While it’s completely normal to feel blue or sad – everyone experiences those feelings from time to time – what’s not normal are persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest that interfere with daily life, causing pain and angst for you and the people that care about you.
Depression is a serious mental health condition that affects an estimated 19 million American adults. While there are many successful drug options to treat depression, they don’t always work, or are not a preferred option for everyone. A study from the National Institute of Mental Health showed that fewer than 50 percent of people treated with antidepressants became symptom-free, and this was even after trying two different medications. Sometimes medications will work just for a short time, with people soon slipping back into depression.
So, what to do? There are plenty of alternatives to medication, many of which are natural and without the possible side effects that traditional medication causes, like fatigue, lethargy, nausea, restlessness, insomnia, dry mouth or headaches. Other remedies include behavior modification and taking charge of your everyday life.
St. John’s Wort
It’s an herb whose use dates back to the ancient Greeks and, although it’s not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat depression in the United States, it’s widely used in Europe and can help with mild to moderate depression. The chemicals hyericin and hyperforin contained in the herb act on messengers in the nervous system that regulate mood. A caution though: it’s natural, but St. John’s wort is not without some side effects, and can interfere with a number of medications (including antidepressants, birth control pills, blood-thinning medications, chemotherapy drugs, HIV/AIDS medications and drugs to prevent organ rejection following a transplant). Some side effects may include trouble sleeping, vivid dreams, restlessness, anxiety, skin rash or diarrhea.
Like St. John’s wort, this dietary supplement is not approved by the FDA to treat depression in the U.S., but is prescribed in Europe to treat depression. It’s a synthetic form of a chemical that occurs naturally in the body, S-adenosylmethionine, but it can also be made in a laboratory. SAMe, taken by mouth or injection, may reduce symptoms of depression; several studies have demonstrated that it might be as effective as some prescription medications. Although it is safe for most people, it may sometimes cause things like gas, vomiting, diarrhea, mild insomnia and nervousness, especially at higher doses. SAMe should be avoided if you are taking a product that contains dextromethorphan (like Robitussin DM, others) or a medication for depression.
Setting daily goals is a way to make you feel accomplished and useful. When you’re feeling blue, it’s likely you find difficulty getting anything done – that’s why it’s good to push yourself with reminders. A short “to-do” list can help put structure and meaning into your life.
Those feel-good chemicals known as endorphins get quite a boost from exercise. Countless studies support exercise as an effective and significant treatment for depression, by itself or used in conjunction with other treatments. (Think about it: have you ever seen a sad-looking person at the gym?)
Depression can lead some people to overeat, and reach for the wrong foods (like those high in fat, calories and sugar). Before too long, you’re stuck in a cycle of guilt and regret and eat more to try to calm yourself. Getting in control of your eating will help you feel better. There’s also evidence that foods with Omega-3 fatty acids – fish like salmon, tuna, mackerel and sardines, and ground flaxseed, soy, tofu and canola oil – can help with depression, sleep and anxiety.
Get Adequate Sleep
Depression can make it tough to sleep; on the flip side, not sleeping enough can make you feel depressed. Bone up on your “sleep hygiene:” establish a regular relaxing bedtime routine; avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol too close to bedtime; steer clear of large meals too close to bedtime; remove all distractions like computers, TVs and clutter, from your bedroom; keep your bedroom cool (research suggests somewhere around 65 degrees Fahrenheit).
Break From Routine
While a routine for sleep might be good, we mean take a break from your everyday humdrum life. Do something new and different: volunteer, challenge yourself with a language class, learn a new skill, go to a museum. Challenging yourself to do something different, even something outside your comfort zone, can cause chemical changes in your brain (the chemical dopamine is altered), which is associated with pleasure and enjoyment. Can’t knock that for breaking the depressive cycle!