Standard treatments for anxiety and depression typically involve antidepressant medication and therapy. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), come with extreme side effects and withdrawal effects if stopped. These medications are not tolerated by everyone, and their effectiveness is relatively low according to research. There are many alternative treatments for depression and anxiety that are less known, but can be extremely effective.
Episodes of extreme depression and anxiety can destroy a person’s entire life if left untreated. Almost always, some level of intervention is required. It is akin to leaving a broken bone untreated, only to have it heal abnormally over time.
A lot of alternative treatments for depression and anxiety are relatively new. Clinical studies of these alternative treatment plans prove that they can be just as effective as antidepressant medication. For years people have been led to believe there are few options available, but that simply isn’t the case anymore.
Without further ado, here is our list of alternative treatments for depression and anxiety.
(1) TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation)
TMS is used when other methods of treatment fail in treatment resistant depression. Sessions are given in a clinic daily for several weeks for full effect. This alternative treatment is extremely tolerable, making it favored over other intolerable treatments such as ECT. The entire procedure is completely painless. It is not an invasive procedure, and does not require sedation.
In this study, the effects of TMS on depression and anxiety were comparable to antidepressant medications. See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4492646/.
How it works:
TMS works by stimulating nerve cells in the brain using magnetic fields. Electromagnetic coils are placed on the head, which send out magnetic fields into the area of the brain responsible for mood.
During an episode of depression, certain areas of the brain have decreased activity. TMS may stimulate these inactive areas. The result is a decrease in depressive symptoms.
Side effects include headache, head tingling and some light headedness. Other side effects include seizures, mania and hearing loss, although this is incredibly rare.
To read about the profound effect of TMS on treatment resistant depression, be sure to check out Tamara Rhoades-Baldwin’s book “How I Overcame Depression: With Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation”. See here.
(2) Sleep Cycle Manipulation or Chronotherapy
Major depressive episodes are strongly linked to our circadian rhythms. Sleep deprivation or “chronotherapy” has proven in clinical studies to be rapidly effective in nature. Altering the sleep cycle in this way is only ever done in clinical settings so the patient can be monitored. It requires a very precise manipulation of the circadian rhythm, and unlike medication, its antidepressant effects happen fast.
Here is a study that determined sleep deprivation improved depression in 40-60% of patients. See https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1087079202902352.
This study shows that sleep is a core factor in major depression overall. See https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181883/.
How it works:
The sleep-wake cycle is regulated by the circadian process, and the homeostatic (recovery) process. The circadian process is what regulates the daily rhythms of mind and body. This rhythm is extremely influenced by light, and sometimes temperature. The timing of when REM sleep occurs is directly linked to this circadian process.
When sleep is disrupted, there is a “sleep debt”. This increases the activity of the homeostatic process, in order to make up for this “debt” later on.
Major depression and anxiety disrupt the balance between circadian and homeostatic processes in the body and brain. Delayed sleep from insomnia is common in 80% of patients, especially in cases of anxiety. This can be considered a problem lying within the homeostatic process. Alternatively, early morning awakening is linked to a problem lying within the circadian process.
Total sleep deprivation in a clinical setting calibrates these sleep-wake cycles, causing a rapid reduction in both depressive and anxiety symptoms (~24 hours).
Due to the risk of negative effects of sleep deprivation on the mind, this therapy is always done under supervision. Side effects can include an increase in manic symptoms. Sleep deprivation can be unpredictable, making close monitoring crucial to its overall success. Obviously, exhaustion can sometimes be another side effect, making is extremely difficult to stay awake.
If you are interested in learning more about chronotherapy, be sure to check out: “Chronotherapy: Resetting Your Inner Clock to Boost Mood, Alertness, and Quality Sleep” by Michael Terman and Ian McMahan. See here.
(3) Light therapy
Light therapy is an amazing alternative treatment for depression and anxiety. By using artificial light, it proves to have profound effects on overall mood. It is particularly useful in cases of seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
How it works:
A “dawn simulator” is placed about ~2 ft from the patient. In cases of bipolar disorder, doing this mid-day is best (not in the early morning). Exposure to this artificial light should last about 10-15 minutes at first, followed by longer sessions of 30-45 minutes per day. Exposure to bright light during winter months has a strong correlation with an increase in positive mood. For those with chronic depression, treatment should last throughout all seasons. See http://www.lightboxco.com/Articles_files/Light%20Therapy%20for%20Seasonal%20and%20Non-Seasonal%20Depression.pdf.
Headaches have been reported due to eye strain. Do not look directly into the light box or you could damage your eyes.
Other side effects include manic and mixed state symptoms in those with bipolar disorder if the session occurs in the early morning. If light therapy occurs too late in the day, it may trigger insomnia. Hypomania is also reported in some cases. Side effects are dependent on session duration and the time of day the therapy occurs.
For most, the side effects are virtually non-existent. If side effects do occur, they usually disappear soon after the therapy is either adjusted or stopped.
Research shows that medication does not have to be the only remedy for depression and anxiety.
There are countless research papers online that study the effects of alternative treatments for depression and anxiety. Most of these treatments have far less side effects compared to traditional antidepressant medication. They are also superior in tolerability among patients.
In cases of treatment resistant depression, these alternative treatments may be the answer. Light therapy can easily be done at home, whereas chronotherapy and TMS are typically achieved in a clinical setting. Please do not try chronotherapy on your own.
If these treatments are too expensive, here is a list of some affordable alternative treatments for depression and anxiety that may help.
- Herbal remedies (St. John’s Wort, 5-HTP, Magnesium, Omega-3 Fatty Acids).
- Art therapy
To see a comprehensive list of the best supplements for anxiety in particular, see http://circumnavigating-madness.com/2019/11/12/top-10-best-supplements-for-anxiety/. Here you will find a detailed description of what works best.