How Lifestyle Changes Can Help Ease Depression

How Lifestyle Changes Can Help Ease Depression

Take charge of your life and turn your mood around with these easy tips.

Wil Wheaton may be your long-time favorite because of his role as Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation or as himself on the Big Bang Theory. But what you may not know is that in 2018, the 46-year-old spoke at a National Alliance on Mental Illness conference and declared: “I live with depression and anxiety, the tag team champions of the World Wrestling with Mental Illness Federation.”

Chronic depression affects around eight percent of American adults—and it causes folks to have functional difficulties at work and home more than any other chronic disease, including diabetes and arthritis. Fortunately, Wil has found ways to ease the burden. So can you.

If over a two-week period you’ve experienced changes in your mood and are having cognitive and physical symptoms, such as trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, agitation, poor concentration and problems with communication, talk to your doctor about getting therapy and medical attention for your depression. You can take charge of health behaviors and turn your mood around.

Nutritional upgrades: A 2017 paper in Psychiatry Research looked at 21 studies from 10 countries and found there is mounting evidence that eating a diet loaded with “fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants and low intakes of animal foods was apparently associated with a decreased risk of depression.” In Dr. Mike’s book What to Eat When, he suggests eating mood-lifting, omega-3 rich salmon and ocean trout and peanuts—they’re high in tryptophan, a building block of the positive-mood hormone serotonin.

The researchers also found eating an unhealthy American diet of highly-inflammatory red or processed meats, high-fat diary, sweets and deep-fried potatoes was associated with increased risk of depression. Makes sense. Those are highly inflammatory foods, and inflammation is related to depression.

In addition, a recent paper in JAMA found when those who were both obese and depressed were put on a weight-loss program with problem-solving therapy for depression and, if indicated, antidepressants, they shed more pounds and reduced depression significantly.

Breaking the depression and diabetes link
Over thirty million Americans have diabetes and 25 percent of those folks will experience depression. And their symptoms happen more often and last longer (92 weeks versus 22 weeks) than in the general population, according to a study published in Diabetes Care.

Research also indicates that inflammation as well as a poor diet, lack of exercise, skipped medical appointments and not following prescribed medical treatments may account for the fact that people with people with depression are more likely to develop diabetes. And abnormal bacteria in your gut caused by bad food choices may also predispose you to both depression and diabetes.

Being aware of the damaging duo can help—so can joining support groups for diabetes and depression, getting medical care for depression and working with a diabetes educator to help you stay up on your diabetes treatment regimen and nutritional plan.

Stress management
To ease depression, try the one-two approach: exercise and meditation. Aerobic exercise (30 plus minutes, five days a week) is proven to ease depressive symptoms, reduce levels of stress hormones and help control diabetes, especially when combined with smart nutrition. Daily meditation can ease stress, which in turn reduces inflammation that’s associated with depression. We suggest two 10-minute sessions morning and evening.

In addition, one study discovered that people who practiced mindful meditation (using mindfulness-based stress reduction techniques) for two and a half hours a week increased their gray matter density, while another study found just 30 minutes a day increased grey matter in the hippocampus, the brain area associated with emotion, memory and the autonomic nervous system. People who suffer from recurrent depression tend to have a smaller hippocampus.

Depression is a disease that can be treated with therapy, medication and lifestyle changes. Take the opportunity to enjoy the proven benefits. “Make it so!”

Medically reviewed in August 2019.

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