Globally, more than 300 million people suffer from depression and it is the leading cause of disability worldwide.1 Depression can severely affect a person’s emotional and physical health, causing feelings of emptiness and sadness, insomnia, weight fluctuations, cognitive problems, fatigue, weakened immune system, and at its worst, suicide.2
Most recovering addicts are very familiar with the effects of depression, as depression and substance abuse frequently co-exist. People may abuse drugs or alcohol to escape their sadness or lift their spirits, but substance abuse can also cause feelings of sadness and depression. The cycle of depression and substance abuse often continues endlessly.
Even after a person has overcome their addiction, coping with life’s challenges without the crutch of drugs and alcohol can be particularly difficult, and post-acute withdrawal syndrome can last for months or years after getting sober. As a result, depression in recovery is common and can even increase a person’s risk for relapse.
Many people turn to antidepressants to combat depression, however, prescription medications may not always be the best choice for someone who has a history of substance abuse. Fortunately, there are many “natural” non-medicated ways to combat depression in addiction recovery.
13 Natural Ways to Manage Depression in Addiction Recovery
1. Establish and maintain a daily routine.
Developing a routine in recovery has many advantages. Not only will you be better equipped to deal with stress, but routine can also help you maintain a sense of purpose in life, improve your self-esteem and self-efficacy, increase your brain function, and decrease your risk of relapse. All these things can reduce feelings of sadness and anxiety and work together to combat depression in recovery.
2. Set daily goals.
Depression has a way of holding you back and keeping you from moving forward in your life. Conversely, a life of sobriety is all about looking forward, striving to be better, and learning from past mistakes without dwelling on them. Setting small goals each day can provide motivation to maintain your sobriety and increase self-confidence as you successfully complete the daily tasks you’ve set out to achieve.
Although it provides many benefits to the person receiving the aid, volunteering also has some amazing therapeutic benefits for people in recovery. Volunteer work, in any capacity, can reduce feelings of depression by improving mood, increasing self-esteem and self-worth, and enhancing well-being and overall satisfaction in life. It may also help you to develop a sense of identity during this new and uncertain time in your life. If you’re enrolled in Eudaimonia’s sober living program, your house manager and recovery coach can help you get plugged into some local volunteer opportunities as a part of our Support Employment Volunteering program.
4. Try aromatherapy.
According to the Natural Medicine Journal, aromatherapy with essential oils can relieve many different ailments and enhance mental health.3 Essential oils such as clary sage, basil, ylang-ylang, lavender, sandalwood, patchouli, geranium, and chamomile all have healing properties and are commonly used in the treatment of depression and anxiety. Using them is easy too. Simply dilute the oils with almond oil or olive oil and massage them into your skin. They are absorbed into the bloodstream that way and may help relieve some of the anxiety, tension, nervousness, and sadness you feel, without having any adverse side effects.
5. Make some dietary changes.
What you consume has a huge effect on the way you feel, so naturally, prioritizing nutrition in sobriety can help relieve depression and promote overall well-being in addiction recovery. A diet containing high levels of sugar and caffeine can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression and studies also show sugar can inhibit the brain’s ability to help us cope with life stressors.4 On the contrary, certain vitamins and minerals like zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and folic acid are said to combat symptoms of depression,5 so a whole-food diet that consists of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains, lean meats, and lots of water can make you feel more energized, happy, and healthy.
6. Get moving.
Regular exercise and physical activity produces endorphins, which are chemicals that reduce stress, relieve pain, improve sleep and cognitive abilities, and elevate depressed mood. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, many research studies have provided evidence that physically active people have lower rates of depression and a regular routine that involves exercise can significantly reduce symptoms of depression over time.6 People in recovery don’t even need a gym membership to enjoy these benefits, as simple outdoor activities can provide great exercise and other benefits for sobriety.
7. Catch some rays.
Exposure to sunlight has a huge impact on your mood and overall health. Scientists have found that exposure to natural sunlight can affect many of the body’s natural functions, such as regulating sleep, breaking down energy from food, strengthening the immune system, and regulating mood and weight (among many others). Although studies do reveal sunlight to be a less drastic and immediate treatment for depression,7 it can still elevate your mood, get you outside, and encourage you to be more social, which are all things that may improve your spirits.
8. Consider getting a pet.
Pets can enhance a life of sobriety in many ways and studies show having a pet can help reduce symptoms of depression. Whether it’s a dog, cat, fish, or hamster, a pet can offer comfort, companionship, and unconditional love. Caring for a pet may also help you develop a more structured daily routine, as you integrate your pet’s feeding, grooming, and exercise needs into your own schedule. A recent survey by the Human-Animal Bond Research Institute found 74 percent of pet owners believed having a pet improved their mental health,8 so if you feel like you can handle the commitment, having a pet in addiction recovery may be the right choice for you. Eudaimonia even offers pet-friendly sober living for residents with animals.
9. Stay involved with your community support group.
Maintaining your involvement in community 12-step support groups will give you an outlet to discuss recovery-related issues, including depression. Talking about mental health issues can be very therapeutic and connecting with peers who are dealing with similar issues may provide a sense of camaraderie and serve as a constant reminder that you’re not alone, especially when things get tough.
10. Make music a part of your daily life.
The American Music Therapy Association lists many benefits of music for those suffering from depression. According to the association, music can reduce muscle tension, increase self-esteem, decrease anxiety, enhance relationships, increase motivation, and provide a safe emotional release.9 Whether you create a playlist of your favorite tunes for your morning routine, regularly listen to songs that encourage you in your recovery journey, or you learn how to play a musical instrument, engaging with music daily can provide positive mental health benefits and natural treatment for depression.
11. Practice meditation or yoga for a few minutes each day.
Meditation and yoga provide many benefits for a life in addiction recovery. These physical and mental practices are great exercise, they’re free, and they align with mindfulness practices that are emphasized in the Big Book. Not only that, but they also raise GABA levels in the body, reducing the activity of nerve cells in the nerve system. As a result, meditation or yoga reduces feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress, leaving you feeling more calm and relaxed.
12. Do something new.
Doing something new and different can get you out of that mental rut that leaves you feeling hopeless and depressed. Even if it’s just taking a class at the local community college, going to a museum you’ve never been to, or trying your hand at a new hobby, doing something new is a refreshing way to get out of your comfort zone and create new experiences and memories. Not only that, but having a new experience alters the levels of dopamine in the brain, which is a chemical that is associated with feelings of pleasure, enjoyment, and happiness.
13. Prioritize fun.
Early sobriety can be a challenging time emotionally and physically, so it’s important to remember to have fun. If you’re enrolled in a Eudaimonia sober living program, you’ll probably be fervently pursuing your recovery program and all the different things that entails, but living in a group transitional home also provides many opportunities for fun sober group activities. Whether you get out and explore a local festival, organize a basketball championship or host weekly movie nights with your sober living roommates, it’s just as important to make time for fun as it is to prioritize your recovery program.