If you’re someone who has struggled with stress or anxiety, then you understand what a physical experience it can become. Stress can affect our bodies in so many ways, but it can have an equally strong effect on our minds. Especially long term issues with stress, which for some people can turn into lasting depression.
The Connection Between Stress And Depression
The science of mind-body medicine helps us understand the ongoing connection between the mind and body and see how anxiety and depression may be triggered by a variety of factors. These can include nutritional, psychological, physical, emotional, environmental, social, and spiritual factors, as well as genetic tendencies or brain disease. While we often hear about a biochemical cause, meaning that certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters are out of balance, it is not clear if the level of neurotransmitters is the actual cause of anxiety and depression, or simply a symptom that a person is anxious or depressed.
Optimizing Brain Health
While depression and anxiety are usually categorized as mental illnesses, we find it more useful to think of them as disruptions in brain health, which is directly related to the physical makeup and mechanisms of the brain, as well as emotional and relational issues.
This perspective highlights the need to take care of the brain, which, like other organs in the body, is impacted by our lifestyle. As such, what we eat, how we move, and the quality of our sleep impact the functioning of our brain. In addition, how we handle stress and other emotions, the quality of our relationships, and our sense of purpose all play a role in brain/mental health.
A new concept of the brain is emerging. Instead of being a static organ that doesn’t change after adolescence, the brain is now seen as having a lifelong dynamic ability to change in response to its environment. Neuroplasticity is the term used to explain the brain’s ability to change (from small cellular changes to complete remapping) in response to new learning, experience, or injury. This new understanding underlines the importance of paying attention to our brain health and development. The brain as an organ (like the heart) needs to experience a “brain-healthy” lifestyle.
If you already feel the effects of stress transitioning into depression in your own life, don’t despair. Just because you have experienced depression does not mean it’s a life sentence! You can retrain your brain, learn new habits and coping mechanisms, and even rebalance the chemical makeup if that is to blame in your situation.
Everyone’s body and life is unique, and you deserve the same care, attention, and health as everyone else. If you believe something is wrong, seek out a medical professional who will listen and help you get on a path to better health and happiness. In the mean time, try some of the ideas below to give yourself a jumpstart toward a better life.
Natural Ways To Fight Depression
Move your body. Exercise releases happy-making endorphins, which act like natural anti-depressants. Runner’s high, anyone?
Never skip a meal. Keeping your blood sugar stable reduces mood swings.
Eat a serotonin-enhancing diet. Many anti-depressants like Prozac act by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin by receptors in the brain, thereby increasing serotonin levels. But you can increase your brain’s serotonin levels by eating foods that boost your serotonin levels naturally.
Serotonin-enhancing foods include:
- Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (such as wild salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, and anchovies, which are even higher in omega-3 fatty acids than other fish)
- Healthy fats like coconut oil
- Eat a high protein diet, especially proteins high in tryptophan, like free range turkey
Avoid caffeine, which reduces serotonin levels. If you need an energy boost, supplement with L-Tyrosine (500 – 1000 mg).
Expose yourself to sunlight, which can boost mood and increase Vitamin D levels. If you live somewhere that gets little sun, invest in a therapeutic light box.
Meditate or try guided imagery. Meditation’s effects on mood are well documented. Settling your mind can lift your mood, in addition to a whole host of other health benefits.
Get your hormones balanced. If your thyroid, adrenal or sex hormones are out of whack, your mood can get all wonky. See a good integrative medicine doctor and ask them to order and interpret the following tests:
- Thyroid gland tests – TSH, free T4, free T3, total T3, thyroid antibodies
- Adrenal gland tests – cortisol, DHEA-S, pregnenolone
- Sex hormone tests – estradiol, progesterone, free and total testosterone
– via Psychology Today
Do you ever feel a pull toward depression when your stress takes over? How do you fight these feelings to maintain a stronger sense of control over your life and emotions?