Are Your Lifestyle Habits Causing You To Be Depressed?
Consider These Natural Tips for Alleviating Melancholy
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According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression. It is a leading cause of disability. Depression affects more than 15 million American adults, or about 6.7% of the U.S. population age 18 and older, in a given year.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a constant feeling of sadness and loss of interest that stops a person from engaging in his or her normal activities. It may be caused by outside influences that an individual has little control over, such as stress, loneliness, loss of a job, death of a loved one, or financial pressure. Depression is often a warning sign that something is out of balance in one’s body or in one’s environment, and it usually does not result from a single event but from a mix of events and factors. Different types of depression exist, with symptoms ranging from relatively minor to severe. If you feel depressed, consult your doctor. Seeking support early can help stop symptoms from becoming worse.
There are definitely some overlooked and significant factors of depression that may be prompted by poor lifestyle choices. Getting the body back into balance will usually help an individual think more clearly, feel better, and handle depression better. Building up our body’s immune system through natural means will help stabilize the chemical balance in our body, which commonly affects our various moods and temperaments.
Natural Means to Potentially Help Alleviate the Symptoms of Depression
Serotonin acts as a neurotransmitter, a type of chemical that helps relay signals from one area of the brain to another. It is believed to influence a variety of psychological and other bodily functions. This includes brain cells related to mood, sexual desire, appetite, sleep, memory, learning, temperature regulation, and some social behavior. In terms of bodily functions, serotonin can also affect the actions of our cardiovascular system, muscles, and various elements in the endocrine system (the collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development, tissue function, reproduction, sexual functions, sleep and mood, among other things).
There are many researchers who believe that an imbalance in serotonin levels may influence mood in a way that leads to depression. However, they are unsure whether the dip in serotonin causes the depression, or the depression causes serotonin levels to drop. Therefore, an automatic assumption cannot be made that serotonin treatment is a “magic bullet” for all cases of depression.
There are foods that can naturally increase levels of tryptophan, the amino acid from which serotonin is made. High tryptophan sources include protein-rich foods, such as dairy, chicken, turkey, other meats, fish, eggs, yogurt, nuts, tofu, oats, beans, lentils and seeds (such as sunflower or pumpkin).
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms at the same time each year, most commonly in the winter. Researchers believe that a lack of exposure to sunshine during winter periods is a cause, because sunshine is a natural source of vitamin D. This is a nutrient that supports the absorption of calcium for strong bones and contributes to the maintenance of a healthy mood. Not only is vitamin D available in supplemental form, but it is commonly added to various commercial products, such as pasteurized milk, calcium supplements, and multivitamins.
The Benefits of Exercise
According to the Mayo Clinic, depression and anxiety symptoms often improve with exercise. Studies have shown that regular exercise can be as effective a treatment for depression as antidepressant medications or psychotherapy. You don’t have to be a marathon runner or bodybuilder to be fit. The key is moving more and sitting less. Various types of regular physical activity, such as walking, swimming, cycling, lifting weights, stretching, dancing or even gardening, performed several times weekly can have a tremendous effect on mood. Your fitness routine can help relieve depression, as it oxygenates the body, gets the blood circulating, and generally makes you feel better. Ask your doctor which fitness plan is best for you.
Avoid Health Robbers
Turning toward damaging addictive habits—such as utilizing alcohol, tobacco or drugs—in an attempt to lessen depression is never the long-term solution and can make matters much worse by damaging one’s health and weakening the immune system. People who turn to these costly habits for that quick “pick me up” usually find that their situations eventually become worse, and these habits often lead to addiction.
The same rule applies to junk foods. If we feed our body junk, we will feel like junk. Common items we should try our best to avoid include refined white sugar, artificial sweeteners, refined white flour (white bread, pasta and pastries), fried foods (fried chicken and French fries), hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats), saturated fats (deli meats, dairy and butter), foods high in sodium (snack chips), and caffeine.
Eat Life-Giving Foods
Food can be great medicine, and a nourishing diet may become one of the best strategies to combat depression. All our cells, bones, signaling molecules, and tissues are built from what we eat. For example, dietary fats are the building blocks of brain tissue and help balance hormones, and muscles are built from protein. Different vitamins and minerals are used to create energy and send electrical impulses along neurons so that we can move, think and feel.
Examples of nourishing foods include lean meats (such as fish fillets and skinless poultry), eggs, low-fat dairy items, yogurt, vegetables, fruits, whole grains (such as whole-wheat breads, brown rice, high-fiber cereal and whole-grain crackers), legumes (beans), and nuts and seeds (such as sunflower and pumpkin).
Drink Plenty of Fluids
You have probably heard this suggestion before, but there are good reasons why. Dehydration can cause your body and brain to shut down or operate at less desirable levels. Adequate hydration also acts as an aid to digestion, regulates body temperature, prevents constipation, and by filling up on water between meals it can help prevent excess hunger, thereby making it a helpful aid to weight loss. Adults need at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. Avoid sugary beverages, alcohol and excess caffeine. Be sure to spread your fluid consumption out throughout the day. Never gulp or chug fluids. Rather, sip slowly as if it were a soup.
Consider a Multivitamin Supplement
Vitamin and mineral supplements are a convenient means to help supply many of the essential nutrients that the body needs to keep us healthy and boost our immune system so we can overcome disorders. But how does an individual make a selection among the many varieties available? A fancy brand, which is often pricey, may not be needed. A good way to select is by comparing label ingredients with other brands. A generic formula that supplies all the basic vitamins and minerals (like A through Z) in moderate amounts will usually suffice. Nutrients in particular that may benefit depression include the B-vitamin complex; vitamins A, C and D; and the minerals calcium and magnesium. Ask your doctor to approve your selections.
Bear in mind supplements are just that, a supplementation. They cannot take the place of the benefits received from eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, or repair all the wrongs done to your body from bad lifestyle habits. Always check with your doctor before starting any supplement, especially if you take medications.
Try to Maintain Normal Weight
Excess body weight may increase the risk for many health problems, including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, certain types of cancer, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, fatty liver disease, kidney disease, and pregnancy problems (such as high blood sugar and blood pressure during pregnancy, and increased risk of cesarean delivery). By eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of water between meals, and exercising regularly, an individual can usually maintain normal body weight.
St. John’s Wort
This herb (Hypericum perforatum) has been used for centuries for mental health conditions and is widely prescribed for depression in Europe. However, it could potentially have serious side effects if taken with other pharmaceutical medications. (Consult your doctor if you have questions about this herb.) It is also important to note that in the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration has not approved its use as an over-the-counter or prescription medicine for depression because it claims its benefits are not yet conclusive.
Incorporating healthy stress-management techniques can avoid letting it take control of your life. Keep in mind most things that people worry about seldom happen. Stop worrying about things that you cannot control, especially global events, such as the economy, weather, politics, war, disease, poverty and the environment. If watching news broadcasts or reading the newspaper depresses you, then try avoiding them. Discover what helps you relax or what makes you happy, be it reading, music, exercise, movies, cooking, hobbies, board games, or whatever. Remember, too, that laughter is great medicine! Share jokes, watch comedies or recall events that made you laugh.
“When Life Hands You a Lemon, Make Lemonade”
President Abraham Lincoln suffered from bouts of depression during the Civil War. He was quoted as saying, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” A positive outlook on life is great therapy. Make it a habit to dwell upon the positive things in your life, and refuse to let the negative things that we all experience overwhelm you. As bad as things seem, there are always some positives in one’s life. When melancholy, look upon your blessings. Take control over your thoughts, rather than letting them control you!
God Is My Co-Pilot
Religious belief is a “safety net” for millions of people around the globe. Researchers have found that individuals with a sound religious foundation are said to have more inner peace, plus they heal faster and recover more quickly from stressful situations. Faith can be a powerful instrument.
A substantial amount of research points to the benefits of faith to mitigate symptoms of depression. In one study, for example, researchers at McLean Hospital, in Belmont, Massachusetts, found that belief in God was associated with better treatment outcomes. They followed 159 individuals over the course of a year to examine the relationship between a person’s level of belief in God, expectations for treatment, and actual treatment results. Individuals with no belief or only a slight belief in God were twice as likely to not respond to treatment than people with stronger beliefs.
This article is not intended to diagnose or prescribe. Consult your doctor for all health concerns, including medications, dietary restrictions, exercise, weight-loss advice, and nutritional supplements.
A.J. Fleming, ND, author of the books STOP Committing Suicide with a Fork! and Nutrition Made E-Z, has more than 20 years’ experience as a nutritional researcher and author. A naturopathic consultant, he was a former adviser to a vitamin supplement manufacturer, newspaper columnist, and personal health counselor. His articles have appeared in various publications, including Let’s Live Magazine, Bestways Magazine and Christian Living in the Mature Years. An ex-marathon runner, with the Boston Marathon to his credit, he is a Christian by faith, and his hobbies include reading, fitness and vegetarianism.