After spending over a decade struggling with physical and mental health issues, I finally understood I had a problem: severe depression, along with many other health problems actually, and I needed help urgently. That was in 2019.
Up until that point, I guess I thought I was just ‘made that way’: miserable, unbearably sensitive and always oh so sad. The misery had been going on for so long, I could not even imagine that things could be different. That I could be diffenrent.
So there I was, slowly dying of chonic physical pain that had been going on for years, as well as severe mental health issues… and I had reached a tipping point. Something either had to change or…
Why I didn’t want medication
I didn’t want patches and cover-ups; what I wanted, what I needed was deep healing.
Up until that point, my doctor had only been interested in prescribing me pain medication, tranquilizers and antidepressants. And sure enough, when I went to see him again, he wrote me a prescription.
Disclaimer: I only share my personal experience here regarding my own mental (and physical) health journey. The information contained on this blog is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your doctor or other medical experts regarding your health. Thank you!
There’s nothing inherently wrong with medication btw, and please follow your doctor’s advice.
It’s just that I had already gone down that road when I was 16 and had spent my final highschool years in a miserable fog. And yet, here I was, almost 15 years later, my depression worse than ever.
Also, I knew there was something deeper going on and I desperately needed to get to the bottom of it. I could feel that there was something “wrong” with my thought pattern and my behavior, and I just couldn’t shake the feeling thay if only I could just find the right person to help me figure out what was wrong with my thinking, I could get out of depression. Maybe even without help from medication.
I had also been feeling for most of my adult life that I had been sinking. Life was just too hard.
I had virtually no family or friends around to offer me support or guidance, and had reached the conclusion that I didn’t want a permanent life-jacket in the form of pills: I wanted to learn how to swim, and I wanted to be a damn good swimmer!
On top of that, I instinctively knew that I had addictive tendencies and I absolutely did not want to “solve” a problem by creating 10 others.
I didn’t want patches and cover-ups; what I wanted, what I needed was deep healing.
If, however, after learning how to think and behave differently, I found out I still needed medication to help me with my depression, then I would gladly take them. But I wanted to go to the core of the problem first and “re-learn” how to think before jumping on the tranquilizer wagon.
And lastly, another reason why I didn’t want to rely on medication to treat my depression, is because dealing with my stomach was a constant battle. I had perpetual stomach pain and just the thought of adding more substances that could risk making the pain worse, scared the crap out of me.
Being already so skinny, I didn’t want to lose anymore weight or create anymore issues. I could barely deal with things as they were now, I was scared to add more to my already pretty full plate.
And so I was determined to find out what was wrong with me first, before shoving a bunch of pills down my throat and risk making things even worse for myself.
The results I was able to achieve
Now, a year later (at the time of writing this), I have experienced such a phenomenal mental and physical transformation without the use of any medication, that even I have trouble believing it.
I don’t think I am out of the woods yet (will I ever be?), and I want to pursue my efforts at least another year to see where this is really going.
Edit: it’s another year later and the transofrmation is still mind-boggling. I am happy, healthy, have true friends, lots of love and abundance in my life, and I am a much more positive and grateful person than I ever thought I could be. And I haven’t felt the need to ask my doctor to prescribe me any pills.
But I think it is safe to say that I am no longer the depressed, suicidal, anxious, physically and mentally woman I had embodied for so long.
I have changed so much that I want to share with you the main steps and habits that have helped me get to that point. It’s hard to put it all in one article, but that’s the whole purpose of this blog! So keep reading my other posts if you are curious about my journey.
Don’t do this alone, if you don’t have to
Before we get to the nitty gritty, I want to make it clear that I do not recommend you tackle depression all on your own and I’m certainly not encouraging anyone to not take medication.
I am only sharing what I had to do because of my personal circumstances and beliefs. But if you are blessed enough to have friends, family, doctors, insurance… all things I did not have, and feel the need to take medication, then by all means, do just that! take all the help you need and have access to, and listen to the professionals.
My situation is only that: my situation.
Overcoming hardships,especially depression, is easier when you have help. And medication can certainly offer you the relief you need.
So let’s get to it! Here are the 26 habits that helped me overcome depression without medication.
1. Acknowledge you have a problem
This is the most important step. The first one, the one that makes the difference between aimlessly floundering about in your efforts, and actually figuring out a direction.
If you don’t realize there is a problem, you will most likely never solve it.
The moment you acknowledge that there is a problem, is the moment you can finally take the steps you need to take to fix that problem.
No one else will take them for you: you’re the one who has to do it.
It took me 4 years of constant acute misery before finally realising I was dealing with severe depression. I thought I was just overly sensitive: I cried every-single-day, many, many times per day;
- I could no longer hold a conversation with someone (anyone! even at the supermarket), without bursting into tears;
- I would hide in the bathroom every day at work to go cry;
- I could not answer a single personal question without feeling that my heart was going to explode with sadness.
It was acute emotional distress so unbearable, I could not function. And by not acknowledging it, I only made things worse.
You are not “just too sensitive”, or “just tired”. You are depressed. Now, time for you to start taking the necessary measures.
2. Seek professional help
Depression is a disease and, as such, it requires proper treatment.
You may not want medication or pills, but you need doctors, you need therapists, you need people with more perspective than you on the matter and who can help you heal.
Even if you only find ONE person who helps you. Find that person and be grateful for them.
I was able to find such a person: Eve, a social worker, who took pity on me and decided to “follow” me for just a few weeks (even though she wasn’t supposed to), while I waited to be assigned to a therapist.
That woman saved my life and I will eternally be grateful for her.
If your current therapist does not help you at all, keep searching for one who will.
But speaking from experience: no therapist is better than a bad therapist. But it’s YOUR duty to find one.
3. Start learning the skills you need to get yourself out of there
My friend, if you are to overcome depression especially medication, it is urgent you started learning some skills.
Because if you are to overcome depression on your own, you gonna need to be your own coach, your own friend, your own nutritionist, your own fitness instructor, your own parent, etc.
So start learning/reading/watching tutorials about coaching, about friendship, about nutrition, about fitness, about parenting…
At the very least, try to slowly develop an interest about one of these topics.
4. Start journaling
I have written an entire article on the benefits of journaling. Do check it out.
Related post: How to start journaling and why you should?
Journaling is probably the most useful and effective habit you can aim for when it comes to overcoming depression, whether you take medication or not, and wether you are being treated by a therapist or not.
As a matter of fact, journaling will be very useful for implementing most of the steps I talk about here. For example, journaling about your feelings and emotions can help you to identify (and correct) your patterns of thought and behavior.
Journaling is also an effective way to soothe an agitated mind and gain clarity fast.
And in the long run, it helps you understand and get to know yourself better.
So grab a pen and paper (nothing fancy, do not make a big deal out of it!), and start observing and writing about what’s on your mind.
5. Embrace discipline
I don’t think I would have healed from depression, especially without pills, if it weren’t for discipline.
Up until not that long ago, I was convinced that I was the type of person who hated constraints. I am, actually.
But discipline saved me, and you can become more and more disciplined with a bit of patience, practice and dedication. And discipline, when built around the things that matter to you, can be both immensely freeing and healing.
Develop a routine built around self-care and self-love; create a schedule for yourself and stick to it.
A routine is a succession of habits that serve you and on which you can fall back on when things (will inevitably) go wrong.
6. Start working out
You may not feel like it, but seriously, if you are going to conquer depression, you need to start moving your body ASAP.
You certainly know by now all the benefits associated with regular physical activity so I will not waste your time.
I will only emphasize that exercise also allows you to change your physiology, which is key in changing your state of mind and helping you snap out of your depressed state. Exercise also helps to grow your confidence, and gives you a reason to commit to yourself and to change.
7. Reclaim control over your finances
Chronologically speaking, this was the actual first step I took.
It happened about two years before everything else I speak about here.
At that time, I knew I wasn’t ‘well’ and that I was on a downward spiral, but my financial situation was so bad I could not think or see anything else. I had zero wiggle room; I was trapped.
It became obvious to me that if I wanted to get better and focus on healing my depression, I needed to give myself the means to do it.
My circumstances were so precarious (no job stability, zero savings, mountains of student and credit card debt, no stable apartment…), I had to fix that before I could think of doing anything else.
- Do you know what your finances look like? I mean really?
- Do you have debt? Consumer debt? Student loans? Car loans?
- Do you know how much you owe on all your credit cards? And if yes, how long will it take you to reimburse everything?
- Do you have money set aside for rainy days?
- Is your financial situation causing you anxiety or contributing to your depression?
I strongly advise you to quit burying your head in the sand and tackle this ASAP.
Give yourself the means to focus on healing.
Once I did that, I was finally able to take some time off and make improving my mental and physical health my main priority.
8. Commit to being 100% honest with yourself and others
You will not get out of depression, especially not on your own, by lying to yourself.
It’s crazy how much we lie to ourselves and others, out of fear or shame, or just habit.
By 2018, I was beginning to understand that fear played an important role in my behavior, and I was working on that. But something was still… off. Then about 4 months ago, I had another revelation and started pondering on the importance of shame in my life.
Boy! What an eye-opener! The progress I made after that were shocking.
To think that I almost didn’t go there! I mean, who wants to look at what makes them feel ashamed, right??
It’s hard. Very hard.
But I’m so proud to say that instead of running away from these very uncomfortable thoughts, I confronted the situation and immediately took action. The months that followed were some of the most transformational of my adult life. And please believe that I do not say this lightly.
Note: this is another example of where journaling comes in handy.
Related post: How do you build more meaningful relationships?
9. Identify your addictions
Guess what? Avoidance increases your anxiety and the risk of you becoming depressed, and if you avoid things long enough, you will end up completely overwhelmed by anxiety.
So, what are the things you continuously do to avoid facing the reality (or pain) of your life?
Again, no lying to yourself here! (Oh, and do I need to say it? Journal about it).
I understood early that, in order to heal, I would probably need to take an honest look at my addictive behaviors. The obvious ones (like smoking or hiding in my room to binge-watch videos for hours every day) and the less obvious ones (love, approval, boyfriends, etc.).
By addictions, I mean dependence on a substance (alcohol, nicotine, weed…) as well as a behavior (ex: approval addiction, shopping addiction, relationship addiction, etc.).
No matter how hard I tried, my perpetual need to avoid reality was acting as a sort of barrier to my progress.
It was literal self-sabotage. I had to let these behaviors go or risk exhausting myself for little results, which would inevitably end up with me giving-up all these efforts altogether.
Now I know: as soon as I avoid reality, I become depressed and anxious. It’s as simple as that.
- How I got rid of my crippling anxiety for good
- 9 things that make my social anxiety go through the roof!
- Why I decided to quit smoking weed and how my life has improved ever since
- 9 Reasons why you just can’t quit smoking weed
If you struggle with addiction, I also strongly encourage you to contact your local Narcotics Anonymous support group.
10. Decide to quit your addictions and commit to change
The keywords here are: decide and commit.
Find adequate resources to help you through that process, join a group, read books, find a therapist, cut your credit cards, flush your weed down the toilet, re-evaluate your relationships and eliminate the ones that are a bad influence, etc.
And be prepared to lose some friends.
Oh, and in case you are wondering, it took me months of trying and failing but I finally did it! A lot has changed ever since I finally quit smoking weed. I’m still on the journey for quitting cigarettes. One step at a time.
11. Develop strategies to deal with emotional pain on your own
If you are severely depressed, it is likely that you are going through intense emotional pain right now.
One way to start overcoming depression on your own and without medication is to learn how to deal with the pain when it comes, because it will come.
It is pointless, and even harmful to try to avoid the pain. That is usually how you fall into destructive behaviors. Instead learn how to deal with the pain.
12. Make self-care and self-love your new priorities
If you are to heal your depression without tranquilizers or other pills, then you must make self-care and self-love your new priorities. No one else is gonna do it for you.
One of the most decisive realizations of these past months is how little I loved and respected myself. I didn’t know how to!
The consequences of that on my self-esteem and my relationships were disastrous. It is so important to take proper care of our body, mind, and soul, but we are not taught how to do that in school. And I’m not sure grown-ups know how to that either.
I had to (re)learn everything: how to feed myself, how to cook, make my bed everyday, etc.
But I laso had to learn to:
- hear and act on my instincts;
- refrain from engaging in negative self-talk;
- hug myself every day for months (!) (this is especially necessary if you are alone and need comforting);
- give gratitude a special place in my life, etc.
And by the way, self-care, self-love, self-respect do not mean selfishness. I find that, as a result of these efforts, I was able to be more generous with other people than I ever was before that.
13. Learn about and start applying Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) techniques
If you are going to actively overcome depression on your own, you will have to learn to manage your thoughts and, for me, learning about and adopting CBT techniques has been truly life changing. Again, I don’t pretend to be an expert on the topic; please do your own research.
That said, I have found David D. Burns’s books on CBT to be detailed and comprehensive, with very clear strategies and examples to follow.
I also started applying Byron Katie’s Four questions, and I still do it to this day. I will not go as far as to recommend her book, however, the “4 questions” are a powerful tool for challenging negative thinking in all circumstances:
- Is it true?
- Do I absolutely know it’s true?
- How do I react when I believe that thought?
- Who would I be without that thought?
14. Identify your limiting beliefs
One of the reasons why I was stuck in depression is because I was caught up in a cycle of negative and limiting beliefs, about myself and the world.
Limiting beliefs do just that: they limit you. They hinder your growth as a human being and stop you from seeking new opportunities and expanding your life.
Examples of limiting beliefs include:
No one loves me, I am a loser, no one will ever love me, I am not creative, I am not an entrepreneur, I am not smart enough, Money is bad, I can’t do this, etc.
This is tricky because you usually don’t know you have a limiting belief on a certain topic (for example money or creativity). But with consistent journaling and if you pay attention to your thoughts, limiting beliefs usually start to reveal themselves on their own.
15. Replace those limiting beliefs with empowering ones
With new thoughts:
When you catch yourself thinking those negative thoughts, replace them with thoughts like :
- I can become more creative
- Everything is a matter of habit
- I am worthy of love simply because I exist
- I can learn anything, etc.
With external input:
Listen to daily positive audio and plant seeds in your mind, daily.
You can listen to audiobooks, CDs, podcasts, documentaries, etc. Youtube can be a fantastic resource, filled with ‘virtual mentors’ willing to share all their strategies ‘freely’. Chose wisely but do take advantage of this opportunity to nourish your mind.
Your mind is like a garden. When you don’t plant something in your garden, it’s not that nothing grows. Weeds grow. You cannot stop it even if you don’t pay attention to it. The same goes for the mind. But you can choose what you pay attention to.
Tony Robbins said that Happiness is progress. And he is right.
Learn a new skill. Make it something you feel might interest you even if nothing interests you at the moment or you don’t (yet) believe you are capable.
I personally started learning german, for only 5 minutes every day, through the Duolingo app.
Guess what? 6 months later, I was doing 30 minutes of German every day and could now understand it pretty well! And seeing that progress made em feel good about myself.
Let go of the outcome and simply commit to trying something new and/or crazy for just a few months and see what happens.
I find the only antidote to self-doubt and limiting beliefs is to take action.
Don’t do the whole process ‘in your head’. You’ll have nothing to show for it. Instead, take action, and if possible share what you’re learning with others.
Action creates progress. And progress is happiness!
16. Ask better questions
The questions you continuously ask yourself influence the way you perceive your life and impact the stories you tell yourself.
If you are depressed and gloomy, you are probably in the habit of asking yourself a million negative questions every day.
“When you ask lousy questions, you get lousy answers. If you want better answers, ask better questions”. Anthony Robbins
Examples of lousy questions include: why is this happening to me? Why don’t people like me? Why can’t I gain/lose weight?
Better questions would be: how can I be of service to others? What do I want to accomplish in life? What step did I take today towards my goals?
By the way, you cannot just ask these questions once and expect an answer right away. The key is to ask yourself the same questions over and over until the answer starts emerging (and it will). You have to become obsessed with these questions and finding the answers.
17. Make gratitude an essential part of your life
With a little bit of practice, you can become a much more grateful person, and gratitude can dramatically improve your overall well-being and helps you rid yourself of depression in a more natural way.
One way of becoming a more grateful person is to incorporate morning intentions and affirmations into your daily routine.
- Think you have nothing to be grateful for? Read this
- Affirmations for depression: how to get it right and what to expect?
- 19 powerful affirmations for the depressed and insecure millennial
18. Spend time outside and look at nature
In my case, especially during the first few 8-12 months, staying (idle) in the house inevitably triggered bad habits and depressed thoughts and patterns that I did not want to encourage.
Habits like: lying on the sofa, binge-watching tv-shows, smoking weed, hiding from other people, self-loathing, doomsday scenarios, etc.
I forced myself to spend time outside almost every day for
6 months 12 months and I’m certain it has been a critical step in my recovery.
When outside, take the time to look at a tree, hear the birds, stare at the clouds, listen to the wind blowing through the trees, and smell the rain. Isn’t it wonderful!
After a few months of this, I started experiencing a level of serenity I had never felt before in my life.
19. Face your fears
After years of making the same mistake, I finally learned that avoiding reality = anxiety.
Now, if I start feeling anxious (if I have trouble sleeping, or if I bite my lips 10 times in one afternoon, or feel oppressed, angry, sad, etc.), I just know it means there is a situation that I am probably not addressing.
Once I become aware of that, I (wait for it…): journal (!) about it and look for the answer to the question: is there something I’m not doing or trying to avoid?
Usually the answer is: yes.
Try not to lie to yourself when answering that question, and once you do, well, stop avoiding the issue and face it. The longer you avoid something, the more anxious you get.
Come on! It really is not as bad as it is in your head.
20. Quit watching TV, shows, YouTube videos, social media, etc.
This goes hand-in-hand with my point about addiction.
There is a difference between watching a good movie once in a while for entertainment purposes, and mindlessly binge-watching tv-show after tv-show for 6 hours every day.
I have noticed that as soon as I start consuming content, my mood starts plunging again. If I do it for too long, then I soon become depressed again.
But this is not the case if, instead of watching 8 hours of Youtube videos, I listen to more ‘positive’ audio or music, read a book, learn German, go for a walk or journal. It’s not that you can’t watch stuff; it’s just that it has to have a purpose and not be a means for you to escape realityfor hours.
Your attention is a very, very precious resource: be very mindful of what you let in.
21. Focus on the solutions, not the problems
This point is self-explanatory.
Avoid saying things like: “I am not this” or “I am not that“.
Instead, practice saying things like: “How can I be more like this“, or “How can I become more of X, Y, or Z“.
22. Re-evaluate your relationships
The people around you have the power to uplift you or pull you down.
During this period of recovery and self-healing from depression, you will need to take this time to evaluate your relationships carefully, one by one, and make difficult choices.
Every single one of your relationship will need to be evaluated.
And no, you will not necessarily be lonelier if you let some people go. It may be hard at first, especially if you keep doubting yourself, but you will feel better in the medium term.
23. Stop doing what you feel like doing, and start doing what you want and what is good for you
“If you listen to how you feel when it comes to what you want, you are never going to get it“
I’m not sure who said this, but I love this quote and I pinned it to my wall to help me stay focused on my goals.
24. When you are feeling overwhelmed, ask yourself: What is the next best step I can take right now?
When you are depressed and overwhelmed, it feels like you can’t even do the smallest and simplest tasks.
But, if instead of focusing on the mountain of things you have to do, you only asked yourself: what is the smallest next best thing I can do now?
This is a powerful strategy that I still apply when I’m feeling lost, sad, or overwhelmed.
This question helps tune out the “noise” and keep moving forward by identifying what truly matters right now.
25. Track and reward progress
Happiness is progress (Tony Robbins)
When trying to take small steps out of depression, I highly recommend tracking your progress. It encourages you to continue.
For this, journaling comes in handy, but you can also use a separate notebook dedicated specifically to tracking progress made each day.
When trying to heal from depression, I kept track (and still do) of:
- the number of times I’ve gone running this week;
- the distance walked or ran every day (you can also an app or a Fitbit watch if you have the budget for it);
- the amount of water I drink each day;
- what I ate during the day (I’ve been on the Wahl’s diet for a couple of months now)
- If I learned something in German (just for 5 minutes each day, or more, if I feel like it)
- did I work at least 30 minutes on a personal project?
Keeping track and seeing progress has played a huge part in helping me become more consistent but also more aware/focused on what mattered to me.
I used to struggle with the ‘reward’ part and didn’t always find the right way to reward myself (even though this has changed lately). But I made sure I gave myself a literal pat on the back, hugged my self, or did a little celebratory dance whenever I accomplished something, big or small.
Related post: How do you reward yourself effectively?
26. Be consistent
One of the most important elements of this list, if not the most important element of this list.
Most of the things listed here were not new concepts for me. But I am convinced that the only difference between me two years ago, and me today, lies in my willingness to be more consistent in my efforts. Efforts I was already making, but only from time to time, in a scattered, undisciplined, unfocused way.
Consistency is still one of my main focuses at the moment but I’ll be honest, it took me about 8 months to reach a certain rhythm, and only ion a handful of domains (exercise, journaling, and my morning routine).
So, strive to be consistent, but remember to also be patient. It’s better to do a little every day, than a lot once every blue moon.
Few! That was a long post. I hope you will find here and there a few useful tips. Also, don’t take on this whole list all at once. Start with one step, and then gradually incorporate a new one, and so on.
Please don’t hesitate to leave me a comment, I would really love reading what you have to say and what struggles you are currently facing.
*Please note that there are no affiliate links on these posts. The products I refer to or recommend, are simply ones I truly adore and use!