supplies aren’t free either.
Exercise. This is a classic antidote for depression, and I understand that it works for many people some of the time. But I would put this under the same heading as setting goals. I know it would be good for me, but motivation is hard to come by and immobilization thwarts me. But I wish I could take this advice. I looked into water aerobics, but there’s not a feasible program in my area.
Responsibilities. “Because you might feel down,” the article states, “you may also want to withdraw from your daily activities in life and your responsibilities at home or at work.” Yepper. “Try staying involved as much as possible in the causes you care deeply about, and take on new daily responsibilities. These can be as simple as volunteering at your local food pantry, or going back to work part-time.” Big nope. See getting out of your rut, above. For the clinically depressed, working even part-time is unimaginable, with responsibilities of the crushing sort.
Unwind and relax. If your depression comes with anxiety like mine, this idea is a non-starter. Unless you count drinking as relaxation, though it isn’t the best idea if you’re on meds.
Stay off caffeine. Okay, I can pretty much do this one, except for one cup of coffee or a caffeinated soda to get me started in the morning.
“Did you learn something new about how to naturally treat symptoms of depression?” the article ends. Not really. Well, except for the B vitamins. We’ve all heard these kinds of advice before. They’re good tips for situational or reactive depression, but largely not feasible for the chronically, clinically, biochemically depressed. In a way they add up to the much-hated “Just stop it. You must want to be depressed or else you’d be doing all these great things.”
But try them if you can, perhaps in addition to medical treatments. Maybe some of the ones that won’t work for me will for you. In the meantime, get help. See your therapist and/or psychiatrist. Keep taking those meds. Those may not be “easy, natural” ways to treat depression, but if they work, isn’t that the larger point?
P.S. Do NOT Google “CBT.” Spell out “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.” Trust me on this one.