Mind & Spirit

5 natural ways to manage depression

Istockphotos.com/CentralITAlliance Author: Canadian Living Credits: Istockphotos.com/CentralITAlliance

Mind & Spirit

5 natural ways to manage depression

Over 350 million people worldwide struggle with depression. "But just because you fit that category, or ‘label' of depression, doesn't mean it needs to fit your life for the rest of your life," says Vancouver-based family physician Dr. Divi Chandna.

Dr. Chandna has built her practice on producing positive shifts, and is an expert mind-body practitioner dedicated to helping patients get to the root of their emotional distress—which can also manifest as physical symptoms like pain.

"If you look at an emotional scale, with joy being at the top and depression being at the bottom, there are a lot of emotions in between," she says, referring to the 22-point Emotional Guidance Scale. "But people commonly live in a narrow spectrum, where they're not joyful and excited but they're not way down and depressed. In medicine we call it dysthymia—a chronic, low level of depression."

Dr. Chandna highlights the exciting field of research on neuroplasticity—the brain's ability to rewire itself and build new connections—as a powerful tool to transform your emotional spectrum and create positive change.

The more travelled a connection, the easier it becomes to follow, like a foot path carved through a dense forest that over time becomes a gravel road and then a smoothly paved highway. If you're continually going down the road to worry, doubt and disappointment, it becomes easier to stay there and keep going down in a negative spiral.

Dr. Chandna shares her five alternative practices to help rewire your brain and create a positive upward spiral.

1. Get moving
Exercise has been shown to be equally as effective as an antidepressant because of the effects on the endorphins in the body, which can literally catapult you to feeling better," says Dr. Chandna, citing a recent article in Harvard Health that reviewed over 30 years of research.

One study found that "walking fast for about 35 minutes a day five times a week or 60 minutes a day three times a week" had a significant influence, but any type or amount of physical activity is a good thing to boost mood. Move your body in a way that you love, and dance, run or swim your way to a more positive head space.

2. Eat the right foods
"Most people don't realize how what they put in their mouth can affect their emotions," says Dr. Chandna, especially a diet heavy in sugar, which causes a spike and subsequent crash in blood sugar—and mood—as well as triggers an inflammatory response, say researchers at Harvard School of Public Health.

Researchers found that women who regularly ate drank soda or ate red meat or refined grains, and who infrequently consumed antioxidant-rich wine, coffee, olive oil, and vegetables were 29 to 41 percent more likely to be depressed than those who ate the less inflammatory diet.

Adds Dr. Chandna, "Really simple things, like adding more protein, omega fats, B vitamins, and antioxidants are really huge for helping the chemical effects of food on the brain." The easiest place to start: cut out or drastically reduce processed foods.

3. Practise mindfulness
"Mindfulness trains our brain to be in the now so that when we start to go down the slippery slope of the emotional scale, we're able to go ‘Oh! I'm going down—what tool or process can I use right now to shift this?' It brings us that awareness and then we have to do something to break the downward spiral," says Dr. Chandna.

Meditation is an excellent tool to help build our mindfulness muscle and focus our attention on the present, and, say researchers at John Hopkins, an effective treatment for managing depression.

You don't need any equipment, just a quiet place to sit comfortably and observe your lungs expanding and contracting as you breathe in and out. Start with five minutes and build up from there.

4. Find love
"When you've got somebody else to care about, you shift into a different emotional vibration, and that shifts you out of depression," says Dr. Chandna. Becoming a parent, adopting a pet, finding romantic love, helping a friend, or volunteering your time with those in need can all shift your focus.

Building a loving community also helps you feel less alone and like you have support. "With depression, people often feel like they're alone," she says, adding that she often hears patients say, "No one has it as bad as I do."

Do things you love. "Many people hate their jobs and don't realize that it's affecting their mood," says Dr. Chandna. "Sure you might have to work from 9 to 5, but then you have all this other time that you can spend following your passion."

5. Embrace nature

"Some people don't get any fresh air at all," says Dr. Chandna, of the winter months when the weather is inclement and the "sunshine vitamin"—vitamin D—is scarce. A recent study in the British Journal of Psychiatry suggests that low vitamin D concentration is associated with depression.

But vitamin D is only part of nature's mood-boosting gifts. In Your Brain On Nature, authors Dr. Eva Selhub and Dr. Alan Logan say, "Greenspace is clearly a means of improving mental outlook and reducing the stress burden in the body. Depression and low-grade stress are a corrosive force, a sort of rust that attacks brain cells, accelerating the normal pace of aging in the brain. Nature, on the other hand, has the potential to encourage the growth and continued reshaping of the brain cells throughout life, improving the brain's so-called plasticity."

Learn more about depression here. And of course, always seek the help of a medical professional if you think you may be suffering from depression before trying alternative methods.

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Mind & Spirit

5 natural ways to manage depression