Natural Solutions for Depression and Anxiety

by Kathy Gruver, PhD

Many people suffer from depression and anxiety as a part of their daily lives. These are commonly treated with antidepressants and other prescription drugs. In the pharmaceutical world, antidepressants rank number five in numbers of prescriptions written behind high blood pressure, cholesterol, gastrointestinal disorders and antibiotics. My experience is that there are non-drug ways to treat mild depression. I’m not referring to truly debilitating depression where a person is confined to the house or suicidal, but for mild mood problems, there are other options. Its mental sister, anxiety, also has some non-drug solutions. In fact, some new studies indicate that prescription anti-depressants aren’t even effective for mild depression, they are made for more severe cases.

The first thing I look at with my clients is nutrition. Many people suffering from depression and anxiety are low in the B vitamins and I suggest adding those daily. Be aware not to take them too late in the day as they can disrupt sleep. Tryptophan and 5-HTP are precursors to serotonin, which controls mood and are great additions to your daily regime. Tryptophan is metabolized in the liver and helps with conversion of certain B vitamins (another reason to have enough Bs). Tryptophan is also dependent on being hydrated so get enough water. SAM-e, Magnesium, Melatonin, Omega 3 fatty acids and St. Johns Wort are also beneficial supplement suggestions if you are battling mood disorders. But it’s not recommended to take St John’s Wort, Tryptophan or 5-HTP if you are on SSRIs like Prozac. There can be a dangerous interaction. And St. Johns Wort can counteract the effectiveness of the birth control pill so you might be less depressed until the pregnancy test comes back. Magnesium, my favorite mineral, not only helps with mood, but also sleep, constipation, PMS and headaches.

If you are experiencing anxiety, cut back on the caffeine and other stimulants. Even if you’ve been drinking it for years, with the addition of stressful life circumstances, caffeine can increase your feelings of anxiety. Taper off slowly so the withdrawal symptoms don’t send you back to the java. Also avoid self-medicating with alcohol. It, in itself, is a depressant and can just lead down a road to addiction and isolation.

I also suggest eliminating artificial sweeteners and flavorings like MSG. I’ve had clients that have experienced anxiety-like symptoms after consuming artificial sweeteners. The symptoms went away after the usage was stopped. Checking for food sensitivities and keeping a food diary can also be useful to see if you can chart a pattern of eating and mood. You can also be tested for heavy metal contamination which can affect both mood and food allergies. And it never hurts to do a cleanse or short fast. The cleaner the colon, the better off we are.

A lot of people are on multiple prescription drugs and I advise clients to check side effects to make sure they are not experiencing iatrogenic disease. (Loosely meaning treatment induced). Many antidepressants have anxiety as a side effect and vice versa. Also, studies have shown that low cholesterol aggravates depression so make sure your statin drug is not lowering your numbers too much.

SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder is common during the winter months. Using a light box or supplementing with Vitamin D can help with this issue. Make sure you get out in the light for the time that we have it. While you’re out there, exercise a bit. Dr. Andrew Weil suggests that 30 minutes a day, five days a week can help with mood issues. Exercise not only gets you outside and around other people, it boosts our self-confidence by releasing those feel good hormones in the brain.

We can’t escape the connection of body and mind and studies have shown that massage and acupuncture can help the symptoms of depression and anxiety. Massage, in general, relaxes the body and also stimulates the feel good hormones in the brain. The relaxation can also alleviate mild anxiety. A study conducted in 2000 by John Allen at the University of Tucson, showed that over 50% of people treated with acupuncture for their depression had lessening of symptoms so that they no longer met the criteria for depression.

Other alternatives to prescription drugs are homeopathics or Bach Flower Essences. Both work on the premise that “like cures like” and work on an energetic level. They balance the body so that healing can take place from within. Flower essences correspond to specific emotional states and restore them to balance. There are millions of combinations that are individualized for every person. More information on Bach Flower Essences can be found at or contact me for a consultation for specific remedies.

Just like you can’t have two solid objects occupying space at the same time, you can’t have two thoughts in your mind at one time. If you are having negative thoughts, try to change them to something else. I like affirmations for this. Rather than saying, “Life sucks,” change it to “Life is abundant and easy,” or “I am healthy and well.” When working with affirmations make them short, positive and in the present. And repeat frequently. I have affirmations around the house on my mirrors and on the dashboard of my car. It’s a helpful reminder that we’re in control of the stories we tell.

And, if you are experiencing depression or anxiety, try talking to a professional about it. No matter what treatment you are using, it’s important to cover the cognitive aspect as well. And remember, you don’t have to go through this alone, bonding with people and companion animals are important. And it probably won’t hurt to skip the horror movies and news programs on TV too.

I hope your moods stay high and your outlook bright. But if there are low spots, hopefully these suggestions were able to help!

Kathy Gruver, PhD is the author of The Alternative Medicine Cabinet and Body/Mind Therapies for the Bodyworker. She can be reached at