Since I was nine years old, I have been taking depression medication. Technically, it was initially prescribed for anxiety, but I soon received treatment for both conditions. I could say, rather awkwardly, "I am taking chill pills because there is an imbalance of serotonin in my brain" when I was in third grade. Depression is like an old, unwanted friend that follows me around all the time; it's a burden, yes, but it's very comfortable. Over time, I've come to understand that there are plenty of things I can do to help control my mood swings without having to take prescription drugs. They take time and effort (there is no quick and easy fix!), but its well worth it in my mind. I still have not weaned myself off of my medications entirely, but it is a goal that I someday hope to achieve and one that I constantly strive for.
1. Eat a “happy” diet
Eating healthy can help with mood in general, but there are some foods that can help with serotonin, the chemical in the brain that contributes to “happy.” Prozac, for example, works by inhibiting serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which raises the levels in your brain. Some foods are serotonin enhancers, helping to raise those levels naturally. They include:
-Fish-oil, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids
-Healthy fat, such as coconut oil
2. Steer clear of your coffee
While there are many claims for the benefits of coffee, when it comes to depression, it just doesn’t mix well. It’s true that caffeine will give you a quick boost in your mood, but you’re going to come crashing down. Being exhausted but wired and over-caffeinated doesn’t do anything good for the chemicals that regulate mood, and can in fact affect serotonin synthesis in the brain. This has been noted by the increase of 5-HIA, a component of serotonin, seen in the urine of coffee drinkers. This makes them at risk for lower levels of this all-important neurotransmitter.
3. Drink green tea
I know this seems terribly counterintuitive to number 4, seeing as how green tea also contains caffeine, but it has one other extremely important constituent: L-theanine. L-theanine works synergistically with caffeine to boost mood in such a way that you don’t get the same crash-effect. It has its psychoactive properties because it is able to cross the blood-brain barrier, and has been shown to reduce stress as well as boost dopamine and the brain inhibitory transmitter GABA.
You will need…
-1 cup of boiling water
-1 green tea bag
First thing in the morning, with your breakfast, steep a cup of hot, fresh, green tea. Drink the whole thing.
My parents were never happy with the fact that I had to be on prescription medications, but they were in a tough spot, because I was in dire need of them. However, they also took me to a therapist and my Dad encouraged meditation to help deal with my mood. He meditates every day for 45 minutes, and would coach me along when I had the patience. It’s a hard thing to do, but it really helps. We become so out of touch with ourselves and smothered by our thoughts we lose the ability to reflect and sift through our minds-an indispensable tool if you need to cope with depression, anxiety, OCD, or anything along those lines. Start small-maybe 2-3 minutes a day-and work your way up from there.
You will need…
-A quiet place
Find a quiet place to retreat to where you won’t be interrupted. Turn off your phone, close the door, etc. etc. Regulate your breathing, and attempt to let go of your thoughts. Don’t think too hard about not thinking though-if something pops into your head, acknowledge it, and let it go. This is just one basic start to meditating-there’s tons of different ways you can go about it, and where you choose to take it and how far is up to you.
5. Try acupuncture
There is a lot of back and forth about acupuncture, but I say keep an open mind. There have been a number of studies that have shown acupuncture helps with pain, and may help with depression and anxiety as well. When the needle enters your skin at one of the 400 body points used by acupuncturists, your body responds by releasing endorphins. This makes you feel calm, happy, and relaxed, and many people say this feeling lasts long after the session is over.
You will need…
-A licensed acupuncturist
Look up a reputable acupuncturist, pick up the phone, and set up an appointment.
6. Drink chamomile tea
Depression goes hand in hand with sleep problems. It’s like you can’t get out of bed during the day but can’t fall asleep at night either. It is thought that a particular flavonoid (a chemical naturally occurring in some plants) in chamomile is what contributes to its relaxing properties, and I find that having a cup before bedtime with a bit of milk and honey does help me unwind. Tuck a little lavender sleep sachet under your pillow too and you’ll have an extra relaxing boost when you curl up.
You will need…
-1 cup of boiling water
-2 teaspoons of dried chamomile or 1 teabag
-A dash of milk and honey (optional)
Boil 1 cup of water and pour over 2 teaspoons of dried chamomile (or a chamomile tea bag) and let steep for 5 minutes. If you are using a tea bag, let steep for 15. Strain, and add a little milk and honey if you like, and drink 30 minutes before bedtime.
7. See a therapist
It has a negative connotation in today’s society, which ticks me off more than anything, because seeing a therapist has been something that has pulled me through many hard times. I used to hate going to see her back in middle-school and high school (I felt so abnormal) but now I appreciate those peaceful sessions where I can get some weight off of my chest. She is also a vital member of my support team should I need it. Don’t be ashamed to see someone, it’s hugely helpful and allows for some much-needed relief from your thoughts and emotions.
8. Supplement with St. John’s wort
A popular home remedy for depression comes in the form of St. John’s wort. An herbaceous plant/shrub, St. John’s wort has been used to treat various “nervous disorders” since the times of ancient Greece. It is the most effective in cases of mild to moderate depression, and is thought to work chiefly because of the effect of hypercin, one of its main constituents. Hypercin appears to affect various neurotransmitters in a similar manner to serotonin reuptake inhibitors (like medications such as Prozac, which raise the levels of serotonin accessible in the brain.) There are several other components of St. John’s wort that may contribute to the antidepressant effects, although hypercin is the most widely recognized. While this plant does seem to have less side-effect than prescription medications, it can still interfere with them, so double check before using it.
You will need…
-A high-quality supplement of St. John’s wort (usually capsule form)
The normal dosage for an adult is 300 milligrams 3 times daily, however because it can interact with other drugs, talk to a professional before delving into use.
9. Increase B-vitamins
Vitamin B (namely B-12, but others as well) play an important role in the brain, producing chemicals that majorly impact mood (serotonin, dopamine, and epinephrine.) If you lack this all important vitamin, you may be shorting your mind as well as your body. Older adults, those with digestive disorders, and folks who are vegetarians may find that they have a hard time getting enough of B-vitamins (it is found in many meats.) You can either take supplements or add more B vitamin rich food to your diet, such as:
-Fish (Mackerel, 3 oz. serving): 269% DV*
-Cheese (Swiss, 1 oz. serving):16% DV
-Shellfish (cooked clams, 3 oz. serving): 1401% DV
-Spinach (1 cup cooked): 22% DV
-Bell peppers (1 cup raw): 13.50% DV
-Turkey (4 oz. serving) 32% DV
*DV stands for daily value, and is based off of a 2,000 calorie a day diet. The percentage value represents how much of a recommended amount of something you are getting. So if milk had 30% DV for calcium, you would be getting 30% of the total calcium you need for the day.
10. More magnesium!
We underestimate the importance of magnesium! It is the 4th most abundant mineral in the body that is supplemented through diet, and is a cofactor in over 300 enzyme systems that regulate a wide range of biomechanical functions in the body. Without it we wouldn’t produce energy, we couldn’t synthesize DNA or RNA, or regulate our heartbeats, and we can’t keep the chemicals in our brain stable. Our modern diets often times nix foods that have magnesium, and stress also depletes it (and who doesn’t get stressed?) No living organism is able to produce it. We need to eat it, to put it bluntly. So take a supplement, or follow the best route-add magnesium rich foods to your diet.
-1 ounce of dry roasted almonds or cashews: 20% DV
-1/2 cup of cooked black beans: 15% DV
-1 medium banana: 8% DV
-1/2 cup of boiled spinach: 20% DV
-1 cup of soymilk: 15% DV
When it doubt, go for the nuts and dark leafy greens.
So this is no great secret, and you’ve probably heard it before (and many of you have probably brushed it off) but exercise is fundamental to mood. I don’t mean go for a 30 minute jog every day, even just a fifteen minute walk through the neighborhood does wonders. Exercise releases endorphins in the brain, and endorphins are what make us feel good and happy.
I ignored this advice for a long, long, time until a particularly bad bout of depression landed me in the hospital for two weeks. After that I lay in bed, hardly eating, barely talking, and staring off into space, until I got a dog. I needed this dog, you see, because I would not leave the house otherwise. With an energetic puppy on my hands, I had no choice but to haul my sorry self out the door and move about. And it was incredible. To this day if I start to sink into the couch my dog is bouncing off the walls and forcing me to get up, and afterwards I always feel better. It’s tough to do, but worth it.
12. Utilize light therapy
Light therapy is particularly useful if you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (your mood is affected by winter days that have limited sun) but can also be beneficial to major depression as well. One of the first things I got when I returned from that lovely little jaunt to the hospital was a bright light that was made to treat SAD, and had a built in timer to make sure I got the right amount of light. Light therapy may work to elevate mood by activating the brains “circadian pacemaker” which regulates sleep cycles. Since depression is so closely linked to sleep troubles, there’s very likely a correlation.
13. Load up on pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds contain healthy fats and magnesium, both of which can help lighten your mood. They also contain L-tryptophan, an amino acid that is involved in the production of serotonin.
You will need…
-1 cup of pumpkin seeds
Eat 1 generous cup of pumpkin seeds once a day. I like to sprinkle mine with just a teensy tiny bit of salt to add a little boost to their already delicious and nutty flavor.
What I have experienced (personally) is that prescriptions these days are handed out at the mention of a single symptom of depression (Oh you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning? Here’s 25 milligrams of Prozac!) and that has led to some serious problems. I don’t think the path to dealing with depression is made of prescription bottles, but that’s not something you’ll hear a doctor say often. Dealing with depression isn’t just one thing-it’s a whole mish-mash of lifestyle changes and it takes work. Whether or not you need prescription medication, working in some natural depression remedies can better your mood and, maybe, help you learn to get away from all the drugs.
Tip: Exercise and diet change aren’t instant fixes, but they are so important. We spend so much time skirting around them and trying to find all these shortcuts, when really, nothing can replace these two vital components of life.
I think the happiest human is the one who is closest to their
intended natural state of being (i.e. not eating overly-processed foods,
and not being sedentary all day.) Do your best to form these
habits-they will pay off.