Did you know that more than 16 million Americans struggle with depression
and up to 23 percent of women between the ages of 40 and 50 are currently
taking prescribed antidepressant medications? Depression can be a debilitating
condition that can prevent people from living a healthy and full life,
and in the United States, it is an increasing concern as the number of
cases are on the rise.
“While antidepressants, when combined with counseling, provide an
effective avenue for healing it is not the only way,” says
Michael Stouder, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at
Mission Heritage Medical Group. “For more mild cases of depression, we have seen some great results
from a more natural approach to healing,” he states.
“Practices, such as yoga and meditation, that involve the conscious
relaxation of muscles, have been shown to decrease the symptoms of stress
and anxiety, and evoke feelings of joy and well-being,” says Dr.
Stouder. Other techniques that require intense mental focus, such as tai
chi, can also help you to develop a conscious awareness of the negative
thoughts, and teach you how to observe them without necessarily engaging
with them. “Several studies have shown that these simple techniques
when combined with healthy eating and cardiovascular exercise can help
relieve the symptoms of depression,” he says.
So, what steps can you take to feel happier, naturally?
Practice conscious awareness through deep breathing exercises.
When we are depressed, the sad and negative thoughts become overwhelming.
Deep breathing, and focusing on the breath, allows us to take a step back,
in our minds, and observe the thoughts and be aware of them, without actually
engaging with them. Dr. Stouder says, “If you think of each of those
negative thoughts as individual people, conscious awareness through deep
breathing exercise is like people watching. You observe the thoughts (people)
coming toward you and then they walk past you, without you interacting
with them.” This process of observing and letting go, allows you
to acknowledge that these thoughts do exist, but realize that they are
nothing more than drifters, passing through, and therefore do not require action.
When we are anxious, stressed or emotionally upset, we tend to take short,
shallow breaths, which causes our body to tense up and release the stress
hormone, cortisol. But when we breathe deeply and slowly, the part of
our brain that is responsible for releasing the hormone that reduces stress
and relaxes muscles is activated.
Kick the simple carbs to the curb.
The food we eat has a big impact on our mental and emotional health. Many
research studies have shown that individuals whose diets are higher in
simple carbohydrates and sugars are more prone to developing depression.
If you’ve ever felt like taking a nap after a big bowl of pasta,
or felt suddenly energetic after eating a slice of cake, only to feel
lethargic minutes later, you have already experienced the adverse effects
that these foods have on our bodies and our moods. “Bread, pasta
and raw sugars serve little or no purpose when it comes to nourishing
the brain. Spikes in blood sugar, caused by these foods not only destabilize
our mood but are also known to contribute to other health conditions such
as coronary heart disease and diabetes,” says Dr. Stouder.
“When we are experiencing symptoms of depression, our reaction is
to find a quick fix,” Dr. Stouder adds. “But eating a chocolate
bar or a slice of pizza is only contributing to the problem.” By
adapting our eating habits and swapping out the quick fixes found in simple
carbs, for the more nutritious complex carbs found in foods such as whole
grain cereals, rice, fruits, vegetables and legumes, we will have a long-term
solution that offers more than temporary relief. It provides a permanent
path to healing and balance.
“Many of my patients say they just don’t have time to exercise,”
says Dr. Stouder, “and I can completely appreciate that. But what
we need to realize is that exercise is just as vital to our health as
water or food is. It nourishes our body and our brain by providing full
body stimulation and triggering the production of mood-elevating chemicals
such as serotonin that help to keep our bodies and minds balanced.”
Studies have shown that as little as 30 minutes of moderate exercise, three
days a week, can help reduce the symptoms of depression; and, if maintained
over time, it may eliminate them altogether. “On top of the physical
rewards that come with exercise, we’ve also found that exercising
to manage depression, gives patients a sense of empowerment and control
over their condition. It provides a greater sense of accomplishment, and
self-confidence,” Dr. Stouder suggests. It also has the added benefit
of keeping your heart healthy and your body in shape, which boosts your
Meditation, healthy eating and exercise are a winning combination to help
fight the symptoms of depression and offer a natural path to healing,
but in more severe cases of depression an alternative route that involves
a combination of antidepressants and therapy may be required. “If
you are experiencing signs of depression, talk to your health care provider.
They will be able to design a care and healing program that is right for
you, and get you back on the right path to living a full, happy life,”
Dr. Stouder concludes.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.