Severe depression should be treated by a healthcare professional, but there are plenty of ways to naturally lift a mildly dreary mood.
What did Ludwig van Beethoven, Winston Churchill, and Vincent van Gogh have in common? They all, at one time or another, suffered from depression. In fact, depression is so widespread that some psychologists call it the common cold of emotional disorders. If you’re depressed, you’re not alone. Neither do you have to let depression control your life. For severe, chronic depression, there are effective prescription medications as well as various forms of therapy. For mild to moderate depression that comes and goes, there are plenty of depression-busting strategies you can implement on your own.
Work it out
Get out there and move your body. Numerous studies have confirmed that frequent exercise can be a powerful mood enhancer. For mild or moderate depression it may even work as well as antidepressants. All you need is at least 20 minutes’ worth of aerobic exercise three times a week. Walk, lift weights, jump rope, cycle—any form will do. Work up a sweat to get the best effect.
Look to food to change your mood
- If you’re on a high-protein diet for weight loss, lack of carbohydrates could be contributing to your blue mood. Foods like fruits and vegetables, beans, and whole grains help your brain make the mood-regulating brain chemical serotonin.
- Aim to eat fish three times a week or more. Researchers in Finland found that people who ate fish less than once a week had a 31 percent higher incidence of mild to moderate depression than people who ate fish more often. Albacore tuna, salmon, sardines, and mackerel are top choices; they’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids, essential to normal brain function. There’s preliminary evidence that they influence serotonin production.
- If you drink coffee or cola, cut back or even give it up. Research links caffeine, which suppresses serotonin production, to depression.
- Nix alcohol. While wine, beer, or hard liquor may initially raise spirits, alcohol is actually a depressant.
Record your feelings on paper—especially painful feelings. Research shows that people who write about their most painful emotions for 20 minutes a day dramatically improved their psychological well-being after just four days. Sit with a blank piece of paper in front of you and write nonstop about the most distressing event in your life right now. Don’t think; just write.
Lift your spirit
Attend services at your place of worship. In a study of 4,000 older people, researchers found that those who frequently attended worship services were half as likely to be depressed as those who didn’t.
Down a mood lifter
Note: Consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
• Take 1,600 milligrams daily of SAM-e, pronounced “Sammy.” In many European countries, the effectiveness of SAM-e against depression is so well accepted that the supplement is often prescribed by doctors for it. SAM-e is a naturally occurring substance found in every living cell. Low levels have been linked with depression.Dozens of studies have shown that SAM-e produced significant improvement after three weeks. In animal studies, SAM-e was found to boost the levels of three neurotransmitters—serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine—involved in mood changes. Some doctors point out that the form most often available—tosylate disulfate—is highly unstable, and is only effective if it’s taken in enteric-coated capsules. The preferred form is butanedisulfonate. Look for enteric-coated capsules. The recommended dosages range from 400 to 600 milligrams for mild depression, up to 1,600 milligrams daily.
• Three times a day, take 300 milligrams of St. John’s Wort. In folk medicine, it was originally said to ward off witches. Now that witches are more or less a thing of the past, more than 20 scientific studies have shown that St. John’s wort can help ease mild depression, possibly by allowing certain brain chemicals to build up between nerve cells, as some antidepressants do. Opt for a brand standardized to 0.3% hypericin. Because this herb can cause sensitivity to sunlight, try to stay out of the sun as much as possible while you’re taking it.
• 5-HTP, which is one form of the amino acid tryptophan, is thought to work the same way Prozac does, by increasing serotonin levels. 5-HTP can be ordered from reputable sources on the Internet and imported into Canada. Take 100 micrograms 3 times a day of 5-HTP. But don’t take this supplement for more than 3 months unless you have your doctor’s consent.
• Talk to your doctor about taking the amino acid acetyl-L-carnitine. It’s chemically similar to acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that acts in the muscles as well as the central nervous system. Acetyl-L-carnitine helps increase energy production in brain cells, protect nerve cell membranes, and improve both mood and memory.
• The mineral chelated magnesium is very important for restoring and maintaining healthy nerve function. Magnesium is a key component in the production and function of serotonin. Supplements may help alleviate anxiety and depression. Follow the dosage recommendations on the label.
• Take one vitamin B-complex supplement each morning with food. Low levels of vitamin B have been linked with depression. Look for a brand with 50 micrograms of vitamin B12, 400 milligrams of folic acid, and 50 milligrams of the other B vitamins.
The power of prevention
• Get enough sleep. Studies have shown that people who get less than eight hours of sleep, night after night, tend to have lower serotonin levels than those who get full nights of rest. To help ensure a good night’s rest, try to go to bed at the same time every evening and rise at the same time every morning—even on weekends.
• Shut off the TV. Research suggests that the longer you watch television, the more your mood suffers. Watching hours of reruns, movie marathons, or game shows may seem like a way to relieve stress and fill up on entertainment. But studies have shown that, to the contrary, people who watch a lot of television usually have intensified feelings of isolation.