Stress, Depression and Healthy Living

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Although this seems cliche, one of the most important ways to help fight depression is a healthy diet and lifestyle.  Diets based on whole, real foods, high in healthy fats, free of poor quality carbohydrates (like sugar and refined processed foods), have proven to be an extremely effective strategy for managing depression and mood disorders.

Regular physical activity can also help improve mood and lead to an increased sense of well being. There are several forms of activity that focus on relaxation.

Lack of sleep is a very big contributor to mood disorders. In our busy lifestyles, we often fail to give sleep the importance it deserves. Getting 7-8 hours of uninterrupted sleep nightly is crucial. But what if you are having problems sleeping. Here are some tips from a recent article I wrote on establishing healthy sleep habits, that can help you:

  • First and foremost, keep a sleep routine by awakening and going to sleep at about the same time each day, even on your days off. Avoid napping during the day as this can affect nighttime sleep. (Senior citizens and children can nap.)
  • Try to avoid stimulating activities before bedtime, like exercise, but PARTICULARLY electronic devices. Electronic devices contain “blue light” which triggers your brain to think it is still daytime. This decreases your body’s own production of a sleep hormone (melatonin) that begins to be produced as it gets dark in preparation for sleep. Keep lights in the house to a minimum and no electronic devices within 2 hours of bedtime. This includes TV watching in the bedroom before bed, not a good idea… Reading a paper book is acceptable.
  • Avoid bedtime snacking. Important biological processes are taking place within the first few hours after sleep which are hampered if your body is digesting and if blood sugar and if insulin levels are increased. Avoid snacking within 2 hours of bedtime.
  • Get enough physical activity throughout the day. Often when we are physically inactive throughout the day, our bodies are just not tired enough at bedtime. If you have a sedentary job, get up and move several times a day. Even 2-5 minutes of strenuous movement a few times a day can be extremely beneficial.
  • Unwind. If you have trouble unwinding, a nice Epsom salts bath may be just what you need. Epsom salts contain magnesium, which relaxes muscles and can help reduce stress. Many also enjoy some aromatherapy with essential oils to further relax them. Adding soft music or nature sounds may help.
  • “White noise.” For some, it helps to have a source of constant noise to fall asleep to. This actually can help calm the mind. When we sleep in an extremely quiet environment, a small amount of noise may awaken us. But a source of constant noise, such as a fan, can help drown this out and keep the brain from being hyper-vigilant.
  • Temperature and darkness. A cool dark place is more conducive to sleep. Try to avoid night lights. If you HAVE to get up in the middle of the night, keep a small flashlight on your bedside table and use that rather than turning on the lights in your room. Do not check your electronic device in the middle of the night.
  • Spiritual routine. If you are so inclined, spiritual activities before bed can be relaxing and help reduce stress. Activities such as deep reflection, humming spiritual songs, reading or prayer are very beneficial for many.
  • Get sleep disorders addressed. If you have excessive daytime drowsiness and snore a lot, or sleep propped up on pillows, this may be a sign of sleep apnea. This can be diagnosed with a sleep study. Talk to your primary healthcare provider if you suspect a sleep disorder.

Besides healthy diet, exercise and adequate sleep, you can fight depression by setting goals, making accomplishments, and finding personal fulfillment in something you believe in. Volunteering and helping others are great antidotes for depression. Having a strong network of support is also extremely beneficial.

I will share here my own very personal experience.  I have had depressive issues throughout adulthood, some stemming from traumatic life events.  At times, when under high stress, such as working full time while going to college and raising small children, I felt I needed the assistance of medication to manage depression.  At the time, I knew nothing about healthy living, and my health habits were extremely poor.  My diet was terrible, my anxiety levels high, and I was sleeping maybe 3-4 hours nightly.  In addition, I have a moderate form of OCD which carries with it its own measure of anxiety.  This has plagued me since childhood, often causing excessive worry and excessive thought which cost me much lost sleep.

Since adopting a LCHF lifestyle about three years ago, my mood is extremely stable, I can say that for the most part, depression is non-existent for me.  In addition, I would say that my OCD is about 80% improved and no longer interferes with my sleep or daily life.  I truly believe that much of the mood disorders suffered today are nutrition related.  It is no coincidence when the dietary recommendations came out in the 1970’s to eat less fat and lots of processed carbohydrates, our mental health disorders soared!  I believe that good nutrition and the measures above should be adopted as a PRIMARY measure of treatment for depression.  Please do not underestimate the power of healthy living to be the most powerful “medicine” ever!

However, if depression persists despite these measures, I urge you to seek professional help.

Wishing you good (physical and mental) health! 😉