When it comes to
addressing your depression and anxiety, working with your doctor on a
treatment plan is wholly recommended—but that doesn’t mean your
treatment plan should be comprised entirely of a traditional combo of
therapy and medication. Mental health professionals and
researchers are increasingly recommending alternative therapies in
conjunction with therapy and medication as treatment for depression and
anxiety—and some of the activities proven to help may surprise you.
Playing Video Games Gamer and author Jane McGonigal has called
gaming “the neurological opposite of depression”—that’s because playing
games activates parts of the brain that don’t usually get activated
when you’re depressed—the ones associated with motivation, learning and
goal orientation. And you don’t have to be a gamer to reap the
benefits—if long, complex games aren’t your thing, think simple. Casual
video games that are fun and easy to play in short increments have been shown to improve mood and decrease stress. McGonigal even created a game specifically to help increase your ability to stay strong, motivated and optimistic.
Volunteering You can help yourself by helping others, studies suggest. Not only does volunteer work improve physical health, research shows it can also counter depression and anxiety, especially in older adults.
Dancing Bust a move. Whether you can dance
circles around anyone on Dancing With the Stars or your talent is mostly
confined to the Macarena and the Electric Slide, working up a sweat on
the dance floor (or in your living room) has its perks. Research
suggests that dance beneficially modulates concentrations of serotonin
and dopamine, improving mood in those with mild depression.
Gardening Got a green thumb? Use it to boost your mental health.Research
shows that over time, gardening can decrease the severity of depression
and reduce rumination, the tendency to repetitively think about
upsetting things. Even keeping plants and flowers around can lower anxiety, increase relaxation, reduce perceived stress levels and reduce your chances of suffering from stress-related depression.
Playing An Instrument You’ve probably noticed what a huge effect listening to music can have on your mood. Playing an instrument makes a major impact, too. A study
of older adults taking piano lessons found that reading music and
playing a music instrument decreased depression, induced a positive mood
and improved psychological and physical quality of life.
Going to Art Museums Art therapy dates back to the 1940s,
but you don’t need to be handy with a paintbrush to get the benefits.
Making art has been shown to boost mood,
but so does viewing it. In fact, studies have shown such a direct link
between the content of artwork and the brain’s response to pain, stress
and anxiety that hospitals are starting to choose artwork that specifically promotes a sense of optimism and energy.
Hiking If your version of hiking is just
walking somewhat close to a tree, that’s fine, too. Numerous studies
have found that just being out and about in nature has a ton of mental
health benefits. Forest environments promote lower concentrations of
cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater
parasympathetic nerve activity and lower sympathetic nerve activity,
according to experiments done in 24 forests across Japan. You don’t need to go that far, either—grab a friend and take a walk in a nearby park to lower perceived stress, lower depression and reduce obsessive, negative thoughts.
Exercise Don’t worry, we won’t tell you to start training for a marathon—researchers
say that anything from a 10-minute walk to a 45-minute walk can elevate
a depressed mood, providing several hours of relief. Some research even suggests that regular exercise can be just as effective as medication for reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression in some people.
Partnering Up Whether you’re drawing, dancing or
hiking, amplify the effects of your favorite anxiety-reducing activity
by inviting a friend to join you. Research
shows that the presence of social support suppresses cortisol levels in
response to stress, increasing calmness and decreasing anxiety.