Natural Ways to Manage Depression
"Being depressed can feel helpless and hopeless. But you’re not either of those and you’re not alone."
In today’s part two video of a three-part series with Dr. Nancy Lin, PhD holistic nutritionist, we look at mental and emotional health. In this video Dr. Nancy talks about depression, which can strike at any age. May is National Mental Health Month, so it's a great time to raise awareness about these important issues. We will go through signs and symptoms of depression, including the difference between sadness and depression, and how depression is diagnosed. We'll also share some natural tips and recommendations that may be a big help when dealing with depression.
- 2:06: Difference between sadness and depression
- 5:19: Symptoms of Depression
- 6:55: Causes of Depression
- 13:20: Seasonal Affective Disorder, SAD
- 16:17: Steps to take to prevent and address Depression
- 17:13: Routine
- 21:12: Eating a healthy, well-balanced anti-inflammatory diet
- 27:08: Include plenty of probiotics
- 28:48: Exercise
- 33:25: Spend time in the great outdoors
- 34:08: Wrap Up
Difference Between Sadness and Depression
Feeling down, blue, or sad is a normal human emotion. We’ve all felt sad at some point in our lives. Like most healthy emotions, sadness is temporary and it tends to come and go, often depending on circumstances. We are sad for a while and then eventually our sadness leaves and we move on. Depression, on the other hand, is not a normal emotion. Depression is a mental illness that has a profound impact on our emotions. It chronically affects how we think, significantly changes our perceptions, drains our energy, and then clouds our judgment and decision-making.
It is estimated that nearly 20 million people in the U.S. suffer from depression. Depression doesn’t develop as a reaction to a specific situation. There actually really isn’t one trigger or direct cause of depression. It just makes us feel sad about everything. People who are depressed find normal, enjoyable activities less interesting and less important. It drains our energy and motivation, leaving people feeling like they have a constant cloud of sadness hovering over them.
Sadness and depression are drastically different. You aren’t diagnosed with sadness but depression is an actual diagnosable health condition. To be diagnosed with depression, people need to have at least five of the symptoms commonly associated with depression, and experience these symptoms consistently for about two weeks or more. It’s also important to point out that when dealing with depression, the severity of the symptoms also need to be considered. Use this information as a guideline, and then see your mental health professional for a conclusive diagnosis and treatment for depression.
Symptoms of Depression
Symptoms of depression include:
- Depressed or irritable mood most of the time
- Loss or increase of pleasure or interest in most activities, including ones that have been interesting or pleasurable previously
- Significant changes in weight or appetite
- Trouble falling asleep or sleeping too much
- Feeling tired or sluggish and having low energy most days
- Feeling worthless, excessive or constantly guilty most days
- Trouble thinking, focusing, concentrating, and difficulty in making decisions
- Experiencing a great deal of anxiety. Studies show that 90% of people who are depressed also experience anxiety symptoms and approximately 50% of depressed patients meet the criteria for experiencing both depression and anxiety disorder at the same time.
Causes of Depression
There isn’t one specific cause of depression, but there are a number of factors that contribute to depression, including:
- Genetics: a family history of depression increases the risk. Depression is very complex and there are probably many different genes that each exert effects rather than one single gene that contributes to disease risk. However, genetics does in fact play a role.
- Traumatic Experiences: past trauma and abuse such as physical, sexual, or emotional abuse can increase your vulnerability to clinical depression later in life.
- Death or loss: sadness or grief caused by the loss of someone close to you or someone that you know.
- Major events: these include both negative and positive events such as starting a new job or losing a job, graduating, getting married, moving, loss of income, long-term marital strife, or retiring.
- Other personal problems: things like social isolation or being cast out of a family or social group can contribute to depression.
- Substance abuse: nearly 30% of people with substance abuse problems also have major or clinical depression. Even if drugs or alcohol temporarily make you feel better, they ultimately will aggravate depression.
- Certain medications.
- Lack of sunlight/sunshine.
- Hormonal imbalances.
- Nutritional deficiencies.
In addition, research has continued to show that dealing with multiple mild stressors tend to compound and build up over time and contribute to depression. Dealing with stress at work, relationship issues, financial issues and more... on their own each one is difficult to deal with. But all of these compounded together can add up and trigger mild depression.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
SAD is a real problem, especially for people who live in areas with extreme weather conditions such as winter. This is a diagnosable form of depression that occurs seasonally in the winter months, and it’s directly related to the lack of sunlight and vitamin D deficiency.
That vitamin D deficiency causes issues with how the hypothalamus in the brain functions. This leads to a disruption in our body’s sleep pattern, or our circadian rhythm, causing increased production of melatonin: the hormone that makes us feel tired and lethargic. SAD also decreases serotonin: the hormone that affects our appetite as well as our mood. Even if it’s not winter, if you’re not getting out into the sunshine to get enough vitamin D, then it’s very important to take a good vitamin D supplement daily. This will directly affect your mood.
There are several other contributors to depression, including diet, the level of chronic inflammation in the body, and blood sugar. These are all triggers. The food that we eat will not only affect our digestion and energy, but also alter the neurochemistry of our brains; specifically the neurotransmitters that affect mood and behavior. The ingredients in processed foods, especially refined white flour, chemicals, fillers, additives, and trans fats, all contribute to chronic inflammation in the body and in the brain. They also have been associated with serotonin production problems, which can also influence how you feel. This is why it’s so important to stop eating these foods, especially if you struggle with depression.
Steps to Take to Prevent and Address Depression
If you think you or a loved one might be depressed, it’s very important to work with a mental health professional for diagnosis and treatment. Depression is an extremely common condition and there are many people who can help you with treatment options that you can benefit from. However, there are also some tips that you can implement from your home to help you feel better. To improve your mental and emotional health, try some of the following ideas.
Get into a routine
People suffering from depression tend to function better when they have a consistent routine, so nothing is out of the blue. We all function better when we have a routine. Try to stick with a routine that is consistent and reachable.
Depression tends to be progressive and over time it starts chipping away at normal routines. People who are depressed often find that daily structured routines can seem less important. When you follow a routine, your circadian rhythms stay more consistent and you’ll see that your bowel movements begin to match up to your eating time and your sleep time and everything will feel more regular. So start small, focus on sticking to one or two steps of your routine, and then get bigger. Set small daily goals that are achievable and work your way up from there.
Eating a healthy, well-balanced anti-inflammatory diet
This is going to make a huge impact on your mood, and energy levels, and you’ll feel better, move better and think better, reducing the risk of depression. Start following an anti-inflammatory diet that’s rich in organic, natural anti-inflammation healing food, including foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids; one of the most important components of your diet in order to prevent or treat mood disorders.
Omega-3s are essential in order for your brain to function optimally and properly. The best sources for omega-3s are wild-caught fish like salmon, walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, avocados, organic fruits, dark leafy greens, Swiss chard, and pineapples.
Consume foods and vegetables that are rich in folate, which is a B vitamin that helps improve the brain’s metabolic process. In fact folate deficiency can lead to symptoms that contribute to depression. The best natural food sources of folate are spinach, asparagus, avocados, beets, and broccoli. Make sure that you’re getting plenty of your folates if you can.
Organic fruits and vegetables are also rich in antioxidants, which are essential to combat chronic inflammation. This is a key contributor to symptoms associated with depression. Add blueberries, raspberries, avocados, strawberries, and kale to your diet. Don’t forget your antioxidant herbs and spices like cinnamon, ginger, thyme, and oregano. Remember, you can also supplement this every day with Smarter Curcumin to lower your daily inflammatory load.
Healthy fats—especially olive oil, nuts and seeds such as chia, flax seeds, hemp seeds and avocados—not only provide important vitamins and minerals that boost your energy levels and your moods, they’re also very effective in preventing the damaging effects of free radicals that are often associated with depression. On the other hand, there are several types of processed, hydrogenated fats, trans fats and oils, that you need to avoid. Avoid the foods that are sold at fairs and carnivals, and don’t buy anything that has been fried. It’s not good. Research shows that there is a very strong correlation between consuming trans fats and increased risk of depression. These are foods made with unhealthy oil, like most fast foods.
Include plenty of probiotics
Research shows that eating or supplementing with probiotics can improve mental outlook and reduce the symptoms of depression. It’s one of the best ways to do it. There is a very powerful gut and brain connection. This means that the health of our gut or our digestive system has a profound effect on the health of our brain. There are direct lines of communication, wiring, and neurons that go from the gut to the brain, and probiotics actually change our brain chemistry and improve the cognitive function that can reduce depressive symptoms. Kimchi, Kombucha, and fermented vegetables are all fantastic sources of probiotics. You can also supplement with Smarter Gut Health, which includes the top three powerful soil-based probiotic strains that can quickly restore your gut to a healthy balance.
Physical activity is essential for your health—not only for your physical health, but your emotional and mental health. A 2019 study published in the Journal of American Medicine, demonstrated that higher levels of physical activity were linked to reduced odds for major depression, suggesting that regular exercise can be a powerful, preventative strategy for protecting mental health.
Exercise doesn’t just protect against depression, it also reduces symptoms of depression when you’re suffering from it. You don’t have to go all in with a full workout every day... start by just walking outside; just one foot after the other. Do some resistance band training if you don’t want to leave your house. The important thing is that you start moving your body. You can also do gentle yoga poses, or stretching. A simple forward fold can be relaxing and stress relieving. Simply start by standing up, then fold forward, with your knees bent, and let your head hang, letting gravity help with the stretch. Relax, and just breathe.
Physical activity releases endorphins, gives you a boost in energy, improves your mood, and reduces symptoms associated with depression. You should do some form of physical activity every single day. If you are just starting out, exercise about five days a week for at least 20 minutes each time.
Spend time in the great outdoors
Research shows that improving your vitamin D levels, and exposing yourself to natural light can help reduce the symptoms of depression. Aim to spend 10 to 20 minutse outside every single day and remember to supplement with Smarter Vitamin D, which is a high quality plant-based vitamin supplement that provides 5000 IUs of vitamin D combined with vitamin K2.
Being sad, being down, or feeling blue is a part of our everyday life. These feelings tend to come and go. Depression on the other hand is not a normal emotion. It is actually a diagnosable medical condition that you need to consult your medical professional or doctor with.
Nevertheless, there are lifestyle changes that you can make that can have a profound impact on your mood. These include keeping a consistent routine, setting goals both long-term and short-term, following the anti-inflammatory diet, avoiding processed foods and refined sugars, and eating more healthy fats and probiotics. Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and vitamin B. Exercise on a regular basis, at least three to five times per week, and don’t forget to get outside for more sun and enjoy nature.
Being depressed can feel helpless and hopeless. But you’re not either of those and you’re not alone. We all struggle and we’re all human. In addition to therapy, support, and sometimes medication, these natural tips for dealing with depression can really help.