Depression affects more than 16 million adults in the US each year. That's nearly 7 percent of the country's adult population.
Despite its prevalence, depression rarely gets talked about in mainstream media, and it's even rarer that it's talked about in a constructive way. So, let's talk about it.
Common symptoms of depression include listlessness, loss of energy and/or appetite, trouble concentrating, changes in sleep patterns, disinterest in people or activities that used to be enjoyable and a pervasive sense of worry, guilt or hopelessness.
There is no single cause of depression. These symptoms may result from a traumatic life event, genetics, nutritional deficiencies, substance abuse, neurological conditions (e.g. Parkinson's disease), certain illnesses (including cancer, mono and rheumatoid arthritis), medication side effects and many other possible factors
These days, the most common treatment for depression is prescription medication. In 2016, one in six Americans was on some kind of psychiatric drug.
Still, drugs aren't the only method for coping with depression (although many find medication to be the best option for them). There are many natural remedies that can help people reduce or even eliminate their symptoms of depression while decreasing the chances of a relapse.
Whether you have depression or not, these healthy habits will help to boost you up when incorporated into your daily routine.
1. Get outside.
Regular exposure to sunlight is one of the most effective ways to beat the blues. Spending time in nature has been shown to reduce stress, alleviate anxiety and depression, uplift your mood and generate feelings of satisfaction.
One of the reasons for these benefits is light exposure may increase levels of serotonin in the body. Exposure to natural light also helps regulate the body's circadian rhythms, which are responsible for determining whether you get adequate sleep. This isn't just important for feeling rested -- sleep deprivation is a big risk factor for depression as well.
2. Tweak your diet.
We all know eating well is good for our physical health. Now, research says it's also good for our state of mind. Certain healthy foods stimulate the body's production of serotonin.
These include eggs, foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (e.g. sardines or wild salmon), healthy fats (e.g. coconut or flaxseed oil), foods that contain tryptophan (e.g. free-range turkey) and sour cherries.
3. Get a move on.
As if exercise didn't offer enough benefits, it can also stave off depression. Virtually every type of exercise can benefit your mood. For example, lifting weights can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression, while aerobic exercise can reduce the risk of relapse.
And because exercise involves goal-setting and attainment, it can build a sense of self-confidence that boosts resilience in the face of depressive symptoms.
4. Meditation, meditation, meditation.
Mindfulness practices such as yoga and meditation can decrease the production of stress hormones in the body, improve mood, reduce symptoms of depression and help stave off relapses.
This is partly because mindfulness practices boost the body's production of serotonin and GABA, a neurotransmitter that promotes a sense of calm.
5. Commit to goals.
Setting and achieving goals might be the last thing on your mind when you're feeling depressed. But if you can rise to the challenge, you might help yourself bounce back faster.
Successfully completing a goal builds self-confidence, which can help pull you out of a funk. Don't worry, you don't have to commit to something as big as running a marathon or winning a Nobel Prize. Achieving something as simple as washing the dishes or taking a shower can give your mood a big boost. Gradually up the ante from there.
6. Cultivate gratitude.
Practicing gratitude is simple. Just make a habit of writing down three things you're grateful for at the end of every day. Give yourself the freedom to record whatever comes to mind, from eating a great meal to getting a promotion at work.
7. Talk it out.
Talk therapy is an effective way to identify patterns that aren't helping you, process old wounds and move forward with your life. It's also as cost-effective for treating depression as antidepressants (if not more so).
When it comes to depression, two of the most effective forms of talk therapy include interpersonal therapy (which emphasizes the patients' relationships with other people) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (which helps patients identify the underlying source(s) of their depression and develop a toolkit for coping with its symptoms).
The painful irony of depression is that it can zap you of the energy required to implement strategies to overcome it. That's why it's so important to start small. Each of the entries on this list can be tailored to your own energy levels.
Commit to taking just one small step each day, and you'll gradually find that you're increasingly empowered to overcome depression. If that's not working, then don't hesitate to seek the help of a medical professional.