Depression is a fact of life. So the first thing to recognize is that while it is natural to feel shame when experiencing depression, World Health Organization statistics show that 15% of people living in high-income countries report having a depressive episode over their lifetime.
One common misconception about depression is that it is caused by low serotonin—the neurotransmitter associated with mood regulation. While it's true that depressive disorders are often correlated with low serotonin levels, this does not prove causation.
Unfortunately, the medical industry reaches for easy solutions to try and help people coping with depressive/mood disorders, which has resulted in epidemic overprescription of SSRIs and other anti-depressant medications.
While antidepressant prescription still dominates treatment, recent independent meta-analyses show, however, that the placebo effect is as high as 80% when it comes to pharmaceutical intervention.
That tells us that the belief that taking something is going to have a beneficial effect is 80% effective as the actual ingestion of a drug!
In other words, the physiological effect medication may have to alter mood/anxiety neurotransmitters can be actuated without them being present, as the body can kick in its own natural production of these neuro-hormones.
So you can see how the negative thoughts, feelings and low energy associated with depression can be turned around. This is not as simple as saying just think positive—it requires a holistic approach involving mind, body and life changes.
Here are some simple, powerful, daily actions to take that can stimulate and engage your mind/body process to restore balanced mood, self-esteem and well being:
1. Call a friend or help someone.
Reaching out has some powerful effects. First of all, it counteracts the downward spiral of shame and self-loathing that goes with isolation. Part of what triggers and feeds depression is a childhood deficit of bonding experiences, which can make us prone to being low in levels of serotonin (mood), dopamine (safety, well-being) and oxytocin (bonding/attachment).
Connecting with someone who knows you can break through that bubble, lift your spirits, and give you warm validation. Acts of kindness and service also stimulate areas of the frontal cortex associated with empathy and compassion, and help stabilize mood!
2. Go for a walk.
Research shows that walking actually releases oxytocin, the hormone released during childbirth, bonding and lovemaking. The mild exercise will also clear your head, increase oxygen flow to your brain, and boost your serotonin. Add #1 to this and you double the effect!
3. Make a list.
Negative thoughts can escalate into a completely irrational pervasive state of shame and low self-esteem, much like lingering pain in the body after an injury has been treated. One way to cut through this negative feedback loop is to make two lists: (1) Write down five things that other people love about you. This makes it impossible to self-sabotage, since it's based on other people. If you get stuck, ask them! (2) Make a list, and be honest, of things/people/situations in your life that no longer work for you, and imagine what it would feel like if they were no longer present in your life—kind of like spring cleaning!
4. Deep breathing/meditation.
A few minutes daily of breathing deeply from your belly, holding in and out for 8 seconds, is a powerful agent. When your body is not getting steady oxygen, noxious gases build up in your blood, triggering anxiety and fight-or-flight reflexes in your nervous system.
Secondly, without proper oxygenation, your brain is starved of circulating blood and is prone to poor function. Deep breathing slows down your heart rate, restores blood flow to the brain, and calms your nervous system. Notice how the anxiety/depression eases!
5. Stabilize your blood sugar/take your EFAs (fish, flax oil).
Depression can drive down your serotonin levels making your body seek to replenish, which can lead to emotional/stress eating patterns (simple carbs, sugar, alcohol) and addictive behaviours, oversleeping, etc.
Make sure you eat small amounts every three hours and to stay hydrated to counteract that fight/flight state or bottoming out of blood sugar levels. Taking 3 to 4g of EFAs (Omega 3, 6, 9) has been clinically proven to treat depression as, like deep breathing, it restores normative function to your brain, particularly in the areas where irrational thoughts/feelings can overwhelm you.
It may take a little while to feel these effects, but like exercise, step by step you begin to feel better, and we get better by doing more of the positive things versus trying to avoid the negative!