There are a few reasons why some people do not take medication for depression. Generally, issues such as intolerable side effects, cost, poor results, or simply the unfair stigma that can be associated with antidepressants prevent people from using them.
Fortunately, there are other options available to those who suffer from depression. Studies suggest that psychotherapy and exercise are each effective treatments for the disorder. Psychotherapy—which targets negative behaviors, thoughts, and emotions to improve mood and coping skills—is generally a once-per-week event (usually 45–60 minutes). Cardiovascular exercise—which can help alter chemicals in the brain and boost mood—is often 30 minutes, three times per week. When paired with psychotherapy, exercise allows depressed people a chance not only to learn to think differently, but also to directly affect their brain chemistry.
Benefits of Psychotherapy
Although psychotherapy has been a standard depression treatment for decades, it is still not entirely clear how it works. In cognitive-behavioral therapy—perhaps the most popular form of therapy for depression—patients learn how to change thought processes and thinking patterns that are likely connected to depressive symptoms. In psychodynamic therapies (treatments based on the theories of Sigmund Freud), patients gain insight into unconscious thoughts that could be driving the depression. And in behavioral therapy, patients work on the physical activation that is often lacking in those who are depressed.
Benefits of Exercise
In some ways, then, exercise is a type of behavioral therapy. One hypothesis holds that cardiovascular exercise releases brain chemicals that lead to improved mood. Depressed people who exercise also report increased confidence and hopefulness as they recognize that they are directly addressing their depression. Note, however, that each person’s exercise needs will vary based on both physical ability and how exercise affects depression symptoms, as firm guidelines have not been established.
There are few, if any, side effects of the psychotherapy/exercise combination. It should be noted, however, that both of these treatment modes might take longer than medication to produce desired results. In some cases, this could mean months instead of weeks. There is also a greater time commitment involved than simply taking a daily pill. But for those who prefer a more natural approach to treating their depression, the combination of psychotherapy and exercise provides a viable approach to feeling better.