With fall fully here, and winter fast approaching, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) will soon be on the rise, which is a good place to start a talk about depression. Whether seasonal depression, or something longer lasting and more chronic, hopefully by the end of this blog you’ll have some ideas on how to fight it and be happier overall, even if it is winter. That said, if you have been diagnosed with depression and are working with a doctor, therapist, or counselor, please keep working with that person and discuss any changes to your diet or lifestyle with him or her BEFORE making them.
Shorter daylight hours, frosty temps and generally poor weather keep us less active and indoors a lot more. We get less sunlight which is what our bodies use to make vitamin D (interesting factoid – we use cholesterol to make vitamin D, so you need to have some cholesterol).
According to Healthline.com, low vitamin D levels are linked to depression and taking vitamin D supplements may improve depression symptoms.
Symptoms of SAD and many other types of other type of depression can include:
- Feeling listless, sad, or down most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having low energy and feeling sluggish
- Sleep problems (generally sleeping too much)
- Significant changes in appetite
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless, or guilty
- Having thoughts of not wanting to live*
*If you ever have thoughts of not wanting to live call 988 immediately. Someone will be there that can help you and it’s free and confidential.
So, aside from clinically diagnosed depression or SAD which should be treated by a professional with expertise in mental health care, what can you do to fight off the occasional bout of ‘blah’ or milder cases of winter blues? Lots of things can help – according to Kidshealth.org among other places on the web and through personal experience or anecdotally.
Exercise – It doesn’t have to be a full out sweat inducing triathlon – even a brisk 15-minute walk can make a difference (and the American heart association recommends 30 minutes per day or 150 minutes per week).
Express yourself – You may not feel like doing much, but making a small effort to do a craft that you enjoy, painting, doodling, practicing a musical instrument, or trying to learn a new language can all help get the creativity flowing and having accomplished something you’re likely to make your mood improve at least a little.
Don't dwell on problems – Avoid ruminating and rehashing problems in your mind. It may be helpful to discuss the problem with a friend, but, again, rehashing too much is just complaining and will only worsen depression symptoms. Find a way to deal with it ‘for now’ and then use the Darren Hardy box method - Do what you can, have a plan for what’s next and then mentally put a lid on that box and put it away until it’s time to work on it again. Then, after getting it off of your chest, or putting it away; find something positive to talk about. Trying to think about and talk about positive things is proven to help peoples’ moods.
Notice good things – It’s easy when we’re feeling down, sad, depressed, or just blah, to notice only the negative in things or around us and that spirals to make us feel even worse. Cut it off by purposefully noticing three good things every day.
Journal – But only positive things – try writing about the good you noticed, or write something that you are grateful for every day – something different every day.
Sleep – Not too much mind you. It’s easy to get depressed and just want to sleep until it goes away. But too much in this case is counterproductive. MOST healthy adults need 8-9 hours per day. More than that is considered a sign of depression. Work on getting into a solid routine with specific bedtimes and wake times and then get out of bed and try out the first item on this list to get your blood moving.
Eat healthy – Avoid processed food and foods with lots of added sugar. Foods with a lot of processed carbs will spike your blood sugar temporarily, then you get a crash, which can worsen depression symptoms. Don’t go for too long without eating – even if you don’t feel like it a small meal can help keep blood sugar levels stable and help alleviate symptoms. WebMD’s article on fighting depression with diet recommends these six foods:
Turkey for the tryptophan
Brazil nuts for selenium
Carrots for beta carotene
Clams and mussels for B12
Leafy greens for folate
Salmon for Omega-3's and vitamin D (Take a vitamin D supplement when you can’t get outside).
Take Care of your gut – According to the American Psychological Association, about 95% of our ‘feel good’ chemical (AKA serotonin) is made in the gut. More specifically, is made by gut bacteria. That is why eating healthy is so important, and needs to include eating probiotic rich foods (think yogurt, sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso (yes, like the soup), kombucha, pickles and even buttermilk). Eating naturally fermented foods like those help supply your gut with healthy bacteria that in turn support making serotonin for you, which your brain then uses to make you feel good. We are not promoting taking pro-biotics, but rather eating pro-biotic rich foods to naturally increase the amount of these bacteria available in your system. There are more than those mentioned and myriad ways to include them in your diet, so why not try to put one thing in every day?
So depression can come at us from almost anywhere: Seasonally, major upsets in life, chemical imbalances in our good ole’ noggin (whether from our diet or heredity), or just out of the blue you’re feeling blue. Hopefully the actions mentioned and the foods listed will help boost your mood and get you out of it; but if not reach out to someone and talk about how you’re feeling, to see if it merits talking to a professional. Until the next time – here’s to your health!