Everyone gets down once in a while. Feeling sad or unhappy about certain events can be a normal reaction. But depression is more than just a typical response to a rough patch.
Depression can impact all areas of your life from work to relationships to physical wellbeing. Unfortunately, in some situations, if left untreated, it can also lead to suicide. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, about seven percent of people in the United States have experienced a major depressive episode in the last 12 months.
Although anyone can develop depression, several risk factors may increase your chances of developing the condition. Risks for depression include:
- Chronic stress and anxiety
- Family history of depression
- Childhood trauma
- Alcohol or drug abuse
- Physical illness
Conventional Treatments and Side Effects
Although psychological counseling is often used to treat depression, it is not always effective in decreasing symptoms. In a large number of cases, medications are also prescribed.
Medications to treat depression may include different classifications of antidepressants including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors. Although medications for depression are sometimes helpful, they are not without risks. Side effects can include worsening depression, fatigue and weight loss or gain. Additional side effects may include nausea, dry mouth and trouble sleeping.
A Natural Approach to Treating Depression
The good news is there are options when it comes to treating depression. In some cases, natural strategies, such as lifestyle and nutritional supplements, as well as mind-body therapies such as acupuncture, can make a big difference in decreasing symptoms. In other instances, natural treatments can complement conventional treatment and provide a comprehensive plan to combat depression.
Changes in sleep habits, diet and other activities are not always easy to make. But they can have a big impact on your mood and overall wellbeing. It may seem overwhelming to make a complete overall of your lifestyle all at once. It may be even more challenging if you are depressed.
Instead of changing several things at once, focus on small goals and make changes gradually. For example, if you smoke, consider programs that can help you kick the habit. After successfully making one positive lifestyle change, set another goal to work towards.
Chronic stress and depression often go hand in hand. Although it may not be possible to eliminate all stress, participating in stress reduction activities may help. Find activities that help you unwind and spend a little time each day relaxing. Common stress reduction activities that may help include playing an instrument, listening to music and going for a walk.
Exercise to Combat Depression
It probably does not come as a surprise that exercise strengthens your body. But it can also have psychological benefits. According to research at Duke University, exercising moderately to briskly 30 minutes a day three times a week decreased symptoms of depression as effectively as medication. Find some type of exercise, such as brisk walking, biking or aerobic classes, that you enjoy. Make exercise a habit. Aim for a minimum of 30 minutes of exercises most days of the week.
Body Work Techniques
Various bodywork techniques can promote relaxation, better sleep and may decrease symptoms of depression in some people. Consider some of the following suggestions.
- Tai Chi: Tai Chi is a gentle form of martial arts that involves remaining focused on movements, breathing and relaxation. Practicing tai chi can have a calming effect on the body and the mind.
- Massage: Massage involves manipulation of the soft tissue and can stimulate endorphin production, which can promote feelings of wellbeing.
- Guided Imagery: Guided imagery involves picturing yourself in a calming place. By using all your senses and immersing yourself in an environment that you find peaceful, you can change your brain chemistry and increase chemicals, such as endorphins.
Herbs and Supplements
There are several herbs and supplements that may decrease symptoms of mild to moderate depression. The Food and Drug Administration has not approved the following supplements or herbs for the treatment of depression in the United States. But they may be effective for some people. Keep in mind, certain herbs can interfere with medications, so it’s important to talk with your healthcare provider before taking supplements.
The supplements below show promise in decreasing symptoms of depression.
- SAMe: SAMe is a naturally occurring chemical in the body that affects serotonin levels in the brain. Some studies have indicated that levels of SAMe are low in people with depression, which is why a supplement may help.
- John’s Wort: St John’s wort is one of the most studied supplements for treating depression. Many studies have indicated that St. John’s wort is just as effective as antidepressants in treating people with mild to moderate.
- DHEA: DHEA is a naturally occurring hormone produced in the brain and adrenal glands. Levels peak in your 20s and gradually fall as you age. Some research suggests that changes in DHEA levels may contribute to a depressed mood.
- Omega 3: Omega 3’s are fatty acids that play a role in cardiovascular health and brain function. Although additional research is needed to prove a definite link, some studies show people with depression tend to have lower levels of omega 3.