|Winter Healthy News
Depression: Darkness and the Light Beyond
(Adapted from an article I wrote in 2009)
Sadness is such a revealing emotion. Here I am, feeling my own sadness while writing this article and recognizing that I often feel this way in winter. I know that the shorter days and colder nights ask me to look within, at the sources of sadness that are bubbling up. I am sad about the abuse we have taken out on our planet. I am sad about changing relationships that have ended, old paradigms and ways of being in my life that no longer fit. I'm sad that humans rarely feel and deal with our emotions, those beacons that point the way in the darkness. Who doesn't feel sad? It's as as natural as apple pie. Yet my own experiences have taught me that I can become stuck in the sadness, especially if I am not grieving the little deaths that come throughout life. Sometimes there are big ones, like the passage of two of my uncles this summer. We always have a choice of what to do with our emotions, and if we deny, avoid or stuff them away, that's where sadness can easily become the stuck-point of depression. The poignant William Styron, author of “Sophie’s Choice”, once described his own descent into the darkness of depression in his memoir “Darkness Visible” as “…blackness without peer, a blackness filled with gloom crowding in on me, a sense of dread and alienation, and above all, stifling anxiety.”’ Like William, depression may feel like an all-encompassing and unrelenting darkness. What we now understand from a natural medicine perspective is that depression has many causes, and that this depression is highly treatable and preventable when a full understanding is embraced.
It is very important to distinguish natural cycles of platitude and introversion from deeper states of depression. These states can range from “the winter blues,” to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or even full-blown clinical depression. Though uncommon in our sunny state of Colorado, extended cloud-covered days may lead to a sense of melancholy or fatigue coupled with increased cravings for carbohydrates or stimulants like caffeine. This is true of my own experiences in the Pacific Northwest. Ever wonder why Seattle has such a developed coffee culture? In contrast, people with clinical depression are the unwilling participants in severe fatigue, a lost sense of reality, anxiety, sleep disturbances, depressed mood, and a general loss of interest or pleasure in life.
Our fast-paced culture has seemingly lost a sense of natural cycles. The upcoming Winter Solstice on December 21 will bring with it the shortest day of the year and colder temperatures where our bodies require less activity and more sleep. Yet now we rush around with the expectations of the holidays, make resolutions of how we should eat less, work out more, do more of this or more of that. Is it really surprising that under these stressful conditions we might feel guilty, inadequate and somehow incorrect in our ways? Our ancestors were probably indoors much of the time minding food stocks, mending garments, reading, writing, telling stories or singing songs. Respect for the cycles of nature is important, but it is only a part of the tale, as we can control many other factors that can help depression.
Exercise… we know it helps depression greatly, by increasing the body’s natural production of endorphins. Pleasurable exercise (who wants to do any activity they dislike?) can positively affect mood and help with depression. In fact, as little as three hours per week of aerobic exercise can profoundly reduce the level of depression.
Food allergies have been shown to trigger mental symptoms including depression. Eliminating offending foods is an important part of depression that people can control. There is also evidence that restricting sugar and caffeine in people with depression can elevate mood. You may want to try the simple test of avoiding caffeine andsugar for one week to see how you feel.
The amount and type of dietary fat consumed may influence the incidence of depression. Previous studies have found that diets designed to lower cholesterol levels may reduce death from cardiovascular disease, but may also heighten the incidence of depression. This likely has to do with the balance of fats in the diet. A high intake of omega-6s (as from corn and soybean) relative to omega-3s and an inadequate intake of omega-3s (e.g., from fish and fish oils) have been associated with increased levels of depression. In contrast, people who eat diets high in omega-3s from fish have a lower incidence of depression and suicide.
As well as good fatty acid supplementation, the amino acid L-tyrosine or the tryptophan-precursor 5-HTP can be beneficial for depression. Some trials using 5-HTP with people suffering from depression have shown sign of efficacy. IMPORTANT - Unless indicated by your doctor, do not take 5-HTP or St. John’s Wort with any anti-depressants, including fluoxetine.
Other supplements that show good evidence for helping with people with depression include melatonin, St. John's Wort, and for those with deficiencies, folic acid, iron, B-12 and B-6. There is a possibility that high-dose melatonin could worsen depression, so it should only be used for this purpose under a doctor’s supervision.
Finally, other methods such as Acupuncture and certain yoga rhythmic breathing techniques can be helpful for depression. There are many natural and safe techniques to help us beyond darkness and despair into the light beyond.
*This article is for information purposes only. It is not intended to be specific health advice or treatment. If you are on any anti-depressant medications, please consult with your doctor before trying any of the advice contained in this article.
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A testimonial from a 50-year old woman
(Warming for Winter)
Wash and cover 1 chicken with water.
1 Bay Leaf
3 Cloves of Garlic
2 tsp Salt
Bring to a boil and then simmer until chicken is tender, 45 minutes to 1 hr. Strain broth and set aside. Cut chicken off bones and chop into bite-sized pieces. To the broth add:
½ tsp Rosemary
½ tsp Thyme
1 bunch chopped Bok Choy
Cook 15 minutes or so, until the greens are tender. Add the chicken just before serving to warm again.
(Courtesy of Jared Zeff, ND, LAc)
Here is real wisdom from the website of my personal therapist, Donna BE and her husband, Stephen BE.
"It is always amazing how neglectful most people are about their emotions. They ignore them until there is a problem. Then they ignore them some more, until the problem can no longer be ignored. Then they feel lost, confused and helpless. You wouldn't even treat your own car this way, but somehow it's the best plan for emotions. Amazing!"
Donna and Stephen BE