Depression is the most common mental illness in America, and while prescription medication is necessary for some individuals experiencing depression, there are natural ways to help ease these symptoms that should be included as part of a treatment plan.
We all know eating well, working out, and getting enough sleep are part of a healthy lifestyle, but these cornerstones of wellness have a direct effect not only on our appearance and how our bodies function; they greatly impact the brain and our mood.
Here are 5 natural antidepressants to try before turning to prescription medication, or to supplement alongside it:
Meditation is a simple concept on the surface; be still, focus on your breath, keep your brain and thoughts in the moment. But only recently has the practice been adopted into mainstream society, no longer seen as something exclusively for Buddhist monks. The health benefits range from lowered blood pressure and improved heart health to a boosted immune system. So why is this such a powerful antidepressant?
Meditation focuses on being mindful of your current thoughts and emotions. When the mind wanders - as it will - the purpose of meditation is to recognize the thought without judgement, and let it go. Because of this, people experiencing depression and anxiety can learn to stop the cycle of negative thoughts as opposed to letting them spiral.
As Stacy Lu explains in her cover story in American Psychological Association, “A review Madhav Goyal, MD wrote...looked at different types of mindfulness meditation among 47 studies, finding that it had the same moderate effect on treating depression as medication, and had moderate effects on anxiety and pain as well.”
While medication can have side effects, there are no negative side effects or harm in trying meditation alone or alongside other treatments. It takes practice, but now that it’s gaining popularity there are not only classes offered at yoga studios across the country, there are plenty of apps to get you started. Click here for a list of 2016’s best meditation apps.
When we sleep, our bodies reset, and energy is restored. While one night of too little - or too much - sleep won’t throw you out of whack, chronic sleep deviations lead to fatigue and irritability, which directly affect your mood. Because of this, poor sleep can even lead to depression.
Sleep is a natural mood regulator, so getting your sleep patterns on track can improve symptoms of depression, and hopefully stave it off in the first place. Here are a few tips to getting better sleep:
- Set a bedtime alarm for 8-9 hours before you need to get up.
- Sleep with an eye mask or blackout blinds and ear plugs.
- Avoid caffeine at least 6 hours before bed.
- An hour before bed, allow yourself time to unwind and set the mood for bed; no email, brush your teeth, wash your face with warm water. Avoid rushing around.
- Keep a consistent bedtime and wake up time.
Regular exercise has been shown to provide mood enhancing qualities, and in one 1999 study, was shown to have similar effects as antidepressant medications.
“ About 60%–70% of the people in all three groups could no longer be classed as having major depression. In fact, group scores on two rating scales of depression were essentially the same. This suggests that for those who need or wish to avoid drugs, exercise might be an acceptable substitute for antidepressants.” - Harvard Health Publications
What’s more is a follow up study to this, showed the effects of exercise to last longer than those of the medications!
To reap the mental boost of exercise, you don’t need to sign up for a marathon or spend hours at the gym. Exercising at a moderate intensity for 30 minutes most days of the week will not only give you a host of benefits, from weight control and reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, to increased strength of muscles and bones, it’s enough to boost your mood and mental health.
There’s no one way to exercise. Find something you enjoy - long walks outside, a zumba class at a local gym, and/or a body weight routine you can do at home - to ensure you’ll stick with it and look forward to the experience!
Creative flow - that state where you’re so absorbed in what you’re doing you lose track of time and other thoughts float away - has similar effects of meditation, which as we’ve seen can improve symptoms of depression.
When your mind and body are engaged in a leisurely and enjoyable activity, the brain releases dopamine, triggering the reward and pleasure center of the brain. Even 15 minutes can calm the mind and relax the body. Don’t have a hobby? Think of activities you enjoyed as a child and revisit them as an adult. Coloring, knitting, puzzles, or writing are all activities easily accessible
that do not require extensive training, if any at all.
Food can be either medicine or poison; it’s up to you. Our bodies react to what we fuel them with, and this has an affect on the brain and our mood. Pumping ourselves full of processed junk, caffeine, and alcohol won’t just give you a stomach ache, it will put your blood sugar out of balance and deplete your serotonin.
By getting the nutrients your body needs, you will keep your energy levels in a balanced normal range, and promote overall wellness, making activities like exercise and stressful situations easier to manage.
You don’t have to become a nutritionist to improve your eating habits. Focus on eating enough to fuel your day, but not so much you are stuffed. Make real food a priority, limiting junk and overly processed products. Whole grains, lean meat/protein, fresh vegetables and fruit along with healthy fats like olive oil, nuts, and avocado, will give you energy and the vitamins and minerals you need to feel your best.
Writer’s Bio: Dan Chabert
Writing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Dan is an entrepreneur, husband and ultramarathon distance runner. He spends most of his time on runnerclick.com, monicashealthmag.com, edgehunting.com and nicershoes.com. He has been featured on runner blogs all over the world.