Depression is a common and debilitating condition that has become more prevalent in the 21st century. There are many explanations for this problem – social isolation, stressful lifestyle, Western diet, environmental issues, biochemical imbalances, genetics, etc.
I have not been immune from depression myself. I know too well what it feels like feeling numb, despondent and even desperate at times. Luckily, I have the ‘tools’ to boost my serotonin levels, a well-researched neurotransmitter, deficiency of which is associated with depression and depression-related behaviours.
If you suffer from depression it is important that you seek medical help as soon as possible, before it gets out of control. However, here a few simple things you can do yourself to help you manage depression:
Get adequate sleep – research shows there is a positive relationship between lack of sleep and depression. As serotonin is a precursor to melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, it is suggested that serotonin deficiency may be implicated in lack of sleep and vice versa.
To ensure adequate sleep avoid watching TV and using electronic devices at least 1 hour before bed, avoid heavy meals and stimulants such as caffeine before the bedtime and follow a regular bedtime routine. You can read more about sleep hygiene here.
Exercise regularly – research shows that exercise can reduce anxiety and depression; individuals who physically exercise regularly have a lower frequency of depression whereas a lack of exercise is associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression. The mechanisms are not clear and there are several hypotheses. For example, endorphin hypothesis suggest that exercise helps to release ‘happy chemicals’ endorphins, which are related to a positive mood and overall well-being.
Try meditation and / or yoga – studies show that both yoga and meditation promote physical and mental health through various postures and the regulation of breathing. You can download a meditation app called Headspace here.
Have oily fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel, lake trout, Alaskan halibut, herring, tuna) three times per week. Research shows consumption of oily fish, rich in omega 3 fatty acids, play important roles in emotional regulation. Recently a Japanese study flagged up that individuals following the traditional Japanese diet high in fish consumption experienced low depressive symptoms, unlike the individuals who followed a westernised Japanese diet pattern.
Follow the Mediterranean dietary pattern (MDP) – studies show that the MDP is associated with a lower prevalence of depression. Mediterranean diet (MD) is based on the traditional dietary pattern of the Mediterranean countries.
MD is characterized by a high consumption of plant foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, cereals, nuts, and seeds), an abundant use of olive oil, moderate intake of red wine with meals, moderate consumption of fish, seafood, fermented dairy products (yoghurt and cheese), poultry and eggs. Sweets, red meat and processed meat are consumed only rarely (e.g. twice a month).
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