What Our Grandparents Knew About Staying Sane

Managing anxiety and depression without drugs.

Posted May 02, 2012

Everybody has something that makes them really, really anxious. Even if you don’t have a phobia per se, we all have fears that haunt us. Some worry they won’t ever find the right partner. Others worry they won’t be able to have children. Some languish for years in a job they know isn’t right for them.  

When these feelings come to a head—say, after a breakup, a failed attempt to get pregnant, or a rejection after a job interview—that anxiety can turn into depression. I experienced this myself while trying to get pregnant—one of the reasons I researched a long list of coping techniques for my new book The Impatient Woman’s Guide to Getting Pregnant.

There was just so much to worry about—would it work this cycle, would I have a miscarriage, would the baby be normal. I was usually pretty good at handling my anxiety, but trying to get pregnant almost sent me over the edge. I didn’t want to take drugs, as many of them aren’t safe during pregnancy, and it was a short-term problem anyway. So I went looking for more natural solutions. Fortunately I found a lot, 14 of which I detail in The Impatient Woman's Guide.

The techniques I’ll share with you here rely heavily on Dr. Steve Ilardi’s fantastic book, The Depression Cure. We now know that antidepressants don’t work for everyone, especially those with more mild depression. Plus many people aren’t currently depressed and would prefer to stay that way. So we all need a way to guard against depression and beat it back when it starts to encroach.

Dr. Ilardi’s program involves natural techniques that have been proven to reduce depression. The easiest: Taking omega-3 fish oil supplements (and at a higher dose than I’ve heard suggested elsewhere—1000mg of EPA and 500mg of DHA daily). Beyond that it’s all the stuff your grandmother said you should do (and she was right): get enough sleep, exercise, spend time face-to-face with friends and family. And get out in the sun or use a light box. The techniques take some time to implement, but they work.

If you want more details, I highly, highly recommend The Depression Cure. It’s easy to read and has lots of very specific suggestions for how to implement the plan, including a troubleshooting section. Even if you’ve never had major depression, the book will improve your mood, your happiness, and your life. 

Rates of anxiety and depression are much higher now than they were 50 to 70 years ago (something I've explored in my own research—for a summary, see Chapter 4 of Generation Me or this article). Our grandparents clearly knew some things that we don't. My bet is they were doing a lot of the things mentioned in Dr. Ilardi's book.

Don't dismiss grandma's advice—sometimes the science backs her up!