"Depression" is an umbrella term that covers many different clinical conditions. Mood changes that wax and wane with the seasons look different than someone who has a depressed mood throughout the year, regardless whether the sun is out. No matter what depression symptoms you have, the foundations of health can support your mental health.
We all love comfort foods in winter, but for mood support, look to foods that are nutrient-dense. This provides the building blocks for healthy nerves and neurotransmission. The best way to include a diversity of nutrients in a meal is through a whole-foods diet. Foods rich in B vitamins, choline, folate, B6, and B12, vitamin C and essential fatty acids, can help in building a nutrient foundation for mental health.
There is an increasing amount of evidence suggesting exercise is key to a sense of well-being for people of all ages. The key is not just moving around, but exercise rigorous enough to make you sweat. This doesn’t have to mean the gym or running around the block — it can be a social activity like dancing lessons, adult-league sports or community center events.
If has been a while, you can start slow and work your way up to breaking a sweat. Aim for a workout of moderate exertion at least three times a week. If slower movements are more your pace, try things like yoga, qi gong or tai chi.
Adults on average need 7-9 hours of nightly sleep to feel rested. Sleep deprivation can worsen mood and other depression symptoms, such as difficulty concentrating. Sleep is a time for the brain to down-cycle, relax, and filter toxins and inflammatory substances from the brain. Here are some ways to develop sleep hygiene:
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule, including weekends.
- Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine such as soaking in a hot bath or hot tub and then reading a book or listening to soothing music. If you use a tablet to read, use an app like Twilight to reduce the amount of blue light emitted from the screen. This light frequency can be stimulating.
- Create a sleep-conducive environment that is dark, quiet, comfortable and cool.
- Sleep on a comfortable mattress and pillows. Make sure that mattresses and pillows are changed out as needed.
- Use your bedroom only for sleep and sex.
- Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime.
- Exercise regularly.
- Avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol before bed.
There are simple ways we can decrease stress.
- Breathing technique classes such diaphragmatic breathing, neurofeedback or biofeedback.
- A neutral bath.
- A habitual hobby unrelated related to your job. If you work in an office, it could be gardening or cooking.
- Regularly scheduled vacations— even if you stay home.
Taking the time to explore the many foundational options can help you support your mental health and add more tools in your toolbox for understanding your individual needs.
—By Stephen Phipps ND, PhD, naturopathic doctor and resident at Bastyr Center for Natural Health.