Lifestyle changes are simple but powerful tools in treating depression and anxiety, and they are an essential component of an integrated approach to treatment. In some cases, lifestyle changes alone can lift depression or relieve anxiety, so it makes sense to start with them right away. But if you are suffering from moderate to severe depression or anxiety, also seek professional help. And if you don’t see relief from symptoms of mild depression in a few months, likewise seek professional help.
Lifestyle changes that can help include the following:
Exercise is the most important place to start. Numerous well-designed studies have found exercise to be effective in elevating mood and reducing symptoms of depression. As for anxiety, many research studies have also found an improvement in anxiety symptoms with increased physical activity, especially mindful movement, such as yoga, tai chi and qigong.
Exercise stimulates the body to produce serotonin and endorphins, which are chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters) that alleviate depression. But that only partially explains the positive impacts of exercise on depression.
Participating in an exercise programme can:
✔ Increase self-esteem
✔ Boost self-confidence
✔ Create a sense of empowerment
✔ Enhance social connections and relationships
All of these things have a positive impact on a depressed or anxious individual.
Follow specific dietary guidelines.
The brain is one of the most metabolically active parts of the body and needs a steady stream of nutrients to function. A poor diet may not provide the nutrients necessary to produce neurotransmitters and may provoke symptoms of anxiety or depression.
1 Follow a healthy diet. Fill your plate with fresh, whole foods; drink plenty of water; get enough calcium and keep trans fats low to remain in step with current dietary guidelines.
2 Take care of your gut. Taking supplemental probiotics with two or more live cultures (for example Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium) and eating fermented foods, such as yogurt and miso, help support a healthy digestive system.
3 Cut the sweetened beverages. Sweetened tea, soda, and fruit punch may contribute to depression. A recent study found that people who drank four or more cups or cans of soda every day were 30% more likely to be depressed than people who did not drink soda. The same study reported that those who drank unsweetened coffee each day (either regular or decaf) reported less depression than non-coffee drinkers.
4 Try going decaf. Because other studies show that long-term use of caffeine has been linked to anxiety, decaffeinated coffee may be the best choice for some. If you are a regular caffeine user, cutting back gradually will be best tolerated.
Depressed populations have more problems with alcohol use even though alcohol itself is a depressant. Alcohol use may be a way that individuals ‘self-medicate,’ trying to numb the pain of their depression.
People suffering from depression should stop drinking alcohol. If alcohol abuse underlies the depression, it is critical that it be addressed directly.
Poor sleep has a strong effect on mood, in part because the neurotransmitters needed to support mood are replenished with sleep. Thus we need restorative sleep to maintain a balanced brain and mental health.
People who don’t get adequate sleep each night, in length or quality, are more likely to develop major depression than those who sleep through the night. In addition, research shows that sleep-deprived people have a much stronger tendency to classify neutral images as “negative,” so that even everyday items can seem more menacing and contribute to anxiety.
Make getting the amount of good quality sleep you need a priority.
Thoughts and Emotions
Negative attitudes and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness can upset the body’s hormone balance and deplete the brain chemicals required for feelings of happiness or calm, as well as have a damaging impact on the immune system and other parts of our body.
Certain types of mental training, such as meditation or positive thinking, can affect our perceptions of the world and make us feel calmer, more resilient, and happier. Other researchers have identified many other helpful attitudes – such as forgiveness, gratitude and kindness – that can be developed with practice.
Source: University of Minnesota