Author: Sam Foster
Published: Mar 27 2013
Depression is a very serious condition that affects approximately one in ten American adults according to the Centers for Disease Control. It can have negative effects, not only on emotional health, but on physical health as well. Stress and depression have both been linked to increased blood pressure, irregular heart rhythms, and arterial damage. Depression can actually increase the risk of heart attack or coronary artery disease, which makes learning to fight and cope with it all the more important. These lifestyle changes can help both to prevent and to manage depression, but nothing replaces the help of a medical professional.
Taking a short, 15-30 minute walk each day can drastically improve mood and energy levels as well as physical well-being. There is evidence that exercise increases serotonin levels and the firing of certain neurons in the brain, which can naturally combat the chemical effects and causes of depression. It is important to remember that you are exercising to try to make your life better, not because there is something wrong with you or the way that you look. Maintaining a positive self-image is one of the healthiest things that you can do, so walk for yourself, not for anyone else.
Many people prefer to work out indoors, opting for a gym membership rather than those walks outside. However, there have long been links between a lack of vitamin D, and depression, although more research is necessary. Vitamin D is produced when sunlight comes in contact with skin, and new research seems to point to the idea that exposure to sun light can also increase serotonin production, which is important for fighting depression. If you’re working out in the gym, or if exercise isn’t a simple option for you due to physical limitations, spending at least some time in the sun every day can still have a positive effect on your mood. Gardening, reading, and picnics are great ways to get outdoors.
In various studies the use of deep breathing has been shown to reduce stress and combat depression. Transcendental Meditation, which is essentially a combination of deep breathing and focusing the mind on a mantra, word, or phrase, can be used to help steer the mind away from stressful and hopeless thoughts and back toward a positive and productive outlook. This is a great option especially for people who suffer both from depression and anxiety, as it has been shown to allow practitioners to control heart rate as well as breathing.
Although food is not a solution to depression, maintaining a balanced and nutritional diet can positively affect mental health over the long term. There is evidence emerging that consuming omega-3 fatty acids, found primarily in fish can increase mood and mental performance, whereas eating large amounts of trans-fats from processed and fast food can have the opposite effect.
For someone already struggling through depression, it is critical to identify and take advantage of your own natural support system. For many people this means family, for some it is friends, and for some it is a supportive community, such as a church group or great coworkers. It is easy to feel alone and hopeless, but almost everyone has someone around them who cares, and that person cannot help until they know that there is a problem. Reaching out can be difficult, but it can make all the difference.
Those who suffer from depression often feel as though the problems they face today are insurmountable, and are greater than any they have ever faced before. It is can be very useful to remember a time when you successfully overcame hurdles or survived difficult times. Focusing on the tools that you’ve already developed and successfully used in the past can remind you that you are strong and capable, and hopefully help you to access those tools again.
There are various types of depression, and there is no silver bullet that will work every time. However, being able to focus on actionable steps that are oriented toward problem solving can at least eliminate the feeling of powerlessness that is so often overwhelming. If a specific problem, obstacle, or mistake is haunting you, focus on real things that you can do to make it better. Doing something positive for others can also offer a reminder of your own self-worth. If possible try doing some volunteer work. Nothing can quite match the mood-elevation that comes from a selfless act of kindness, and seeing gratitude on the faces of others can remind you of people and things in your life that make it worthwhile.
Sam Foster is a health writer with a passion for running, swimming, and cycling. When he's not gearing up for his next Iron Man or triathlon he writes for St. Luke's Hospital, one of the nation's top hospitals in heart care.
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