When the meds don’t work—Resources and AT for depression and anxiety


By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

My co-worker was asking me about my light box yesterday and that got me thinking about the alternative AT, supplements, and practices I use to help with my depression (seasonal and otherwise) and anxiety. Many visits to doctors had left me very frustrated—and feeling like it was my fault and something was wrong with me—I have nasty side effects to most medications, especially antidepressants. Through many trials, I have never found an SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, the main class of antidepressants) that works for me. I have found that I can tolerate Wellbutrin (an antidepressant that works on norepinephrine and dopamine instead of serotonin) at low levels, and it helps, but I can still be depressed on it, and increasing it makes the side effects intolerable—especially the irritability I develop.

Last week I went to a workshop given by the Institute of Brain Potential. At the workshop, Dr. Michael Lara, a psychiatrist, presented on medical and medicinal foods used to treat mood disorders and inflammation. He presented research—noting the good research and that which was bad/poorly done–on evidence about supplements and told us about websites to use to evaluate the research and supplements, especially ConsumerLab.com, Examine.com, and the National Nutrient Database. It seems there are many more of us out there for whom medications are only part of the answer. For example, those of us with the MTHFR genetic variation, including me, (and other genetic variations) do not benefit much or at all from SSRIs and may benefit from L-methylfolate or other alternative treatments. Sometimes, increasing precursors or co-factors to neurotransmitters through food and supplements can be a piece of the answer. I am testing and trying some of this myself and finding some good results and some things that don’t work. There’s a great article by Wake-up World with some ideas on increasing dopamine naturally that covers some of the supplements as well as other options.

In addition, there are AT products that can help. I’ve written about some of them before—weighted blankets, yoga, loving kindness meditation, and light boxes. There are also numerous apps for anxiety and depression.

Here are some other ideas to help yourself decrease or manage your depression:

Get a fish tank as AT for depression. My home office fish tank has a very bright light to help the fish and plants grow, in addition, the light provides some light therapy to me. Watching the fish swim calms me. The gentle water sound of the filter and bubbles relaxes me. The bright colors and movement and plants growing add vibrancy to my life and help me re-center. Watching fish decreases blood pressure and muscle tension as well. In addition, fish tanks can become a hobby to share with others. My husband and I have met cool people at our local fish store and through the aquarium club in our area.

Art supplies and coloring books as the “new” AT. It’s no surprise to me that coloring books are becoming popular with adults. I never stopped coloring. I find it meditative and cheerful. Coloring is now recommended for people with anxiety, depression, and dementia among other things. Coloring can become a mindfulness practice. Concentrating on the one task, choosing colors, purposeful movement, these are all beneficial. Also, as someone who can’t draw, I can still feed my creativity and artistic self through coloring. And, coloring has prompted me to play around with watercolor—a medium where I relish creating designs and colors and don’t feel the pressure to have to make something that looks like something else, like I do when attempting to draw.

Build a playlist that helps you feel better. You can use more than just apps on your smartphone to help with depression and anxiety, use your smartphone music, or go old-school and make mixed tapes/CDs. Dopamine is released when we listen to music. Dopamine is a feel-good neurotransmitter associated with motivation and combatting addiction. Even anticipating listening to music stimulates dopamine. Melancholy music that we know well can create chills and may be beneficial to our mood as we anticipate the different sections of the song. Sad music may help us move to more positive emotions. Our drive and reward systems are activated by music.


While none of these resources or pieces of AT are an all-in-one answer, perhaps they can help on the journey. And if right now you are depressed and none of these sounds good to you, know you are not alone, you matter, you can get through this, depression lies and tells you things about yourself that aren’t true, and get help. If you are open to irreverent and raw, I highly recommend listening to Jenny Lawson read her own book in the audio version of Furiously Happy or follow her blog. Perhaps the book or the audiobook is available from your local library.

This article is not medical advice—consult your own doctor/medical professional and therapist.


2 thoughts on “When the meds don’t work—Resources and AT for depression and anxiety

  1. Laura Hall

    Great article, Aimee. Wanted to mention that I found these wonderful 30 minute shows on Netflix called “Moving Art”. Beautiful video of things like sea life, oceans, sunsets, waterfalls, etc that I’ve been using in the evening in addition to some breathing/visualization tactics I’ve learned through guided sleep meditation apps (love these particular free ones through “Mindifi” to help with bedtime anxiety and sleep.

    1. Aimee Sterk Post author

      Awesome Laura! We actually watched the waterfall one before bed last night. I really loved it–beautiful, peaceful, and relaxing. I will have to try the guided meditation apps too. Thanks for the tip and glad you liked the post!


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