We all go through bad days. We over sleep, the kids won’t get up, the car won’t start, we get stuck in traffic, the boss is on our case, the coffee machine is down, customers are rude, etc. Everyone has experienced days like this. It’s easy to get into a funk, feel a little depressed. This kind of depression usually last for a few days or even a couple of weeks, but eventually the good days win out and we bounce back. However, there is a form of depression which is a little more difficult to deal with. This is the depression which last for weeks, months, even years. The kind where you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, don’t care if the house is a wreck, have little interest in your kids or significant others lives, have difficulty focusing at work, and just generally don’t have an interest in the world around you. This is the dangerous depression, the kind which wrecks lives and families. For many, the only treatment option presented is medication. Doctors are quick to prescribe meds like Zoloft, Prozac, Xanax, etc. which can cause awful side effects and don’t really treat the underlying causes of the depression. There are other options, though, that can help treat mild to moderate depression. There are steps to take to help with depression.
1) Talk to your healthcare provider. Depression can be caused by underlying medical problems. The first thing you should do is visit your primary healthcare provider for a general check-up. Medical issues like electrolyte imbalances and thyroid problems can mimic the symptoms of depression. Quick blood tests and physical exams can rule out these problems as the cause of your depression. Be careful, though, as I mentioned earlier, healthcare providers can be quick on the draw with that prescription pad, ready to write a prescription for the all-powerful Zoloft. Explain to your provider that you want to explore natural options to treat your depression. Look in your area to see if there are any holistic doctors in your area.
2) Diet and exercise. I cannot stress enough how important this step is. Step back for a moment and take a hard look at your everyday diet. Does it include things like sugary Starbucks drinks and pastries in the morning, sodas during the day, a quick burger and chips for lunch, a candy bar on the way home from work, pizza for dinner, then a bowl of ice cream before bed? Processed foods, sweets, and an abundance of carbs can slow down your metabolism, cause you to gain weight, and overall affect your mood. Simple changes throughout the day, including vegetables and healthy meats, drinking water instead of sugary drinks, and healthy snacks like nuts and healthy protein bars will help stabilize your metabolism and blood sugar, giving you a more stable mood throughout the day. Getting exercise is the other side of this coin. Exercise helps maintain the stable metabolism and blood sugar. Exercising releases endorphins into the brain, causing a boost in mood. The best way to incorporate exercise is to do something you will enjoy. If you do an activity that does not feel like work, you are more likely to do it. Some enjoy swimming, others prefer to just take a walk around the neighborhood after dinner. It doesn’t matter what you choose, just get out and do an activity. It will be hard at first, but you will find the more you do it, the easier it gets.
3) Sleep. Without enough sleep, your body will effectively shut down. Your metabolism slows, brain function is inhibited, and it becomes harder to deal with stress. Everyone is different in terms of how much sleep they need. The average adult should aim for 6-8 hours of sleep per night. Having trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep? Try to avoid caffeine as much as possible, especially in evening hours. Make your bedroom comfortable to you, adjust temperature as needed, get black out curtains to block light from the windows, turn on a fan for ambient sound, whatever works for you. I personally use melatonin supplements to help me fall asleep. These supplements mimic the natural melatonin in your body that tells you it is time to fall asleep. You can get melatonin online or in any vitamin or health food store.
3) Decrease Stress. I know, I know, this is a lot easier said than done. Stress can really take a toil on your emotional state. Take a look at your life, are there areas where you could cut some stress? Maybe asking for help at work, getting a babysitter so you and the S.O. can have a date night? It doesn’t have to be big changes, but anything you can do to decrease stress in your life will have a big impact on depression.
4) Supplements. There are several supplements which can help with depression. Probably the most popular is St. Johns Wort. This herb has been used for a long time to treat symptoms of depression and balance mood. There has also been a lot of news recently about Vitamin D. Studies have shown Vitamin D can help with symptoms of depression. Talk with a natural healthcare provider about incorporating supplements into your diet. Some supplements, such as the Vitamin D, may need routine blood work to make sure you aren’t getting too much. Don’t forget to take a multivitamin every day as well. As I mentioned in step one, symptoms of depression can also be caused by electrolyte and vitamin imbalances.
5) Essential oils. Essential oils have been used to treat depression for centuries. Some of the more common essential oils used for depression are bergamot, cedarwood, cinnamon, clary sage, cypress, geranium, jasmine, lavender, lemon, marjoram, neroli, orange, sandalwood, rose, ylang ylang. My personal three favorites (which also happen to be three of the cheapest) are lemon, lavender, and orange. All three work to relieve stress and tension and give a calming sensation. Don’t use all three at once, just use one at a time and see how they work for you. For lemon and orange, either inhale straight from the bottle (hold a few inches from your face and take a few slow deep breaths) or place a drop on a few of your pulse points (inside of your wrists and behind your ears are good spots) and take a few more deep breaths. Be careful the first time you apply a new oil, if you have sensitive skin you may need to dilute each drop of essential oil with a carrier oil such as almond oil or grape seed oil. The lavender can be a little strong. I like to add a few drops to a warm bath, or mix it with water and spray my pillow at night.
6) Find someone to talk to. This is invaluable. Talk to a friend or family member about how you are feeling. Often talking about problems releases tension and can help with depression. If you don’t have someone close to talk to, it may help to get a counselor or therapist. A quick google search will show professionals in your area. Many churches also offer counseling options. If you are someone who doesn’t like to talk, you may consider journaling. It might feel strange at first, but there is something oddly therapeutic about getting your thoughts on paper. The important thing is to find that outlet that lets you get your thoughts out. Compartmentalizing everything and not letting feelings out will only cause added stress and depression.
Following these steps can help with mild to moderate depression. There are some forms of severe depression which only medication can help, and that’s okay. If you need medication to deal with your depression, that is between you and your doctor. I just want to stress the point that medication should not be the first and only treatment option.
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, please reach out to get the help needed. Don’t wait until it reaches a point of tragedy. If you or someone you know is dealing with depression and having thoughts of self harm or suicide, please go to your nearest emergency department or call the suicide crisis line in your area. If there is not one in your area, call the national crisis line at 1-800-273-TALK(8255).