Natural Ways to fight depression

Financial pressures, health issues, heartbreak, stressors from the COVID pandemic, and countless other life circumstances can leave you feeling overwhelmed and start to take their toll.

When you’re experiencing depression at any level, you may feel like you’ve lost your inspiration for life. You may be noticing that food is starting to taste bland, things you once enjoyed are no longer moving you, and colors are fading to dull.

Depression rates are on the rise in staggering numbers. According the the most recent US Census Bureau Report from December 2020, “42-50% of the population is experiencing some form of depression and/or anxiety.” This is a 3x increase from June of 2019, before the Covid pandemic hit.

In this article we will cover some health focused causes of depression, as well as some positive approaches you can take to improve your mental wellbeing and get on top of your health.

The role of cortisol in depression  

When you go through a series of life events that seem insurmountable, your body is placed under a lot of pressure due to the secretion of a stress hormone called cortisol. This is a completely natural flight or fight response system, which has been inbuilt in the human body since the dawn of time. It has always served as beneficial to get you out of danger when needed. It helps to:

  • Keep you alert
  • Release endorphins
  • Spike energy levels and strength for survival
  • Control blood pressure
  • Assist with cognitive function
  • Fight inflammation

So why is cortisol such a bad thing?

Being in a constant state of fear, stress, and overthinking leads to elevated levels of cortisol in your body. Too much cortisol can wreck absolute havoc on your body and mind by increasing inflammation in your body, causing dysregulation of glucose, and adding stress to pretty much every organ in your body. In addition, elevated cortisol levels have been found to be a pre-cursor for depression.

Due to elevated cortisol levels, you may notice some of the following symptoms:

  • Constant unexplained moods swings
  • Brain fog
  • Irritability
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Short term memory loss
  • Trouble sleeping or maybe even Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain often around the belly
  • High blood pressure

The key to combatting depression is to lower your cortisol levels. You could view cortisol as the captain of your ship where you feel you’re not even in your body. Cortisol will happily leave you stranded out at sea if you don’t recognize its destructive patterns!

Keeping your cortisol levels in check

The most important way to bring your cortisol levels down is to focus on your diet (opting for a lower carbohydrate /sugar diet), engaging in exercise, and calming down your overthinking mind with meditation and yoga.

If you feel you cannot function without anti-depressant medication, you can always try to combine it with positive changes in your lifestyle.

Understanding the gut brain  

The gut has long been referred to as the second brain in science. One major area that has been of interest, is the fact that gut bacteria supplies your body with 95% of your supply of serotonin. Up until now you probably thought it was all in the brain! While controversy surrounds the issue of whether depleted serotonin is the driving cause of depression, it is known that serotonin is the predominant brain chemical that:

  • Stabilizes your moods
  • Reduces anxiety
  • Enhances overall happiness.
  • Regulates sleep patterns
  • Increases confidence
  • Regulates appetite

Given where serotonin is predominantly located, it goes to show that what you put inside your stomach, greatly influences your serotonin levels and overall mood.

In a rather entertaining study, mentioned by American Psychological Association, scientists fed mice a cocktail of antibiotics that heavily influenced their gut bacteria. The mice were previously timid, cautious and shy, but after the antibiotics became bold and adventurous amongst one another. 

Good vs bad gut bacteria

One very important influence on your level of serotonin in your gut is how much good or bad bacteria is present. You’ve probably seen many advertisements on TV about taking probiotic supplements for good gut health. That is maintaining a healthy balance of good and bad bacteria, in order to keep your body performing optimally.

It is historically believed that all disease begins in the gut and modern studies are proving even mental disorders are affected by gut health. As far as mood is concerned, the balance of good and bad bacteria directly effects the communication between your brain and gut.

Processed foods alter your balance of gut bacteria as they destroy the healthy microflora.  Taking a daily probiotic has been shown in trials to ease depression. You can find milk probiotics at your local supermarket or purchase fermented foods such as miso soup, yoghurt, tempeh or Kombucha.

Food and mood

As our modern day diets include many high processed foods, devoid of nutrients, they can greatly affect your mood. There are many additives, preservatives and toxins that are detrimental to your state of mind.

You’ve probably noticed many times throughout your lifetime, that your overall energy and vitally decreases when you go through bad eating habits, such as binging on fast food for prolonged periods of time.

The challenge with being in a depressive state is that you crave comfort foods, given the rewarding nature of them. These are often unhealthy food choices. It is important however to recognize the direct link between that food and your depression, and decide whether it’s truly worth those few moments of satisfaction.

Make incremental changes in your eating habits

There’s no use overhauling your diet overnight or going cold turkey on your favorite foods. It doesn’t mean you have to live off lettuce leaves either! A much kinder approach is to take baby steps away from your engrained habits. It is much more important in the beginning to add in healthier food options, than it is to take away bad options.

You can then slowly decrease your consumption of processed foods, where you give yourself a chance to experience the positive impact that your food choices have on your mood. Install the thought in your mind that you’ll begin using food as medicine.

Try to include more of the following foods throughout the day:

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables – In a study of over 20,000 participants, it was found that after including two portions of fruit and three portions of vegetables in their daily diet over a period of four weeks, they saw significantly lower psychological distress.
  • Foods high in Vitamin B12– As published on Psychology Today, it is reported that foods that contain high levels of Vitamin B help to combat depression. You’ll find B12 predominately in animal sources like chicken, fish, red meat, tofu, cheese and eggs.
  • Omega 3: In a study of childhood major depression, omega-3 showed to have a highly significant effect in improving their symptoms. Other studies also show omega 3’s positive effect on mood. You can consume omega-3 as a supplement or from wild fish such as mackerel or salmon. Vegetarian options can be obtained from walnuts or flaxseeds.
  • Foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan: Studies show that this particular amino acid is the precursor for the production of serotonin and shows significant effect on improving mood. Try soy products, egg whites, cheese, pineapple or spirulina capsules.
  • Complex carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates help to deliver tryptophan across the brain which provides you with a kick of serotonin. Opt for vegetables like pumpkin, sweet potato and carrots. Also oats, brown rice and wholemeal bread. Try to avoid simple refined carbs like fries, white bread and refined grains, as their effect are short lived and provide minimal nutrients to your body.
  • Talbinah barley syrup: This is an ancient recipe said to sooth hearts and relieve sadness. In scientific studies it appears it’s a very accurate prophecy! It is high in tryptophan and carbohydrates. One particular study reported “statistically significant decreases on depression, stress, and mood disturbances”. You can find a recipe here
  • Cocoa and dark chocolate: In moderation you can treat yourself to this mood boosting and delicious option. One study in particular showed that participants on a 30-day trial of dark chocolate drink mix significantly increased their self-rated calmness and contentedness. Just what the doctor ordered!

Keep only healthy food options in the kitchen

Once you have found a rhythm in the amount of whole food options you include in your daily diet, it could be a good time to only keep the healthy options in sight. When you have a rumbling stomach, you’ll only be able to choose foods that are good for you.

You’ll find that once you wean yourself off refined and processed foods you won’t have the same cravings for them.

Physical activity

If you can work your way up to just three 20 to 40 minute walks over the course of a week, you are likely to notice an alleviation in your overall depression. This was the amount of exercise as recorded in a clinical trial of participants suffering moderate depression which held positive results.

  • Research also points to long lasting effects of exercise, particularly if you find a specific exercise class to attend frequently.
  • Exercise has been shown to be just as effective as psychotherapy ie) talking to a therapist about your depression.  
  • It has also been shown to be as effective as anti-depressive medication. Of course exercise is a much preferable option than pharmaceuticals that have their own detrimental side effects.
  • Exercise releases feel good endorphins which enhances the feeling of overall wellbeing and positivity.

It’s all about choosing an exercise that you actually enjoy. For some, running may feel like torture, while for others they find great benefit in jumping on the treadmill and drowning their thoughts with loud music and the feeling of endorphins. There are near endless options when it comes to your choice of movement.

It’s a matter of taking a step in the right direction and the habit is often more important than the amount, especially in the beginning stages of implementing a new exercise plan.

Meditation

One of the most important aspects of your life you need to focus on is controlling your thoughts, especially when you’re in the depths of depression. There will be so many times when you just can’t switch off your thoughts. As you have probably experienced, this can be incredibly overwhelming and there just seems to be no way to find a moment of peace without never ending thoughts.

This can deeply affect your sleep patterns and quality of life. You simply cannot let your thoughts rule your life. Without awareness to them, it becomes very easy to create negative inner chatter. This is the biggest challenge for anyone suffering depression, but it’s exactly what causes a clouded head and feelings of being stuck in life.

Meditation apps

If you’ve never tried meditation before then now is a great time to master your thoughts. When you clear out the thoughts in your head, it’s similar to wiping the slate clean and having a fresh start.

You can begin by downloading one of the many meditation apps that are now available. It’s much less daunting than a meditation class as you can pick up on the idea of meditation in the comfort of your own home. A guided meditation is reassuring spoken words in combination with relaxing music that helps to clear your mind. This is a great option just before bedtime to help you get a better night’s sleep.

Find a meditation class

Meditation allows you to connect to your body, often allowing you to listen to your heart rather than your head. There are many meditation classes held for free, often by certain spiritual religions like Hari Krishna. By no means do you need to have any religious aspirations to attend. It’s just a great starting point for exploring the corners of your mind. You’ll notice that almost everyone that goes to these classes are very calm by nature and non-judgemental.

Writing your thoughts on paper

Clearing out your mind by bringing all your thoughts to paper rather than keeping them in the spinning kaleidoscope inside your head will provide a lot of relief. Writing your thoughts down helps to recognize negative thought patterns. These are often highly dominant and it can be easy to beat yourself up when going through depression.

Reading books

If you think about how many generations have been on this planet before you, then you could believe that millions have experienced the feelings that you’re going through many times over. The key to understanding how others have dealt with depression in the past, is to find the great wordsmiths that decided to write books on the topic! Even if you read an entire book and picked up on only one stand-out point, then this could be the life changing breakthrough that you need!

Although modern day life seems to be really fast paced with development and technology taking over at lightning speeds, one thing will always remain the same. That is, we are all human and have to deal with our emotions! So whether Sir Henry VIII suffered from depression in 1509 or you in 2017, the processing of those emotions remain the same.

Keep friends and family close

When you feel depressed, sometimes you just want to hide from the rest of the world, Including your best friends or family members. Isolating yourself may only amplify your feelings of solitude and create a victim mindset that nobody cares. Bottling up feelings and emotions can become very toxic. Think of it as a volcano that just needs to burst hot lava and ash out!

Tackling depression is not a one step process, but rather it takes a unique set of approaches in many different areas of your life to reach improvement. The internet holds a wealth of knowledge when it comes to trying to understand your depression, but you should never feel ashamed if you need to seek professional advice in finding ways to cope.

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