As I start to write, I feel a great respect and humility toward the topic of depression. I’ll be clear – I am not a medical professional. What I say comes from a place of deep research and thought, yes, but I could be wrong.
If you found this article because you are thinking about or have tried to harm yourself, please stop what you’re doing and call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 right now. There’s a 24/7 live chat option on their website if you’re more comfortable speaking with someone that way.
That being said, if you’re open to some natural, science-backed ways of fighting depression…read on, friend.
We’ve all heard that depression is a chemical imbalance. I believe that’s true.
I think that with proper nutrition, spiritual practice (R), self-awareness, journaling, sleep, and exercise, many cases of depression can be overcome. I will share research that supports my argument.
Think about it. We live in a world of processed frankenfood, social media overstimulation, artificial sleep cycles, and sedentary jobs. Is it that far fetched that our environment and food has a major part to play in our brain chemistry?
Luckily, we do have control over these issues.
It’s actually amazing just how much scientific research there is that backs up how depression is within our control, and how inflammation should get a lot of the blame.
Much like preventing cancer, preventing depression can also be done naturally, despite conventional medicine’s obsession with throwing a drug at everything they see.
In fact, I would argue that even therapy is a much smaller part of fighting depression. It takes a holistic approach, besides just therapy.
I personally have a family history of depression, and experience depression myself. Generally, I’m able to control it and have a positive outlook on life. But sometimes, depression does get to me.
Through trial and error, I usually can pinpoint my depression to a specific controllable cause, and turn it around.
First, Some Philosophizing
What Depression is Really About
From my studies, I personally think that depression is about feeling a loss of control.
In the coming sections you’ll see that sleep, nutrition, our spiritual state, goals, exercise, and other things are effective in turning depression around. Most, if not all of the tactics I will mention, have to do with giving us a sense of control, or actual control of our lives.
For instance, sleep and nutrition. When we haven’t slept well or ate a bunch of junk food, we feel like we just can’t do life. We get mentally foggy, physically tired, unable to lead our lives well.
So, as you read the coming sections, I would learn to ask yourself a single question when you have feelings of depression – What in my life is making me feel out of control?
If it seems to be a physical loss of control – via brain fog or physical tiredness – you can start implementing some physical solutions like better sleep, nutrition, and exercise.
If it seems to be a spiritual or emotional loss of control, you can journal, meditate, pray, listen to music, and more.
In short, listen to yourself and your body. The more you do it, the more you’ll know instinctively what you need to feel in control again. Many times, all I need is a couple bags of Yogi Perfect Energy tea and I start feeling sharp as a tack. Seriously.
Usually that’s because I sense some inflammation in my body, and that particular tea (and green tea in general) is a powerful anti-inflammatory. That usually fixes any depression, low energy, or mood issues I have.
Recognize What You Can’t Control (Which is a Lot, Really) (And That’s Okay)
Along with the previous section, I would also remind you – There’s just a lot in life we don’t control. We have control over some things, influence over other things, and no control over everything else. And that’s ok.
Comparing ourselves to others on social media, having unrealistic expectations that we have to do or be something, as well as anxiety, fear, doubt, worry, stress…that can all impact how depressed we feel. It all has its root in our need for control.
We gotta let go of all that. Align yourself with who you truly are and what you really can control. Throw out everything else.
You’ll feel much more fulfilled, I promise.
Sleep is foundational. If you’re not getting a good rest, no amount of nutrition, meditation, or exercise is going to help you overcome depression.
Here’s how to get a good night’s sleep:
- Melatonin – Since artificial lighting throws off our natural sleep cycles, melatonin helps you get into the groove
- Block out any light at night – Use sleep masks, blackout curtains, etc
- Keep your room cool – Easier to get into deep sleep with a cool body temperature
- Limit alcohol – Contrary to popular belief, alcohol might help you get to sleep, but it ruins your deep sleep cycles
- Limit caffeine too late – I generally don’t drink caffeine past 12pm
- Limit fluids in general for 3 hours before you go to sleep – So you don’t wake up in the night to go pee
- Meditate / Eat well – Hard to sleep when food or life is making you anxious
- Focus on your big toe – This one is a bit kooky, but for real – Focus on your big toe, and only your big toe. That helps relax the mind so you can better fall asleep
Along with sleep, this is one of the most important drivers of either depression, or happiness. (R)
Here are a few foods that research shows to cause depression:
- Processed, fried, and sugary foods (R, R)
- Salty foods (R)
- Foods with vegetable oils (R)
- Omega 6 fatty acids in peanuts, grain-fed beef, etc (R)
By now you’ve probably seen a pattern of inflammation emerging in this article. Inflammation can not only be caused by poor diet, but also stress, physical inactivity, poor sleep, and more. (R)
If your nutrition and sleep are in order, practice gratitude next.
When we’re depressed, it’s easy to get into a cycle of sadness, hopelessness, meaninglessness, self-criticism, self-loathing, and more.
Gratitude starts to set our hearts in minds in a more positive direction.
Start small – What are you grateful for in this moment? Breathing is a big one. You’re alive. You get to take in rich, deep breaths of oxygen, filling your lungs. Deep breaths are one of my favorites. Few things are more relaxing and life-giving.
The presence of God is another. You get to experience the infinite love, joy, and peace of an active God.
A roof over your head, food on the table, clothes on your back. A close friend. Netflix! Books, coffee, iced water, cars, our smartphones…man, the list is endless!
Start a spark of gratitude, and it just might turn into an inferno of joy. Overly poetic? Probably. But you know what I mean.
Meditation & Prayer
This is so key. There are so many forms of meditation and prayer, but choose whatever works for you.
I love meditating on the presence of God and who He is – His infinite love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, and wisdom. This is also called contemplative prayer.
You can also focus on infinite love itself, and in my opinion, we would focusing on the same God, or at least my concept of God.
I have studied many spiritual traditions, and I personally think that meditating on infinite love, joy, and peace, is the most transcendent, uplifting form of meditation there is.
There is also breath mindfulness, body scanning, centering prayer, mantra meditation (or transcendental meditation), sound meditation, nature meditation, and more. Even listening to music is meditation!
However you do it, I highly recommend you do! It helps us become better humans in so many ways – less judgmental, more patient, more kind, less overwhelmed, less depressed, more joyful, less stressed and anxious, more grateful, more open and generous…the list could go on.
The key ingredient of all spiritual practice – Letting go. We’ve talked about control and how that affects depression. Well, spirituality is about letting go both of what we can and can’t control. It’s good for the soul.
Set Goals / Define Your Purpose
We are less depressed when we have something to live for, and to work towards.
Make no mistake, our purpose can be super difficult to figure out. I lost everything at 23, and it took me a good 9-10 years to feel like I’m truly living out my purpose.
There aren’t really any shortcuts. It’s just doing the work of writing down what you want, what you’re good at, what you’re not so good at, and what you’re passionate about – Then start experimenting.
Trial and error is the only way to find out your true purpose.
But I’m telling ya, it’s so worth it. It will give you a strong sense of joy, meaning, and significance.
Along with that, are goals. Whether it’s losing weight, getting promoted at work, starting a hobby, or something else, goals are a powerful way to make you feel more control in life, and overcome depression.
There are few more powerful ways of living for something bigger than yourself, than to give of yourself.
Even Harvard says that exercise can overcome depression, even being as effective as antidepressants in some cases. (R)
Exercise also protects against heart disease and diabetes, improving sleep, and lowering blood pressure. High-intensity exercise releases those feel-good chemicals called endorphins, producing the “runner’s high” you’ve probably heard about.
Low-intensity exercise also sparks the release of proteins called neurotrophic or growth factors, which cause nerve cells to grow and make new connections. This grows the part in your brain that controls your mood – the hippocampus – which relieves depression.
Cope with Stress
Stress is a major cause of depression, and can even cause inflammation (another major cause of depression in itself, which you probably know by now!). So stress just becomes a vicious cycle of depression and chemical imbalance.
Many of the tactics I mention above – music, meditation, sleep, gratitude – all reduce stress in our lives, and thus improve depression.
I’ll be honest, I used to have a really unhealthy relationship with alcohol. I didn’t know great coping mechanisms, so I drank. Turns out, I started drinking more when I started trying to lose weight. I would cut calories in order to lose weight, but then I would drink because I still felt unsatisfied. When I started to eat healthy, good-for-me food until I was actually full, I craved alcohol a lot less.
Whatever your experience, learn better coping mechanisms. Life is hard. But if we can learn to cope with it in a positive way, we will live longer, be happier, and healthier.