You may think at first glance that the title of what this post promises seems too simplistic, especially if you’re already in that dark place where you feel there is no hope. But learning how to help depression naturally, and then applying these simple changes to your life, will slowly but surely bring about changes in how you think and feel.
There are of course other tried and proven methods of treating this (and other mental illnesses) that help, and of which many people have had much success with, but I am merely offering another perspective and maybe some more natural ways of dealing with depression that you can incorporate into your current treatment.
Suffering from true clinical depression (also known as major depression) can only be experienced, and not adequately put into words; but for those who understand this statement then I am aiming this post at you. You may not believe it now, but there is in fact a beautiful bright light at the end of the tunnel if you start to put into action these 5 main cornerstones to a depression free life.
The content in this post is not aimed at treating mental illness of any kind without the help and support of your doctor or medical professionals. Always consult with your doctor about any changes in mood you may experience, and also keep them informed of any measures you are taking to help yourself such as those suggested in this post.
What is depression?
Depression is a debilitating mental illness that is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Yes, it’s a real thing, and you can’t just snap out of it at will as some people still believe. There are many forms of this illness, including clinical, bipolar, post-partum, atypical, premenstrual, psychotic, and situational depression. I’m not an expert on all of these, and some of them will most definitely need expert treatment and drugs so you should always consult with your doctor first. But what I do know is that they can ALL be helped through these positive lifestyle changes.
How do I know if I am suffering from depression?
Depression is a strange beast, and can rear its head in many forms. In this post I will be talking mainly about the most common kind, which is major depressive disorder (MDD) that affects over 300 million people worldwide. That’s a lot of sad people out there in the world. People who may have lost hope and need guidance, but due to the stigma still associated with mental illness don’t ever receive the help they desperately need.
Symptoms of major depressive disorder are, but not limited to:-
- Low mood
- Loss of interest in activities you may have previously loved
- Weight loss
- Weight gain
- Feeling unworthy
- Feeling guilty
- Ruminating on the past and feeling guilty
- Constant feelings of dread
- Bad temper
- Thoughts of suicide
As you can see, it’s a pretty bleak list. And if you suffer from more than a few of these on a regular basis then you probably need to do something about it NOW, before things escalate.
My own severe depression stole years from me, but I can see in hind-sight that it was part of my own learning experience that had such a profound and lasting effect on me that it completely changed the course of my life – for the better. I don’t want it to take you many years of learning how to cope as it did me. I want you to benefit from my first hand experience on how to beat this SOB so you can start living again.
My Own Experience with Depression
Twenty years ago I was in the pits of this illness and believed that my soul was damned forever, and there would be no escape no matter what I did (sounds so dramatic now, but that’s how it can make you feel). I used to be ashamed – too ashamed to ever tell anybody in fact, and I muddled through three long term relationships with guys who didn’t have a clue about my hidden torment. And that’s the point – nobody knew, and people can hide it well.
This is so often the case with this type of illness – you became the master of deception in your desperation not to be judged or seen as weak. On the outside I was this happy-go-lucky girl who didn’t seem to have a care in the world, on the inside I felt like dying.
As nobody spoke of such things back then, I decided to take matters into my own hands and researched everything I could on the subject of depression. That’s when I stumbled across an article in a magazine (there was no Google then) related to depression and nutrition, and I had a literally light bulb moment as it all started to make sense to me.
Cutting out the JUNK helped… Quickly!
The next day, desperate and having nothing to lose I started on my quest to do the basic things I had been told to do in this magazine. I cut out junk foods, ate whole grain carbohydrates and exercised. They were my first steps, and I literally felt better within a matter of days just by doing these 3 things. This then gave me the impetus to research and find out everything thing I could about the power of food.
I was absolutely amazed and inspired by these findings and couldn’t believe something so simple had been right under my nose the whole time. That was 20 years ago, and I have built on and refined my knowledge to a point where I now know depression will NEVER have its way with me again, not on my watch.
5 Depression Busting Tips:-
1. MAKE THE DECISION TO HELP YOURSELF
Making the decision to help yourself is empowering. Only you can do what needs to be done and taking the first step when you are at your lowest point is brave. Real depression can take away your will to want to do anything at all, but you must summon all your power to over-ride this feeling of helplessness to make the first move. When I say you must, I mean you must, no matter what it takes.
Healing won’t come to you – you have to step out of your comfort zone and go to it first; that’s just how it works. But once you take that first step towards healing it will take a thousand steps towards you. This part cannot be emphasised enough. I don’t know how it works I just know it does, and I guess in some ways you could call it the law of attraction.
Prepare for it to be Tough, but SO Worth it
Your journey out of depression will be painful for sure, and you will be faced with emotions and feelings that you may have never before addressed. There will be days when you feel like you’re back to square one, but it is only temporary and you must remember this: Do not give up, carry on forward no matter how painful and you WILL have a breakthrough.
Thinking of the longer term goal will help remind you of why you are doing it all in the first place. And thinking about the alternative of a life battling depression will give you the strength you need to push through. Always remember your reason why.
2. TAKE OUT DEPRESSION TRIGGERS
This may seem like an obvious one, but you are probably inadvertently contributing to your depression by using certain tactics to numb yourself out, such as eating sugary junk foods, refined carbohydrates, smoking, drinking too much alcohol, gambling, finding yourself in bad relationships, abusing drugs etc (I didn’t do all of these, but you get my point). These are short term pleasures and distractions that will destroy your life in one way or another, and will ultimately make you feel worse.
Preparation is key
Do all you can to cut drastically down (or ideally cut out completely) all of the above and you will be half way there. I know how hard it can be to just go cold turkey on your vices, but this will feel so much easier once you are also applying the other two steps at the same time.
The key is to get yourself prepared with a plan of action first and have everything ready in place – for instance, get all temptations out of the way, or buy a new gym kit to do your exercises in. Trust me, cutting out destructive vices will give you POWER, then you will be in charge of things.
3. ADD IN DEPRESSION BUSTING FOODS
This part you may have to force at first (especially if you’re not used to healthy eating), but you will definitely need to overhaul your diet if you are to achieve results. These are some of the things you should be eating as much as possible:-
- At least 7-10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day for antioxidants and to help keep your system detoxified (which is also a good thing for the brain and mood).
- Green superfood shots are an excellent and easy way to get an intense hit of nutrients fast. You feel them working and ‘picking you up’ within 20 minutes.
- Take a probiotic supplement every day to keep the gut flora healthy. Your gut is like a second brain. This really works!!
- Raw fruit and vegetables for cleansing and detoxifying the system.
- Wholegrains such as oatcakes, brown pasta, brown rice, quinoa, millet, and pearl barley. It is VERY important to have wholegrains at least twice a day as your body needs these types of carbs to produce serotonin (your body’s happy hormone). If you are a fan of the low carb or keto diet then this, unfortunately, could make you feel worse if you suffer from depression (it did me).
- Two tablespoons of healthy fats, such as olive oil, hemp oil, flax oil, OR a large handful of nuts and seeds. Walnuts and Brazil nuts are amazing for depression as they contain selenium, and when your selenium stores are low this too can trigger low mood. In fact, I would say that if you are in the middle of an episode then you should be eating a big handful of walnuts and Brazils daily.
- Other low GI foods such as lentils, pulses and beans. Check out here these low GI foods, and add as many as possible to your diet.
The Plant Based Diet
Since eating a diet high in plant based foods, I have seen yet more improvement in my mood, probably due to the fact that plant foods are highly alkaline and animal products are more acidic. Too many acidic foods can contribute to chronic inflammation in your body (including the brain) which in turn can also contribute to depression. Eating more alkaline plant foods will help negate this, and is yet another weapon in you arsenal to help fight depression.
4. TAKE OMEGA 3 FISH OIL
Oh man, I had to give this one a section of its own as fish oils just played such an integral role in fighting my own depression, and the sad part is most people have no idea about this vital supplement. The thing is this: you will need to use the high dose supplements if you suffer clinical depression. You can eat all the oily fish in the world (which is great too, keep doing it) but you still may not get the high amounts of omega 3 DHA you need to really make a difference to true depressive illness unless you take the supplements.
I know for a fact omega 3 oils help. I have tested it over and over, not just with myself but with others whom I have given the same advice to. Even if I do all of the above things, but take out my fish oil supplements, then I can feel my depression rearing its ugly head again, and that scares me. It may be low grade as I can keep it at bay through diet and exercise, but it’s there and enough to remind me to get back on my omega 3’s.
Plant omega 3 just isn’t the same!
There was a time when I thought I would switch to flax seed omega 3 because it was cheaper and vegan, so it sounded great… at the time. I thought nothing of this, as the flax oils I bought where the same strength in omega 3 as my usual fish oils and came in the same 1000mg dosage too, so I presumed they would work exactly the same. I was very wrong.
After a couple of weeks on the flax, I started to feel weird in a way that I hadn’t felt for a long time and could sense some underlying panic and anxiety welling up. I was shocked by this, as I hadn’t experienced those feelings for years and I worried why it was happening. Then it dawned on me that I had started using flax instead of fish oil, and I knew instantly that that was the problem.
On further investigation into this, I discovered that these two omega 3’s ARE actually totally different when it comes to fighting depression. Plant omegas are mostly ALA and fish omegas are DHA (the type needed for depression), so of course I swapped back as soon as I could and all was restored to order again pretty fast.
I’m telling you this because I want you to understand the importance of fish oil and depression, and why they are just so vital (and still are) to my recovery and maintenance. You will also need it at pretty high doses to be really effective: I take 3-5000 mg per day (in two intervals, morning and night), but can get away with alternating higher and lower depending on my mood. You will probably find your own level, which may be different depending on your size and other factors. And if you’re exercising hard you may need more too.
You should probably start out at 3-5000 mg every day until you start to feel better, but do not go above 5,000 as they can have a detrimental blood thinning effect.
Vegan Versions of Fish Oil
There are now some vegan versions of this oil that contain both the same active EPA and DHA that is so good for depression and anxiety, and these are derived from the plankton that the fish used in the fish oils feed from. They are supposed to have the same effect on depression, but I have not had the chance to try these yet as they are also very expensive.
UPDATE: I have since tried the plankton based omega 3’s, but have found that to get the same dose you would need to use 10x more than the suggested daily amount on the packet. This makes it way too much of an expensive option for me at this time. Even if I did wish to spend this much money on DHA, I definitely wouldn’t want to be consuming that amount if oil, so it’s still out for me.
This is another biggy for helping to blast your depression into kingdom come. Make sure you do some sweat inducing physical exercise at least 3 times a week, preferably doing one of these sessions in the fresh air for these two reasons: 1. Daylight helps to trigger the production of serotonin. 2. Sunlight helps your body produce vitamin D (also a vital nutrient for depression), so a power walk or run on the beach will do you the power of good. Just be sure to get a sweat up to help release those deep seated toxins that can clog up your system and contribute to depressive illness.
Weight Bearing Exercise
Try and get some weight bearing exercise into you life as this is another MAJOR PLAYER in beating depression. You can check out this review of the studies that support this. The cascade of feel good endorphins that flood through your body after you have put tension onto your muscles, helps blast depression right out of your system – or so it definitely seems to feel like. This is because strength training burns up the stress hormone cortisol from your bloodstream, this helping to make you feel serene and calm afterwards.
Weight bearing exercises include gym work, HITT training, hiking, tennis and dancing.
Consult your doctor
This cannot be emphasised enough! If you are suffering depressive symptoms (or any other mental illness) you MUST consult with a medical professional before self treating or self diagnosing your symptoms. All of the tips in this post can then be used alongside the advice from your doctor.
I hope you can see that there is light at the end of the tunnel for all depression sufferers. It just takes a bit of effort to get started, often effort at a time when you least feel like it, but it’s a journey you will never regret.
You may always be susceptible to depression as I know I am, hence the reason why I will probably need to stick to these 5 rules for life. It’s usually a chronic illness that you need to learn to manage. Personally, I see this as a good thing and at this point in my life I can actually say out loud that I’m thankful for it. I am now forced to keep my body and mind fit and healthy, and that in turn has made me stronger, more resilient, and more determined than I ever thought possible.
Thankyou for reading this post from ZestForever today. Questions and comments are always welcome, and if you’d like to share you own experiences about mental illness then please feel free to drop me a line in the comments section below.
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