How to tackle depression through lifestyle changes
Depression is real, and while it has always existed in some way, there is an upward trend to be seen in the current times that could stem due to health, finances, relationship issues, loss of loved ones, hurt, betrayal, etc. The bottom line of every single case of depression is an imbalance in neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers through which our nerves communicate with each other. The right kind and number of neurotransmitters is critical for the right communication. It is because of these neurotransmitters, we feel happy, sad, motivated, loved, intimate and everything to do with human emotion. A lot of us could be living with imbalances in these neurotransmitters and tend to behave in a different way — have mood swings, respond to things differently, have cravings, etc. In a way, it could be because of the imbalances created in neurotransmitters due to a faulty lifestyle.
Understanding and going into the depth of the health of your neurotransmitters can reveal a lot about why one feels a certain way.
Serotonin: Responsible for the feeling of well-being and happiness
- A lack of it can make us feel sad for no reason.
- 95 per cent of serotonin is produced in the gut, which is why an unhealthy gut means inadequate production of serotonin. This makes studying the gut of an individual a necessary part of counselling or therapy for depression.
- It is made from the essential amino acid— tryptophan.
- Sources: Banana, pineapple, all types of nuts, kiwi, tofu, whole egg, fresh cheese.
- Lifestyle habits to boost its level — reflection, memories, old photographs, Vitamin D (sunlight), giving back from your heart, gratitude.
- What happens when the levels are low — loneliness, depression, unhealthy attention-seeking.
Dopamine/Motivation Molecule: Responsible for making us feel motivated
- A lack of dopamine may make a person feel demotivated in life to do a job, study, go to work, etc.
- It is made from the amino acid — tyrosine.
- Sources: Avocados, chocolate, spinach, almonds, all types of seeds, yoghurt.
- Lifestyle habits to boost its level — Set and achieve goals, celebrate small victories, give or receive rewards/appreciation, talking about yourself, making new goals, and working towards that.
- What robs us of dopamine: Video games, excess technology.
GABA: Responsible for making us feel calm and focused
- A lack of it can lead to someone feeling hyperactive and lack of focus.
- Sources: Non-GMO soy, rice, mushrooms, potatoes, fermented foods.
Acetylcholine: Responsible for creativity, muscle action and reaction
- A lack of it can lead to slow muscle reaction (progressive diseases like dementia, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s).
- Sources: Beans, rajma, chana, green peas, radish, spinach, strawberries, and whole eggs.
Glutamate: Responsible for learning and memory
- A lack of it can lead to slow learning and reaching milestones late.
Endorphins: Responsible for changing the perception of pain and stress
- Food sources: Chocolate and spicy foods, adequate exercise.
- Lifestyle habits to boost its level: Laughter, jokes, funny movies, expecting something good to happen, essential oils — lavender and vanilla.
Oxytocin: Responsible for making us feel relaxed, loved, intimate and creating bonds and relationships
- Lifestyle habits to boost its level: Childbirth, breastfeeding, human touch, holding hands, giving and receiving gifts.
Limit screen and social media time: If you are suffering from depression, you should be spending little or no time on social media. That needs to be the first drug on your prescription, over and above your medications. The more we stay connected on social media, the more disconnected we feel with ourselves and we begin to compare our lives with others.
Prioritise sleep: Sometimes depression can give you sleepless nights, but there is no drug that can replace what sleep can do for you. Sleep is a natural mood enhancer.
Add exercise and movement: Plenty of research has proved that even 30 minutes of daily exercise can reduce or improve existing depression significantly. Movement in any form that is enjoyable produces happy hormones, aka endorphins, which are responsible for a happy high.
Clean up your eating habits: Your food choices have a huge role to play too. A poor diet can lead to an imbalance in neurotransmitters. Food is fuel for these neurotransmitters, so one can provide the right or wrong fuel through their eating habits. This is why fad diets never work. They deprive the body of the vital nutrients needed for the production of these neurotransmitters. Additionally, refined sugar, salt, MSG, stimulants like coffee and tea (when consumed in excess), act as neuro exciters. One needs a diverse diet with a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, pulses, cereals and amino acids to maintain this balance.
Sunlight: Any amount of time spent in nature is healing. Besides being an abundant and natural source of Vitamin D, sunlight triggers the release of serotonin, the hormone that boosts mood and gives you a sense of calmness. Low levels of serotonin are associated with a higher risk of depression. So, if you’re feeling low and want to feel better, step outside and bask in the sun.
While following the medical protocol and prescriptions suggested by the doctor is necessary, and nothing is meant to replace that, there is a lot that can be done around one’s lifestyle to make significant improvements in an individual. Right from our food habits to exercise, our self-talk, how involved we are on social media, time spent in nature — can go a long way in tackling depression holistically. So, handling depression isn’t just about more counselling sessions and medicines. While that does play a critical role, the individual’s lifestyle also needs to be taken into account.