The recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have drawn attention, once again, to the growing rates of depression. I can’t imagine the pain and darkness they must have experienced to be willing to end their lives.
Having helped people get off anti-depressants and stay off them, I want to share practical strategies that I have used to accomplish this.
Using nutrition to improve your mental health
One of the biggest factors affecting depression is food. What you eat (or don’t eat) everyday causes chemical reactions that directly or indirectly affect mood, memory and motivation.
- Eliminate all gluten, dairy, sugar, corn and soy – These foods are known to cause inflammation. Inflammation disrupts hormones (especially insulin and cortisol) and affects the neurotransmitters in the brain. Inflammation caused by these foods reduces serotonin which results in feelings of depression.
- Eat proteins and fats for breakfast – I learned this one from Charles Poliquin. The combination of proteins and fats especially in the morning regulates blood sugar (which affects brain function), cortisol and sets neurotransmitters for the rest of the day. Example of such a breakfast can be grassfed beef with handful of walnuts or chicken thighs with avocado. If you prefer a shake in the morning, blend a good quality dairy-free protein powder with unsweetennd coconut milk, tablespoon of MCT oil and some organic berries.
- Supplement with fish oil, D3 and carnitine – Three of the most impactful supplements to fight depression are fish oil, D3 and carnitine. When choosing fish oil for this purpose, use one that is high in DHA rather than EPA. Vitamin D3 can help fish depression by elevating levels of serotonin which controls moods. Carnitine, particularly acetyl carnitine improves cognitive function.
Sleep quality and depression
Sleep is one of the most underrated, yet most powerful tools to fight depression. People with depression, have a history of poor sleep quality. They either take too long to fall asleep and/or wake up in the middle of the night. Your nervous system repairs itself during sleep.
Here are some ways to improve sleep quality:
- Turn off all electronics and Wifi, 30-60 minutes before bed.
- Go to bed by 10pm.
- Take magnesium to sleep deeper.
- Sleep in a pitch black room.
Keeping a gratitude log has a number of benefits that help fight depression. First, the very act of writing stimulates the creative side of your brain which gets you out of fight/flight mode and raises serotonin. As mentioned, before, serotonin controls moods. Secondly, it trains your brain to focus on the positives rather than the thoughts and emotions that are depressing you. Lastly, it helps clear your mind so you can make space for better thoughts.
Every night before bed, or first thing in the morning, write down 5 things you are grateful for. You can also buy the 5 Minute Journal to do this ritual daily.
There is so much research showing how incredibly effective meditation is for cognitive health. The key is to find the form of meditation that you enjoy and works for you. You can choose meditations that involve sitting / standing for a period of time or energy practices that involve movements, like Qi Gong or Yoga.
Do a social media fast
Social media can be deceptive and distort our perception of reality. Images posted on social media capture only one instant in the person’s life. I personally know people who have posted positive images of their lives while being severely depressed. So don’t allow social media to make you think that is how life should be or that your life is not good enough. I recommend taking a break from social media for a few days or weeks. If you absolutely must use it daily, set specific time blocks 10-15 mins during the day to check social media.
These are practical strategies to actively fight depression. I have shared them not only to give you hope, but I urge you to implement these strategies starting today and see how they can dramatically improve how you feel!