October 30, 2010
Tracey L. Chavous
Health and Wellness Writer
An estimated 19 million people are living with major depression and depression symptoms in this country. Depression is a whole-body illness that affects the body’s nervous system, moods, thoughts, behavior and relationships with friends, family, co-workers as well as with yourself. It impacts the young and old, men, women and children, and research shows that it affects more women than men.
The many causes of depression are not entirely understood. With the various symptoms, there are distinct triggers including: tension, stress, traumatic life events, chemical imbalances in the brain, nutritional deficiencies, lack of exercise, allergies, thyroid disorders, immune system maladies and many more that contribute to this increasing imbalance. The ability to control stress is an important part of life. Everyone experiences some level of depression at various stages in their lives, perhaps due to the loss of a job, the start of a new job, divorce, serious injury, death of a loved one, moving or adjusting to a new baby or newly blended family. However, when stress becomes a chronic occurrence, depression can move stealthily in and slowly take a toll on your overall quality of life. There is help for this often debilitating condition, and in many cases, the cure or relief is not found in prescription medicine. Sufferers can augment their ability to bounce back from periodic bouts of depression with alternative natural therapies to help ease the pain and move into a place of healing. Consider the following options:
Aromatherapy is the practice of using pure essential oils to enhance psychological, physical and mental well-being. Essential oils have an aromatic constitution and are highly concentrated, distilled essences of plants. This practice provides therapeutic benefits at the emotional and physical level. The inhalation of various types of essential oils has been associated with the release of brain chemicals that stimulate positive emotions. Lavender oil stimulates and increases the release of serotonin, which can promote a calming effect throughout the body. Bergamot, Jasmine and Grapefruit have the qualities of an antidepressant and can help relieve specific feelings that mirror depression. When shopping for essential oils, purchase them in small quantities and make sure the label indicates “pure essential oil”. Dilute the oil in a base of either water or oil (almond, apricot and jojoba oil), and apply it to the body or use it for inhaling in a diffuser or simmer pot. There are many ways to utilize the benefits of aromatherapy: placing drops of oil in bath water; placing a simmer pot on your desk at work; putting drops of oil on cotton balls and placing them in your car or placing drops of oil in your own body oils when getting a massage. Many health food stores have a supplement section where a knowledgeable staff member can assist with specific questions or concerns.
Massage promotes overall relaxation and a sense of well-being. Massage therapy aids in the release of toxins throughout the body that are built up due to poor posture or home, work and family responsibilities that contribute to high stress levels. Feeling depressed can intensify aches and pains caused by a buildup of toxins in your body. Flushing out your system by way of massage allows you to feel refreshed and relaxed. You may not realize the extent of your physical (and emotional) discomfort until you experience the renewed benefits of massage. On the benefits of massage, Colleen Miller, a certified massage therapist at the Smithson Clinic in Colorado contends: “The skin and muscles are densely packed with nerves, which play directly into the central nervous system. Massage improves blood and lymph circulation, reduces nerve irritation and brings fresh oxygen and other nutrients to the affected tissues. Massage may also cause the body to produce fewer stress hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine (adrenaline), and may also increase the body’s production of pain killing endorphins and mood-altering hormone serotonin. (Serotonin allows a person to maintain context-appropriate behavior; that is, to do the appropriate thing at the appropriate time.)”. The benefits of massage are extraordinary and felt almost immediately.
Owning a pet can be rewarding and comforting, particularly if you like animals. The positive aspect of pet ownership is the long lasting, unconditional love which pets provide that boosts the mood and can uplift the spirit when feelings of loneliness and withdrawal arise. Psychologists say that having a pet is best when depression is mild or moderate. Birds and fish have been known to promote relaxation and lower pulse rates. Dogs help encourage physical activity and, inadvertently, contribute to more socializing during walks out with other dog owners. Some pets require more work than others, so doing adequate research is paramount before a purchase or adoption. This is especially significant if you live in a small apartment, condo or share housing with a roommate. According to an article in about pets and depression in Everyday Health (www.everydayhealth.com), “groups like the American Humane Association and the Delta Society offer animal-assisted therapy programs for people with depression and other mood disorders. You may also be able to find a local group in your area that offers pet therapy.”
Feelings of depression can be lessened through spiritual help by using meditation, prayer, affirmations and lifestyle changes. Prayer and meditation help to relax a busy mind and also restores and replenishes your passion and joy for life. Over time, these practices open you up to a more conscious awareness. The Spiritual Healing Secrets website (www.spiritual-healing-secrets.com) shared the following meditation techniques: “A basic understanding of meditation says that if prayer is talking to God, then meditation is listening.” Here are just some of the simple, yet profound, ways that people meditate:
- Sit in a quiet place, close your eyes and say a familiar prayer slowly, as you focus on the meaning of each line.
- Take a break from your thoughts by counting your breaths, counting one through ten again and again.
- Listen to a meditation tape or CD.
- Sit still and watch your thoughts. Practice doing this without becoming attached to any one thought. Just watch them come and go.
- Walk outdoors slowly, noting as many details of your surroundings as you can.
- Sit with a leaf, a flower or any small object and study its features.
- Write without stopping for a predetermined amount of time or pages, as if you’re “taking dictation” from God or the Universe.
The website advises: “In all of these meditation techniques, when you notice your thoughts running away with you, gently bring your focus back to your practice.” Most importantly, understand that these practices alone will have little effect on your outlook on life if you do little to remain positive. Do what you can to implement these practices gradually over time and to surround yourself with people who believe in and support what you are doing.
Quality Nutrition and Exercise
Food has an enormous impact on the brain’s behavior. A daily diet of processed junk food is a strong contributing factor to depression. The neurotransmitters or chemicals in our brain play a major role in normalizing our behavior and controlling what we eat, thus strongly linking to our mood and frame of mind. Comfort foods, like a bowl of warm oatmeal or soup, actually boost levels of serotonin, a calming brain chemical. Other foods can reduce levels of cortisol and adrenaline, which are stress hormones that take a toll on the body over time. A nutritious diet can counteract the impact of stress, by strengthening the immune system and lowering blood pressure. To keep cortisol and adrenaline in check, make friends with fatty fish (not fried). Omega-3 fatty acids — found in fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna — can prevent spikes in stress hormones and protect against heart disease. Eating highly refined carbohydrates, primarily sugar and sugary foods, tend to provide immediate, but temporary relief. Once the benefit is gone, you may go looking for more of these types of foods to bring up your mood and energy level. Such behavior results in a “trapped” scenario or vicious cycle that leads to the crashing of your energy and mood. Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, cereals, breads, pastas, fruits and vegetables, are more likely to supply a sensible, but sustainable effect on brain chemistry, mood and energy level. Food plays a significant role in maintaining balanced mental health and well-being. Foods to reduce or eat in moderation include sugar, sugary processed foods and caffeine. Establish a habit of eating at least three times a day, including breakfast. Replace sweets with fruit and whole grain carbohydrates; eat lean sources of protein several times a day, and drink plenty of quality water. Focus on a well-balanced diet, including plenty of leafy greens for folic acid, bananas, avocados, chicken, turkey, fish, greens and whole grains for B6 and other vitamins. If you are concerned about getting enough of key nutrients, consult your physician, dietitian, nutritionist or health counselor before supplementing.
In addition to modifying your diet, one of the best stress-busting strategies is exercising or maintaining an existing exercise regimen. Aerobic exercise is highly effective, because it increases oxygen circulation and produces endorphins, deemed the happy hormones that produce that “natural” high feeling. To get the maximum benefit, aim for 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (walking, biking, hiking, dancing) three to four times a week.
Many of these alternatives are unique, yet basic, ways to help restore and revitalize your sense of well-being during bouts of depression. However, even with best intentions, none or very few of these alternatives may work for you. You may find that you are feeling more depressed than before for whatever reason. In these cases, benefits from other more intense therapy or medical attention may be necessary. Consider speaking with your medical doctor/health care provider immediately. Here is a listing of well-known local health and medical organizations that can be of great assistance to you or a loved one presently or in the near future:
National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 8184, MSC 9663, Bethesda, MD 20892-9663
Toll free: 866-615-6464; 301-443-4513 (Website) www.nimh.nih.gov
Mental Health America
2000 N. Beauregard Street, 6th Floor Alexandria, VA 22311
Phone (703) 684-7722
Toll free (800) 969-6642
Fax (703) 684-5968 (Website) www.nmha.org
National Foundation for Depressive Illness, Inc. (NAFDI)
PO Box 2257, New York, NY 10116
Toll Free: 800-239-1265 (Website) www.depression.org
Depression Hotline: 630-482-9696