In my podcast “A Natural Prescription to Heal Depression” I discussed 12 ways to treat depression naturally.
I like to think of those 12 natural treatments as being part of a first aid kit for when you’re feeling blue. Your first aid kit at home has bandages, ointments, alcohol wipes, a thermometer, and other things to treat small injuries either entirely or until more help arrives.
Make a mental health first aid kit with these 12 ideas. My podcast goes into more detail, so this blog is more like the Cliff Notes to help you out in a pinch.
Breath is your life force. Without it, you are not here. Don’t take it for granted. Deep breathing is not only relaxing, it’s been scientifically proven to affect the heart, the brain, digestion, the immune system — and maybe even the expression of genes.
What is a formal breathing practice? You can find one that I will guide you through on my website.
#2: Mood Diary
Keep a Mood Diary so you can become more aware of your own moods and notice what moods are passing through you. This can just be a list or you can go into more details.
This is an opportunity to be completely in the feeling or mood and write from it learning from it completely while not letting any other part of you push it away. When it fully moves through you because of your writing it all out you can see it differently. What can it tell you? As you continue to journal, you’ll get better at detecting where your reactions are coming from so you can feel them without becoming them.
#3: Self Compassion
There is too much here to cover in one blog post. Instead I wrote this one about practicing Self Compassion.
#4: Social Contact
Meeting other people will help improve your feelings of connection and reduce feelings of being all alone and loneliness. Take a look at your day and the days ahead. Intentionally plan on meeting people that you want to meet – who meet you in a way that gives you energy. Some people meet a lot of people in a large noisy group where it is impossible to have close meaningful contact. This will not fill this social contact need. Large groups where you are not seen can result in feeling alone and lonely.
#5: Move Your Body
Exercise is not a depression cure-all, but many studies show that moving increases overall well being and decreases melancholy and lethargy. There was a study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology which reported that active workouts boosted endorphins and promoted happiness. This research states that more physically active people reported greater general feeling of enthusiasm than less active people.
Exercise is found to reduce stress and help you sleep better. Exercise stimulates the release of many of the brain chemicals that are decreased in someone who is feeling depressed. What is your favorite exercise? Which is the easiest for you to begin. What does beginning look like in your mind?
Never skip a meal. Keeping your blood sugar stable reduces mood swings.
Eat a serotonin-enhancing diet. Many anti-depressants like Prozac act by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin by receptors in the brain, thereby increasing serotonin levels. But you can increase your brain’s serotonin levels by eating foods that boost your serotonin levels naturally.
Serotonin-enhancing foods include:
- Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as wild salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, and anchovies, which are even higher in omega-3 fatty acids than other fish)
- Healthy fats like coconut oil
- A high protein diet, especially proteins high in tryptophan, like free-range turkey
- Saffron: A study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology suggested that saffron might increase the levels of serotonin and other chemicals in the brain. The small study, which looked at 38 people over six weeks, found that saffron was as effective as Prozac in reducing symptoms of depression without the side effects of sweating and sexual dysfunction
- Probiotics: The newest findings are indicating that your gut can affect your mood. Apparently it is important to have probiotics active in your digestive tract. When you do not have the necessary bacteria in your gut it can affect your mood. Many people eat yogurt daily, eat fermented foods like sauerkraut or take daily a probiotic tablet
- Caffeine Use: Take a look at your caffeine intake. Caffeine has been shown to reduce serotonin levels as well as cause sleep problems that affect mood. Caffeine can make it harder to fall asleep and stay asleep. Lack of sleep can worsen depression. Since anxiety and depression are so closely linked and caffeine can worsen anxiety it may also help with depressed behaviors
Besides the scientific research out there that supports these herbal supplements, the people that have worked with me have also taught me about what works in regards to herbal supplements. There are two products that they have used which has helped them reduce anxiety and increase their positive moods.
- St John’s Wort is an herb with the most research into its effectiveness in enhancing mood. This is a yellow flowered plant containing many chemical compounds that have been shown to have positive effects on mood.
- The valerian root which is mostly used in the aid of poor sleep and insomnia has been shown to reduce anxiety. I have seen it in the form of pills and tea.
I recommend reading The Food-Mood Solution: All-Natural Ways to Banish Anxiety, Depression, Anger, Stress, Overeating, and Alcohol and Drug Problems–and Feel Good Again* if you’re looking for more information.
Expose yourself to sunlight, which can boost mood and increase Vitamin D levels. If you live somewhere that gets little sun, invest in a therapeutic light box. Nowadays the light box is not that expensive. The the newest light boxes cost as little as $130-150 and meets the criteria for being a very good effective therapy light box.
I suggest you put a therapy light in your depression support kit. You know that there are no medication interactions; and there are almost no side effects, especially if you live in a winter zone of cloudy and dark. The minimal side effects are that some people get headaches or eye strain. But the main side effect is it working too well and getting too hyper.
#8: Nature or “EcoTherapy”
Being in nature is has long been associated with being mindful and meditative, and recently there has been research that documents the mental health benefits of taking a walk in nature to alleviate the symptoms of depression. So combine some of these natural remedies. Walk, bike, run in nature. Meet up for a picnic with friends and a hike. All good choices in intentionally creating habits to enhance and boost positive mood.
Meditation’s positive effects on mood are well documented. Stilling your mind can lift your mood, in addition to a whole host of other health benefits.
Where I suggest you begin is with a program and guided meditation called iRest also known as Yoga nidra or “yogic sleep.” This is a guided meditation that when you use it routinely with consistency it will support you to rest in a sleep-like state.
In this sleep like or trance state you mind can rest and you will experience a calm while you are awake for these 30 minutes. When you listen to the iRest guided meditation you are learning how to be in a lucid sleep state. Which is know to be one of the deepest possible states of relaxation while still maintaining full consciousness. This way of being relaxes and resets your central nervous system.
It is not a fast fix like taking a headache pill. It is more like training a muscle. With practice over time you will notice the difference. You might notice it in that you are not lying awake at night with racing anxious thoughts or you are not reacting quickly in irritation or anger at the people or events in your life. It is a slow and life altering change you make happen, by choosing a time to lay still and listen to this meditation daily for 30 minutes.
You can learn more about this at www.irest.us or read Richard Miller’s Yoga Nidra: A Meditative Practice for Deep Relaxation and Healing.*
You can download the app from iTunes and get started today.
#10: Get a Physical Check-up
Are you in good health? Some things to explore when checking into your health with your doctor:
- See that your hormones are balanced by checking out your thyroid.
- Have a blood test to check on several things.
- Chronic inflammation can lead to depressed mood. Do you have inflammation or a low grade infection?
- Low Vitamin D is associated with depression and even suicidal thinking Do you have a Vitamin D deficiency.
- How are your iron levels? If they are too low what is the best practice for improving this?
#11: Get 8 Hours of Sleep Every Night! Not More and Not Less
Sleep is critical to maintaining or improving mood. It is important to sleep 8 hours a night to keep your mood from plummeting. Sleep disruptions can affect your health negatively in many ways but not getting enough sleep will change your mood, increase your irritability, and have a negative impact on your relationships with others.
Some tips for good sleep:
- Reduce any stimulants in your system by reducing and or stopping your caffeine intake which is in both tea and coffee
- It you have insomnia then do not nap. It disrupts your 24 hour sleep/wake cycle
- Exercise also helps sleeping better at night. Make sure you get your exercise in at least 4 hours before sleep so you don’t get too energized when you need to be powering down
- Alcohol, pain medication and marijuana also disrupt sleep
- Have a “getting ready for sleep” routine where you put aside busy work and focus on calming activities before sleep time
#12: Self Awareness and Therapy
Make efforts to bolster your mental health by looking at yourself honestly, and increasing your match with who you are on the inside with who you are on the outside. It will help to talk it out with a trained mental health practitioner.
Check in with yourself and see what answers you come up with when you ask yourself, why am I feeling depressed?
Does your low mood have something to do with things happening in your life? This has been called situational depression. You might have to get your courage up to ask yourself this question because most likely the answer will involve change and you will be that change agent!
Get to know the different sides of yourself and let other parts of yourself show up in life. It isn’t all about responsibility and looking good for others. Experiment. Who else wants to get out and play in your life? Which parts of you?
Although I believe you can find your way on your own, I also believe you can jumpstart the process with the help of a professional therapist. When you want to learn something more or new sometimes a trained expert is the best guide.
Having your own therapist who can help you identify the stories you tell yourself that may include negative or distorted thinking patterns. You will be guided to find a new narrative. And begin a new chapter with new skills and habits that promote mental and emotional health. A trained and competent therapist can help you to nurture a more positive outlook your life and help you regain a sense of control and pleasure in your life.
Psychotherapy does help people see new choices, perspectives as well as give the skills to gradually build an enjoyable purposeful life.
Remember, the complete information you need for this first aid kit for depression and anxiety is in my podcast. On the podcast page, I’ve included all of the citations and information you need if you want to learn more.
*This post contains affiliate links.