The most recent data on depression in the United States shows that approximately 16.2 million adults (nearly seven percent of the adult population) experienced at least one major depressive episode in the last year .
Many people find relief from their depression with a combination of prescription antidepressant drugs and psychotherapy.
However, it’s important to remember that lifestyle changes like the three listed below can also have a significant impact on the severity and frequency of a person’s depressive episodes.
Many people don’t realize that the foods they eat on a regular basis can majorly affect their mood. A five-year study found that people who ate a diet that consisted primarily of healthy, nutrient-dense foods like fruit, vegetables, and fish had significantly lower odds of experiencing depression compared to those who ate a diet of sweets, fried foods, processed meats, and refined grains .
What kinds of foods should you include in your diet to fight and prevent depression?>
- Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids: These are essential for reducing inflammation and promoting proper communication in the brain . Good sources include wild-caught fatty fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel, as well as flaxseeds and egg yolks.
- Folate-rich fruits and vegetables: A deficiency in folate can contribute to depressive symptoms. Good sources of folate include spinach, avocado, beets, asparagus, and broccoli .
- Healthy fats: Healthy fats prevent free radical damage and provide energy and mood boosts. Sources of healthy fats include grass-fed butter, avocado, coconut oil, and extra virgin olive oil.
It’s important to avoid refined carbohydrates and sugar, too. They may temporarily give you a mood boost, but they seem to do more harm than good, as that brief feeling of happiness is usually accompanied by low energy, weight gain, sleep disturbances, and even candida overgrowth .
In addition to improving your diet, it’s important to make sure you have supportive friends and family with whom you can stay connected during difficult times.
Research shows that those who lack quality social relationships face an increased risk of experiencing major depression .
It’s often easier said than done to reach out and make friends, especially when you’re already feeling depressed. However, there are lots of things you can do to grow your social circle, including:
- Join a local church to find friends who share your faith
- Join a recreation sports team or attend group fitness classes
- Volunteer for a local charity
- Join social media groups for people in your area and look for (or propose) in-person meetups
Assuming you have a positive relationship with them, it’s also helpful to stay in touch with your family.
If you don’t live close enough to visit them in person, try to schedule regular phone or video calls. Many new intercom systems also have video capabilities that allow you to stay connected and check in with people who live far away from you.
A consistent exercise routine can work wonders for people struggling with depression.
Not only does exercise produce endorphins, hormones that promote feelings of positivity and well-being, but it also can help improve your sleep, increase your confidence, and help you feel empowered to continue trying new things .
That being said, when you’re deep in the throes of depression, it can be incredibly hard to motivate yourself to get up and exercise. Don’t think you have to buy a gym membership or a bunch of equipment to start seeing the results of a workout program.
If you’re not doing any kind of physical activity, start by aiming for a 10- to 15-minute walk outside 3-5 days per week. The combination of sunshine and exercise will give you an energy and endorphin boost.
Once you feel comfortable with that, you can start increasing the duration and frequency of your walks. Later on, you can consider adding in activities like resistance training, yoga, or playing your favorite sport for added benefits.
Depression can be incredibly debilitating, and it’s easy to feel like you’ll never feel like yourself again. These three lifestyle changes can make a big difference, though, especially when they’re paired with other treatment options.
- Cooney, G M, et al. “Exercise for Depression.” The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 12 Sept. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24026850.
- National Institutes of Health. “Major Depression.” National Institute of Mental Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Nov. 2017, www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml.
- Akbaraly, T N, et al. “Dietary Pattern and Depressive Symptoms in Middle Age.” The British Journal of Psychiatry : the Journal of Mental Science., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19880930.
- Popa, TA, and M Ladea. “Nutrition and Depression at the Forefront of Progress.” Journal of Medicine and Life, Carol Davila University Press, 15 Dec. 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3539842/.
- Alpert, J E, and M Fava. “Nutrition and Depression: the Role of Folate.” Nutrition Reviews., U.S. National Library of Medicine, May 1997, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9212690.
- Wurtman, R J, and J J Wurtman. “Brain Serotonin, Carbohydrate-Craving, Obesity and Depression.” Obesity Research., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Nov. 1995, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8697046.
- Teo, A R, et al. “Social Relationships and Depression: Ten-Year Follow-up from a Nationally Representative Study.” PloS One., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 30 Apr. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23646128.