It’s the “most wonderful time of the year” — and depression is rampant. Between the darkness (if you live in the northern hemisphere), family drama and financial stresses, it’s a time when many people find their mood going in an unhappy direction. Here are some tangible tips for feeling better.
Depression by definition diminishes most motivation. But getting off the couch can make a remarkable difference in your emotional resilience. Exercise literally changes not only the chemicals being made in your brain, but also how well those chemicals work. It doesn’t have to be intense and it doesn’t have to be very much. Just starting will help those clouds lift. Here’s a podcast I did on this a few years ago.
2. Get some sun.
The winter’s lack of light makes lots of people low. The effect isn’t new — it’s been described since the 1800s. These days there’s a name for it, complete with cute acronym: seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
Adding light can help. Outdoor, natural daylight is best, especially in the morning. (And sunshine works on mood independently of Vitamin D.)
Many companies also sell light boxes that researchers find really do help — even for summertime depression.
3. You are how you eat.
Author Michael Pollan said it best: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Scientific research supports this. An October 2009 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry reported that a Mediterranean-style diet reduced depression in addition to its well-known heart and anti-cancer benefits. They found that fruits, nuts, beans and fat from fish and olive oil all helped beat the blues.
Here’s an overview video of how this works.
Filling up with fresh fruits and veggies also has another happy side effect: reducing your exposure to mood-busting sugar and processed foods.
4. Up the Omega-3s.
The long dark winters in Iceland don’t translate into high levels of depression there, and scientists think one reason is in the high–omega-3 fish the locals consume.
For people who are depressed, researchers have found significant improvements in mood after just two weeks of therapy with fish oil.
How does it work? The omega-3 oils reduce depression-causing inflammatory chemicals and improved cellular function, all of which make a happier brain.
5. Feed your gut microflora, too.
The first-line prescription therapy for depression is a class of drugs that increase serotonin availability in the brain. But most serotonin is found in the gut, where it helps signal the movements needed to promote digestion.
We’re designed to make a lot of serotonin ourselves, with the help of foods and the healthy flora in our guts. Supporting that flora with probiotics —found in foods such as sauerkraut, kimchee, live yoghurt and miso — can help make more serotonin available to the whole body, including the brain.
Like fish oils, probiotics also reduce inflammation and oxidative stress that influence depression.
6. Give flower essences a try.
Having flower essences on hand can offer a quick pick-me-up, or support long-term healing. Take four drops as needed, or four times daily in a little water over the longer term. They don’t interact with any other medications, and the only concern is a tiny amount of alcohol.
Walnut flower essence is the go-to for dealing with overbearing family. Try Star of Bethlehem for dealing with grief and trauma. Sweet chestnut helps deep, dark despair and hopelessness. Pine relieves guilt. And willow helps when you feel resentful or sorry for yourself. For some sunshine in a bottle, try the Solstice Sun environmental essence from Alaska. (Dr. Izakson custom formulates blends for her patients in Oregon and Alaska. Read what her patients say here and here.)
7. Learn more.
While there’s no substitute for talking with friends or professional counselors, these books can help you understand what’s going on and offer suggestions for helping yourself.
This psychologist-recommended website links to articles about natural health and a variety of mental health issues.
8. If you need help, get help.
Sometimes the blues are transient, and simple home fixes like these are all you need. But if the darkness persists, remember that you are not alone. Naturopathic doctors and psychologists are an important part of getting better.
If you’re battling the blues this holiday season, be sure to take some moments out to take care of you!