Dealing with depression can be a long and stressful process, especially if you're not one to opt for medication or weekly therapy sessions. Although everyone experiences different levels of symptoms, there are a number of natural ways to fight depression, from your diet to your daily hobbies. Whether you want to avoid taking medication or just want to pick up some habits that improve your mood, it's important to know what activities have an effect on your mental health.
Depression is not a rare issue, and it affects more people than you would think. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 15.7 million adults experienced at least one major depressive episode in the year 2014, making it even more important that people know their options when it comes to treatment.
"Some people do need psychotherapy — [which can be] better than medication because it lasts longer — and some people need to add an antidepressant medication," says psychologist Lynn D. Johnson, Ph.D. over email. "But I believe over half of depressed people can change how much they move, how often they mingle, and how they design their meals and get very substantial relief."
To help find ways to improve your overall mood, I consulted with a number of mental health experts to get their best advice on natural ways to fight depression. If you've been feeling down and want to avoid taking medication – or even just want to supplement your current treatment — consider picking up one the seven below habits that have been proven to lower your risk of depression.
"One of the best natural ways to fight depressions is regular aerobic exercise," says Wendy A. Suzuki, Ph.D., Professor of Neural Science and Psychology at New York University. "Exercise can increase levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, noradrenaline, dopamine, and endorphins. These are some of the same neurotransmitters that we know are decreased in depression, and increases in these neurotransmitter levels are what gives people that mood boost after a good workout."
"Sleep deprivation can impact daily work performance, cognitive functioning, and exacerbate symptoms of depression," says Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe, M.D., M.S. over email. "It may also have deleterious effects on your overall health. Try and achieve at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night and maintain good sleep hygiene."
"When people feel depressed, they tend to isolate themselves, which increases feelings of loneliness and desperation," says Holly LaBarbera, a licensed marriage and family therapist, over email. "If people can engage with others, especially if it is doing enjoyable activities, this will help reduce depressive symptoms. Pursuing interests and hobbies can also help, as can volunteering or giving back to others in some way."
4. Go Outside
"Get in the sunlight," says Erika Martinez, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, over email. "This increases vitamin D levels in the body, which boosts mood." Studies show that spending time outside in nature can decrease your stress levels, lower your blood pressure, and reduce symptoms of depression.
"Meditate or engage in a mindfulness or spiritual practice five to ten minutes a day," says Martinez. "It calms the mind and can stabilize the mood throughout the day." A study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine found that as little as two and a half hours of meditation per week can help fight off depression and anxiety.
6. Eat More Tryptophan
"Eat more foods with tryptophan," says Dr. Allana Polo, a certified naturopathic physician over email. "Elevated levels of tryptophan have been shown to boost serotonin, the body’s feel good hormone. You can take in more foods with tryptophan like egg whites, cod, spirulina and soy beans." Diet plays a major role in mood disorders, so it's important to include lots of fruits, vegetables, whole, grains, and nuts to stabilize your overall mood.
7. Turn To Art
Whether it's taking up painting or drawing, learning an instrument, or joining a dance class, art therapy can help people cope with their problems and give them a healthy outlet for expression. According to the American Journal of Public Health, creative engagement can decrease anxiety, stress, and mood disturbances, including depression.
Everyone is different in how they respond to treatment, but in general, these natural remedies can be effective at helping to reduce depression. If your symptoms seem serious, always talk to your doctor to find the best treatment.
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