Three hundred and fifty million people suffer from depression, and with depression comes a common feeling of isolation. Depression can also be associated with many physical conditions, including headaches, chronic pain, ADHD, sleep disorders, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fibromyalgia, and more.
Sadly, depression is growing rapidly — 10 times more people are affected by major depression now than in 1945. Depression can be linked with changes in brain chemistry and genetics, but societal changes impact it as well. With significant progress in society in general, such as reduced prejudice, acceptance of gender and sexual orientation, increases in average wealth, and more medical interventions, it would seem we would be less depressed rather than more.
Our modern fast-paced lifestyles have enabled us to become more self-focused and isolated. Our concerns and problems are solely ours and not shared with our community. In non-Westernized societies, individual concerns become group concerns.
The way we perceive the world has also changed, according to psychological studies since the 1950s. Instead of feeling like we have control over what happens to us, we are now more likely to believe we have little control over our lives. The rise in this shift of perspective mimics the rising rate of depression. People who believe they are in control of their fate, however, are more likely to take care of their health, advance their careers, and engage in community roles.
FUEL YOUR MOOD
Research has shown that a healthful diet can minimize risk of severe depression. A whole-foods diet including vegetables, whole grains, meat, and liver can supply the nutrients like B12, folate, B6, and magnesium needed for healthier brain chemistry. Though liver may be hard to stomach for some, it is a powerhouse of energy-supporting nutrients.
Unfortunately, in the United States, processed foods make up 60 percent of grocery store purchases. Foods associated with a higher likelihood of depression include processed meats, sugar-containing foods and drinks, white bread, white potatoes, and alcohol.
Many processed foods contain sugar, which temporarily elevates the happy brain chemical, serotonin. This makes a lifestyle shift particularly challenging for those affected by depression because sugar perpetuates cravings and emotional eating. This is where the support of medical professionals and loved ones is very helpful. Using dietary interventions can be empowering as people discover that they do indeed have control over their lives.
MOVE YOUR BODY
Exercise is an incredible tool to get your endorphins flowing so you feel better, and it can be as simple as taking a leisurely walk. Especially helpful in reducing anxiety symptoms, exercise allows your body to detox excessive energy. When traveling to Cuba for a medical excursion, it was inspiring to see that people affected by depression were prescribed music and dance as a part of their treatment.
Subjects in studies who were on and off antidepressant medications experienced more long-term improvement when they implemented a regular exercise regimen. This can be challenging for many affected by depression because they are also affected by chronic pain. Again, in these instances, it is important to incorporate health professionals who can provide guidance on safe movements.
SETTLE YOUR MIND
In our modern world, we are potentially surrounded by stimuli from the moment we wake until we fall asleep. And, because we are in the habit of being busy, we have to be conscientious about taking breaks to create space for being quiet. The Western world is trying to regain a handle on this by popularizing yoga, tai chi, meditation, and spirituality.
It takes time to make these tools habits, but many find by taking a moment to clear their minds, they actually become more productive. Being mindful about taking time can also help you assess what is simply keeping you busy and what is actually making you happy. This practice further reinforces a feeling of being empowered and in control of your life.
CONNECT AND ENGAGE
Despite having more virtual connectivity, we are more isolated than ever. It’s important to remember that social activities can also be tools for supporting engagement and connecting with those we care about. Exercising with a group or a friend and making time for family or friend dinners provide a healthful outlet both mentally and physically.
For those in situational or chronic depression, taking these steps may seem overwhelming. It’s helpful to take small, achievable steps with those activities that are easiest to begin with that will enable the other more difficult steps to follow. By assembling family, friends, and health professionals, we can share our concerns with a trusted community and create a healthful plan of action.