By: Dr. Kali MacIsaac HBSc, ND
Occasionally feeling sad in response to increased life demands, stress, or upsetting news and events, is a normal part of being human. But when low moods are present more often than not and begin to affect a woman’s ability to focus and enjoy her life, a true depressive episode may be taking place.
In a severe case of depression, a consult with a psychiatrist and possible pharmaceutical intervention are necessary and often helpful. For mild to moderate depression, however, some of the best antidepressants in the world don’t come as a pill. Scientific research shows that each of the following natural interventions can help boost your mood and prevent and treat depression.
1. Move Every Day
Research shows that aerobic activity is an effective intervention for the prevention and treatment of depression. It doesn’t have to be intense, but it does have to be done on a regular basis. A study published in 2005 showed that walking at a brisk pace for 35 minutes, 5 days per week, had a significant impact on mild to moderate depression. The most likely explanation for why exercise works is that it has been shown to increase endorphins and neurotransmitters that regulate mood. Getting outside for your exercise is doubly beneficial, as being outside in nature can change your perspective and lift your spirit.
2. Get Your Circadian Rhythms On Track
The circadian rhythms are the body’s biological rhythms that cycle every 24 hours. Disturbances in these rhythms can occur due to stress or improper sleep, and have been associated with major depressive episodes. Studies suggest that re-synchronizing the circadian rhythms using interventions like melatonin and light therapy is an effective way to prevent and treat depression. One of my favourite suggestions is to spend 20-30 minutes every day in front of a light therapy device – they emit wavelengths of light similar to those produced by the sun, and are an extremely helpful gadget to have.
3. Do Something Creative
Art and music therapy have been shown to improve mood in workers experiencing burnout, and to reduce fatigue, mood disturbances, and blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Art and music are ways of expressing our inner thoughts and feelings when verbalizing them is difficult or not possible. Letting these emotions out is a cathartic activity that allows us to release negativity and unload to the universe.
4. Eat Healthy Fats
Contrary to long-held popular belief, fats are incredibly healthy for you – as long as they are the right type. Research suggests that the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish, walnuts and flax seeds may prevent and treat depression. For pregnant women, taking fish oil throughout pregnancy and postpartum reduces the likelihood of postpartum depression.
5. Cultivate Gratitude
Beginning a gratitude practice helps us to become mindful of the positive things happening all around us. Studies show that consistent positive interactions, particularly ones that involve gratitude, increase happiness and decrease levels of depression. Some ways to help cultivate gratitude include writing a letter to a person you are grateful to and would like to thank, or writing down three good things that went well for you this week with an explanation of why they happened.
Shifting our thinking from negative outcomes to positive ones boosts levels of dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin, and also builds lasting personal connections, all of which help to alleviate the blues.
You don’t have to do all of these things to increase your sense of happiness and prevent depression. Choose one, or a few, that feel good to you. Do something every day that brings you joy. And focus on all of the good things happening at any given moment.
What is your number one way to increase happiness in your life?
Dr. Kali MacIsaac is a Naturopathic Doctor in Vancouver, BC, Canada and she sees patients at Acubalance Wellness Centre. In her practice, Dr. MacIsaac is interested in exploring the “why” with her patients – she is willing to challenge the idea that health equals the absence of disease, and is interested in pushing the boundaries of what’s possible to help her patients reach their optimal potential. Dr. MacIsaac has a general practice, but has a special interest in working with digestive health, reproduction and fertility, paediatrics, hormonal balance, and chronic disease. Connect with Dr. MacIsaac on Facebook and Twitter (@kalimacisaac), and on her website (focusmedical.ca).