(An actual email)– Hi, Alisa. Is medication the only way to live with depression? I have wanted to go to therapy for a long time, but I heard that if you go to therapy they try to push medication on you. Is this true?
The short answer: No, it’s not true.
The long answer: First, therapists can’t prescribe medication. Only medical professionals (doctors, nurse practitioners, psychiatrists, etc.) can write prescriptions. Your therapist can suggest that you seek medical attention for medication, but he or she cannot write prescriptions and/or demand that you take medication. That’s not how therapy works… at all.
Medication is not an absolutely necessary part of dealing with depression and anxiety for so many people. There are so many ways to combat feelings of depression and anxiety without ever having to take a single prescription drug. Here are a few off the top of my head*:
1. Establish a routine. The thing about depression is that it kinda mashes your days together. The days all start to melt into one another, and having a routine is an excellent way to get you back on track. I thought this was silly, too, but I was shocked at how much better I felt in the morning when I got up, brushed my teeth and washed my face, made my bed, and put on clothes instead of just lying in bed all day. It was an actual start to my day. Once my face was washed, I was out of my pjs, and my bed was made, I had to find someplace else to loaf all day, which meant I was in my office at my desk…. working. And not just hiding under the covers.
2. Exercise. *insert eyeroll emoji here* Because exercise fills your body with endorphins, which make you feel mentally and emotionally better. Exercise also helps in some weird way to positively rewire your brain. So get out there and sweat. I’m a bit lazy though.. so this was not my depression remedy of choice. NEXT.
3. Set goals. The sheer pleasure of crossing a task off your to-do list or accomplishing a goal is such a high in itself. And y’all. I ain’t talking goals like “get my Ph.D. in aeronautical astrophysics.” I mean, unless, of course, that’s your jam. I’m talking about simple goals, like ‘start the dishwasher’ or ‘water the plants.’ Just looking at your list with things crossed off may be enough to encourage you to try again tomorrow at larger goals.
4. Get enough sleep. People who are sleep-deprived are cranky. You can spot them a mile away in the morning. They are more likely than others to curse you out in Starbucks, to push the ‘close door’ button when they see you running to the elevator, or not let you over in traffic. Regular people who are sleep-deprived become jerks, so sleep-deprivation on top of mental illness is a recipe for disaster. Sleeping at least 7 hours a night reduces your chances of becoming depressed by 43%.**
5. Don’t eat shitty foods. My logic is this— Bad foods make you gain weight, and life with depression is hard enough without the added disappointment of outgrowing your clothes and the insecurity that comes with a blossoming non-pregnant waistline. But the real science is that eating foods high in folic acid and omega-3 fatty acids can ease depression. McDonald’s doesn’t even use real meat, beloved. Love yourself more than a double quarter-pounder of mystery meat with cheese. Please.
6. Challenge negative thoughts. This one was SUCH A THING for me. When you’re depressed, you have a tendency to leap to conclusions, to only think of the worst, most negative possible scenarios. That leads to all kinds of crazy. One small negative thought can turn into “Everybody hates me. I am a failure. I am the most worthless person on the planet” in 6.3 seconds. It takes a lot of practice, but recognizing a negative thought when it creeps into your head and battling it with logic is a life-saving practice. It looks like this— “Silly girl. You are NOT the worst person on the planet. At least you put lotion on your feet when you wear sandals and you stop wearing white after Labor Day. There are people who do neither. You’re winning, my love!” And when that doesn’t work, I pop the hell out of my wrist with the rubber band I never ever take off. Think I’m kidding?? Look at the pic. This rubber band has saved me from numerous self-inflicted meltdowns. Seems silly, but it absolutely works.
7. Do something different. A different hairstyle. A different restaurant. A different route to work. A different husb— I mean… um…. A different social circle. Doing different things forces you out of your regular routine, which can make a huge impact on your mental well-being. Throw something new in there to change things up a bit. It helps.
8. Have fun, dammit. Do things that are fun to you. See a movie. Hang out with friends. Lose yourself in a good book. Go shopping. Enjoy life. The pleasure of doing something fun can shift your entire mood. Schedule in ‘fun’ on your calendar and keep the appointment.
*”Off the top of my head” means I didn’t really do much (read: ANY) research. I just wrote and hoped for the best.
**I totally made that number up. Sounded good tho.
So. These are just a few ways to combat depression and anxiety without ever having to take medication for it. There are so many of you who are afraid of therapy because you don’t wanna take meds, and I’m here to tell you not to worry— you can address your depression without them.
HOWEVER, some of us need meds… and are afraid to take them because of the negative (and false) stigma that surrounds medication. Guess who takes meds every night? This girl. Next Monday, I got something for all of y’all raggedy assess who are out here telling people they need to get off their meds and either 1.) try a natural remedy or 2.) pray. There is not one thing wrong with taking medication to battle depression and anxiety… but we’ll talk about that next week.
And as always— firstname.lastname@example.org. Got a question? Shoot.