Six Ways to Overcome Depression and Anxiety Naturally

Whenever I have a client struggling with depression and/or anxiety, I start treatment by having them set goals to improve in six key areas of life called the Six Elements. This approach comes from Dr. Stephen Ilardi’s book “The Depression Cure”.  As clients integrate the Six Elements into their lives on a regular basis, they begin to overcome depression and find these new habits replace older, less adaptive coping skills. 

Some of the Six Elements may seem obvious but consciously putting them at the forefront of depression treatment can help you prioritize them and mindfully notice the effect these actions have on your mood and anxiety. You can start with the easiest element to implement and work your way down the list as you feel better. You’ll also notice that improving one will make it easier to implement the others, creating a virtuous cycle of positive reinforcement. 

The Six Elements

1. Nutrition

Start by taking supplements that are helpful to the brain, which you can read about here. Reducing processed foods and sugar and replacing them with protein, fruits, and vegetables can go a long way in feeling better. Eat at regular intervals and make sure to get enough water.

2. Light

Get 30 minutes of mood-boosting sunlight a day, ideally in the morning. If you can’t get outside or it’s a dark day, use a light box. This will also help with sleep. This is particularly useful if your depression is seasonal.

3. Sleep

Make sure you’re getting eight to nine hours of sleep with a consistent sleep/wake schedule. Too much sleep can be as much of an issue as too little. Follow the natural rhythms of the sun by not going to bed extremely early or late.

4. Exercise

Get 30 minutes of vigorous exercise three times a week. Start with shorter periods of walking if needed and build up as your fitness increases.

5. Social Involvement 

Make sure you are regularly socializing in a meaningful way with people you enjoy and care about. Isolation breeds depression. In-person interactions are more effective than virtual ones (but be COVID safe about it!)

6. Meaningful Activity

Find a sense of purpose in your life through meaningful work, hobbies, volunteering, experiencing culture, sports, or anything that brings you joy and purpose. Do this even if you don’t feel like you’re able to experience pleasure or nothing seems interesting to you. Acting first will build motivation and enjoyment later.

In some ways this list is simple, but if you’re depressed, working on the Six Elements can feel overwhelming. There may be bad habits getting in the way of using the Six Elements to take care of yourself. That’s why learning other psychological skills like mindfulness, opposite action, defusion, flexibility, and acceptance are necessary, and why counseling can help you get motivated to create these positive habits.

Try the Six Elements and find out for yourself how they can help overcome depression!