Depression

Natural Ways to Fight Depression

November 25, 2019

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For most people, depression is a lifelong battle that entails a variety of treatments as time goes on. Treating depression is difficult because the condition is highly subjective and as such, different people require different approaches to manage their symptoms. Furthermore, just because a treatment is effective at one point doesn’t mean it will continue to be effective forever. 

Therapy and antidepressants are the first line treatments for depression, but it’s important to remember that there’s no “cure” for depression, and while therapy and antidepressants can help improve symptoms of depression, they usually aren’t enough to completely eliminate the condition entirely. Fortunately, there are many other ways to treat depression, some of which involve the aid of a medical professional and some of which do not. 

Whether you’re looking to try something new or you want to add another component to your current treatment regimen, natural treatments for depression are a great way to build a healthier life for yourself. Keep reading diet, exercise, and meditation can help you to fight depression. 

Diet: How What You Eat Can Affect Your Brain 

Food might be playing a bigger role in how you’re feeling than you might think. After all, your brain needs nutrients, too! Of course, eating healthy alone probably isn’t enough to eliminate every symptom of your depression, but it can have a positive impact on your mood. That being said, eating right when you feel depressed is easier said than done. After all, it’s pretty difficult to each a balanced meal if you can’t get out of bed. That’s why it’s important to remember that making small changes is a completely valid way to go about cleaning up your diet. 

"Healthy Eating Plate" diagram from Harvard Health
It’s difficult for anyone to make huge changes in diet and maintain them but especially so for people with depression who struggle with motivation. Making one change at a time is a good way to start eating healthier and feeling better. Image courtesy of Harvard Healthy Publications

Link Between Diet and Depression

Unfortunately, super foods don’t have super powers—which means that eating avocados and blueberries probably can’t replace taking your medication and seeing your therapist. That being said, some nutrients have been shown to have a positive effect on the brain, and getting more servings of these nutrients on a daily basis might help to lessen the severity of some depression symptoms. 

Selenium

As an essential mineral, selenium possesses an array of health benefits, including protecting against heart disease and certain cancers, as well as strengthening thyroid health and your immune system. Additionally, research has indicated that selenium may improve mood and reduce anxiety. 

Foods that are a good source of selenium include: 
  • Oysters
  • Eggs
  • Brazil nuts
  • Halibut
  • Yellowfin tuna
  • Sardines
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Shiitake mushrooms 

Keep in mind that too much selenium—like too much of basically anything—can be bad for you. The recommended daily serving of selenium is 55 micrograms and exceeding a consumption 400 micrograms per day can result in selenium toxicity, which can cause vomiting, dizziness, hair loss, and other unpleasant side effects. 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D helps your body to absorb and process calcium and phosphorus, and it also regulates your immune system. It’s been suggested that vitamin D plays a role in mood and can decrease symptoms of depression. Your body gets vitamin D in two ways, one of which is, of course, your diet. The other is sunlight, which stimulates vitamin D production through your skin. 

Foods that are a good source of vitamin D include:
  • Salmon 
  • Sardines
  • Egg yolk
  • Shrimp
  • Fortified milk, yogurt, orange juice, and cereal

In the winter, it can be difficult to get enough vitamin D from sunlight. To offset this deficiency, some people use sunlamps, which produce light that simulates sunlight. Using a sunlamp is easy: You simply sit in front of it (at a distance of sixteen to twenty-four inches) for twenty to thirty minutes a day. 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of essential fat that your body can’t create on its own, which is why you need to get them from food. Found in cell membranes throughout the body, omega-3 fats are heavily involved in cell function and the regulation of genetic function. They’re also thought to prevent heart disease, stroke, and cancers. Additionally, studies have suggested that omega-3 fats can enhance brain function and reduce symptoms of depression.  

Foods that are a good source of omega-3 fats include: 
  • Salmon
  • Sardines
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel
  • Flaxseed
  • Chia seeds
  • Walnuts

Antioxidants

Antioxidants fight cell damage in the body and defend the body against oxidative stress, which might leave the body vulnerable to disease and cancers. It’s also been suggested that antioxidants can improve mood and help with anxiety.

Foods that are a good source of antioxidants include:
  • Blueberries
  • Artichokes
  • Pecans
  • Strawberries
  • Red cabbage
  • Dark chocolate

Quick Ways to Improve Your Diet

Like we said before, eating healthy isn’t easy to begin with, but depression can make it feel downright impossible. Here are some shortcuts that you can take to eat better on days when your depression’s weighing you down. 

V8 Juice

Don’t have the energy to wash and cut some fresh fruits and veggies? Try subbing in a glass (or can) of V8! 

V8 bottles on display at grocery store.
V8 comes in a variety of flavors and is packed with vitamins. Image courtesy of Medical News Today

While V8 is advertised as containing two servings of fruits and vegetables (per eight ounces), it’s still juice and isn’t a seamless replacement for eating actual fruits and vegetables. However, drinking V8 is still better than nothing and makes for a great first step or occasional stand-in. 

Store-Bought Rotisserie Chicken

Cooking dinner can be a daunting task, and it’s perfectly okay to make things easier for yourself. Buying a rotisserie chicken instead of making your own chicken dish from scratch is a great way to get in a quick, easy serving of protein.  

Healthy Snack Packs

Investing in some healthy snack packs is a grocery-shopping decision that will have you thanking yourself later. Prepackaged nuts, dried fruit, and veggie chips are all convenient healthy snacks that you can use to stay nourished on a low-energy day and even take on the go. 

Healthy granola bars
It’s easy to fall for empty-calorie snacks that you know taste good, but you might be surprised at how good some of the healthy options taste—you just have to find the right ones! Image courtesy of FitnessMagazine.undefined

Bagged Salad

Instead of trying to make your own salad, buy some bagged salad instead (and be sure to grab a dressing that you like!). Bagged salad doesn’t require a lot of effort and is a great way to add some veggies into your diet. 

Exercise: Ties Between Your Mind and Body

Yeah, we know—hitting the gym is the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling depressed, but developing an exercise routine offers a constructive form of distraction and can help improve your symptoms in the long run (no pun intended). Research suggests that getting thirty minutes of exercise three times a week can help manage symptoms of depression and prevent future relapses. 

Improved Brain Function

Regular exercise has a number of health benefits ranging from better sleep to lower risk of certain diseases. Over time, exercise can also improve brain function by stimulating growth and connectivity. This is especially important for people with depression, as depression is associated with underactivity in certain regions of the brain. 

Effects of exercise on the hippocampus, caudate nucleus, and thalamus.
A 2011 study found that adult participants who exercised three days a week at a moderate intensity show signs of growth in the brain, along with improved memory. Image courtesy of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Combatting Depression One Symptom at a Time

In addition to promoting better brain function overall, exercise is also thought to counteract some of the most common symptoms of depression:

  • Fatigue — If you have depression, you might suffer from fatigue and low energy. Exercise can act as a natural energy booster to help you stay motivated throughout the day.
  • Inability to concentrate — Depression can inhibit concentration, making it difficult to stay focused and get work done. Squeezing in a few workouts a week might sharpen your concentration and ability to focus. 
  • Insomnia — Sleep disturbances frequently accompany depression, and if you’re not sleeping too much, you’re probably not sleep enough. Exercise might help regulate your sleep cycles and allow you to reach a deeper sleep. 
  • Feelings of worthlessness — Low self-esteem typically goes hand-in-hand with depression. Being active might increase your sense of worth and give you a reason to feel better about yourself. 
Infographic depicting the benefits on exercise on productivity.
Unfortunately, you might not see all of these benefits right away—just remember that consistency is key! Image courtesy of Medium

Starting Small

Taking on an exercise routine that’s too ambitious is basically setting yourself up to fail. Likewise, if you plan workouts that aren’t fun or are simply too hard, you probably won’t be able to get yourself to stick to a schedule and might give up instead. 

The good news is that you don’t have to become a gym rat (or even go to the gym at all) in order to enjoy the positive effects of exercise. Going for a walk or following along to a yoga video at home are both examples of low-maintenance ways that you can introduce physical activity to your daily life. 

It’s also important to remember that you shouldn’t try to force yourself to do something that you don’t like. If you think running is boring, you shouldn’t set a goal to run a 5k next month. Instead, try to find activities that you actually enjoy and will want to do. 

Meditation: Practice Makes Perfect

How many times have you heard that it’s all in your head? While not particularly helpful, this statement isn’t necessarily untrue—after all, depression is a mental health condition. (That’s not to say, of course, that it doesn’t manifest itself in very physical ways.) 

Many people who struggle with depression find meditation to be a helpful coping mechanism, and this might be because it cuts straight to the source: your head. In addition to being an effective stress-management tool, meditation has been shown to produce physical changes in parts of the brain that are directly associated with depression. 

According to Harvard Health, “The aim of meditation is not to push aside stress or block out negative thinking, but rather to notice those thoughts and feelings, all the while understanding that you don't have to act on them. This could be as simple as closing your eyes and repeating a single phrase or word, or counting breaths.” 

Different meditation apps
Don’t know where to get started with meditation? There are a ton of apps that you can help you to learn about different kinds of meditation and how to practice them. Image courtesy of Lifewire

No Restrictions on Recovery 

Many people seem to think that treating depression has to be an “either-or” type of strategy—in other words, you can either take antidepressants or you can try a natural approach. However, this misconception is toxically narrow-minded and in most cases, not true. 

Additionally, taking a natural route to managing your depression shouldn’t be used as an excuse to avoid seeing a medical professional or licensed therapist. Even if you want to treat your depression naturally, you should still seek advice from a psychiatrist or a psychologist who can help you create a treatment plan and stay up-to-date on your progress. The bottom line is, no matter how you want to go about treating your depression, you absolutely should not do it alone.


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