holistic Tools for depression support & recovery (PART 1): Nutrition basics, reducing depletors & supporting sleep
In many countries around the world, 20–25% of people will experience a mental health problem. This is one in every four to five people. Depression is one of the most commonly experienced mental health problems. While the causes of depression can be different for different people, there are often common contributors such as excessive stress or ongoing stress, trauma (past or recent) and emotional pain.
I’m going to share some tools for managing and recovering from depression that you can start to action in your life. This article will be in two parts. First, we'll focus on some basics of supporting your physical health - nutrition, reducing caffeine and alcohol, and supporting sleep. Part two will then look at ways to support your emotional health.
Supporting your physical health
Nutrition - regular meals and keeping blood glucose levels stable
Some people lose interest in food when they are depressed and unintentionally lose weight. Unfortunately, lack of nutritious food can exacerbate depression. Other people overeat comfort foods when they are depressed, which may be a sign of hungering for comfort (e.g., talking to someone, being around kind and supportive people and in environments that uplift you).
From a nutritional perspective, the following guidelines will help support stable mood.
Eating breakfast is key to setting up your mood and energy for the day. Skipping breakfast leads to low blood sugar levels, which leads to low mood and low energy, and can increase irritability and feelings of overwhelm and sadness. Ideally, eat a protein-rich breakfast such as:
Protein-rich foods promote satiety (fullness) and steady blood glucose levels. Stable blood glucose levels = more stable mood. If you have little appetite first thing in the morning, take some hard boiled eggs or dinner leftovers to work with you, or keep some good quality organic muesli and nuts and seeds at your desk. Aim to eat by 9:30am at the latest, even if it's just one hard boiled egg or a few mouthfuls of nutty muesli or leftover dinner.
Reducing or taking a break from caffeine and alcohol (depleting substances)
Alcohol is a depressant and depletes B vitamins, which are vital for the structure and function of the nervous system and thus mental health. Every alcoholic drink is basically robbing your brain - which is a hungry organ - of nourishment.
Like alcohol, caffeine also robs our brain of nutrients. It depletes B vitamins and depletes the mineral magnesium, which is needed for calm mood, relaxation, muscle relaxation and sleep. Furthermore, without adequate B vitamins (which both caffeine and alcohol deplete), the body cannot make the soothing neurotransmitter, GABA. Reduced GABA has been linked to sleep problems, anxiety, addiction and panic attacks.
Additionally, caffeine and alcohol stimulate production of the stress hormone cortisol and keep us in the stress response, know as fight-or-flight. Being repeatedly pushed into the stress response via hormonal effects triggered by alcohol and caffeine consumption can worsen depression (and anxiety). Prolonged, elevated cortisol levels are associated with many adverse effects on mental and physical health, such as depression, exhaustion, sleeping problems, digestive problems, feelings of burnout and lowered immune function.
Consider taking a break from alcohol and caffeinated drinks (all types of coffee, black tea, colas and energy drinks) for four to six weeks to see how you feel.
Supporting sound sleep
Which two tools from this article might you get started on this week, to support yourself through depression?
Click here to read part two in this series, which focuses on Taking care of your emotional health.
Are you suffering with depression and looking for help from a health professional who understands? Click here to contact me for a chat and to book your consultation.