Have you ever entered “psychiatrist near me,” “find a therapist,” or “counseling near me” into your search engine? Perhaps you’ve looked up “symptoms of depression” or “what to do when you’re depressed.” For many of us, our frontline defense for mental health challenges comes from a search online. And this is a good option given the plethora of resources available on the web. Learning how to holistically combat depression doesn’t have to simply remain an Internet search – it can become an achievable way of life!
“Depression is beatable.”
Depression has been a growing global crisis for 100 years, but current world events are causing a staggering increase. With economic uncertainty, unemployment, social isolation, food shortages, and prevalent fear, major depressive disorder is taking a strong hold like never before, even among those who have not historically suffered depressive symptoms. More than 264 million people are suffering from depression. [i] Women are more likely than men to experience depression, although both sexes suffer from this condition. [ii] A staggering two thirds of Americans experiencing depression go through the motions of life without diagnosis and without access to interventions that can powerfully and positively impact health and wellbeing. We’ll examine a few of these key interventions in the paragraphs to come.
But first you may be wondering what depression is and whether or not you are suffering from it. In the world of psychology, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders-5 (DSM-5) determines how to diagnose mental health conditions. The DSM-5 defines the following criteria for a depression diagnosis: Deep sadness or emptiness, apathy or loss of interest, agitation or slowed physical movements, sleep disturbances, weight or appetite change, lack of concentration, fatigue, feeling of worthlessness, or morbid thoughts. Five of the nine symptoms must be present for the majority of the time for at least two weeks without recent obvious emotional trauma to experience major depression. Knowing the hallmark symptoms of depression is helpful and can enable you to better explain what you’re experiencing to your healthcare provider. Take a free depression self-assessment test here.
Left unchecked, the burden of depression can cause significant distress. Depression is associated with reduced quality of life, increased stress hormones, suppressed immunity, decreased memory, reduced social pleasure, increased risk of all-cause mortality, increased risk of death by stroke or heart attack, increased risk of suicide, and more. [iii, iv] The economic impact of depression is a crisis in and of itself. The World Health Organization estimates that the global economy spends $1 trillion USD each year in lost productivity due to depression and anxiety disorders. [v]
Thankfully powerful holistic interventions can help combat depression. While there are over a hundred causes of depression, most of these fit into one of ten different categories/hits: frontal lobe, lifestyle, circadian rhythm, nutrition, toxins, social/inadequate coping/grief, addiction, medical condition, developmental, and genetic. [vi] You can make choices that can help eliminate the active reversible hits in your life, and as you do so, you will have a happier, more fulfilling life. Watch Dr. Neil Nedley, MD explain these ten hits on YouTube.
Remember, like diabetes or heart disease, depression is a condition that can be treated effectively. Because depression is influenced by a myriad of different factors, there is not one fix all solution. The most effective treatments for depression target as many of the different active hits in your life as possible.
We’ll look at numerous therapies in this article and in an upcoming post as well. Before we launch out, remember that it takes time to notice the benefit of lifestyle change and interventions in improving depression. Even anti-depressants take up to three weeks to notice a difference. Stick with these interventions and you will begin to notice a change in how you feel.
You’ve probably heard how you need to eat fish to get brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. It’s true, omega-3 is an essential nutrient needed by your body. Not having enough omega-3 intake can result in nutritional deficits for your brain and mental capabilities. But due to risks associated with biomagnified toxins in fish, eating plant-based, vegan sources of omega-3 fatty acids are recommended. Omega-3 helps improve frontal lobe function, sense of wellbeing, vigor and energy, attention, and mood, among other benefits. [vii] Sufficient dietary omega-3 intake has been shown to improve major depression and/or anxiety with a fifty percent clinical response, help bipolar disorder, improve memory in those with middle age-related cognitive decline, and decrease risk of dementia. [vii]
Try eating at least 9,000 mg/day of plant-based omega-3.
The top five sources of plant-based omega-3 include ground flaxseed (6,388 mg per 1 oz/28g), ground chia seed (4,915 mg per 1 oz/28g), English walnuts (2,524 mg per 1 oz/28g), wheat germ oil (932 mg per 1 tablespoon/14g), and green soybeans (569 mg per 1 cup/155g).
The words we tell ourselves and say out loud influence our health. Negative self-talk is harmful for mental health. Avoiding negative speech plays a role in overcoming depression.
Take the 14-day challenge: Learning to speak intentional, positive words for 14 consecutive days (no critical, negative words or constructive criticism) helps bring awareness to the words you are saying out loud as well as the silent self-talk in your head. Hearing our internal dialogue is a crucial step in the gold standard psychotherapy for depression, cognitive behavioral therapy (read more here). Don’t be discouraged when you slip up and have to start the challenge over - the more you are conscious of your thoughts, the easier it is to catch negative speech.
It’s not uncommon to not know what emotions or thoughts you are experiencing when you’re depressed. One of the first steps in changing how you feel is to become aware of your emotions. Emotions are not wrong to have. You can feel anger or frustration, but it is how you respond emotionally and behaviorally to that emotion that can have consequences. Becoming familiar with your emotions can help you identify your thoughts. We’ll examine more about thoughts later, but for now, practice identifying what emotions you are experiencing. I recommend sitting down with a pen, paper, and a handout and dedicate time to thinking about your emotions and thoughts. This will help begin to unravel the whirling, confused, and painful swirl of emotions.
Many lifestyle treatments for depression help increase blood flow to the frontal lobe of the brain. Let’s look at just a couple of these easy modalities for treating depression.
Water has been used for thousands of years to treat both physical and mental ailments. [viii] Contrast hot/cold baths or showers can help relieve depressive symptoms effectively and safely. Not only does hydrotherapy help improve blood flow by causing blood vessels to constrict and dilate, but it also helps boost the immune system. [ix] For severe depression, do hydrotherapy twice a day for ten days. When symptoms begin improving, hydrotherapy can be done once a day. Many find that hydrotherapy is a crucial piece of their depression treatment regime and incorporate into their daily routine for maintenance of mental health.
Note: If you have heart disease, advanced diabetes, very high blood pressure, or another serious medical condition, please consult your physician first before doing hydrotherapy.
Exercise improves depression. Current research shows that exercise increases circulation, enhances mood, and improves memory, sleep, immunity, cardiovascular health, and stress control. [x] Exercise has also been shown to improve low self-worth and social withdrawal. [xi]
How much should you exercise? Aim for at least 60 minutes of aerobic exercise six days a week. Exercise outdoors provides the maximum benefit – learn more about the benefits of nature on depression here. Taking a long, brisk walk is associated with reducing both depression and anxiety. It takes at least seven days of exercising at least 60 minutes to begin producing positive results. [viii] Even if the only thing you change in your life is how much you exercise; this one intervention alone can make a profound impact on depressive symptoms.
Write down five different types of exercise you actually like doing. You can also try filling out this Weekly Exercise Tracker handout. Aerobic exercise, the kind that makes you sweat and breathe heavily, is ideal, but if you’re not ready for that, try brisk walking. You don’t have to exercise for half an hour at a time to reap the benefit – even just ten minutes, three to six times a day, will help your body and brain! Break it down into achievable steps and begin experiencing the benefit of exercise in combating depression.
Our bodies need adequate water intake to function optimally. When we are dehydrated, our blood sluggishly moves in our circulatory system. As with the other circulation-boosting interventions in this article, drinking water is integral to optimal brain health.
Drink half of your body weight in ounces.
For example, if you weigh 160 pounds, you’ll need to drink at least 80 ounces of water each day. Grab a water bottle that you know the ounces of and be sure to drink enough throughout the day to meet your water needs. If you are exercising, out in the heat, or talking a lot, you’ll need to drink more water.
Depression is beatable and there are many holistic interventions to combat it with. These are just a few of the things that work in synergy to bring relief from depression. Begin using these tools to get on the path of recovery and stay tuned for more life-enhancing principles to help beat depression in your life.
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Nedley Depression & Anxiety Recovery Program™ Online
[i] Depression. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/depression. March 22, 2018.
[ii] Albert P. R. (2015). Why is depression more prevalent in women?. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN, 40(4), 219–221.
[iii] Lépine, J. P., & Briley, M. (2011). The increasing burden of depression. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 7(Suppl 1), 3–7.
[iv] Penninx, B. W., Guralnik, J. M., et al. (1998). Depressive symptoms and physical decline in community-dwelling older persons. JAMA, 279(21), 1720–1726.
[v] Mental health in the workplace. (2019). Retrieved June 18, 2020.
[vi] Nedley, N., & Ramirez, F. E. (2016). Nedley Depression Hit Hypothesis: Identifying Depression and Its Causes. American journal of lifestyle medicine, 10(6), 422–428.
[vii] Nedley, N. (2016). Optimize Your Brain. Ardmore, OK: Nedley Publishing.
[viii] Nedley, N. (2020). Nedley Depression & Anxiety Recovery Program Workbook. Ardmore, OK: Nedley Publishing.
[ix] Nagaich U. (2016). Hydrotherapy: Tool for preventing illness. Journal of advanced pharmaceutical technology & research, 7(3), 69.
[x] Belvederi Murri, M., et al. (2019). Physical Exercise in Major Depression: Reducing the Mortality Gap While Improving Clinical Outcomes. Frontiers in psychiatry, 9, 762.
[xi] Guszkowska M(2004). Wpływ ćwiczeń fizycznych na poziom leku i depresji oraz stany nastroju [Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood]. Psychiatria polska, 38(4), 611–620.
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