Like it or not, it’s the nature of life to get the blues from time to time. Maybe your relationship isn’t working out, the dream job hasn’t been all that dreamy, or it’s your weight, your back pain, or our endless dark winter. The result? You just can’t get yourself cheered up about anything. You’re not sleeping (or sleeping too much) and your good intentions about eating well have been postponed in favor of a bag of cookies and too much wine.
Every year, we’re learning more about depression. Low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin, a molecule of emotion, are considered a major contributing factor. Much of today’s research is focusing on the relationship between gut bacteria (collectively known as the microbiome) and how our brains function. In fact it’s estimated that gut bacteria produce about 95 percent of the body’s serotonin.
If you’re uncertain whether your blues are transient or something more serious, read this article for a broader discussion of depression. Also, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) annually dampens the mood of susceptible people and in Chicago can persist into these early dim days of spring.
Prolonged feelings of sadness or despondency call for professional help and may require medication. Here at WholeHealth Chicago we also treat depression with supportive approaches including psychotherapy and therapeutic individual and group yoga.
Most likely you’ll get over your mild case of the blues. But here are a few steps you can take to speed the process.
Re-think the whole reason for why you’re feeling bad. Have a serious conversation with yourself. Do you deserve your own harsh self-judgment, your negative thoughts, the low self esteem? Accept the fact that you are a worthy person, capable of giving and receiving love. Stick with affirming phrases like “I can” and “I will.” Know in your heart that a few positive steps, taken today, can work wonders.
Practice creative visualization. Close your eyes and try to imagine what the emotional pain you’re feeling might look like. A black cloud over your head? A dark blanket surrounding your heart? Now see yourself clearing the cloud, lifting the blanket, and allowing bright warm sunbeams to stream in.
Learn some quick aromatherapy. Inhaling an uplifting scent can be most beneficial. Floral oils seem to work best: rose, melissa, jasmine. Citrus oils such as lime, mandarin, and bergamot can bring cheer as well. Inhale them directly from the bottle, use an aromatherapy diffuser, or add a few drops to a warm, relaxing bath.
Get moving. There’s no shortage of solid medical research proving that exercise, by raising levels of feel-good hormones called endorphins, is effective in lifting mood. Do some real movement every day. Dance, walk briskly for a couple of miles, lift weights, or try this four-minute workout. If possible, follow your exercise with an hour of massage, reflexology, or acupressure.
Clean up your diet. Get rid of the junk food and white-flour products and start eating responsibly-raised meats and pastured eggs, organic fruits and vegetables, and whole grains if you tolerate them. Choose fish like wild-caught salmon or herring once a week. Enjoy a cup of unsweetened yogurt daily for its probiotic benefits. Avoid coffee and alcohol, both of which can worsen depression.
Meditation and yoga can clear a path to the root causes of your sadness. Regular practitioners of yoga report better emotional health than nonpractitioners. Enroll in a class and remember, “Cobra, dancer, windmill, lion” because these are the four poses that can help vanquish the blues.
Start a gratitude journal. Focus on the positive aspects of your life, recording each day something, no matter how small, for which you feel a sense of gratitude. This may be an act of kindness someone did for you, some flowers you saw during lunch, or the way your cat rubs against your leg. These daily entries will neutralize the mindset that focuses on what’s been going wrong with your life.
Listen to music. Each day, listen for at least 20 minutes to slow, relaxing music in a place where you won’t be disturbed. Focus on the music, close your eyes, and calm your breathing. In time, anger, frustration, anxiety, and sadness will stop dominating your mindset.
Learn Bach flower remedies. These safe, homeopathic preparations designed for emotional problems have been in continuous use for almost 70 years. Most health food stores offer them, along with a questionnaire that will help you select the remedies best suited to your current feelings.
Happily, most periods of mild depression are so short-lived that a few days after they’ve passed you’ll scratch your head and wonder what you were feeling so bad about.
David Edelberg, MD