The other day I saw a report from the CDC that said that one in 10 Americans older than 12 takes antidepressants. That seems sad to me. But what was truly shocking was that less than a third of the people taking these drugs have seen a mental health professional in the last year — and most people who take these drugs don't need them. Antidepressants are taken mostly by white women, and their use has increased 400 percent since the early 1990s. It could be that these pharmaceuticals are just the new version of "mother's little helper." But it also could be that too many women (and girls!) are suffering and medicating their problems rather than solving them at the source.
I am not a doctor, but I have had periodic bouts of deep depression in my life ... tell me, who hasn't? Feeling depressed is a common feeling, and it's usually a sign that something is wrong in your life. (At least that's what I've found.) It could be something as little as not exercising enough and working too hard or as large as not being happy in a job or a relationship. Depression is a tool for discovering the truth, if you are brave enough to face it rather than try to wish it away. So here are my tips for beating depression naturally that are both life-learned and based on medical evidence:
1. First, see a counselor. Don't be afraid or ashamed! A counselor will be able to tell you if you need more serious medical help. It's amazing how quickly talking about your depression with someone else (a professional counselor, not just a friend) can uncover things that afterwards might seem obvious but in the moment of darkness are impossible to see. I guess that is why depression feels so dark ... it's hard to see things!
2. Go for a long walk outside. In Europe, doctors prescribe exercise for their patients. I think the best is a combination of exercise and getting out in nature ... along with giving your body and mind enough time of mindless walking to let the true feelings and thoughts rise to the surface. You will also see that nature has cycles, too — there are times of joy and times of hibernation. Allow your body and soul to sync with nature and you'll automatically feel a bit better.
3. Let the sun warm your skin. A few years ago, vitamin D supplements were being touted as super-pills that could protect you from depression and other ailments. Well, it turns out that's not really true. The truth is that people who spend time outside and eat plenty of fatty fish, such as wild salmon, have higher vitamin D levels and less depression. Is it the vitamin D or the lifestyle? I say, skip the pills and go outside and get your sun on!
4. Read a book. I recommend "The Mind-Body Mood Solution," by Dr. Jeffrey Rossman, because he has helped me many times with my depressive bouts. As the behavioral health specialist at Canyon Ranch, he has taught me how to get to the real issue quickly and change my perspective on my problems. It really works!
5. Eat right. Eating crap, or overeating anything, literally feeds the depression cycle. Every time you eat crap, you feel bad, and then it just gets that much harder to pull yourself out of the dive. A few foods that are renowned for improving your mood are wild-caught salmon, walnuts and dark chocolate.
6. Stop drinking and drugging yourself. Trust me on this: While drinking might make you feel better momentarily, all you are doing is swallowing your problems, where they eat away at you in even deeper darkness inside your soul. If you are using alcohol or drugs to anesthetize yourself against your problems, please stop. Get help if you need it!
7. Fall in love. With yourself, first! Treat yourself as you would a precious lover whom you adore, flaws and all. Pamper yourself with baths, naps, flowers, massages. Write love letters to yourself. Tell the voice in your head that says you are not good enough or pretty enough or smart enough to shut up and hit the road, Jack.
8. Laugh. Studies have shown that laughter does really make you feel better. Watch some silly comedies! Or old "I Love Lucy" episodes. Go ahead, watch "America's Funniest Home Videos" — at the very least, you'll be thankful that you are not the one getting whacked in the groin, bonking your head on something stupid or falling ridiculously from doing something no person in their right mind should really do.
9. Create. Write down your thoughts and secrets. Paint or draw pictures about how you feel. Build something. Garden! Actually, studies have shown that there is stuff in garden soil that works better than antidepressants. So get out there, and don't wear gloves. Get dirty, get creative and don't worry about whether it's good enough — if you made it, it's awesome. And while you are doing all this, listen to music, because that helps, too.
10. Connect with your dreams. Do you remember what, as a child, you dreamed your life would be like? Often, I find, I get depressed when I have strayed too far from my original dreams. Yes, sometimes we need to change our dreams, but it's amazing the power of those deep original dreams and how they can guide us.
11. Have the courage to change. Truly, I believe the only way out of depression is to listen to what the darkness is trying to tell you and change your life accordingly. I've been shocked sometimes by what I've learned and heard in those darkest moments, but as long as you trust your heart and soul and what they're trying to tell you, you will find the brightness again. The light is right there waiting for you to turn the corner and see it. It will get better, and then you will be so grateful and happy that you had the courage to get through the darkness awake and alive.
Now, I'm really going to sound like my mother when I say this, but I'm going to say it anyway: Always remember that after the darkest storm is when the rainbows come out.
This article was reprinted with permission. For more from Maria Rodale, visit mariasfarcountrykitchen.com.