Depression is hitting us at an all time high. It has become the most common of the spectrum of ‘mood disorders’ that doctors see on a daily basis. My own doctor told me that at least 50% of his patients “…present depression.” Yes, 50%!!
Of course when you go to the doctor they don’t explain that there are some natural mood enhancers for depression which you can take alongside any depression medication!
I’m shocked how little information they give us when we need it the most.
With that in mind, let me give you some quick wins with these 3 – proven - natural mood enhancers for depression.
1. Omega 3
It was during the 1970’s that scientists made the first association between Omega-3’s and human health.
Whilst studying the Eskimos of Greenland they noticed that this group of people suffered far less from certain diseases than their European friends and that their diet was rich in fats from eating whale, seal, and salmon.
The researchers finally realised that it was the type of fats they were eating, Omega-3’s that provided the real health benefits. During their studies they noted that the rate of depression in this type of people was way below the standard rates of depression in the West.
Then, in 1999 a landmark study was undertaken at Harvard University on people suffering depression. Half the group was given Omega-3 oils and the other half was given a placebo.
The study was due to go on for nine months but was halted after four months due to its outstanding results with the Omega-3 group saying their depression had significantly decreased.
Many other such studies have highlighted the effectiveness of Omega-3’s on depression so much so that some patients have been able to come off their anti-depressant drugs because they have found themselves free of the depressive symptoms from which they used to suffer.
The impression we get is that this discovery is new but history tells us that our ancestors used to acquire an abundant supply of Omega-3 fat through their diets which were rich in fish and also game like venison and wild fowl. These animals have a much higher amount of Omega-3 fats than farm-raised animals because wild game eats a lot of green grass and vegetables.
Today our main source of meat comes from animals, which are intensively raised on farms and are fed a diet rich in processed grains, which are low in Omega-3 fats. In direct contrast to the reduction of Omega-3 fatty acids from the Western food supply, the rates of depression have dramatically increased in Western countries.
These figures can’t be explained by changes in social structures only and it is perhaps the declining amounts of Omega-3’s that we ingest that have had an influence on the increasing rates of depression.
Suffice to say that this important nutrient is critical for good health. Here is a list of those gorgeous Omega-3 fat sources:
Research shows that exercise is also an effective treatment. "For some people it works as well as antidepressants, although exercise alone isn't enough for someone with severe depression," says Dr. Michael Craig Miller, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
The exercise effect
Exercising starts a biological cascade of events that results in many health benefits, such as protecting against heart disease and diabetes, improving sleep, and lowering blood pressure and especially boosting the mood according to Harvard Health[i].
Vigorous exercise releases the body's natural feel-good hormones called endorphins, resulting in what is known as the "runner's high." But for most of the time, the real value is in low-intensity exercise sustained over time.
That kind of activity incites the release of proteins called neurotrophics, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. The improvement in brain function makes us feel better and relieves depression.
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Mindfulness is the mental training technique that teaches us to be aware of our thoughts, feelings, moods and bodily sensations as they are in the present moment. It helps us to see things as they are they are, and not as we wish them to be.
When we pay attention to how things, and we, are right now, we become better at noticing the build up of difficult emotions and thoughts. Then, we can deal with them more purposefully, rather than reacting in ways that aren’t good for us.
The practice of Mindfulness includes focusing on the breath and body as well as mindful movement and developing greater mindful attention to everyday activities.
There’s an awareness that emerges through purposefully paying attention to the present moment. By cultivating a mindful approach to depression we can discover how to live in the present moment rather than obsessing about the past or worrying about the future.
This is an age-old concept based on Buddhist practices, which were founded about 2,600 years ago. It’s been referred to as a ‘psychological state of awareness without judgment.’
It also helps us to uncover a new sense of assurance and self-confidence. Through regular practice we become:
Alert to our emotions, their impact, their causes, and their impermanence
Mindful toward our own thinking processes
Aware of how certain thoughts affect our emotions
Learn how to take a step back, assess the results and then respond fully mindful to the impact
Become an impartial witness to our thoughts and experiences as they come and go.
The more we practice mindfulness, the more we are able to overcome the constant self-judging and over reacting to inner and outer experiences that constantly stream through our minds. Eventually, we develop sustained concentration to uncover new perspectives, gain greater insight and unleash creative problem solving.
Practicing ‘mindfulness meditation’ develops us being able to train the attention and awareness to bring the mind under greater voluntary control and thereby create general emotional well being, calmness, clarity and concentration.
Studies based at Oxford University have shown that, not only does mindfulness meditation help relieve depression symptoms fast; it can also cut the recurrence of depression by a massive 50%.
It’s been adopted in Silicon Valley amongst other industries. Steve Jobs credited mindfulness to tune out distractions when he needed to focus on building Apple. Google has been offering mindfulness training for its employees for five years with a program called ‘Search Inside Yourself’ to help Google’s top brains relax and calm down. Its aim is to help employees build inner joy while they work. How cool is that! The course has five hundred on the waiting list!
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy, or MBCT, is the fairly recently developed psychological approach to help those of us specifically with depression. It uses traditional therapy methods but weaves in mindfulness, meditation and acceptance.
The cognitive part includes looking at why we’re depressed and helps to educate us. Its theory says that when individuals who have historically had depression become distressed, they return back to automatic processes that can trigger a depressive episode.
The aim of MBCT is to interrupt these automatic processes that drag us back to our ‘default’ learned behaviour. It then teaches us to focus less on reacting to incoming stimuli, instead accepting and observing them without judgment.
It’s been proved to be so effective that the National Institutes for Clinical Excellence (NICE) [ii] now recommends it as a treatment of choice for people with recurrent depression. In fact, studies have shown that for those of us with a history of depression, MBCT is as effective as staying on a maintenance dose of antidepressants, but without the side effects of medication.
How amazing is that!
"Alexandra gives hope to those trying to beat depression and her common-sense tangible suggestions could make a difference to many people's lives"
Marjorie Wallace, Chief Executive SANE