Of the many mental health and mood disorders that modern society is grappling with, the most insidious of them happens to be depression—which the symptoms for can go unnoticed until it is too late. In the US, 25 million people—or about 7% of the population—suffer from depression each year. The annual cost of depression in the US due to lost productivity and health care is a staggering $80 billion. And—here is where it becomes urgent—over 50% of Americans who commit suicide demonstrate depressive symptoms; when you consider alcoholics, this number rises to 75%. Depression affects children and adolescents, too.
What is Depression?
A continuous state of feeling low or emotions that one would consider sad, dark and melancholic accompanied with lack of interest in any activity is broadly termed as depression—a condition which may last from a few days to months or even years.
Symptoms of depression may not be prominent, or may resemble with temporary sadness or grief. While some of grieving symptoms are similar to depression, they are not the same.
- Feelings of sadness, negative thoughts, and loss come in waves and episodes when one is grieving and remembers better times but in cases of chronic depression, the symptoms persist for at least two weeks without relenting.
- Self-esteem is not affected when one grieves. Depression is accompanied with feelings of worthlessness and incapacity.
- Grief can trigger depression and the combination of the two can be severe in terms of traumatic symptoms.
Causes of Depression
The exact cause of depression is not known, but there are a number of factors which may affect or aggravate the condition:
Having certain genes can put people at risk of depression and make them prone to developing mental illnesses.
Impairment of neurotransmission—the process of carrying signals between brain and different parts of the body could affect nerve receptors in the body’s neural network, leading to depression and other mental health disorders.
Research indicates that 30% of substance abusers are clinically depressed. The suicide rate in patients of depression who are alcoholic is as high as 75%.
In people prone to mental health disorders, triggers can come in the form of conflict at home, in families, or relationships.
Abuse or Trauma
Physical or sexual abuse in the past can leave impressions that can develop into depressive symptoms at later stages in life.
Signs and Symptoms
Individual causes and triggers of depression are diverse. This is why it is important for us to become more aware and sensitive to nonverbal cues to identify depressive patterns and intervene before the symptoms become too difficult to manage.
Persistent Feeling of Loss
The feeling of loss which keeps one away from their duties and distracts them from the responsibilities. These are not just usual mood swings which come as a wave and settle eventually. These linger for days and weeks, hampering one’s routine.
Unusual Changes in Appetite
If one is eating too much or too little, then it needs to be observed to record patterns. Occasional overeating or fasting is different from depression triggers.A significant change in appetite and meal portions can be one of the depression symptoms.
Fatigue and Sleep Disorders
One of the prominent symptoms of the condition is fatigue. If one is getting tired sooner, not able to get enough sleep, or sleeping more than usual, it is a cause for concern. Disturbed sleep habits can lead to anxiety.
Getting irritated easily is another symptom. In patients of clinical depression, the slightest noise, pending work, or unfavorable statements from people around can make them unusually irritable. Research say that it is more prevalent in men.
A person affected by major depression may experience frequent shifts in emotions—one minute they may feel like crying and the next, they are angry.
Thoughts of Death or Doomsday
Prolonged or severe depression may trigger thoughts of deaths of loved ones or of committing suicide. Some patients perceive death as the door to freedom from the perceived darkness and helplessness in their life. In spiritual terms, this is a sign of lowest prana or life force.
Depressive tendencies do not let one concentrate on an activity for long. Focus is usually weak and there is difficulty in recalling things.
Mood swings often affect the digestion and digestive issues accompanied by frequent headaches and unreasonable weight loss or gain can be more visible symptoms of depression. A person may get affected by some of these symptoms with varying intensities.
Western Medicine and Depression Treatment
We have seen an unprecedented rise in mental health cases, diagnoses, and nature of complications, but the problem runs much deeper. Although Western medicine is considered the main solution provider for mental health diseases, it has been failing us. A recent study revealed that about two thirds of doctors misdiagnosed depression and prescribed antidepressants that were unnecessary. Though the consequences of antidepressant dependency is nothing like that of drug or alcohol addiction, prolonged use of antidepressants can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms when ceasing them after a considerable period of time can be debilitating. Some of the withdrawal symptoms experienced include nausea, confusion, hallucinations, hand tremors, or depression. This is worrying because long term use of antidepressants has surged in the US. According to an article published in the New York Times last year, 15.5 million Americans are on antidepressant medication and the numbers have tripled since 2000.
Alternative Medicine Solutions
Here’s why we can go out on a limb and tell you that alternative treatments are showing equally effective and sustainable results in treating patients with chronic and mild depression through holistic means. While most antidepressant medications include SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and NERI (norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), meditation practices, yoga, holistic retreats dedicated to treating mental health problems, and powerful new-age breathing techniques like Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (more on that later in the article) have proven to have similar effects on hormonal functions, bringing about a deeper sense of well-being and joy in patients of mild to chronic depression in a sustainable way.
Solutions and Cures
For the longest time, the spiritual dimension of treating mental-health disorders was ignored or sidelined. Millions of people all over the world report not just feeling better and healthier with the help of practices like yoga, meditation, and deep breathing, but they also report the condition being treated from its root instead of just addressal of symptoms as in Western medicine. Let us look at natural and non-invasive solutions to deal with the condition of depression.
Vagus Nerve and Depression
The latest research in neuroscience talks about the most important nerve in the body, the Vagus (meaning wanderer) Nerve, which is responsible for the mind-body connection. It influences the functioning of almost all of the important organs in the body—the brain, gut, heart, liver, pancreas, kidney, spleen, lungs, reproductive organs, and even the tongue.
- Brain, depression and anxiety
- Gut, digestive juice secretion
- Heart rate variability
- Blood glucose balance
- Bile production
- Kidney function
Most of all, it can influence a sense of connectedness, mental and physical well-being, and even altruistic behavior.
Stimulation of the vagus nerve is directly linked to your wellness. The better your vagal tone, the happier and healthier you are mentally and physically. Any practice that aids the stimulation of the vagus nerve, improves the body-mind connection since the vagus nerve is the physical representation of the link between body and mind. In this, simple techniques like deeper diaphragmatic breathing or Sudarshan Kriya Yoga have been found to activate the vagus nerve, triggering over all happiness and well-being.
Deep, abdominal breathing is often used as an alternative to pacemakers in the stimulation of the vagus nerve. Pranayama—ancient Indian breathing techniques—are key processes through which we can use the breath for our health.
In spiritual terms, the onset of depression is a sign of low prana or life force energy in an individual. Anything that a person can do to elevate their prana or life force can quickly help them overcome depression, apart from the more traditional therapies like counseling and psychotherapy.
Yoga for Depression
Retreats Deal with Depression at Its Root
Nestled atop the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, the Art of Living Retreat Center offers yoga retreats curated for tackling mental health disorders including anxiety and depression through treatments, diet and yoga. Here, you
- Practice and learn yoga under the supervision of highly trained faculties in an idyllic setting
- Experience Panchakarma (detoxification) therapies administered by seasoned therapists
- Eat nourishing, tasty food, some of it sourced right from our organic garden
- Explore and reconnect with nature.
Yoga as the doorway to happiness. People with depression are said to be extremely low on serotonin levels. Yoga and other forms of physical activity benefit the body, mind, and spirit, and let the endorphins—natural pain and stress relievers—get going. Yoga naturally increases serotonin, a hormone said to be responsible for happiness and reduction in depression.
Asanas, or yoga postures increase the blood circulation in the body. A unique aspect of yoga is the focus on the breath while practicing postures. This helps increase oxygen supply to every organ including the brain. More oxygenation provides the body with more energy. Higher energy level can be an effective panacea to symptoms of depression.
Poses for Calming Stress
The poses below work on the stress centers in the body. Practicing these postures with total awareness and joy can bring incredibly calming results for the mind and body. A calm mind is better equipped to deal with ‘dark’ episodes that a wavering restless mind may struggle to deal with.
- Shishuasana(Child Pose)
- Halasana (Plow Pose)
- Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
- Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog)
- Setu Bandhasana (Bridge Pose)
Pranayama or Deep Breathing Practices
Breath is the bridge between body and mind. Focusing on the breath can have a miraculous impact on the body-mind complex in healing depression. Controlled breathing, or pranayama, detoxifies the body, eliminates stress, and clears the mind, and induces feelings of calmness, well-being, and joy.
- Increase lung capacity
- Trigger release of happy hormones
- Help you sleep better
- Produce a sense of relaxation
- Calm down the mind.
For those who meditate, pranayamas are the best preparation to get into a meditative state. Some of the breathing techniques that can help fight symptoms of depression include
- Nadi Shodhan Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing)
- Bhramari Pranayama (Bee Breath)
- Sudarshan Kriya Yoga or SKY Meditation
Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY)
Meditation has emerged as one of the most effective antidotes to depression in recent times. A vast body of research now admits meditation can affect one’s neural network to produce sense of well being and happiness. But what most depression patients may find difficult or unwilling to do is-still their minds. Here a practice like SKY is proven to be helpful.
SKY is a powerful rhythmic breathing technique being practiced by over 4.5 million people all over the world. No matter what the state of mind is and how many thoughts one has or how restless the body is, 10 minutes of SKY breathing instantly calms one down. Cognized by global spiritual leader and founder of the International Association For Human Values, Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, the practice is concluded with an effortless meditative state where practitioners report clarity of mind, prolonged moments of thoughtlessness, slower and steadier heart rate and calmness of being. Sudarshan Kriya uses specific cyclical, rhythmic patterns of breath to bring the mind and body into a relaxed yet wakeful state.
- Regular practice of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga has a similar effect to an activated vagus nerve, the key to depression treatment.
- Along with the activation of the “Rest and Digest” (Parasympathetic) Nervous system, this powerful breathing technique can improve Prolactin (well-being hormone) secretion by 50%,
Increase time spent in deep sleep by 218% and has alleviated many around the world of depression, anxiety and stress.
- Another indicator of deep relaxation is the blood lactate level which reduced by 87.5% in a group of highly stressed individuals.
- EEG Alpha waves increase with practice of the technique showing relaxed state of mind.
- SKY training can be useful non-steroidal intervention to reduce cardiovascular risk in patients with anxiety/depression disorders.
Service is an attitude innate to all human beings. Helping others, gives a sense of satisfaction, brings a feeling of pride, boosts confidence, nurtures empathy, brings a sense of security or connectedness that helps fight depression.
Leading Stanford Researcher Emma Seppala writes, “People low in social connection are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, antisocial behavior, and even suicidal behaviors which tend to further increase their isolation.” The reverse being true as well. “People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.”
Food rejuvenates, energizes and nourishes the body. A poor diet can potentially stall the progress made on treating depression. Eating a balanced and healthy diet keeps the energy levels high. Higher energy levels are the key to a happy mind.
Self-Abhyanga is the practice of massaging yourself with the aid of oils in order to assist in the balancing of your doshas. This is an essential practice in Ayurvedic teachings and can help one get through not just depression, but also seasonal changes that have a depressive overshadow. It helps put your mind and body at ease, and is also an energizing and stimulating practice that gets your body prepared to perform at its absolute best.
How to Self-Abhyanga
Ayurveda, a 5000-year-old science of healing and wellness, prescribes herbal solutions for healing depression. Some natural relaxants with no side effects can be administered after consulting a qualified Ayurvedic physician. Ayurvedic herbs for depression, rich in vitamins like D,A,E,K, B12, antioxidants and healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids needed for vitality, brain health, and neural relaxation, that can be integrated in depression treatment include
Fixed Meal and Sleep Times
Fixing meals and sleep timing is important in dealing with depression. Staying up late at night can be a particularly vulnerable trigger for those with depression or even people who face risk of depression.
Helping Loved Ones
Living with someone who is depressed throws up its own set of challenges, but it also presents opportunities to bring your loved one out of the situation.
- Learn about the symptoms of depression; your understanding of the symptoms can empower you to better help.
- Consult an expert to understand your role in supporting the person going through depression.
- Be a good listener. Sometimes lending a listening ear heals more than medicine. Assuring them that you are there for them without offering any judgements will boost their confidence and faith in healing.
- Encouraging the person to seek a solution is important. Sometimes the denial of the condition, or taboo around it, inhibits the patient to seek help.
- Don’t leave them alone at home.
- Stay strong. As a caregiver supporting your loved one to get out of depression, it is important for you to stay strong, sensitive, and positive. Regular meditation is a great way to stay focused without getting affected by any negativity. Meditation also makes you more sensitive and aware of people around you, so you can pick non-verbal cues of a depressed person.