Beat the blues
If you’re depressed, you’re not alone; nor do you have to let depression control your life. Try these holistic tips and D-I-Y natural remedies for banishing the black dog.
What did Ludwig van Beethoven, Winston Churchill and Vincent van Gogh have in common? They all, at one time or another, suffered from depression. For severe depression, characterised by sleep and appetite changes, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, poor concentration, feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of death or suicide, chances are that you need psychotherapy, medication, or both. However, for mild to moderate depression – which can be triggered by a divorce, a death, a move, biological or hormone imbalances, stress, nutrition and sleep deficits, to name just a few – there are plenty of self-help strategies.
1. Let food change your mood
* Cut out junk foods Trans fats, found in processed and fast foods, are associated with a higher risk of depression.
* Soothe sugar surges Refined foods like white bread, soft drinks and sweets cause blood sugar spikes, which in turn cause mood swings. Low-GI foods like brown rice, oats, nuts, and leafy greens, on the other hand, release sugar into the bloodstream slowly. Broccoli, cinnamon and garlic provide chromium, which regulates insulin.
* Reach for the fruit bowl Fruit, vegetables, beans and whole grains help your brain to make the mood-regulating chemical serotonin.
* Up your omega-3s These essential fatty acids are required for normal brain function. Eat oily fish – tuna, mackerel, salmon, or sardines - three times a week, or supplement with a vegetarian source, such as flaxseed or evening primrose oil.
* Talk turkey Along with fish and eggs, it is high in tryptophan, an amino acid which facilitates the brain’s utilisation of serotonin.
* B your best Foods providing B-group vitamins regulate mood-affecting neurotransmitters and act as essential co-factors for the production of phenylalanine, another amino acid which is a precursor to the brain chemicals l-dopa, epinephrine and norepinephrine. Quinoa, millet, spinach, and kale are good sources.
* Ditch the drink While alcohol may initially lift your mood, it is actually a depressant.
2. Lift your spirit
* Say ommm Meditation improves the way you react to stressful or irritating circumstances which are beyond your control. Learning to observe emotions and stressors leads to a better understanding of how they are temporary. Start with a five-minute daily practice – consistency is the key.
* Just breathe Breathwork is meditation’s twin. Close your eyes, and place one hand on your belly. Slowly inhale and exhale, directing your breath beneath your hand and feeling the rise and fall. Practise this while sitting, lying, or even walking slowly.
* Bend and stretch Yoga poses which incorporate forward and backward bends encourage both physical and mental flexibility, which is a better response to stress than rigid ‘black-or-white’ thinking. Inversions, such as shoulder stands, headstands or my favourite, the Legs Up the Wall pose, are soothing and also change your perspective to ‘find the upside’.
* Seek spirit Go to church or connect with another form of worship. Research shows that people who attended religious services were less likely to experience depression.
* Turn the telly off – it may seem like a good way to relieve stress, but studies have actually found that watching a lot of TV intensifies feelings of isolation.
* Go to bed You need a minimum of eight hours' sleep every night - any less, and you risk having lower levels of mood-boosting serotonin.
3. Try supplements
* SAME (pronounced ‘sammy’) is a naturally occurring substance found in living cells which boosts levels of three neurotransmitters – serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenaline – involved in mood changes.
* Vitamin D Even in sunny Australia, studies suggest vitamin D deficiency is increasing, and it is essential for the production of neurotransmitters.
* St John’s wort Many studies show it eases mild depression, possibly by allowing certain brain chemicals to build up between nerve cells, as some SSRI antidepressant drugs do. Note that it can interact with prescribed antidepressants.
* Magnesium is important for repairing and maintaining healthy nerve function.
* Probiotics A healthy balance of gut flora isn’t just important for your digestion: studies show that it affects your mood, too.
* B-complex vitamins Low levels are linked with depression and fatigue. Look for a brand with 400mcg of folic acid, 50mcg of vitamin B12, and 50mg of the other B vitamins.
4. Feel better with fragrance
Essential oils can bring immediate relief and relaxation:
Petitgrain An excellent revitaliser of the mind.
Bergamot Energising, clarifying, and uplifting.
Lime Refreshes the spirit, brings courage.
Lemon Lifts dark moods, renews zest for life.
Grapefruit Fresh, cleansing, bright, and cheering.
Lavender Soothing, relaxing and calming.
Sweet orange Gentle, nurturing, sweet, and comforting.
5. Don’t be SAD
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a biochemical imbalance of the hormones serotonin and melatonin in the brain, which is triggered by a lack of natural light during winter months. These hormones regulate the sleep-wake cycle, moods, and energy levels: melatonin is made when it is dark, serotonin when it is light, so long hours of darkness result in more of the former and less of the latter, which causes fatigue and low spirits. Light therapy – being exposed to a box emitting light that is 10 times brighter than an ordinary bulb – is effective in up to 85 percent of cases.
6. Put it in writing
Get your thoughts out of your head and down onto paper. Writing decreases the power that negative internal chatter and painful self-examination have over you. Research shows that people who write about confronting experiences show significant and lasting improvement in their psychological wellbeing. Jot in your journal daily, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed. Don’t think; just write.
7. Go to the dark side
Rather than forcing yourself to feel happy, engage with your dark feelings, accept them, and know that they will eventually pass. Forgive yourself: you are whole and beautiful, just as you are. You are human, after all.