It has been months since your last depressive spell. You thought you kicked depression to the curb once and for all, but as your alarm goes off, your brain is covered in a fog. Your entire body feels like lead, and every fiber of your being wants to stay under the blankets of your bed all day long. It takes all the strength you can muster to get out of bed, and autopilot kicks in. You feel like a shell of yourself: hollow, empty, flat. You want to cry. The depression you thought was gone for good has reared its ugly head again.
For many people, chronic, recurrent depression can be lifted with medications, talk therapy, or ideally, a combination of both. In addition to those options, there are several natural remedies that can help improve mood and boost spirits. Taking charge of depression can help people feel empowered, like they are in control of their mental health, rather than a mental illness just being something that "happens to them." Peruse the list below and try them out for yourself. They can be beneficial mood boosters for anyone, not only for those who are depressed. However, individuals struggling with depression may notice the most significant changes in mood. Try one or two of the remedies out on a consistent basis for at least a few weeks.
Exercise: While several small studies have demonstrated that exercise significantly boosts mood, when only large, robust sample sizes are considered, the effects of exercise at reducing depressive symptoms are less impactful (Mead et al., 2009; Cooney et al., 2014; Rimer et al., 2012). Nevertheless, for many people, physical movement, social interaction at the gym, and the adrenaline released after a workout do indeed improve mood. It is helpful to find physical activity that’s enjoyable; forcing yourself to partake in an exercise regime you despise will likely do no good in relieving depressive symptoms.
Sunlight: An adequate level of Vitamin D is significant in preventing and reducing depressive symptoms. According to the National Alliance of Mental Health (NAMI), sunlight also triggers the release of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that’s linked directly with mood and energy.
Social Interaction: Face-to-face social interaction, even just with a barista, can have a mood-improving effect. When depression hits, we tend to withdraw and turn inward – interacting with people seems momentously difficult. However, even though it might take a lot of effort, nudging yourself to contact an old friend, or catch up with a co-worker, can ease some of those depressive feelings. Social bonds work wonders in strengthening people’s mental health!
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish (salmon, herring, sardines, etc.), walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds, for example, have been associated with relieving depressive symptoms (Grosso et al., 2014). However, it should be noted that omega-3s have been effective in boosting mood only when eaten in conjunction with an overall healthy diet. Focus your diet around whole foods: little to no sugar or processed foods with a heavy emphasis on lean meat, vegetables, and some whole grain carbohydrates (sweet potatoes, oats, whole wheat bread, etc.).
Monitor Sleep: Depression has a rather rude tendency to interrupt normal sleep patterns. Those suffering from depression typically sleep either too much or too little. For some, insomnia can snatch away any restful nights they used to have. Trying to create a consistent sleep schedule can be quite useful for those suffering from depression. For example, setting an alarm each night to ensure you don’t sleep more than 7-8 hours per night (sleeping too much can actually increase depressive symptoms!) can be a good idea. Or, if you have trouble falling or staying asleep, implement a good sleep hygiene routine. For example, no screens an hour before bedtime, begin to dim lights a half hour before going to sleep, only use your bed for sleeping, etc.
Although these remedies can have significant effects on improving mood, they may not help everyone relieve their symptoms. If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, seeking mental health treatment is an important step toward healing.
Cooney, G., Dwan, K., Mead, G. (2014). Exercise for depression. JAMA Clinical Evidence Synopsis, 311(23), 2432-2433. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.4930
Grosso, G., Galvana, F., Marventano, S., Malaguarnera, M., Bucolo, C., Drago, F., Caraci, F. (2014). Omega-3 fatty acids and depression: Scientific evidence and biological mechanisms. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity. doi: 10.1155/2014/313570
Mead, G., Morley, W., Campbell, P., Greig, C., McMurdo, M., Lawlor, D. (2009). Exercise for depression (Review). The Cochrane Library, 2.
Rimer, J., Dwan, K., Lawlor, D., Greig, C., McMurdo, M., Moreley, W., Mead, G. (2012). Exercise for depression. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Review, 7. doi.10.1002/14651858.CD004366.pub5