Mental health professionals and researchers are increasingly recommending alternative therapies in conjunction with therapy and medication as treatment for depression and anxiety—and some of the activities proven to help may surprise you.
- Playing Video Games
Gamer and author Jane McGonigal has called gaming “the neurological opposite of depression”—that’s because playing games activates parts of the brain that don’t usually get activated when you’re depressed the ones associated with motivation, learning and goal orientation. And you don’t have to be a gamer to reap the benefits—if long, complex games aren’t your thing, think simple. Casual video games that are fun and easy to play in short increments have been shown to improve mood and decrease stress. McGonigal even created a game specifically to help increase your ability to stay strong, motivated and optimistic.
Bust a move. Whether you can dance circles around anyone on Dancing With the Stars or your talent is mostly confined to the Macarena and the Electric Slide, working up a sweat on the dance floor (or in your living room) has its perks. Research suggests that dance beneficially modulates concentrations of serotonin and dopamine, improving mood in those with mild depression.
Got a green thumb? Use it to boost your mental health.Research shows that over time, gardening can decrease the severity of depression and reduce rumination, the tendency to repetitively think about upsetting things. Even keeping plants and flowers around can lower anxiety, increase relaxation, reduce perceived stress levels and reduce your chances of suffering from stress-related depression.
4. Playing An Instrument
You’ve probably noticed what a huge effect listening to music can have on your mood. Playing an instrument makes a major impact, too. A study of older adults taking piano lessons found that reading music and playing a music instrument decreased depression, induced a positive mood and improved psychological and physical quality of life.
5. Going to Art Museums
Art therapy dates back to the 1940s, but you don’t need to be handy with a paintbrush to get the benefits. Making art has been shown to boost mood, but so does viewing it. In fact, studies have shown such a direct link between the content of artwork and the brain’s response to pain, stress and anxiety that hospitals are starting to choose artwork that specifically promotes a sense of optimism and energy.
If your version of hiking is just walking somewhat close to a tree, that’s fine, too. Numerous studies have found that just being out and about in nature has a ton of mental health benefits. Forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol, lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity and lower sympathetic nerve activity, according to experiments done in 24 forests across Japan. You don’t need to go that far, either—grab a friend and take a walk in a nearby park to lower perceived stress, lower depression and reduce obsessive, negative thoughts.
Don’t worry, we won’t tell you to start training for a marathon—researchers say that anything from a 10-minute walk to a 45-minute walk can elevate a depressed mood, providing several hours of relief. Some research even suggests that regular exercise can be just as effective as medication for reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression in some people.