The black blanket. The dark cloud. The monster. Darkness visible. No matter how you describe depression, it can be one of the most debilitating illnesses a person ever experiences-and one that's often very difficult to treat.
While antidepressants such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil play an integral part in helping thousands of people overcome serious depression, there are many natural treatments that can help lift the cloud of darkness and promote a healthier, balanced lifestyle. Whether used alone (for those suffering from mild forms of the illness) or in conjunction with a prescribed drug therapy plan, these natural remedies can play an important role in helping you to manage and overcome this challenging illness.
Change Your Language of Depression
Depression is a physical illness that affects the way we see ourselves and the world around us. Everything seems wrong, pointless, or beyond hope-and the messages we tell ourselves and others can reinforce the chemical imbalance in our bodies that are making us see the world in this way. Negative thoughts and feelings, as "truthful" as they seem to those suffering from depression, compound the effects of the illness. And once they are allowed to take hold, they can quickly take over a person's life.
It's very easy to become tangled in a net of questions for which there are no answers, such as What's wrong with me? and What's the point of living?, without realizing that these negative thoughts and questions have been manufactured by a depressed brain and should not be taken as "reality." By identifying negative talk (including self-talk) as a sign that depression is starting, you can then focus on treating the depression instead of getting trapped into examining your life to find what's wrong when something wrong doesn't actually exist.
How can you know when negative language is the result of depression? There are two answers. First, recognize the patterns of depression. Depression is episodic. Those who suffer from repeated episodes of the illness find that the same questions, worries, feelings, and actions resurface over and over again. Identifying your particular language of depression is the first step to recognizing the illness. Only then can you move forward in treating the depression instead of getting stuck in trying to fix a life that isn't even broken.
The second way to identify the language of depression is to compare your perceptions of events and circumstances in the moment to the way you thought about your life situations in the past. It's all too easy to lose insight into the reality of your situation when depression takes over. People can point out all that is going well, but you just can't see it. Once you lose the ability to reason yourself out of the mood, it's a sign that it's an illness, not an event that is causing your suffering.
Take a Walk
One of the best natural ways to treat depression is exercise. Much like many of the antidepressant medications, such as Celexa or Zoloft, physical movement, especially repetitive movement, has been associated with stimulation of the production and release of mood improving chemicals including the neurotransmitter serotonin, a naturally-occurring substance that has been shown to have beneficial effects for some people experiencing clinical depression. Many people find that they can help to elevate their serotonin levels naturally, simply by taking regular, moderate walks. While medication may still be required, exercise is one more way that people can help to take charge of their recovery.
Unfortunately, even going for a walk can seem like an overwhelming prospect to people who are depressed. In fact, one of the hallmarks of this illness is a lack of motivation to do anything. Fortunately, it's not necessary to be motivated to do something when you're depressed. You do have the ability to do things, even if you don't feel like doing them. Don't wait for the urge to exercise-let yourself know that it's okay to not want to do it, but that you are going move your body anyway. You may find it helpful to enlist the help of a partner who will exercise with you, or you can plan to use the time you walk to listen to a motivational tape. Remember that, by putting one foot in front of the other, you are working to change your brain chemistry, and that every step you take is a step toward recovering from depression.
Try Bright Light Therapy
Like exercise, daily exposure (especially in the morning) to bright light helps to regulate certain neurochemicals that affect mood, and it's critical to managing depression. By entering the eye and striking the retina, the light activates a nerve pathway to the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that significantly influences mood, sleep cycles, appetite, and sex drive. The combination of exercise with exposure to bright light acts as a double whammy against depression and greatly increases your chances of reducing your symptoms. If you live in an area that doesn't receive a lot of sunlight, consider asking your doctor whether you might benefit from using a light box.
Ask for Help
Depression is not an illness you should try to deal with alone. Unfortunately, many who suffer from depression feel that no one could possibly understand or help them. Others become very needy, and caring friends and family members may become exasperated by a depressed person's apparent lack of progress. Still others may find themselves irritable, easy to anger, and combative when someone tries to help. All of these symptoms add pressure to existing relationships and can make it difficult to know how, or whom, to ask for assistance. For many people, the best solution is to consult a professional counselor, psychologist, or therapist who is trained in treating people with depression. Support groups and individuals who have clearly shown a desire and an ability to help are also options. You might find it helpful to enlist the help of several friends and explain that you have an illness and you need help with the illness, not your life. That way you can "spread your needs around" and avoid placing too overwhelming a burden on any one person.
Depression is a serious illness, and recovery takes time. Be patient and loving toward yourself, and give your body and mind the attention, care, and time they need to heal. The natural path of healing from depression is not usually a straight line, but one of good and bad days, small advances, and occasional setbacks. You may learn to manage some symptoms easily, while others may take more time or effort to control. By following a comprehensive treatment plan that includes these natural remedies, however, you can empower yourself to actively combat depression, renew your vitality, and regain your love of life.