Depression is a problem for so many of us, both young and old, especially during the winter months we’re just now leaving (or just entering, depending on your location on the planet). It’s a whole-body illness that takes a toll on our bodies, nervous system, moods, thoughts, and behavior. It affects the way you sleep and eat, how you feel about yourself, and how you react to and think about the people and things around you. These symptoms can last for weeks, months, or even years.
Although the causes of depression are not fully understood, they are most definitely many and varied. Depression can be triggered by tension, stress, a traumatic life event, a hyper-stimulated immune system, chemical imbalances in the brain, thyroid disorders, nutritional deficiencies, poor diet, the consumption of sugar, lack of exercise, any serious physical disorder, or even severe allergies. Whatever the factors that trigger it though, depression begins with a disturbance in the part of the brain that governs moods. Most people can handle everyday stresses. However, when stress is too great for a person and his or her adjustment mechanism is unresponsive, depression can be triggered.
The winter months can cause us to become more depressed as the days are shorter and darker. This type of disorder is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). People who suffer from it lose their energy, suffer anxiety attacks, grain weight as a result of craving the wrong foods, sleep too much, and have a reduced sex drive.
Foods greatly influence our brain’s behavior. A poor diet, especially one with a ton of junk food, is a common cause of depression. The levels of neurotransmitters, brain chemicals that regulate our behavior, are controlled by what we eat. And the neurotransmitters most commonly associated with mood are dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. When the brain produces serotonin, tension is eased. When it produces dopamine or norepinephrine, we tend to think and act more quickly and are generally more alert.
Here are some of my holistic recommendations for those looking to elevate their mood:
1. Eat a diet that includes plenty of raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, seeds, brown rice, millet, and legumes. Yes, that means a Sunwarrior protein smoothie is an excellent choice!
2. Eat protein meals containing essential fatty acids. Seeds are wonderful sources: chia, hemp, or flax. Seaweed, beans, winter squash, leafy greens, berries, and wild rice are also great options.
3. Omit wheat products from your diet if you have a legitimate gluten sensitivity. Wheat gluten has been linked to depressive disorders in those who do not tolerate gluten protein.
4. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and processed foods.
5. Avoid sugar, as it will lead to fatigue and depression once you crash. I recommend stevia as a sweetener, as it does not have the same effect on the body as sugar or the side effects of artificial sugar substitutes.
6. Avoid foods high in saturated fats, such as French fries or hamburgers, which lead to sluggishness, slow thinking, and fatigue.
7. Avoid diet sodas and other products containing the artificial sweetener aspartame. This additive can possibly block the formation of serotonin and cause headaches, insomnia, and depression.
8. Meditate. Learn to re-route negative thinking patterns. Try daily positive affirmations. Developing a better way of thinking is crucial.
9. Get plenty of rest.
10. Exercise! Studies show that exercise, even just walking, is most important for all types of depression. It alters the brain chemicals norepinephrine and serotonin.
11. Listen to music. It has powerful effects on our mood. Do not underestimate it.
12. Consider taking an herbal supplement. St. John’s wort has been used for medicinal purposes in other parts of the world for thousands of years. You may take it in liquid or capsule form. The dried form may also be used as a tea. Kava kava helps to induce calm and relieve depression.
13. Investigate the possibility that food allergies are causing or contributing to your depression.
14. B Vitamins, especially folate and B6, can be helpful in mild depression.
15. Light therapy can be one way to ease symptoms during the shorter days. It includes sitting near a brightly lit box that mimics outdoor light. The therapy generally starts with daily sessions of about 15 minutes and increases to up to two hours daily.
16. Seek professional help. Find a psychotherapist, mental health professional, or grief counselor who can help you explore what is contributing to your depressed state and facilitate recovery.
17. Try acupuncture as an alternative therapy.
18. Go to a support group. These groups provide education on depression, a community of support, and the opportunity to learn from others dealing with similar issues. If opposed, I suggest finding another group that shares your interest, such as joining a book club or taking a cooking class. If you are religious, go to your place of worship.
19. Keep a mood diary. This will allow for you to keep track of positive things happening in your life and keeps negative events in perspective.
20. Try yoga. It has been known to reduce stress, hostility, and anxiety.
While following these suggestions are not guaranteed to cure your depression, they will definitely ease symptoms.
Depression, like most physical and mental illnesses, is multifactorial. A holistic approach is necessary, so do not rely on any one remedy. Not just your mind and body, but your relationships, work, finances, how you express yourself creatively, how you satisfy yourself sexually, your environment, and whether you are letting your inner self shine all play a part in your wellbeing.
However, if all else fails and you need anti-depressants, do not beat yourself up! Sometimes you can do everything right, and if your imbalance is biochemical, you may need the drugs. Remember, tears are healthy. Let it out. Talk it out. This too shall pass.
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