Everyone at some point experiences the “blues”—feelings of melancholy, sadness, grief, or just general malaise. When it doesn’t go away, when it begins to affect your behavior, or when it leads to other problems—depression, anxiety, compulsive disorder, panic disorder, eating disorders, and other serious medical issues—it’s time to take a serious look at the causes and find interventions to get back on the path to well-being.
Depression is a serious and pervasive mood disorder that causes feelings of sadness, hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness. Symptoms of mild to moderate depression are apathy, lack of appetite, difficulty sleeping, low self-esteem. Major depression symptoms include almost constant depressed and guilty feelings, lack of interest in daily activities, weight loss or gain, sleeping disorders, fatigue, and recurring thoughts of death or suicide.
Depression can affect anyone—men, women, children, the elderly, the rich, the poor—regardless of where they live or how they live. Risk factors include
- Family history of depression
- Major life changes, trauma, or stress
- Certain physical illnesses and medications.
While depression isn’t picky about who it preys on, there are types of depression that are more common than others, and the disorder itself may exhibit differently, based on gender and age.
Depression in Children
Childhood depression can manifest in disruptive or destructive behaviors at home or school, as well as interfere with social activities, learning, and psychological development. Young children with family members who have a history of depression or other mood disorders are more likely to suffer from depression, often due to a genetic predisposition.
Irritability, anger, and agitation are often the most noticeable symptoms in depressed teens, not sadness. They may also complain of headaches, stomachaches, or other physical pains. Many teens feel moody or unhappy—hormones, the agony of the school petri dish, overwhelm at what the future holds—but when these feelings are prolonged and lead to thoughts or talk of self-harm, suicide, or use of drugs or alcohol, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible to rule out any underlying medical conditions.
Depression in Men and Women
Men and women both experience depression, but mood disorders are twice as prevalent in women than men. However, men are more likely to turn to substance abuse to cope.
Depressed men are less likely to acknowledge feelings of self-loathing and hopelessness. Instead, they tend to complain about fatigue, irritability, sleep problems, and loss of interest in work and hobbies. They’re also more likely to experience symptoms such as anger, aggression or hostility, reckless behavior, and substance abuse.
Women are more likely to experience depression symptoms such as pronounced feelings of guilt, excessive sleeping, overeating, and weight gain. They tend to be sad and emotional. Depression in women is also impacted by hormonal factors during menstruation, pregnancy, and menopause. In fact, postpartum depression affects up to 1 in 7 women following childbirth.
Depression in the Elderly
We experience many losses over a lifetime, and as we get older, these losses can tend to be major—loss of partners and loved ones, long-time careers, mobility, independence, just to name a few. These factors, combined with feelings of loneliness and isolation, fear of dying, medications and medical conditions, and a reduced sense of purpose can create the perfect storm for elderly depression. Older adults tend to complain more about the physical rather than the emotional signs and symptoms of depression: things like fatigue, unexplained aches and pains, and memory problems. They may also neglect their personal appearance and stop taking critical medications for their health.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
SAD can affect anyone at any age, but is most frequent in young adults. The disorder is related to changes in the season with fall–winter being the most prominent, but it can occur in spring and summer as well. Symptoms gradually become more severe as the season progresses and include
- Lack of energy
- Social withdrawal
- Having problems sleeping
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Difficulty concentrating
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
In the fall and winter, specific symptoms may include oversleeping, weight gain, and tiredness or low energy. In the spring and summer, insomnia, poor appetite, and agitation or anxiety are more prevalent.
One of the reasons you may experience SAD is related to circadian rhythms disrupting the body’s internal clock—less sunlight can cause reduced serotonin and melatonin (mood regulating hormones) levels. Geographical location can determine the amount of sunlight in winter and summer. Family history with mood disorders also plays an important role.
Despite it being the “most wonderful time of the year,” the holidays are a time when almost everyone experiences some form of stress. Lack of money, too much to do, less time for self, not being to spend time with family, or spending TOO much time with family—are all factors that can contribute to feeling stressed, anxious, and/or depressed no matter what you celebrate or when. Holidays are often a time we think of passed loved ones and feel pressure to do things we don’t necessarily want to do or can’t afford. They are also a time when more parties, larger gatherings, bigger crowds in stores, and more expectations regarding socializing can create extremely stressful situations for those suffering with social anxiety.
As if all of that wasn’t enough for the winter holidays, it’s cold and flu season. In some areas, bad weather makes getting places dangerous and stressful, More parties might mean overindulging in alcohol (a depressant), making you more emotional and open to a major meltdown. But wait! It’s the holidays and you are expected to be happy! Yet another reason holidays can be particularly trying for those already suffering from depression and other mental illnesses.
Solutions for Everyone
There are ways to fight depression no matter who you are. First and foremost, it’s extremely important to talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional as soon as possible. If you know someone who thinks or talks about harming themselves, take it very seriously and do not hesitate to call a suicide hotline immediately. Call 800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433); 800-273-TALK (800-273-8255); or, the hotline for the hearing impaired at 800-799-4889.
There are many ways to naturally relieve depression. Integrating some of these practices into your life can make huge differences in how you feel mentally and physically.
Get Enough Sleep
It cannot be stressed enough how important sleep is to good mental health and well-being. The right amount of sleep helps your brain work properly, improves learning, helps mental acuity, creativity, and even social behaviors. On the physical side, your body repairs and heals during sleep. Ongoing sleep deficiencies have been linked to increased risks of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and more. They also increase the risks of obesity—sleep helps maintain hormone balances that control hunger, blood sugar levels, and healthy growth and development.
Studies show that exercise can treat mild to moderate depression as effectively as antidepressant medication. Exercise can be an effective way to fight depression because it promotes changes in the brain including new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, energizing chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. Exercise is also a great time to practice a form of mindful meditation, a way to replace any negative thoughts with kind attention to what you’re doing and what is around you.
As a matter of fact, meditation has been shown to manage the stress and anxiety that can trigger depression. Anyone, regardless of age or ability, can incorporate daily meditation into their routines—even as little as 15 minutes a day. With time and practice, many people learn to control how they react to the triggers that lead to depression.
According to Medical News Today, a healthful diet may “significantly reduce” symptoms of depression. Just making simple dietary changes can be beneficial to mental health:
- Eat more high-fiber foods and vegetables
- Cut back on, or eliminate fast foods
- Avoid refined sugars
- Increase selenium intake—whole grains, Brazil nuts, some seafood, organ meats,
Vitamin D—oily fish, fortified dairy products, beef liver, eggs
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids—salmon, sardines, tuna, mackerel, flaxseed, flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts
- Antioxidants: Vitamins A, C, and E—berries and other fresh fruits, vegetables, soy, and other plant products.
- B Vitamins—Eggs, meat, poultry, fish, oysters, milk, whole grains, fortified cereals, dark leafy vegetables, nuts, beans, fruits and fruit juices, seafood, eggs
- Zinc—Whole grains, beef, chicken, pork, beans, nuts and pumpkin seeds
- Protein—tryptophan creates serotonin, that feel good hormone, and can be found in tuna, turkey, and chickpeas.
- Probiotics—Yogurt, kefir
It is important to make time for things you enjoy, even if nothing seems fun anymore. That’s just the depression talking. How can you do that? The saying “fake it until you make it” definitely applies here. You might have to work at having fun, which seems to defeat the purpose. Do things you once liked to do, even if you don’t feel like it. Eventually, the spark will re-ignite, but if nothing else, you’ll keep yourself from giving in to your depression.
Mind Your Surroundings
Some of the key ways to work on your mental health are knowing your triggers and boundaries. This could mean staying organized, watching and reading only uplifting materials, staying off social media, and avoiding overly stimulating environments.
It could also mean being more selective about who you let into your life. Avoiding, or limiting your exposure to, toxic individuals—emotional vampires who may be envious, judgmental, and competitive.
Stay connected, surrounded with people who make you feel good. Plan time with loved ones and friends, connect with like-minded people in support groups, volunteer opportunities, and online social media sites.
Keep your home tidy and clean, open the curtains to let in the sun, and use scent to minimize stress and improve sleep, listen to music. Perhaps consider the mood-boosting power of a pet.
You’ve Got This
Depression can be poisonous. The physical and mental pain it can cause may seem like the end of the world. Medical studies have provided unprecedented insight into the causes and cures—we know more now than ever about how important it is to support those suffering. Ayurveda’s ancient medical system has recognized the importance of a healthy and happy mind-body complex for more than 5,000 years and has proven authentic practices that support the balance of mind, body, and spirit. Self-care is imperative to healing and there is no better way to dive deep into building a solid foundation for wellness than one of our signature evidence-based Ayurveda programs. From our flagship Happiness Retreat to our Anxiety, Depression, and Chronic Stress Wellness Retreat to Panchakarma and Meditation Retreats—we have many ways to begin your journey toward regaining a life without depression, anxiety, and chronic stress.