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Understanding Depression

Alternative Treatments for Depression
Though depression might sap your energy, exercise can help improve your mood.
Though depression might sap your energy, exercise can help improve your mood.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

When you're depressed, you wonder whether you'll ever feel good again. You can often beat mild to moderate feelings of depression with home remedies. Here are some simple remedies you might try:

Talk about It. Often when we feel depressed, we isolate ourselves, not wanting to talk with anyone. If you're feeling down, force yourself to reach out to others. Have lunch with a sympathetic friend. Invite a close relative over for tea. Talking out your feelings is cathartic, can make you feel less isolated and alone, and can help you gain new insights into your situation.

If friends or relatives can't provide enough support, seek out a qualified mental health therapist or pastoral counselor, or look for a support group. Various support groups are available (many of them free) for a wide range of needs, including bereavement and chronic illness.

Get out and move.

When depression knocks on your door, it's easy to want to pull up the covers and hide in bed all day. That's the worst thing you can do. Mild to moderate exercise is one of the best home remedies available for fighting the blues. It's been shown to be as effective against certain types of depression as antidepressant medications (without the side effects).

Regular exercise releases endorphins, the body's own "feel good" chemicals, and can also help you feel more empowered and in charge. Any exercise helps, but aerobic exercise that gets your pulse up to between 70 and 80 percent of the maximum recommended for your age group (220 minus your age, multiplied by .7 or .8), four or five times a week, works best. If you haven't been exercising before, start with a brisk 15 or 20 minute walk three times a week. Even if you can't do that much, just get out and engage in some type of physical activity.

Try a change of scenery.

Depression caused by being stuck in a routine or by stressful life events can often be eased by taking a vacation for a few days. Don't think of a change of scenery as running away from your troubles. Instead, consider it a way to give yourself a much-needed break from your obligations and perhaps get a fresh perspective on your problems.

Don't junk out.

Often when we're stressed, we eat high-fat, high-sugar junk foods, but foods that run down your physical condition certainly don't help depression. Be sure to eat a balanced, low-fat, high-fiber diet. In particular, be sure to get an adequate amount of folate-400 milligrams to 800 milligrams per day-and omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in tuna, salmon, and mackerel. A deficiency in those nutrients has been linked to depression. Also, avoid caffeine. It can interfere with sleep (which can make you feel run down), and insomnia has been linked to depression.

Accept and feel your feelings.

Often we feel depressed because we resist negative feelings like sadness. In order for healing to take place, mental health experts say we have to be willing to accept a loss and experience all the accompanying feelings without shame or guilt.

Get a balance of rest.

People who are depressed either sleep too much or have difficulty sleeping and become exhausted, which can further contribute to depression. If you find yourself oversleeping, set your alarm, get up, and exercise instead of sleeping late. If you're having difficulty sleeping, stay away from caffeinated beverages, don't exercise right before bed-time, and try a soothing night-cap such as hot milk or an herbal tea (not alcohol).

Write it down.

Write out your feelings may help you accept the loss or painful events that upset you.
Write out your feelings may help you accept the loss or painful events that upset you.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

There's something powerful about writing down how you feel. It gives you an outlet for your emotions and can help you to assess your fears, feelings, and options a little more objectively.

Say goodbye.

One of the difficulties of losing a loved one is accepting the death and saying goodbye. Death and dying experts suggest writing letters to departed loved ones, telling them everything you wanted to say when they were here. Another healthy way to say goodbye and honor loved ones is with private rituals of commemoration on the anniversary of their death or at other special times like holidays. It doesn't matter how small the ceremony is. Light a candle. Say a prayer. Write a poem. Give yourself permission to re-experience those feelings of grief and say goodbye as many times and in as many ways as you need.

Reconsider your birth control.

If you're taking birth control pills and you think your depression may be related to them, ask your physician for a different formulation or try another form of birth control. If you change your birth control and you're still feeling depressed, you may want to seek professional help.

Try Saint-John's-wort.

There is some evidence that shows Saint-John's-wort, an herbal supplement, is effective in treating mild depression. However, studies show that it is not effective in treating major depression. Talk with your doctor about side effects. Saint-John's-wort can interfere with some medications, such as antidepressants, birth control pills, and drugs to treat cancer and HIV.

Use laughter.

Of course, the last thing you feel like doing when you're depressed is laughing. But research has shown that laughter is a powerful antidepressant. Rent funny movies, listen to comedy albums, or check out a comedy club.

Nix the alcohol.

Many people reach for an alcoholic drink when they feel down. Resist the urge! Alcohol makes you feel worse, since it's a depressant.

Go for the relaxation.

Try stress-reducing techniques like meditation, deep "belly" breathing, progressive relaxation, biofeedback, etc.

Ask for practical help.

If you've just given birth and you find yourself feeling depressed and overwhelmed, get help coping with the new baby. When friends and family aren't available, consider hiring some professional help, especially at first.

Try SAD lights.

If your problem is winter depression, high-intensity, full-spectrum lights have been shown to be very effective for eight out of ten SAD sufferers. Individuals who are exposed to these special lights usually experience relief within seven to ten days. You can purchase or lease these lights through mental health professionals; use them only under a professional's care.

Consider professional support.

While mild to moderate depression can often be helped with home remedies, it's important to get help when you need it. If you've tried self-care strategies and they haven't helped, if your depression lasts for several weeks, or if you're having suicidal thoughts or fantasies, don't be afraid to get professional help.

Depression can be a very serious condition. While in the midst of depressive cycle your tendency might be to close your self off from the world. However, depression will not just simply go away and there are some steps you can take to hasten its departure.

©Publications International, Ltd.

About the Author:

Betty Burrows, Ph.D.:

Dr. Betty Burrows received her doctorate in clinical psychology from DePaul University in Chicago where she coordinates the counseling program. She also maintains a private practice specializing in stress management and related issues.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.