COPING WITH DEPRESSION THROUGH HEALTHY LIVING
We all feel fed up, miserable and sad at certain times in our lives, but depression is a very real issue for an ever-growing number of people in the modern world. So, if you are a sufferer, don't feel alone.
This prevalence is no doubt due, in large part, to the tremendous challenges that we all face on a daily basis, in all areas of our lives - work life, personal life, health issues, time constraints and (perhaps surprising to some) even the quality of a person's diet and their level of physical activity.
All of these factors (and many others) can impact our emotional health. Some people cope well with these types of challenges, while others are simply unable to cope. And for this reason, the prescription of anti-depressants has unfortunately seen a marked increase over recent years.
Having said that, many people are loathe to rely on medication for the long-term, or are concerned about the potential side-effects (even if only taken for a short while). If this is you, happily there are many natural means that you can try to help you cope with your condition.
One of the first things you might want to do is to take a good look at your overall state of health. Taking care of yourself can go a long way towards starting to alleviate feelings of depression, and all of the other methods listed below tie into this over-arching principle. Really take stock of your general level of well-being by asking questions like "do I feel physically well?", "am I active?", "do I sleep well?", "do I eat well?", "do I have a balanced diet?", "do I get out and about most days?", "do I have a good social life?" etc.
Sleep and circadian rhythms
The relationship between sleep and depression is complex – depression may cause sleep problems and sleep problems may cause or contribute to depression. Either way, it can only be of benefit to try to get plenty of high quality sleep on a regular basis.
To understand the importance of sleep, it's worth knowing that there’s a section of our brain which synchronises our body to a 24 hour cycle and releases hormones to regulate our bodily functions, such as: appetite, energy levels, mood and sleep. These daily cycles are known as circadian rhythms and they are really important for our physical and emotional wellbeing; they help us to keep a stable mood and maintain good physical health.
Your body can usually tell when to prepare for certain events. For example, when the sun comes up your body releases cortisol to give you energy, and when the sun goes down you produce and release melatonin, a hormone which makes you sleepy. Sometimes these cycles get messed up and that can wreak havoc on our physical and emotional health. When our circadian rhythms are disrupted and our bodies produce hormones at the wrong time of day, it can increase the chance of depression or worsen existing symptoms.
And so, while it is sometimes easier said than done, aim to get between 6 and 8 hours of sleep each night, which is deep and uninterrupted. To help things along, try to avoid caffeine and alcohol (especially within 4 hours of bedtime).
The sad reality is that, nowadays, most people in the West spend the vast majority of their time indoors and sitting down. This, of itself, can be extremely depressing. Don't let this happen to you! Make sure that you spend at least 30 minutes a day outside.
For one thing, our skin can make vitamin D when it is exposed to sunlight. Researchers are now discovering that this so-called "sunshine vitamin" can play a role in mood. Vitamin D receptors have been found in many parts of the brain, including areas that are linked to the development of depression.
If one side of the coin is getting out into the sunshine and fresh air, the other side is keeping active. Not only will it help to keep you physically healthy and promote body detoxification, it can also help to deplete stress hormones and release mood-enhancing chemicals in the body which help us cope better with stress - endorphins.
Endorphins are often referred to as the "happy hormones". Any form of physical activity leads to the release of these feel good neurotransmitters. The increase in endorphins in your body leads to a feeling of euphoria, modulation of appetite, the release of different sex hormones and an enhancement of immune response. This all helps to combat the negative effects of stress.
It's a factor that is often overlooked, but diet can have a huge impact on the onset and ongoing symptoms of depression. However, when you stop and think about it, it makes perfect sense - just as our physical health can suffer when we fail to provide our bodies with the nutrients they need, so too our emotional health can suffer. This is because a range of biological processes which control our mood, nervous system and the chemical reactions in our brain, rely on certain nutrients to work efficiently. For example, hormonal balance.
So be sure to eat well. Choose natural, whole foods (preferably organic) that feed the brain, promote hormonal balance and fuel the body with the broad spectrum of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients that it needs on a daily basis. Whole grains, oily fish, fruit, vegetables and plenty of pure, filtered water are all good examples. In contrast, avoid acid-forming "anti-nutrient" foods, which drain the body. These include junk foods, refined sugar, saturated fat, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. Foods like these can cause blood sugar and emotional spikes that can end up making you feel tired, as well as exacerbating feelings of depression.
Supplements for extra support
There are also a wide range of natural health supplements out there that can support your mood levels, brain function, hormonal balance, immunity and various other aspects of health connected to feelings of depression. These products can offer invaluable support, when used in combination with a healthy diet and sensible exercise regime. So, do your research and take your pick!
Some of the more popular nutrients used to promote a healthy frame of mind and help combat depression include: Omega oils, L-Glutamine, vitamin D, lean protein, high-fibre complex carbohydrates and antioxidants. Of course, there are many more.
So, as you can see, the good news is that you may not have to turn to medication to combat the blues. Of course, if bouts of depression continue for weeks at a time, see a healthcare professional and work out a treatment plan. But for occasional down days, adopting some simple lifestyle and diet changes and making them part of your daily routine can naturally boost your mood.