Have you noticed how on the onset of autumn and winter affects our mood? I notice every year. With rare sunshine, longer nights and clouds dominating the sky, the mood definitely nosedives. Seasonal changes in the way we feel and think are inevitable in most of us. For some people, they are not so noticeable, while others dread the end of summer.
The way our body responds to seasonal changes is quite natural both for humans and animals. The word “hibernation” is being used by us regularly – as a joke. But to many animals, it is a reality. This is the way the body and mind are naturally designed to respond to an onset of cold, and it hasn’t changed since pre-historic times. Most of us adapt to these changes and just carry on. Some suffer from low moods when winter comes. There is even a recognised condition called SAD -Seasonal Affective Disorder.
However, for some people, depression is not related to a particular season. It just happens, seemingly out of the blue. I am one of these people, having lived through a 5-year depression following the birth of my daughter and very stressful sequence of events. I was not diagnosed as having depression for 2 years, wondering why I was feeling the way I did. Eventually, when things became quite bad, I saw my GP and was prescribed an antidepressant – Seroxat (Paroxetine Hydrochloride). I took it for about 4 years or so and started to feel better. It certainly helped with depression. I could function again. However, there were side-effects too – I put on weight, and there were other side-effects too which I will not mention here.
Eventually, I decided to take charge of my life, and wean myself off the medication. This is where the problems started. I started feeling weepy and a lot worse than when I just began to take them. I began reading about Seroxat and found out that it had a very poor record when people wanted to stop taking it. It turned out to be an addictive one, although it was not mentioned in the long list of side-effects. Eventually, my GP prescribed me a milder antidepressant, and by cutting the doses, I gradually came off it, and have been living without relying on medication ever since. But I know that some people trying to wean themselves off antidepressants may not be so lucky.
“It is thought antidepressants work by increasing levels of a group of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Certain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and noradrenaline, can improve mood and emotion, although this process is not fully understood. Increasing levels of neurotransmitters can also disrupt pain signals sent by nerves, which may explain why some antidepressants can help relieve long-term pain.” http://www.nhs.uk
While there are non-disputable benefits from using medication to treat depression, we need to remember that antidepressants are drugs and have a large list of side effects which include but are not limited to:
- Feeling sick
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth
- Weight gain
- Loss of libido and decrease in sexual function
- Blurred vision
- Suicidal moods (especially when starting or getting off a medication)
- Inability to focus – and the list continues.
So what are natural alternatives to antidepressants?
- St John’s Wort – a herbal remedy which has been medically researched to contain active substances which work by inhibiting the reuptake of the neurotransmitters serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine, thus mimicking the action of anti-depressants, without their side-effects.
- Magnesium oil and supplements – magnesium deficiency is one of the main causes of depression, so magnesium supplementation is vital. Supplementing orally or transdermally – or both – will promote normalisation of the neurotransmitter functions, sleep and relaxation. Read more about magnesium supplementation here.
- 5-HTP – 5-Hydroxytryptophan – this is a chemical which the body makes out of tryptophan – an essential amino acid which comes into our body with food. Tryptophan is converted in the body into 5-HTP, which is then converted into the neurotransmitter called serotonin – the “happiness hormone”. Taking the supplement provides the body with the building blocks for it to produce serotonin.
- S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) – an amino acid derivative that is produced by the body. SAMe plays a role in the immune system maintains cell membranes and helps produce and break down brain chemicals, such as serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine. It works with vitamin B12 and folate (vitamin B9). Being deficient in either vitamin B12 or folate may reduce levels of SAMe in your body. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/sadenosylmethionine
- Fish oil – Scientific research has indicated that Omega-3 components in fish oil may help with depression.”On the biochemical front, researchers point out that cell membranes are made up partly of omega-3’s. It is possible that increasing the omega-3 levels makes it easier for serotonin — a chemical that carries messages from one brain cell to another — to pass through cell membranes. “Research still needs to be done on the exact mechanisms involved,” Stoll notes, “but we do know that omega-3 does affect the membranes and changes functioning.” And increasing omega-3 “has direct effects on serotonin levels.” http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/fish-oil-to-treat-depression
- Lithium – In allopathic medicine, the form of lithium used is Lithium Carbonate. “Lithium Carbonate is used to treat a number of mental health problems that are thought to be due to a chemical imbalance in the brain. Lithium Carbonate affects the levels and activity of certain chemicals in the brain. Lithium Carbonate is used to treat mania, bipolar disorder, aggressive or self-harming behaviour. It is also given to people with certain types of depression when their previous treatments for depression have not been successful.” http://www.nhs.uk/medicine-guides/pages/MedicineOverview.aspx?condition=Depression&medicine=lithium%20carbonate. “Notably, lithium is one of the few agents with long-term data showing a reduction in suicide among patients with a mental illness. A systematic review of 32 randomized controlled trials of lithium for suicidality and all-cause mortality in mood disorders found that subjects that received lithium were less likely to die from suicide compared to subjects taking other psychotropic medications (odds ratio=0.26; 95% CI=0.09-0.77).” http://cpnp.org/resource/mhc/2012/07/lithium-augmentation-major-depressive-disorders
I have recently found out that Lithium is sold as a supplement – Lithium Orotate, Lithium Carbonate and Lithium Citrate, normally in 5mg capsules/ tablets. Considering that in severely affected people dosage comes in grams per day, this is very low. Generally, Lithium is recognised as safe even in large doses.
Other effective ways to deal with depression
- Watch what you eat (very important) – cut down on sugar and processed foods, increase healthy foods in your diet – oily fish, pulses, vegetables, bananas, nuts, dried fruit, brown rice.
- Alcohol makes depression worse. It may provide a few hours of fun and oblivion, but eventually, you need to sober up, and it’s not a nice feeling. Alcohol and depression are the best of buddies. Plus, if you are taking alcohol, you cannot take antidepressants, since it can prove to be lethal.
- Drugs (the “hard” ones) – same happens here. Temporary “high” is followed by an almighty “low”. If you are doing drugs, you must know it. “Hard” drugs and antidepressants don’t go together, and drugs make depression worse.
- Throw that coke and other soda drinks out of your fridge – they contain too many ingredients which we not only don’t need in our body but which are harmful to us. Plus all that sugar – or aspartame if it’s sugar-free.
- Exercise – it is by far the best non-oral way to lift depression, especially when it involves regularly walking outside. It may be hard to start with, but a habit takes 4 weeks on average to build up. You will notice the difference in the way you feel pretty soon.
- CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) – a non-medical way to deal with depression, by changing the way we see things, in the here and now, and modifying the way we respond to it. CBT has an excellent track record as a counselling therapy.
- Meditation – calms the mind, helps to re-focus, see what’s important and what isn’t. A good daily meditation routine can help a lot, bringing acceptance and with it a feeling of power back into your life.
- Music – have you thought of it? Music is one of the best mood boosters available to us. Listen to what you enjoy and what makes you feel alive.
- Pursue your interests with a passion. I know that it may be hard to have a passion when we are depressed. But believe me – it works. When you see something coming out of what you are doing, your mind goes live again. I have been there, and I know that it works.
- Daily affirmations. You may laugh about it, but they do work. The thing is – it may not work at first since the affirmation has to get through the barricade of rational thinking which of course involves doubting ourselves, and the truth of what we are saying. However, when we repeat something to ourselves day after day, the subconscious mind begins to respond to it, even without us noticing. So laugh, but say it all the same. Again and again – whatever good you want to happen to you. Say it as it has already happened. Your mind will soon surrender, and your whole being will start to act to help you with your goal.
Most of all – surround yourself with supportive positive people. Get rid of the so-called “friends” who put you down all the time, are jealous of everything that goes right for you, and create drama around themselves. You don’t need energy suckers, especially when you are in the dumps yourself. Find a group of people who are interested in doing the things you enjoy doing. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it is positive and creative. Remember that there is a lot of help around, but it is you who has to help yourself first of all. Take good care of yourself!