What do you do when you're feeling blue? We all want to be happier, yet as a society depression is on the rise. As life coaches we believe each person has unique solutions to their problems. While antidepressants are the answer for some with clinical depression, others may seek natural methods in addition to or as an alternative to taking medication. While there is no cure-all for depression, there is research supporting several natural options that may help boost our minds as well as our spirits.
1. Get your hands in the dirt. Gardening has long been known for its meditative, relaxing, and grounding effects. Medical News Today reports that UK scientists have discovered friendly bacteria in soil that reportedly affects the brain in a way similar to antidepressants by increasing the release of serotonin. A great, easy to follow gardening guide is RHS Gardening Month by Month, by Ian Spence.
2. Meditate. Many of us have all heard that meditation reduces stress. Scientists are now beginning to uncover evidence that meditation has a tangible effect on the brain. Professor Mark Williams, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford conducted a trial study reported by the BBC News, indicates that meditation reduces the likelihood of depression by over 50%. "It suggests to people that they begin to see all their thoughts as just thoughts, whether they are positive, negative or neutral." Get Self Centered offers meditation workshops and retreats across the US. Or, learn to practice from home with Jack Kornfield's downloadable audiobook, Meditation for Beginners.
3. Burn Incense. Incense has long been used in religious rituals and hippy living rooms across the globe to create a peaceful environment. In a new study (that can be found at The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal an international team of scientists have discovered how burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain that alleviate depression. Floracopeia provides high quality, organic frankincense available as incense and essential oil.
4. Ingest a yellow flower. St. John's Wort is a wild yellow flower that has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years. There is some scientific evidence that St. John's Wort is helpful in treating mild to moderate depression. Two large studies, one sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), showed that the herb may be helpful for treating mild depression, however it may not be effective for treating major depression. iHerb provides several types of St. John's Wart supplements.
5. Eat Sushi. Research has shown that fatty fish oil can actually improve wellbeing. People suffering from depression have lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids in the blood. One study (Nemets & Belmaker - American Journal of Psychiatry) showed that the lower the level of EPA, the more severe the clinical depression. In addition, fish oil supplementation reduced suicidal tendencies and improved the well being when 40 people were given fish oil or placebo for 12 weeks (Hallahan, Hibbeln, Davis - British Journal of Psychiatry). Fish oil can be found in raw and cooked fish and can also be taken as a dietary supplement. Zebra Organics is a great source for high quality, organic fish oil supplements.
6. Move your body. Talk a walk, ride a bike, hit the gym, or go dancing. Science indicates that people who regularly exercise benefit from positive boosts in mood and reduce the risk of depression. When you exercise, the body naturally releases chemicals called endorphins that trigger positive feelings in the body and mind.
7. Use natural sweeteners such as Agave Nectar or Maple Syrup. Some studies have linked the use of refined sugar to depression. Author William Dufty creates a strong argument for avoiding sugar in his book Sugar Blues. Another interesting book on the subject is Sugar Shock, by Connie Bennett with Stephen Sinatra, M.D. Natural sweeteners such as Agave (a sweet cactus nectar) and maple syrup (a sweetener made from the sap of maple trees) can be used as natural alternatives to refined sugar.
8. Get in the sunshine. Vitamin D has been shown to increase levels of serotonin in the brain. Researchers from the University of Toronto noticed that people who were suffering from depression, particularly those with seasonal affective disorder, tended to improve as their levels of vitamin D in the body increased over the normal course of a year. The recommendation is to allow yourself limited, unprotected sun exposure in the early morning and late afternoon (no more than 15 minutes for light-skinned individuals, 40 minutes for darker skin). Vitamin D is also available as a dietary supplement and can be found at ProHealth.
9. Have a good laugh. Have you ever noticed the physical response you sometimes have after a good laugh? Studies show that laughter fights the onset of depression by reducing stress hormones. The positive results of laughter may encourage people to relax and release the stress that often causes depression. Reading the comics, watching your favorite sitcom, or listening to a comedian may actually be a prescription for happiness.
10. Use depression to make you stronger. Can depression actually make you healthier? A recent article from the BBC News features Dr Paul Keedwell, an expert on mood disorders at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London. Keedwell says that depression is not a human defect at all, but a defense mechanism that in its mild and moderate forms can force a healthy reassessment of personal circumstances. "Don't beat yourself up about being depressed, in most cases it will run its course provided you take yourself out of the situation that caused it." Depression can actually serve a purpose, deepening and enriching the human experience. By overcoming challenging times in our lives, we can actually become stronger evolutionarily speaking.
Simply recognizing we are feeling depressed can be the first step towards changing it. We all experience difficult stages in our lives and while we recommend seeing a professional to help alleviate clinical depression, we also have found that little changes in our diet and lifestyle can go a long way. So the next time the blues get you down, you can try lighting up some frankincense, ordering a fish taco, and chowing it down in the sunshine. Hey, worth a try.