Tips to Beat the Holiday Blues

Depression | | December 2, 2009 at 9:19 am
Photo by Nihan Aydin.

Photo by Nihan Aydin.

It’s the “most wonderful time of the year” and depression is rampant. Between the early darkness, family drama and the financial stress that goes along with shopping season, many people find their mood taking a turn for the worse. Here are some tips for feeling better:

1. Exercise
Depression diminishes motivation. But getting off the couch can make a remarkable difference in your emotional resilience. Exercise literally changes the chemicals being made in your brain and how well those chemicals work. It doesn’t have to be intense and it doesn’t have to be very much. Even a brisk walk will help lift the clouds.

2. Get some sun
The winter’s lack of light makes lots of people feel low. The effect isn’t new—it’s been described since the 1800s. These days there’s a name and a cute acronym for it: seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.

Adding light can help. Outdoor, natural daylight is best, especially in the morning. If that is not an option, many companies also sell light boxes that researchers find really do help—even for summer time depression.

Photo by Nathalie Dulex.

Photo by Nathalie Dulex.

3. You are how you eat
Author Michael Pollan said it best: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Scientific research all over the map supports this. An October 2009 study in the Archives of General Psychiatry reported that a Mediterranean-style diet reduced depression (in addition to its well-known heart and anti-cancer benefits). They found that fruits, nuts, beans and fat from fish and olive oil all helped beat the blues.

Filling up with fresh fruits and veggies also has another happy side effect: reducing your exposure to mood-busting sugar and processed foods.

4. Up the fish oils
The long dark winters in Iceland don’t translate into high levels of depression there, and scientists think the reason is in the high-omega-3 fish the locals consume.

For people who are depressed, researchers have found significant improvements in mood after just two weeks of therapy with fish oil.

How does it work? The omega-3 oils reduce depression-causing inflammatory chemicals and improved cellular function, all of which make a happier brain.

5. Feed your microflora
The first-line prescription therapy for depression is a drugs that increases serotonin availability in the brain. Looking at the body as a whole, most serotonin is found in the gut, where it helps signal the movements needed to promote digestion.

We’re designed to make a lot of serotonin ourselves, with the help of foods and the healthy flora in our guts. Supporting that flora with probiotics—found in foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, live yogurt and miso—can help make more serotonin available to the whole body, including the brain.

Like fish oils, probiotics also reduce inflammation and oxidative stress that influence depression.

6. Try flower essences
Having flower essences on hand can offer a quick pick-me-up, or support long-term healing. Take four drops as needed, or four times daily in a little water over the longer term. They don’t interact with any other medications and the only possible concern is a tiny amount of alcohol.

Try Star of Bethlehem for dealing with grief and trauma. Sweet chestnut helps deep, dark despair and hopelessness. Pine relieves guilt. And willow helps when you feel resentful or sorry for yourself. For some sunshine in a bottle, try the Solstice Sun environmental essence from wild Alaska.

7. Read up
While there’s no substitute for talking with friends or professional counselors, reading can help you understand what’s going on and offer suggestions for helping yourself. Try “The Mood Cure” by Julia Ross, or “Depression Free, Naturally” by Joan Larson.

This psychologist-recommended website links to articles about natural health and a variety of mental health issues.

8. If you need help, get help
Sometimes the blues are transient, and simple home fixes like these are all you need. But if the darkness persists, remember that you are not alone. Naturopaths and psychologists are an important part of getting better.

If you’re battling the blues this holiday season, be sure to take some moments out to take care of you! And please share your own suggestions for beating the blues in the comment section.

OrnaDr. Orna Izakson, ND, RH (AHG) is a naturopathic physician, herbalist, gardener and writer. She specializes in respiratory issues, mood and women's health at Celilo Natural Health Center in Portland, Oregon.

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