Overcoming Anxiety and Depression without Medication

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by graceforgrace

This essay is a part of our Peculiar Minds series.

Insomnia! 121/366

Editor’s Note: We are careful to affirm that just because one therapy works for one, doesn’t mean that anyone should insist it be applied to others. If there were one therapy that worked for everyone, everyone would be using that method. This is one approach, and should not be construed as a suggestion that it is the morally superior approach. We should probably place this caveat at the front of all of these essays, but because uninformed members have commented to their hurting brothers and sisters that they *ought* to be able to overcome in this way, many have suffered, pierced with deep wounds. Still, the ignorance of a few should not silence another group. If this is a sensitive topic for you based on experience, we encourage you to click past this essay.

From my experience with friends, family, and strangers who suffer from anxiety and depression, I have noticed that there are certain triggers that lead to severe anxiety, oftentimes followed by depression. For me, it was relationships with women, which I later discovered stemmed from abandonment as a child, but for others it can be a number of things ranging from flying, driving, having children, stage fright, keeping commitments, and a whole range of things.

In our society, I feel that doctors are quick to prescribe a pill and slow to try and find the root causes for an issue. We are conditioned to think that once we’ve identified an issue we can pop a pill and the problem will be resolved.

Because of these beliefs, personal to me, I believe I was led to find another way that worked for me to overcome anxiety and depression. My internal speech had become so negative that every time I hit a trigger, I derailed into panic and depression. Once I discovered I was suffering, I searched for a cure and over the course of a few years I was finally able to completely overcome anxiety and depression.

While I chose to attack anxiety and depression without medication, I am by no means wanting to portray that someone is inferior for using medication, or advocating that one should not use medication. Obviously, I would recommend speaking with a doctor before trying to go on or off of medication.

From personal experience and experience with others dealing with anxiety and depression, I have seen that doctors and counselors usually recommend some form of cognitive or other therapy whether or not the patient chooses to go on medication. Those I spoke with who took medication told me that they felt their mind was “clouded” and lost desire to take the time to re-program and re-learn better thought patterns that lead to anxiety and depression. Therefore, I am a strong advocate of not taking medication unless the situation is so serious that the “clouded” experience is the less serious side-effect.

I want to emphasize that whether or not one chooses to take medication, it will take an enormous amount of patience, desire, vision, and effort on the part of the individual and also those loved ones who are a part of the sufferer’s life. It can definitely be accomplished though. I’m living proof of that. I was able to get my life back again and live a normal and productive life. Dreams such as marriage, children, and a good job became a reality. I feel that I am truly blessed.

This is the process that worked for me:

10 Steps to Overcoming Anxiety and Depression without Medication

1. Desire, Labor, Faith

The desires we act on determine our changing, our achieving, and our becoming. (Dallin H. Oaks)

Many people who struggle with anxiety and depression are very overwhelmed and don’t even know where to start. However, if one has a deep desire and goal to be free of anxiety, and that anxiety one suffers is of the type that can be influenced solely by force of will, it can be accomplished if the individual first creates a vision of what life will be like anxiety and depression-free.

Overcoming anxiety and depression became the single most profound desire I had. I was tired of panic attacks followed by bouts of depression. I was weary physically, emotionally, and spiritually. I was able to find a series of learning activities that helped me steer my desire into the right direction. It took a lot of patience and effort, but through the help of God I was able to make it through.

2. Prayer

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire. (LDS Hymn)

The moment I discovered I was struggling with depression I was devastated. I felt crushed, but had reached the end of the road emotionally, physically, and spiritually trying to run from the feelings I was struggling with. I firmly believed in the Biblical scripture when Jesus said “Come unto me all ye that are heavy laden and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). I prayed continuously for strength, guidance, and rest. My mind would sometimes be consumed with negative thoughts that would escalate and spin around in my head until I had panic attacks. I would then sink into depression and be angry at myself for allowing myself to be that way.

My prayer was that I could overcome anxiety and depression. I wanted to flip the switch so to speak and remove the struggle immediately. However, I also knew from experience and from scripture (i.e. “thy will be done” Matthew 6:13) that God allows us to struggle and suffer sometimes to strengthen our faith in Him as well as grow personally. Therefore, my prayer turned to praying for His will to be done and to guide me in the right direction. One I let go, they Lord led me to more steps that eventually guided me to completely overcoming anxiety and depression.

3. Discover and Decide

Every one of us has in him a continent of undiscovered character. Blessed is he who acts as the Columbus of his own soul. (Charles L Wallace)

When I thought I might be struggling with depression, one of the first things I did was take an online test to determine if I had depression. Needless to say, I tested very high in anxiety as well as depression. As previously mentioned, I decided that I would do everything I could do to overcome depression and anxiety. With the help of God, I was able to discover a variety of steps that helped me.

4. Self Study

Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom. (Aristotle)

One day as I was talking with my friend and his fiancée about the struggles I was having at work, church, and life in general. I talked about goals not being reached and frustrations with myself, etc. As I talked, my friend’s fiancée said to me: “I think you have anxiety and depression.” That stopped me in my tracks. Depression was a sign of weakness to me. I had heard of people and seen people within my family suffer from it, but to me, that was a sign of not pulling yourself up and by the bootstraps and fighting through it. For me, what fighting through it meant was ignoring it and pushing it aside. I was very stressed at the time, however, so I decided to continue listening rather than discard her advice.

She went on to discuss a program she had gone through herself when she was suffering from anxiety and depression. The best thing was that she hadn’t had to use medication to overcome it. That was music to my ears because I did not want to use medication. Within a few minutes I was on the website taking the assessment that I previously mentioned.

There are a variety of self-study programs, but one in particular worked well for me. It was a twelve week in home study course that helped me learn how to channel my thoughts and train myself to avoid negative thinking that spirals into depression.

5. Thought Control

A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.(James Allen)

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of thought control. Learning to control thoughts is the heart and soul of overcoming anxiety and depression. Most of us who suffer from anxiety and depression have been struggling for years. Our mind is like a muscle. If we do not use it in a positive way, it will digress and atrophy into negativity, panic, and depression. On the other hand, if we work to control our thoughts, eventually our thinking will be positive.

There are certain steps and activities involved with thought control that I used to help me. These steps are the most important tools, in my opinion, in order to overcome anxiety and depression with or without drugs.

6. Coach or Mentor

To be good is noble, but to show others how to be good is nobler… (Mark Twain)

Many people who deal with certain issues from their childhood (such as I did with abandonment) develop addictions. For me, talking with clergy was somewhat helpful, but LDS bishops aren’t usually trained to handle these issues. I was referred to LDS social services by my bishop, which was somewhat helpful, but didn’t hit the core issue. Where I found the most help was through a 12-step addictions program where someone was my sponsor. This person had been where I was before and encouraged me as a coach and mentor.

Finding a good coach or mentor is very helpful as well for those who don’t necessarily have addictions (other than negative thinking). It is good to have someone to hold us accountable and provide us support on a regular basis. It is best if it isn’t someone close to the situation, such as a family member or close friend, but who has been there before. It could be a counselor or a sanctioned support group. The point is to have regular meetings to discuss the challenges you are facing as well as the improvements you have made.

One key point is that simply going to a coach, counselor, or mentor is not enough. The individual is going to have to work a lot outside of the meetings with the coach in order to see progress.

7. Learning to Relax

There is little sense in trying to change external conditions; you must first change inner beliefs, then outer conditions will change accordingly. (Brian Adams)

Relaxing my mind both consciously and subconsciously was critical to success in overcoming anxiety and depression. For me, there were various activities that trained my subconscious and conscious mind. Some activities that helped my conscious mind included: yoga, reiki, guided imagery, and certain breathing techniques. Chapters can be written on effective methods for each of these techniques and how important they are to helping us to train our minds to go into a positive direction.

For me, the main method I used to help my subconscious mind was something called neuro-linguistic programming, or NLP. Without this method, I don’t think I could have completely overcome anxiety and depression. It helped me learn how to forgive those who had abused me in my childhood and essentially rid myself of the hatred that was eating me up inside.

8. Eating/Exercise

One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well. (Virginia Woolf)

A good outline for me is found in the Word of Wisdom in the Doctrine and Covenants. I use this as a guideline to healthy eating. The Word of Wisdom suggests that one not drink alcohol, use tobacco, eat meats sparingly (I recommend eating lean, white meat over fatty red meat), and to eat whole grains and lots of fruit. It also suggests that drinking coffee and tea are not good for the body either. In addition to what is outlined in the Word of Wisdom, I chose to eliminate all soda and caffeine from my diet.

As I followed the guidance of eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and eliminating toxic substances such as caffeine, alcohol, and fatty foods I noticed that internally I felt better. Not only did I feel better, but I could think more clearly and react more quickly.

In addition, there were certain exercises that helped me with controling my thoughts as well as creating a better feeling within myself. Both eating right and doing the right exercises were critical because it takes a lot of effort to re-train our minds from negative thought patterns to the positive thought patterns.

9. Gratitude

Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts. (David O McKay)

I think human nature is to be selfish and for me, showing gratitude is something I have to make a conscious effort to do. It was especially difficult while I was struggling with anxiety and depression. For one struggling with anxiety and depression it can be difficult to sift through the clouds of doubt and discouragement that swirl like a tornado in the head. However, in order to steer the mind into a more positive direction, it is essential to see things in life to be grateful for.

Similar to the other steps, gratitude is something that needs to be learned. There are certain methods and activities also involved with training ourselves to be more grateful. It is similar to the methods used in learning positive thinking.

10. Laughter

Laughter is the cure for grief. (Robert Fulghum)

Looking back on my journey in overcoming anxiety and depression, I could have benefited more from laughter. When I was going through severe anxiety and depression, it was very difficult to be happy because my mind was so weighed down by negativity and stress.

Although I could have benefited by not taking life so seriously and learning to laugh more often, I did have occasions where laughter completely helped me. I noticed that when I laughed my tension relaxed within my body as I felt the positive endorphins flowing. Even if I wasn’t laughing, but was just enjoying myself it made a huge difference.

Some ways I found that were helpful in finding joy or laughter include: spending time with good friends, playing games, laughing at my mistakes rather than beating myself up over them, watching a good sitcom or movie.

Conclusion and Tools to Help

Since I began sharing my story 5 years ago, I have received a lot of positive feedback. I have found that a number of people who struggle who would prefer to overcome anxiety and depression without medication, if possible. I’ve spoken with many who have suffered in silence for years and did not know where to turn.

It is for this reason that I wrote the book: Discovering Light: 12 Steps to Overcoming Anxiety and Depression without Medication. This book includes my story along with a more in-depth look at the steps I’ve outlined in this post along with the methods on how to implement change. It also has an extensive list of exercises, self-study programs, and books I read that helped me learn to control my thinking and change my view of myself and eventually the world around me.

It is my hope and prayer that those of you who may be struggling can use some or all of the tools found in this book and find a way to realize your dreams again. I know that it is possible. If you would like to contact me for any reason, you may email discoveringlight2012 {at} gmail {dot}com. My book can be ordered through Amazon either in paperback or for Kindle.

Aaron Anderson, one of our newer regular writers, blogs at graceforgrace.com.

 

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photo by: Skley

12 Responses to Overcoming Anxiety and Depression without Medication

  1. Stephen R. Marsh says:

    Well.

    I have had to suffer through situational issues that were unrelated to biological and brain chemistry causes. There was no pill. These steps are important. I have written on using these tools in surviving the death of a child and won awards.

    I believe strongly in behavior modulation and control. I also believe strongly in the related therapies.

    That said. If you are short on vitamin D, none of these will solve the problem and the depression as much as suntanning or a supplement. If an SSI works for you, take it.

    Of course you should combine it with these tools as well as the book Feeling Good.

    But it should not be an either/or decision.

    • Sharon says:

      Five months ago my husband changed into a different person. I’m sure it’s depression. It has caused me to have anxiety and depression because of trying to figure out what’s going on with him. He needs help but he don’t think he is depressed, but he has the symptoms. I want to help myself so I can be here for him. We have been married for 37 years. I have been to therapy, doctors, talking to friends and family, I pray and cry. I don’t want to be on drug for this.

      Sharon

  2. Hi Stephen,

    Situational anxiety is something huge and what you wrote could add to the steps outlined in this article. What/where did you write about surviving the death of a child?

    • Stephen R. Marsh says:

      Adrr.com/living is a good start. Articles in the Texas Bar Journal and lots of other places.

      • Hi Stephen,

        Thank you for the references. I read some of your site and saw the pictures of your beautiful little girls. I can’t imagine how it must feel.

        What you wrote is very beneficial and I’ll share it with some friends of mine who recently lost their little girl.

  3. Ray says:

    Stephen’s writing he mentions is powerful. I recommend it highly.

    I agree that medication too often is the only response, but I also agree that it shouldn’t be an either/or. Knowing the range of options and finding what works is the key – with absolutely NO guilt whatsoever for the condition that causes the search to be necessary.

  4. Hi Ray,

    You are right in that people shouldn’t feel it should be either/or. My experience has been that whether or not someone is on medication the methods outlined are of benefit.

    However, I think the majority of people would prefer to be able to at some point not have to rely on medication. In many cases, medication is essential, but I think in many other situations it can be done without medication. I’ve talked with many people and experienced it myself that medication didn’t help.

  5. OCD Blogger says:

    This is interesting. I deal with OCD. There is a major focus on medication but it is good to read that someone has moved on without this.

  6. Emily says:

    Great tips! I have had issues with anxiety and depression my whole life. Early this year, I kicked all the medications out. They would work for a while then stop. Year after year. So, I began practicing yoga and meditation- I consider them lifesavers.

  7. templegoer says:

    Dancing. Stupid, funny, kind, companionable, absorbing. A holiday from the self, zaps up the endorphins.

  8. Oscar says:

    thanks for your post at this time i like to share about my point of view pls spend some times with your friends its is the one way to relax

  9. Anita L says:

    Hi Aaron,

    I have created a website to enhance mental illness awareness; mentalillness-doyouknow.com and would be honored if I could share your article on my site.

    Thank you!

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