When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us. —Helen Keller
Depression can make you feel sad, lose interest in activities that you’ve always enjoyed, withdraw from others, have difficulty concentrating, experience changes in appetite, feel hopeless about the future, and have little energy. Depression differs from normal feelings of sadness or grief and usually lasts longer.
Our ancestors got plenty of sunshine, were physically active, went to bed when it was dark, got up at dawn, usually ate a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, and lived in small communities. Today, most of us spend the majority of our lives indoors, are physically inactive, struggle to get enough quality sleep, have poor eating habits, and are socially isolated. These aspects of modern society probably contribute to increasing rates of depression.
While we don’t know what their rates of depression were, our ancestors’ rates of depression were probably much lower than the rates of today’s modern individuals. Depression is an illness that is at epidemic proportions today. It affects millions of adults every year. While medication is often the first avenue used for those who are depressed, new evidence shows that natural, holistic methods may provide effective ways to reduce the symptoms of depression.
Natural and Holistic Ways to Treat Depression
There are many natural and holistic ways to treat depression. If you are already taking antidepressants or other medications, be sure to check with your doctor to determine if these treatments are right for you. The following lifestyle approaches can reduce or eliminate the symptoms of mild or moderate depression and may support your current therapy.
- Exercise Frequently—Thirty minutes of continuous exercise five times a week helps improve emotional health. Exercise can interrupt or reduce dysfunctional or negative thoughts, and if performed in groups, it increases social interactions. By engaging in aerobic exercise your body releases endorphins, which are natural “mood enhancers.” Both aerobic and anaerobic activities are effective but just “moving” can also be beneficial. Consider gardening, walking, using stairs instead of elevators, and finding creative ways to incorporate movement into your everyday life.
- Enjoy the Sunshine—Thirty minutes of daily exposure to sunlight helps regulate your circadian rhythms, those natural body rhythms which govern sleep, energy, and hormone levels. The best-known benefit of sunlight is its ability to boost the body’s vitamin D levels. Individuals who suffer from depression often experience a deficiency of Vitamin D.
- Make New Friends—A key ingredient in dealing with depression is social support. Lift your spirits by finding a way to structure your daily routine so that you are around uplifting, positive people at least part of every day. Having a pet may also helps improve your mood, makes you feel less socially isolated, and provides comfort and companionship.
- Get Enough Sleep—Lack of sleep can increase your risk of depression. It’s important to get about 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Going to bed and getting up at about the same time every day helps reinforce your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
- Think Positively—Instead of focusing on negative thoughts, do something positive to break your negative thought patterns by engaging in something you find pleasurable (e.g., watch a funny movie, work in your garden, or take a walk in nature).
- Eat Well—Good nutrition is an important factor in reducing depression but there is no “depression diet.” Diets rich in vitamin B and D as well as omega-3 fatty acids are associated with lower rates of depression. A holistic approach to diet and nutrition consists of self-care, healthy foods, and a moderate caloric intake. Nutritional intake should be varied and include wholesome, high-quality, organic foods of varying tastes, textures, colors, and temperatures.