Depression and Mental Wellness
Depression. Depression. Depression!!! Shine a light on it for it lingers in the darkness of the unspoken. It gains strength when we deny it exists and we could never suffer from it. It’s still spoken by some in terms of a derogatory remark here and there or some mediocre attempt at eye rolling if mentioned.
What is it?
According to the American Psychiatric Association Depression is a major illness which affects the way you feel, think and act.
Symptoms may include:
Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
Loss of energy or increased fatigue
Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
Feeling worthless or guilty
Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
Thoughts of death or suicide
Any of these symptoms or if in doubt I would recommend going to your doctor to determine the best cause of treatment.
But why does it happen?
Changes to biochemistry of the brain, such as changes to the neurotransmitter serotonin or the reuptake of it. Serotonin is made from an amino acid tryptophan which we can get through diet from nuts, cheese and red meat.
Environmental factors such as exposure to violence, neglect, socio-economic status, chronic stress, especially at a young age can often lead to physical and metal have problems in the future. How much stress your mother experienced whilst carrying you, also influences your likely hood from suffering mental illness. Exposure to social media and sleep disruption from electromagnetic radiation from things such as wifi will also have an influence of mental state.
Genetics (heredity) increases your chances but does not mean you will suffer. As you can imagine if you do have a genetic predisposition and you have exposure to neglect, violence, chronic stress creates a perfect storm for depression to grow. Your personality, if you have a low self esteem and/or generally pessimistic then this further increases your chances.
But let’s be clear this does not mean you will.
Your lifestyle as a whole can determine a whole lot, not just on your ability to battle depression but for a whole lot of other disease states. Your lifestyle can determine how your genes are expressed. You may carry a certain gene within your DNA but this may be dormant until the right circumstances activate it, we refer to this as epigenetic’s. It’s crucial to understand that you have more control than you realise.
So how is it treated?
A mixture of anti-depressant drugs and psychotherapy are the main treatments with mixed results. For some this works and for some it does not, and this is the unfortunate thing about depression.
There is no one size fits all or a definitive cure, and still lifestyle changes and nutritional strategies aren’t recommended, for no real reason.
There are things that you can do today that won’t cause adverse side effects and will only be a positive in your life.
Possible treatments or at least things that you can do that definitely make a difference such as nutritional strategies and lifestyle changes to make a massive impact.
At this point I want to make clear I’m not talking about bi-polar or other extreme forms of mental illness.
These will need some pharmaceuticals and other therapies but what I’m going to explain will still definitely help.
If you have depression as previously stated then also look at lifestyle factors as below.
What can I do?
We now know that your micro-biome (bacteria in your gut) play a significant role in mental wellness and overall health for the body. That neurotransmitter serotonin (which is normally implicated in depression), 90% of that is made by your gut and the bacteria in your gut!
Your immune system is 80% of your micro-biome so it really makes sense to look after one of your biggest assets.
Instead we shovel junk down our throats in the hope everything will be ok, this destroys the good bacteria in favor of the bad, you will not produce enough serotonin! On top of this this further decreases the membrane of your gut often leading to leaky gut syndrome and/or IBS.
We know that stress (chronic stress) decreases your thyroid hormone (controls metabolism), decreases your sex hormones, it also decreases your ability to learn by down regulating your hippocampus (learning processing) and switching of your pre-frontal cortex (rational, logical centre of your brain), these have been shown in various forms of mental illness.
So how do I improve gut health?
Increase your green leafy vegetables, and vegetables in general which will not only improve the amount of vitamins and minerals you get which are crucial to overall health, you will increase the amount of the types of fiber that the good bacteria need to thrive. Not 5 a day…think 10 a day please. A portion is a palm size amount.
Try to ingest some yoghurt (full fat Greek, organic)…not that rubbish fat free nonsense! Ingest some kefir or sauerkraut, kombucha on a daily basis… (Just one, not all).
Increase good fats such as mono-unsaturated fats from avocados and olive oil and some omega fats from wild salmon, walnuts, flax seed, and some pumpkin seeds.
Beans (different types) are all good…just not too much too soon as you may have some extreme flatulence, bloating etc! So start with small portions and work bigger over a couple of weeks or more.
So what else?
Movement Please especially variety, and where possible outside in nature. This has been shown to decrease stress, anxiety and blood pressure almost instantly. Moderate intensity movement not only has numerous physiological benefits but also has brain boosting benefits such as increasing brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF). This is like fertilizer for your brain, enhancing every aspect of it including making it more resilient and improving memory and focus.
Movement in the form of learning a new skill such as ju jitsu or ballroom dancing…yes I just put them in the same sentence. These have the benefit of taking your brain out of a threat (fight or flight) state and placing it in a challenge state which allow stress to work for you as opposed against. There is also a social and tribal aspect which is something that greatly lacks into today’s society.
Taking time for your-self in the form of a walk or mindfulness meditation works. I’m a big advocate and I believe that most if not everyone will gain something positive from this. If you’re not sure how there is an awesome app called headspace which is a guided meditation that builds you up slowly. Think of it as a skill to learn. It takes just 5 minutes a day to start with and it’s a game changer.
On top of this we have various types of breath work such as box breathing (4 secs inhale..4 secs hold..4 secs exhale…4 secs hold…repeat), or just nostril breathing and trying to get as quite as you can etc. there are 100’s of ways. The Wim Hof method is a personal favourite (google it 🙂
Sleep. Yes get it and better quality. Wide down an hour or 2 before bed. An Epsom salt bath high in magnesium will relax and calm the mind. No electronic devices at least an hour before bed as this disrupts sleep, and phone on airplane mode. Better yet switch of the wifi.
Eat something light high in good fats with a little protein if having trouble staying asleep. Supplements such as 5-HTP may help increasing serotonin while you sleep and put you into a deeper sleep. Listen to some bi-nural beats (google it or find on youtube) allows a certain sound frequency to stimulate or relax. Tried this myself and its awesome.
L-Theanine derived from tea (supplement form) can relax and relieve anxiety
Sauna’s have been shown in a recent Finnish study to have profound and numerous health benefits to all health including depression, they studied 2315 men with a 20 year follow up and found that all cause mortality (die from anything) decreased with 2-3 saunas per week. Charles Raison MD produced an article for webmd.com and stated in their initial studies depressive symptoms decreased by 50 % up to 5 days later. 20 minutes is a good start…it’s supposed to be uncomfortable. The heat stress is what alleviates, so stay the duration. There are contraindications to this such as pregnancy and if your GP has told you not to, then probably listen.
Socializing can also have a massive impact on health. According to psychologytoday.com they state that not only can you alleviate depressive symptoms, you live longer and decrease your chances of dementia. Maybe an obvious win here would be to learn something new, something that’s physical and social like learning to dance or a martial art…food for thought!
Living your authentic life: Are you living the life you want? Are you living by your core values? Are you a useful human? This (in my opinion) is a massive area. If you are not living your authentic life and don’t feel productive you can easily start to disappear mentally, physically, metaphorically. Imagine you’re not living the life you want, you resent going to work to a job you hate. you look on social media and see everyone living the life they want (so it seems)! You eat junk food as it’s cheap and easy to get, you feel down trodden from the day and feel knackered so you just go home after and crash in front of the tv. You have created the perfect storm not only for depression but all disease.
Having purpose is powerful, but i appreciate this is not an easy answer or a quick fix, so take your time and go on your journey.
With depression all is not lost; there are many things that you can do for yourself. I know it’s tough, I have suffered from depression a few years ago and it got quite severe. Do I still have the odd down day? Hell yes but when we try to deny or feel guilt over feeling this way we create a resistance in our mind and this often leads to the pain. The down days let me appreciate the really good days allot more, and there are allot of really good days. I no longer think shit…I’m having a down day, ah, well. Instead I reflect and problem solve, and ask myself questions such as why am I feeling this way? What was different about today? What can I do about this right now? Sometimes it’s a case of not enough omega fats and sunlight (nutrition & environment), or when did I last exercise? Did I live my most authentic life today?
This is all food for thought and my hope is it is clear you have more power and control than you could ever imagine.
Love to you all x