Globally, more than 264 million individuals suffer from depression, with about 5% of the UAE population being affected. If you or a loved one is currently experiencing symptoms of depression, read on to learn how you can treat depression without medication.
What is depression?
Depression is a mood disorder that causes an individual to feel continually sad or lack interest in life. While it is normal for people to feel sad or depressed at certain times throughout their lives, depression is characterized by intense feelings of sadness that last for weeks and inhibit an individual’s ability to live their life.
Generally, when someone is experiencing depression, they have symptoms for at least two weeks. These symptoms may include being intensely sad and feeling tired or lacking energy for the majority of the day, as well as feeling hopeless, pessimistic and worthless.
Not being able to sleep or sleeping too much and having no interest or pleasure in many activities are other common symptoms. A weight change may also occur. Finally, individuals who are experiencing depression may regularly think about death or suicide.
That being said, not everyone’s depressive symptoms may be the same, and their severity, frequency, and length can also vary. For many individuals, these symptoms may occur in patterns. Commonly, depression can occur in alignment with changes in the seasons.
What causes depression?
While doctors haven’t yet found out the exact causes of depression, it is generally considered to be the result of a combination of factors that include: brain structure, brain chemistry, hormones, and genetics. For example, individuals who experience depression often exhibit a physical difference in their brains from those who don’t suffer from depression.
Additionally, neurotransmitters (chemicals in your brain) play a significant role in your mood. When experiencing depression, these neurotransmitters aren’t operating the way they usually should, affecting your brain chemistry. Changes in hormone levels can also trigger depression symptoms. Finally, while the exact genetics aren’t known, there is a strong correlation between individuals who experience depression being related to other individuals who suffer from it.
Depression is an incredibly complex disease that can also be caused by stressful life events, medications, and other medical problems. In many cases, depression occurs alongside other medical or mental health problems, including anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, substance use disorders, and eating disorders.
How is depression diagnosed?
When diagnosing depression, doctors can use a number of different methods. First and foremost, they may start with a physical exam that examines an individual’s overall health to determine whether there is another medical condition. They may also do bloodwork to investigate hormone levels.
Additionally, a psychiatric evaluation will be conducted in which a doctor asks about thoughts, feelings, and behavior patterns that shed light on an individual’s mental health. From there, a doctor will check symptoms against the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) that lists the criteria for depression.
While only a physician or mental health professional can officially diagnose depression, if you think you are suffering from depression, you can take a self-assessment and then share the results with your doctor. You can also perform a quick online depression self test to see if what you are feeling is something to be truly concerned about.
If you think that you or someone you know is suffering from depression, it is crucial to talk to your doctor immediately. From there, they will be able to evaluate you and suggest treatment or refer you to a mental health professional.
Can you treat depression with lifestyle changes?
While there are medications that can help you treat depression, many individuals prefer to treat depression without medication. In many cases, individuals can effectively manage their depression through natural remedies or other tactics. That being said, depression rarely goes away on its own, so if you or a loved one has symptoms of depression, it is critical that you take steps to address it and don’t aim to handle it on your own.
In some instances, lifestyle changes can make a significant difference when it comes to managing depression. As sleep and depression have a relationship, maintaining consistent bedtimes and wake-up times, and creating a relaxing bedtime routine can help. Similarly, cutting back on caffeine and alcohol is also advised.
Research has shown that regular exercise can help to prevent and treat depression without medication. At the same time, certain nutrient deficiencies (such as a vitamin D deficiency) can play a role in depression symptoms. A well-balanced diet that contains the right mix of nutrients is also essential. For this reason, you want to make sure you are eating fish, nuts, and probiotics – all of which may be beneficial when suffering from depression.
Stress is often a significant cause of depression as it increases cortisol levels (a brain chemical). If you are repeatedly stressed, look to incorporate stress-relieving activities into your daily life. Some options include journaling, deep breathing, exercising, meditation, and time management.
Finally, when you are feeling depressed, it can be common to withdraw from other people. However, during these periods, you don’t want to go it alone. Therefore, you must continue to speak with friends and family and tell them what is going on and how you feel. Depending on your support network is crucial in ensuring that you don’t further intensify feelings of isolation and loneliness.
How does neurofeedback therapy for depression work?
If lifestyle changes don’t work, then you may want to consider neurofeedback therapy for depression. Research demonstrates that this treatment is often an effective and viable option for individuals who suffer from depression, as well as anxiety and other related symptoms, including sleep disorders and attention difficulties.
Neurofeedback therapy is a non-invasive way to regulate and measure your brain waves and to retrain them through conditioning. This is one way to treat depression without medication. This program enables you to retrain your brain to overcome depression and start living life to the fullest.
During a neurofeedback therapy session, electroencephalogram (EEG) sensors will be attached to your scalp to monitor your brain wave activity. In a session, with the sensors still on, you watch a TV show, and whenever you produce healthy brain activity, the TV screen becomes bigger, and the audio, clearer. These are considered a reward for your brain.
Throughout your neurofeedback therapy sessions, you start to be able to independently control your thoughts and emotions to move away from depressive thoughts. Once your therapy sessions are completed, you will be better equipped to process your emotions.
Do you suffer from depression? If so, what treatments do you use (or have used in the past)? Have you ever considered neurofeedback therapy for depression? Let us know your thoughts and any additional insights in the comments below.
Dr. Upasana Gala is the founder and CEO of Evolve Brain Training, an award-winning neurofeedback-centered institute that focuses on using non-invasive brain training techniques to maximize the brain’s true potential. Earning a doctorate in Neuroscience from the revered Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Gala has spent over a decade trying to unravel the way neurochemical and neurophysiological changes in the brain affect the way we interact with the world. Her goal is to share her knowledge, encourage others to tap into and expand their brain’s capabilities, and dispel any myths surrounding our most complex organ.