Natural Treatments for Manic Depression
Bipolar disorder can be progressive and worsen over time when left undiagnosed. Some people wind up having more drastic mood swings/episodes, and more frequently, as time goes on and symptoms are not treated. Although it cannot be cured entirely in most cases, managing symptoms can prevent frequent mood swings and suicidal, destructive behaviors.
Just like with clinical depression or anxiety, many doctors choose to control bipolar disorder using medications (such as mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs). However, there are many effective natural treatments that can also help control symptoms of manic or depressive phases, and these have practically zero negative side effects, unlike psychotropic drugs.
Treatment for depression and bipolar disorder has come a long way, and today many individuals are able to receive help that significantly improves their quality of life, relationships, levels of independence and ability to live happy lives. Even when medication is used, these treatment options below can help stabilize the condition and improve recovery.
Education and Medical Care
Many experts feel that becoming educated about manic depression — learning about its symptoms and adopting a plan to recognize the early warning signs of a depressive or manic episode — can be one of the best tools. This helps develop problem-solving skills and establishes a plan for what to do when depression or mania starts emerging, such as telling a family member/friend or speaking with a therapist as quickly as possible. Meeting others with bipolar depression, reading online about helpful tips, and enhancing your life with things like physical activity, meditation and creative projects can boost self-esteem and keep up a more peaceful environment.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is one type of therapy that has shown promise for naturally managing bipolar disorder episodes. CBT can help you start to recognize underlying thought patterns that trigger mood swings; be attentive to your feelings, body sensations and emotions before they turn into more severe symptoms; and help you to learn to reach out for help when you notice you’re in a difficult frame of mind (such as experiencing more anxiety or losing sleep).
In one Systematic Treatment Enhancement Program for Bipolar Disorder study, researchers compared people in two groups — those undergoing collaborative care therapy versus intensive CBT psychotherapy — over nine months and found those practicing CBT had fewer relapses, lower hospitalization rates and were better able to stick with their treatment plans even one year later.
No matter the type of therapy approach you choose, some of the ways to help improve your therapy sessions and recovery include:
- being open and honest
- gaining support from your family (even including them in therapy sessions)
- creating a daily planner to help manage stress and stay organized
- keeping a journal of your feelings
- staying open-minded to suggestions from your therapist
- taking care of yourself in other ways between therapy sessions that can increase happiness (like eating right and getting enough sleep)
- joining a support group or group therapy class is another great way to lower stress about manic depression, connect with other people going through the same thing and receive valuable advice from others who have recovered. Many support groups exist around the U.S., are easy and free to join, and can be found on the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance website.
Exercise (Ideally Outdoors)
Exercise is practically a natural depression remedy since it’s a helpful way to lower stress, build confidence, help with getting good sleep, take care of your body, and even connect with other people if you a join a group team or cause. Many therapists who work with patients with depression or anxiety recommend taking a walk outdoors every day, regardless of the weather or time of year, to stay in touch with nature, the seasons and the elements around you.
Exercising outdoors has all the same benefits of exercising inside (it’s good for your heart, immunity, bones and weight, for example), plus it exposes you to uplifting natural light, connects you to what’s going on around you and tends to make you “see the bigger picture” more easily. These help lower anxiety, feelings of isolation, fatigue and hopelessness.
This is supported by research. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that “exercise was associated with improved health measures including depressive symptoms, functioning and quality of life.”
You might be surprised to know how much altering your diet can change how you feel. Some studies have found that those who eat diets high in processed and fast foods are up to 60 percent more likely to suffer from depression compared to people eating healthier diets. Your diet can greatly affect hormone production, neurotransmitter functions, energy and other processes that influence your overall mood.
As part of an anti-depression diet, it’s best to avoid foods that have lots of sugar, added sodium and artificial ingredients, in addition to greatly cutting back or eliminating caffeine and alcohol. Some of the best foods for fighting anxiety and depression include:
- Healthy fats — coconut, raw dairy and grass-fed meats (saturated fat supports cellular function and neurological health)
- Clean, lean protein foods — cage-free eggs, wild fish, grass-fed meat and pasture-raised poultry. Try to have at least four to five ounces of high-quality lean protein at every meal to get a variety amino acids that are important for hormonal balance
- Wild-caught fish — omega-3 fatty acids found in fish like salmon, halibut, sardines and mackerel are critical to maintain a healthy brain
- Vegetables and fruit — increase your intake of vital nutrients and antioxidants that support mood
- High-fiber foods — nuts and seeds, such as flax, chia, hemp and pumpkin seeds, provide essential fiber in addition to omega-3s for brain function and fiber. Fiber is also found in fresh produce, ancient grains and beans/legumes
Mindfulness meditation is similar to CBT, as it’s an effective way to recognize when your mood is becoming problematic, you’re getting stuck in ruminating thought patterns, and external situations are causing you to feel stressed, angry or vulnerable. Meditation (and similarly, even healing prayer) practices can be done entirely on your own time at home, are free, simple and have been trusted for improving emotional control for thousands of years. Yoga, considered a form of “moving meditation,” is also beneficial for the same reasons and is suitable for people who find it hard to meditate sitting or laying still.
A 2011 study published in the Journal of Psychiatric Practice found that people with bipolar disorder who participated in a mindfulness-based cognitive therapy program for eight weeks reported significant improvements in executive functioning, memory, and ability to initiate and complete tasks, as measured by the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function and the Frontal Systems Behavior Scale. They also experienced “changes in cognitive functioning which were correlated with increases in mindful, nonjudgmental observance and awareness of thoughts, feelings, and sensations, and were not associated with decreases in depression.”
Certain herbs and supplements have been shown to improve depressive symptoms and can help control anxiety. These include:
- Natural plant-based adaptogens herbs, including gingeng, holy basil, ashwaganda and rhodiola, help control the body’s stress response, lower cortisol, improve energy/focus and balance hormones in various ways.
- St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum) is a natural antidepressant that can be helpful for getting good sleep.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are derived from fish oil and help lower depression symptoms and inflammation.
- Essential oils for depression include lavender, bergamot, ylang ylang and chamomile, which can be used in the shower, inhaled/used for aromatherapy, or applied to the skin as a way of bringing on relaxation and reducing muscle tension.
Any activity or hobby that feels fun, reaffirming, creative and soothing is a good way to blow off steam and control depressive or manic symptoms in a skillful, positive way. Different things work for different people to help relieve stress, including keeping a journal or writing, doing art or listening to music, spending time outdoors, taking a relaxing bath, or spending more time with family and friends. It’s important to cut out time every day to specifically do things that make you feel connected to others, happy and relaxed, even if it’s just for a short period of time (such as one hour at night before bed or first thing in the morning).
The more that you can make stress-reducing activities part of your regular routine, the likelier you are to stick with them and manage your symptoms. It helps to make plans for fun, social activities that you can look forward to in the future and to keep organized in terms of keeping up with therapy appointments.
One helpful practice is keeping a journal in which you record how you’re feeling each day in order to track symptoms and draw some patterns. You can try recording your thoughts, feeling and behaviors daily in order to see what kind of activities keep you feeling most stable and happy, compared to those that make you feel vulnerable and easily triggered into experiencing mood swings.