If you are suffering from depression, it is important that you seek mental health help and guidance from a mental health professional. Additionally, there are several things you can do to cope with depression, and improve your mood and quality of life.
Depression is a medical condition that negatively affects the way you feel, think, and acts.
And per research, depression is not just a state of a chemical imbalance in the brain, but a result of a complex interplay of causative events including genetics, stressful life events, and faulty mood regulation in the brain.
Also while chemical imbalance is involved, according to Harvard Health Publishing, it is a matter of more than just one chemical imbalance, rather, there are millions, even billions of chemical reactions that influence your mood, your perceptions, and how you experience life.
Unfortunately, depression is quite common causing major debility and affecting one in five Americans in their lifetime, according to the National Network of Depression Centers.
If you are living with depression you know depression makes everyday life quite challenging. And what makes it so hard is the sadness and gloom, the lack of energy, and a feeling of despair accompanied by helplessness.
Plus, when you are depressed, the things that can help you cope with depression are the last things you feel like doing. You find it difficult to make lifestyle changes that can immensely help lift the cloud of depression.
So, how can one cope and deal with depression to improve their quality of life and live a healthier life?
In this post, we will discuss steps one can take to clear the blinding darkness and despair of depression and cope with depression naturally.
The following are impactful ways you can deal with and fight depression to reclaim your mental health.
Disclaimer: Please seek help from a trained mental health professional. Please do not stop taking your medications without advice from your doctor. Also note, this post is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or therapist.
How to cope with depression naturally
Eat nutritious food
The first thing to do is to keep clear of the bad food that is likely to make your mood worse.
Avoid sugar and processed foods.
These types of foods only make your mood and depression worse. Sugar gives your brain a high surge of glucose that is quickly depleted causing a sudden slump in energy level making you feel tired and fatigued.
The brain needs an even keel glucose level like you will find in whole grains and vegetables. Whole grains and vegetables also contain fiber that enables the glucose to be processed and used at an even slower rate. And this keeps glucose levels in the brain even and your mood happier.
One of the biggest problems we have in the modern-day diet is eating non-food foods. These are the processed, sugar-laden, transfats-laden fake foods. Eating these foods leads to inflammation that starts in the gut.
Inflammation in the gut leads to the leaky gut- a permeable gut lining that sends toxins and food particles into the bloodstream firing up inflammation throughout the body, including the brain.
This can lead to a derangement in neuropathways and neurotransmitters that affect mood and thoughts including your happy hormone, serotonin.
Also, keep in mind that 90 % of serotonin is produced in the gut. Serotonin is your happiness neurotransmitter. And when your stomach is inflamed the helpful bacteria that produce serotonin die and you are left with the bad bacteria and yeast such as candida. This then causes many health problems including depression and anxiety.
Read more on how leaky gut leads to depression here.
Additionally, when you eat an array of whole foods, you get vital nutrients such as B vitamins, minerals such as magnesium, manganese, selenium, vitamin D, and more that affect brain health and impact your mood.
For example, vitamin B 9 or folate is important in the synthesis of homocysteine. And Homocysteine is a toxin that builds up in the brain when there isn’t enough folate causing depressive symptoms.
Think also of iron and vitamin B12. Any deficiencies in these elements cause anemia which causes one to feel very tired all the time. Plus vitamin B 12 also affects your nerves and has many other effects on the body.
While anemia is not depression, the brain feels the same.
Many of the nutrients you need also impact thyroid health and some deficiencies such as selenium can cause hypothyroidism and depression symptoms.
Eat healthy fats such as omega 3 fatty acids, from sources such as fish and shellfish. You can also supplement with fish oil omega 3 capsules.
And consume enough protein and whole carbs. Low carb is good but no carb will make depression worse.
Supplements for depression
Always discuss supplementation with your doctor first. Some supplements can interact with other meds you are on and you need the doctor to follow up in case of other side effects as well.
So what supplements are helpful when it comes to improving depression naturally?
Vitamin D plays many roles in the body and may influence mental health and depression. Research shows that many people who have depression are also vitamin D deficient..
Vitamin D is anti-inflammatory and research finds that individuals with depression also have elevated inflammatory markers.
Also, vitamin D affects calcium balance and calcium affects GABA and glutamate signaling in the brain.
Per research, “Vitamin D modulates the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, which regulates the production of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the adrenal cortex and protects against the depletion of serotonin and dopamine.” ( Menon, V., Kar, S. K., Suthar, N., & Nebhinani, N. (2020). Indian journal of psychological medicine).
B vitamins such as folate, B12, and B 6 are essential in many neurological functions, including nerve activities and mood regulation. These vitamins are required for the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, according to research.
Research showed that taking folate can improve treatment-resistant depression while vitamin B 12 helps to improve symptoms of major depressive disorder.
Additionally, persons deficient in B vitamins are more likely to have depression, research finds. So if you have depression and think you are likely not consuming foods rich in these vitamins, you may look to supplementation to improve your mood.
Zinc is a trace mineral that is important for both biological and physiological processes in the brain. Zinc is found in foods such as red meat, seafood such as oysters and so a deficiency can occur with less intake of such food.
Studies do show that there is a relationship between zinc deficiency and depression, and that supplementing with zinc improved symptoms.
Magnesium is one of the most important minerals in the human body and for central nervous system function. Magnesium also plays a role in lowering inflammation and has an effect on the stress response all of which may affect depression according to research.
While there is a need for further research, it is evident that there is a relationship between depression and magnesium deficiency.
According to studies, saffron works as well as some anti-depressants in treating depression. Per a 2013 study in Integrated Medicine, supplementing with saffron improved symptoms in adults with major depressive disorder.
However, larger studies and for a longer period are needed to firmly establish saffron’s efficacy in the treatment of depression.
SAMe is a naturally occurring molecule in the body and is a methyl donor involved in the synthesis of many neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
And SAMe antidepressant effects have been a focus of many scientific studies that have found that SAMe has the same efficacy as tricyclic antidepressants (source).
SAMe relies on adequate levels of folate and vitamin B 12 so optimal levels of those B vitamins are important.
But while certain research found efficacy in SAMe, further studies are needed. However, some studies found that SAMe interacts with some medications such as Tramadol, and many others and so it is very important to check with your doctor to review all the medications you are on.
Also, some studies found SAMe may increase mania in bipolar disorder.
Some studies show potential for 5HTP as a treatment for depression but research is still quite limited. And while 5HTP is readily available OTC in the US, caution is advised due to potentially serious complications called serotonin syndrome that can occur in an overdose.
And if you are on other antidepressants, serotonin syndrome can occur. Again let your doctor know before supplementing.
St. Johns Wort
St. John’s wort has been used for years to treat depression. In this 2016 study, St Johns’s wort showed better efficacy than placebo in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.
But the study was limited and more research is needed. Also, it is very important to let your dr know due to potential interactions with other meds that can lead to serious reactions.
Reduce stress…or learn healthy ways to cope with stress
Carrying all your worries around you all the time is exhausting mentally and is bad for depression. It is therefore important to find ways to relax and let go even if just for a while.
Find simple things that help lift your mood. With depression, you find that you may not enjoy things you used to do.
But engaging in these activities even just a little will improve your mood so next time you can do even more.
- Try to take up a hobby you loved and restart. Or even learn a new hobby to help you relax and destress after hard days.
Do you need ideas? Here is a list of 14 hobbies perfect for depression or anxiety sufferers. Pick an easy one at the beginning and you can engage in others when you feel better.
- Practice yoga and meditation
- Have routines
- Avoid procrastination
- Break tasks into tiny small steps
- Make lists that are manageable
- Use the times you have more energy to cook and complete some tasks
Here are a few more ways to avoid stress.
There is something therapeutic about writing things down. Sometimes we are so burdened by our thoughts that we need a way to release them. Journaling does that.
It is almost as if you share these thoughts with a trusted friend. Also, journaling helps you to reflect and gain perspective. You start to see things clearly Nd unburden yourself and this eventually helps you to feel better.
Get a cute journal and start a routine of journaling every day. You can journal at night or morning as part of your daily routine.
A powerful practice for when you are depressed is to practice gratitude journaling. Writing down things you are grateful for truly changes your mindset from one of negativity and lack to one of abundance.
The result is gratitude and happier feelings. This will help you feel lighter and happier lifting the weight of depressive feelings. It is almost like a rainbow in a rainy cloudy sky.
And the good thing about practicing gratitude is that the more you do it, the more you manifest more good things.
It is a powerful way of changing not only how you feel but your current situation that may be making you feel depressed.
Just grab a pretty notebook or journal and dedicate certain times or any time you feel like gratitude journaling.
And you can alternate free journaling with gratitude journaling so that you are also freely expressing your feeling, and worries as well.
Having journal prompts to jump-start your writing may be helpful sometimes. You can try these 38 journal prompts for self-love and mental health so you are not stuck wondering what to write about.
Exercise is a phenomenal way you improve your mood. But when you are depressed you may find it hard to do. So start small.
Just take a short walk outside for 15- 30 minutes, and increase your time gradually. When you exercise your heart rate goes up and you improve blood circulation into the brain.
Plus, exercise releases endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine -the feel-good chemicals in the brain that helps you feel happier.
Did you ever hear of a runner’s high? It is that happy exhilarated feeling that you get after vigorous exercise.
And too, when you exercise regularly, your self-image improves and also boosts your confidence which in turn can change the way you think and feel about yourself. All these positive effects can eventually lift your depression.
Make a plan to take a daily walk, or even go to the gym if you stand being in the gym. If all of that sounds terrible, how about blare some dance music up and dance? It will have the same effect as exercise.
Seeking and nurturing social connections
The last thing you may feel like doing is being with people when you are depressed. But it is so very necessary. Isolation just makes you go deeper into depression getting more and more trapped in negative thoughts.
Reach out to loved ones and spend some time with friends and family. Nurture these relationships with phone calls even when you can’t physically be together all you feel too depleted to visit.
It all takes enormous effort when you are in depression but just like medicine, you need it.
Join a club or volunteer in your neighborhood so you cant find and be with others who care about the same things as you. This in turn will expand your social circle so you have more people to be around and more things to do.
No, it is not easy, and again this is for someone suffering mild to moderate depression. These activities will improve your mood, and help you avoid relapsing back into depression.
Spend time outdoors in nature
Going outside is another very emotionally uplifting activity to engage in. You can go on a hike with friends which combines friendship and connection with physical activity boosting your mood even more. Also when you spend time in nature you get plenty of sunlight.
And sunlight boosts your vitamin D levels and serotonin and improves sleep and mood.
In fact, this 2012 research found that spending time in nature improved mood, and cognition in people with major depressive disorder.
Quit your job
Please don’t just quit your job. Have a plan. I know how it is when you hate your job. Yes, it is very depressing. That is why I include it here. But bills still come so we have to be strategic.
So as you plan to ultimately quit your job if it is sucking your joy, look for alternatives. We are living in the gig economy and I am sure you have marketable skills.
Take a part-time job while you plan an escape route. Start a business. Like to write? Start a blog or freelance writing. Find something that brings you joy and turn it into a career.
You will be so much happier than being forever stuck in a job you hate that likely makes you even more depressed.
Improve your sleep quality
Sleep is not a choice when it comes to good mental health. It is a must. And it is quite important that you are deliberate with your sleep hygiene. Protect it. This means you need to establish good habits and routines around your sleep.
Try to get at least 7-8 hours each night going to bed at the same time each night and waking up at the same time each morning.
Avoid screen two hours before bed. Keep your bedroom cozy and comfortable. Eat for sleep. And wake up at the same time each day.
When sleep is disordered it leads to mood problems, even depression. And then you find that you either can’t fall asleep or when too depressed you may sleep all the time making the situation worse.
For ideas on routines, here is a perfect nighttime routine for a calm night’s sleep.
Avoid toxic habits
True, habits can make us or break us. Some habits can lead to depression and avoiding those habits can improve depression. Here is a list of some habits to stop:
- junk food
All these habits just make depression worse. Alcohol is a depressant so drinking may feel good at first but soon you find you are crying or fighting and feeling miserable.
Also while drinking, you may make bad choices and engage in behavior you later regret making you even more miserable.
Smoking narrows your blood vessels so you are not even getting enough oxygen to your brain.
And being so dependent on someone just causes you misery. If you are both unhappy it is best to simply go separate ways and you will find you are stronger than you think.
Drugs simply drug one’s whole life into a total mess cause misery and depression. Please seek help if you are caught in this situation.
Reframe negative thoughts
I know this sounds pretty woo woo, but it is a very effective strategy in boosting good health. Many a time when depressed negative thoughts are involved.
These often include self-image, thoughts of inadequacy, likeability, ability, physical looks, achievements, and so on. Our thoughts are powerful. So powerful that they can change the brain.
Start by affirming yourself. Write a set of affirmations and choose one to say to yourself till your brain hears the message and your brain will and start making new neural connections to reflect what you are telling yourself.
Your brain listens to the messages you send up there and files then in your reticular activating system and the truth. Build new confidence by sending only affirming positive messages. Redirect all those negative thoughts.
Also, when you have these negative thoughts, they fire up the stress response releasing cortisol into the circulation in the brain-damaging some brain cells, especially in the hippocampus, your memories, and emotions center.
To avoid ruminating thoughts, try to get active, no matter how hard you find it to move. Call a friend, or family. Connecting and speaking to others will help you quiet those thoughts. It is hard to do these things I know when you are depressed but try your best because it will help.
Change your immediate environment
No, you don’t need to move. Not unless you can. That can help sometimes.
But it is extremely important that you try your best to keep your home decluttered, clean, and organized. Now, this is hard when you are depressed. But take teeny tiny steps, cleaning and picking up small areas every day.
Try not to let things like dishes pile up. Wash immediately after use. Do a small load of laundry daily and immediately fold and put them away.
When your environment looks neat and orderly you feel better. It is not easy, and it is not a cure, none of these tips will cure depression. But they help.
You can also rearrange or redecorate if your energy allows. Nothing extreme or expensive.
Add some cushions and pops of color around, maybe a few plants, and brighten things up. This may be pretty important around January when the weather is bleak and season depression may be acute.
So as you can see, while depression is insidious and difficult to deal with, there are some lifestyle things one can do that would help.
It is not easy to start doing any of it when all you want to do is sleep, but making a decision to take even the tiniest steps and giving yourself grace will help.
Learn to practice loving self-care to cope with depression and improve your mood. If you have any other ideas not discussed here, I would love to hear them. Tell me in the comments. How do you cope with depression?