The Best Natural and Spiritual Ways to Manage Anxiety and Depression

The love of my life suffers with anxiety and depression.

If you have ever experienced them, you know suffer is the right word. And often, you don’t know why you’re suffering.

Dawn occasionally experiences physical pain or crawling skin. Sometimes she can’t focus. She cries a lot. Sometimes life overwhelms her. She may struggle to make decisions. Sometimes she can’t quiet the voices of guilt or irrational fears.

And yet, she’s the bravest person I know. She never quits. She always hopes, trusts, loves, perseveres, and serves. She is a joy to live with.

How does she do it? How does she manage her depression year after year, day-in and day-out, usually without medication?

The answer is that she’s developed her own “medicine cabinet” of natural and spiritual ways to manage her anxiety and depression.

If you’re beginning to sink into depression for the first time, whether situational or chemical, if you’re anxious and scared and can’t understand why you feel this way, if you just don’t know what to do and you want to avoid meds…

Here’s a glimpse inside the medicine cabinet of one who suffers like you. Dawn and I both hope you find light at the end of the tunnel, but until then, here’s twelve proven ways to help you survive the darkness.

[Please note that appropriate medication is sometimes the best and necessary strategy. Dawn was on medication from 2002-2003 and we often talk about the possibility of needing it again.]

1. Get Outside

Look around at all God has made, city, suburb or country. Open your senses to the physical world and let a bit of wonder flicker in your mind. Natural settings are most wonder-inspiring, so if you live in a city try to find a park.

2. Drink Water

You need it to survive in the best of times. How much more in the worst? Drink lots of water, and let it be the main thing you drink—much more than dairy, coffee, soft drinks, or alcohol. How much water should you drink? A good rule of thumb is: you could probably use a glass of water right now. Your mind and heart will thank you.

3. Exercise Daily

Seriously. Exercise is your secret weapon for boosting your mood. Do light exercise like a brisk walk (not a mosey) for 20-30 minutes every day. Three days a week substitute a more challenging work out for at least 30 minutes.

4. Keep Routine

Use whatever tools you like to create a simple routine for your days and nights. This will give you a sense of control and predictability to combat the chaos in your head. Try calendar appointments, or a to-do list, or learn to say “no” graciously.

5. Eat Protein

Protein is a natural mood stabilizer and is available naturally in quinoa, beans, legumes, tofu, eggs, dairy, nuts, and meat. Protein is most effective for your mind and body when you eat a little at every meal. If you are fighting depression it’s extra important to get protein with breakfast.

6. Avoid Stimulants

Be careful about sugars and caffeine; they really mess with your brain chemistry. Pay attention to how they affect you, when, to what extent. You may need to find a substitute for that late night pan of brownies and morning cup o’ joe.

7. Sleep Enough

Not too much. Not too little. Either extreme can leave you foggy and affect your mood. Be as consistent as possible with bedtime and rising time (aka, create a routine).

8. Get Support

You need someone who “gets you.” You need someone you can trust with how you feel: a counselor; a spouse, a friend; a support group; anyone who will be supportive and non-judgmental. Don’t let embarrassment rob you of the wonderful help it can be just to tell someone how you feel.

9. Pursue a Hobby

Do stuff. Stay active. There is such satisfaction in performing simple tasks like knitting or gardening. What about playing an instrument? Getting involved in a sports league? Joining a book club? Any brain-engaging hobby will do, and group hobbies like joining a community band or a basketball league have the added benefit of combining #8 and #9.

10. Limit TV

You want your brain engaged. TV puts your brain in a passive mode and isolates you at the same time. This isn’t helpful for your depression, no matter how good the escape feels at the moment. It’s especially important to not let late-night TV disrupt your routine (#4) and sleep (#7). Here’s how we tame our TV viewing.

11. Meditate on Scripture

Christian meditation is simply focused thinking about what God has said to us in the Bible. If the Bible is unfamiliar to you, here’s tips on how to get started reading the Bible. Three specific kinds of promises God gives to those who trust in His Son, Jesus Christ, can be very helpful when you are suffering with depression:

❯ Promises related to God’s presence and comfort in the midst of suffering. (for example: Isaiah 43:1-3)

❯ Promises related to finding meaning and purpose in the midst of suffering. (for example: Romans 8:26-30)

❯ Promises related to the hope of eternal deliverance from suffering. (for example: Romans 8:18)

12. Study Theology

Dawn says this has been huge for her, and I can say the same. Nothing anchors your mind like a deeper apprehension of the greatness of God. Even Bible authors meditated on the greatness of God during their difficult times (for example: Psalm 77:11-13).

Get good books on the nature and work of God and the person and work of Christ. Try studying the Westminster or Heidelberg confessions of faith and catechisms. For a modern and accessible resource, try the New City Catechism online or for iPad (Read my review). When you understand the chief end of man (Westminster Q1), or your only hope in life and in death (Heidelberg/New City Q1), you will see the reason for an everlasting hope.

That’s 12 of the best natural and spiritual ways we know to manage anxiety and depression. I know you want a cure, a fix. But, I’m afraid sometimes managing is the best that can be achieved in our average lives. (Dawn knows all about that.)

But remember, God is great! Oh, how that makes a difference if you belong to Him.

If you don’t yet see how that makes a difference, let me encourage you to think more about what it must mean to belong to a loving, sovereign, wise, completely involved and invested heavenly Father. It means you have a reason to live, because He has a reason for you to live, forever.

Other Resources

❯ Your Anxiety Is Not a Sin (on AnneMarieMiller.com)

Ten Natural Depression Treatments (on WebMD)

❯ Dealing with Depression: Self-Help and Coping Tips to Overcome Depression (on HelpGuide.org)

❯ Broken Minds: Hope for Healing When You Feel Like You’re Losing It (on Amazon.com)


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11 thoughts on “The Best Natural and Spiritual Ways to Manage Anxiety and Depression

  1. These are truly great suggestions for helping improve ones mood…. However- ‘study theology’– I think would be something to do while you’re NOT feeling depressed. Getting in depth about hints that often evoke intellectual difficulties that I have to grapple with to preserve myself from doubt and anxiety leading to further depression, is definitely not what I do when I’m depressed. When I’m depressed, my mind seems almost altered… To the point that my thought processes and conclusions are way off what they would otherwise be. This for me would be a negative, self-feeding spiral of vast and vigorous downward proportions.
    Secondly, I am medically diagnosed as having Bipolar type 1 disorder. I have had to be submitted to a psychiatric hospital so far twice in my life. Not due to any depressive or suicidal impulses, but quite the opposite. I had quickly become delusional, detached from reality, and had become a danger to myself BECAUSE of my overweening confidence and “joy”.
    I wish I didn’t need medications. I wish I could get pregnant again rather than my husband and I feeling responsible to ‘use protection’ in order to protect a developing baby from lithium damage. I desperate wish I could give my 9 yr old son a little brother or sister, without risking that his own well-being be forever marred because of a mother going into a mental hospital because she had to go off her meds!
    These are realities I deal with on a daily basis. The foundations of the Word of God and the peace that the Spirit gives in my heart are absolute bedrock, non-negotiables. But I have seen also not just once but twice, while on NO medication, that if not for the skillful work of my psychiatrist, I would be biologically, chemically, inherently, incapacitated. I would be hallucinating, and having delusions of grandeur. I could very easily have been raped due to an overly care free and detached sense of reality (I just thought that the guy I’d never met, taking me to his apartment, was just going to go with me to a Bible study. God was so good and merciful to me that day, and honored my vows to remain a virgin till my wedding night. But I had unwittingly put myself in a very compromising condition.
    I realize this is different, speaking of my mood disorder, than that which you have beautifully described in AU. But please don’t live with the mistaken perception that if one day your beloved partner were to have to go on meds, it would not make her walk with Christ ANY less. That’s wonderful that she is able to avoid meds for now, but please don’t think for a moment that this is tantamount to her spiritual health. My mom struggled with depression, and tried so much- and for many years successfully, to avoid medications. But she got older, her body chemistry changed, and her station and relationships in life changed. It was painful to watch her the last time before accepting long-term meds, be so weak and feeling so defeated, and saying, ‘I’m just not trusting The Lord very well’, when by then I knew that was not the summation of the situation!
    Please, I’m just urging you, be sure you and your wife are viewing this soundly and consistently, or you may be setting yourselves up for much more of a struggle if she ever does have to accept long-term meds.
    Thank you for your ministry. I appreciate your candor in your blog!

    • Susan, how great it is to hear your feedback. You obviously have a story of both pain and joy–in essence what we call “an average life.” Yes, I agree with your comment about studying theology. We liken this to putting on a coat before going out into the storm. Also, thank you for your comment about meds. Never fear, we don’t have any bias against using them wisely when needed. We just cautiously weigh the pros/cons; there are always both with meds. I think Dawn may respond as well. Thanks again, Lon

      • Thank you Lon, for your well-balanced response. I appreciate the sensitivity !
        And I would love to see Dawn’s reply too !

    • Susan, thank you for reading our blog, and for commenting. First, I want to say I am so sorry for your pain of living with bipolar 1, and for your pain with the decision to not have more children. I pray our Heavenly Father’s comfort will ease the grief of that loss. Second, you are correct in that the study of theology needs to happen when not depressed. It is during the times when I have clarity of thought that my mind can understand and absorb. However, when the clouds descend and my mind is in a fog, I have to work hard to remember truth and cling tenaciously to it. Third, medication is always a possibility. I have fought so hard to not go on meds as I had a very bad experience with Paxil some years ago. As well as the cycling with depression, I have dysautonomia and the two feed off each other. This makes finding the right meds difficult. However, just today I told my counselor I was ready to explore using meds. Thank you again for sharing. May our gracious Father be your anchor in the stormy sea of living with mental illness.
      Dawn

  2. Dear,,

    Hi.. please introduce myself,,My name is Hwang Cho Ryeon,,I am Asian,24 years old. I am unemployed. I have been fired from the job I was in twice. I can hardly find any other job bcs of my bad working experience on my cv.
    Since then, I realized that I am a slow learner. I was fired bcs I did mistakes for so many times and didn’t understand the instructions properly.

    Well, I have big problem with learning new thing. I used to be a very hardworker but still there always be some flaws on my work. My supervisor always mad at me like, “I’ve said it so many times!”. They did right thing. I didnt blame my previous supervisors who fired me. All I am blaming is my ability of learning and understanding.

    Because of this,I know my weakness well. This leads me to have a terrible feeling when it comes to talk to someone, I’m always getting nervous and panic when I have to explain something. That’s one of the reason why I got fired. I have bad communication skill. Why, because I am afraid if I’m doing wrong.

    Ever since the last day of my working, I haven’t applied for any job yet. I have traumatic feeling about getting fired. My mom always scold me and asking why I’m not looking for another Job. In fact, I never told this to anyone before include, (especially) my parents. I told them that my contract was terminated because I had to handle another job outside my Job desc. I didn’t tell them the honest reason.

    I can’t even share this to my bestfriends bcs they are the people I am envy with. They are the people I wish I could be. They are now having good position in their company with good salary. I feel so much intimidated when we go out for cinema or just hanging out,, they’re all proudly spending their self-earn money and sharing their working experience. Meanwhile, I am still using my parent’s money,, and the leftover money from my last salary.Things are getting harder for me when they ask what my daily activities are. In fact Im just doing nothing at home.

    I keep telling lies to everyone. I am really afraid to tell the truth and to be judged. Having myself as a slow learner has already become the most hurtful thing I have to face.

    Now I am fighting so much againts my own anxiety and low self esteem. I am so afraid what if I never get a proper job.
    I am really expecting for you to do me a favor about what to do? What am I supposed to do ?
    I am so much thankful for your help..

    Best Regards
    Hwang Cho Ryeon

    • Thank you for your comment and question. I can feel a little of your sadness as I read your story.

      When I was about your age, I was very discouraged about my job, too. I had been recently married, and within a few months as a new husband I was fired from my job.

      Over the years I have faced many discouraging situations like this which made me feel like I would never become a truly responsible adult. I often worried that I would not be able to provide for my family.

      And yet here I am today, many years later, employed, still married, and a grandfather. There are two life lessons I have to offer you:

      1. Hard times and good times will come and go, each in its turn. Everyone will experience this, even your well-employed friends. Someday, they may face hard times. When they do, be a humble and loyal friend to them, as you would want them to be to you now. When good times come for you, be thankful and humble. When hard times come, still be humble and honest about it.

      2. I do not know what you believe, but I believe in one God who rules over everything. He rules over all of the hard times and good times of my life. He rules in such a way that he brings eternal good to my life for the sake of his son Jesus, in whom I place all my hope and trust. I believe this is what the Bible teaches about the one, true God, and His Son: that God has promised to forgive me for everything I have done wrong, and will do wrong, because His son, Jesus, paid the penalty for the wrong things I have done. God loves me and honors me for the sake of His Son, even though I have dishonored Him. Therefore, I trust him with my whole life. I make it my greatest desire to please him in all things, both in hard times and good times. I trust Him to provide for my needs and to help me in hard times. This honors Him.

      I pray you will trust the God and Father of my Lord Jesus with your hard times. And may the God I serve bless you with His forgiveness, and help you in your time of need.

      Grace and peace, Lon

  3. An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a co-worker
    who has been conducting a little research on this. And
    he actually bought me breakfast simply because I discovered
    it for him… lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thanks
    for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending some
    time to discuss this issue here on your web site.

    • You’re so welcome! It may be that 100% of us need these strategies at some point in our lives. Grace and peace, Lon

  4. Pingback: Why Dream Worlds Always Disappoint « Average Us

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