Therapy and prescription medication are crucial tools in helping individuals cope with clinical depression, and both have a proven track record of success over a considerable number of years. Recently, however, it has been found that there are natural ways to augment these traditional treatments. "Lifestyle changes are a very important part of treatment," says Ian A. Cook, MD, director of UCLA's Depression Research Program.
Routine is the First Step
Focusing upon a regular routine is very beneficial for depression sufferers. Depression can destroy the basic structure of daily life, causing one day to blend indistinguishably into the next. This absence of structure can also worsen symptoms of depression. Creating a carefully planned routine can help combat many aspects of debilitating depression safely and naturally.
The best ways to develop a sensible routine are to concentrate on lifestyle changes that can improve one's overall health, not just ease or address the depression. These include eating a balanced diet, setting a pattern for sleeping and waking times, establishing simple, attainable goals each day, finding some type of responsibility, whether it means returning to work part-time or volunteering, and making time to relax at some point each day.
Exercise has Amazing Benefits
Numerous studies have confirmed that regular physical activity can improve mood. Even just 20 minutes of moderate exercise each day is sufficient to have a significant impact upon attitude. The type of exercise does not seem to matter. Walking, jogging, swimming, or riding a bicycle are equally effective options, and which is chosen is purely a matter of personal preference. The reasons for the connection between physical exertion and mood are not clear, but there are several theories based upon recent research which have been presented. These include:
* Exercise releases endorphins, the chemicals in the brain that improve mood, which can alleviate depression symptoms.
* Physical activity reduces the impact of certain chemicals in the immune system that have been known to exacerbate depression.
* Working out raises body temperature, which can create a feeling of calm and peacefulness.
While there have been a large number of studies on the physical benefits of regular exercises, the psychological benefits of regular exercise are well documented as well. Some of these benefits include:
* Setting and meeting exercise goals helps improve confidence and self-esteem. The physical results of regular exercise - weight loss, better muscle tone, and improved appearance - can also help engender self-confidence and an increased feeling of self worth.
* Exercise is a distraction that can provide an escape from the damaging cycle of negativity associated with depression and anxiety disorders. Regular exercise allows an individual to remove their focus from their problems, and concentrate instead on accomplishing the task presented by the exercise routine.
* Many individuals who engage in regular exercise do so in a public place like a health club or a public park. This makes it easier to socialize and meet new people. Even smiling or waving at a neighbor as they pass on the sidewalk can help boost one's mood.
* Taking positive steps to manage depression is an effective coping mechanism. Many individuals who suffer with depression self-medicate with alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription medication, or other harmful substances and behaviors. Exercising is a way to replace those dangerous practices with something much more uplifting and much more effective.
Other Ways to Fight Depression Naturally
Exercise is not the only way to ward off depression and anxiety naturally. Part of the work also involves changing thought patterns. "When you're depressed, you become trained to see the world and yourself in a negative way," says Dean MacKinnon, MD, associate professor of psychiatry at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins University Hospital. These negative thoughts can last for months or even years after the physical symptoms of depression have passed.
Automatic thoughts are linked to the subconscious and can be hard to control. The secret is finding ways to manage and change them without allowing oneself to be pulled under the misery once again. Some of the best ways to do this include:
* Reflect on when and where negative feelings most often creep up. It can be difficult to catch the self indulging in automatic thought patterns. Reconstructing the past can help, as can analyzing potential triggers. Eventually, these thoughts can be stopped before they have a chance to impact one's state of mind.
* Clear thoughts of negativity when automatic thinking is suspected. Practice breathing exercises or take a short walk. This mental break can be crucial.
* Be logical and try to gain some perspective on the situation. Do not exaggerate negative circumstances; simply try to apply reason and inject a bit of reality.
* Reach out to others for support. Friends, family, support groups, or a licensed therapist can all help share the burden of depression or can simply provide a safe outlet for any other issue that warrants discussion.
* Many natural extracts and nutritional supplements have been promised to reduce depression symptoms, but these supplements can interact negatively with prescription medications. Always check with a physician or treating therapist before beginning a supplement therapy.
* Shake up the routine once in a while by striking out to try something new. Take a class, visit the library, go to a museum, volunteer, or just get out of the house for a few hours and do something out of the ordinary. This creates a sense of excitement that can combat depression symptoms.
* Make time for things that are enjoyable. Depression does not mean one must stop laughing, having fun, or embracing humor. Allow laughter to slowly return and welcome happiness when it comes along. Even when having a good time feels like a chore, it is important to persevere.
The Bottom Line
Depression can only be cured by a combination of treatments, but a more natural approach can lessen dependence on prescription medications and therapy, thereby speeding healing. Using these natural methods to augment traditional treatments is a wonderful way to take an active part in recovery.