Something that people with depression are tired of hearing is “just get over it” or “cheer up”. We’ve learned that depression is not as simple as just feeling sad and that it doesn’t come with a quick fix. However, what if anti-depressants weren’t the only treatment? What if there were other, more natural, day-to-day fixes that could help play a role in the reduction and prevention in depression? Recent studies have shown that changes in daily activity, diet, and sleep can greatly impact the outcome of those suffering from depression.
Social support can be key to helping someone recover from depression. Increasing meaningful conversations and hanging out with good friends on a regular basis can help improve a person’s mood.
Diet is another factor that plays an unexpected part in depression. Some necessary fats the body needs it’s unable to produce on it’s own. Omega-3 fatty acids play a vital part in the insulation of nerve fibers along with the composition of brain cells. They can be obtained from our diet with such things like fish, nuts, and leafy vegetables. People who took omega supplements and countries that consume more omega rich foods, showed a much bigger decrease in depression-like symptoms (Ilardi, 2009, p. 9).
A lack of sunlight exposure is another precursor to depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a condition people normally living in northern regions may be affected by- causing a type of depression in less sunny months. Sunlight increases the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a fundamental role in mood (and depression). For those of us not as lucky to live in sunny regions, vitamin D supplements have been known to lift mood, along with improving bone development and increasing immunity (Ilardi, 2009, p. 158).
Exercise also has a major impact on mental health. In fact, a study published by the Special Health Report at Harvard, showed that when a patient was treated with anti-depressants, exercise, or both- those that participated in regular exercise were less likely to relapse back into depression, regardless if they had used anti-depressants. Something as simple as going for a brisk walk, a few hours a week, had a big impact on mild to moderate depressive symptoms. The reason this is proven effective is because stimulation of the neurotransmitter; norepinephrine, and the increase in endorphins, which are known to boost immunity and decrease one’s perception of pain (“Exercise and Depression,” 2009). Exercise is also seen as a confidence booster, helping to decrease the feeling of shame associated with depression.
Lastly, it’s no secret that sleep impacts mood. Without enough sleep, a person’s ability to interpret situations is alarmingly less accurate, which is probably why disrupted sleep is one of the most powerful prompts to depression. Professionals suggest improving your sleep by taking steps to prepare- like avoiding bright lights before bed, having a set sleep and wake time, and using your bed for sleeping only- not for things such as studying or TV watching (Ilardi, 2009, p. 200-206). Having a set routine before bed can greatly improve the overall quality of sleep, helping one to wake up with a clearer state of mind.
In today’s study of mental illness, we are learning that drugs don’t have to be the only cure, and that sometimes they simply aren’t enough. Incorporating a healthy lifestyle, although not the cure, but a large proponent, can help to improve mental health and alleviate the symptoms of depression.
Exercise and depression. (2009, June 9). Retrieved October 18, 2015, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-and-depression-report-excerpt
Ilardi, S. S. (2009). The Depression Cure. De Capo Press.