I began a "Mind, Body, and Spirit" series last week where we are discussing ways to improve your mental health by making changes to each of these facets of our being. Last week I gave you some examples of how to change your thought patterns in order to change your mood. This week we are going to talk about our physical selves with regard to mood. There is so much evidence that improvements in our physical health can also improve our mood and feelings of emotional well being. It just makes good common sense that if we feel physically well we will have more strength, stamina, and energy to go about our daily routines with ease. It is when we feel run down, tired, and physically unwell that we are more susceptible to anxiety and depression.
The physical realm is where I am placing most of my focus upon lately, in my attempts to combat depression symptoms. I am going to share some things that I am doing which work for me to improve both my physical and mental health. These are all easy and natural things you can do which involve being kind to your body. Think of your body as a sacred vessel. What you put into it and what you do with it has an effect upon your emotions and overall mood. I like to think of easy do-able steps that I can add on each week. Making too many changes at once leads one to feeling overwhelmed and giving up before you begin. Proceed with slow but steady progress.
Here is my personal list of physical/emotional wellness activities:
- Get an annual physical examination.
There are many reasons why getting a physical can improve both your physical and mental health. Sometimes depression is directly related to a medical condition. For example, an underactive or overactive thyroid can be the cause for depressive symptoms. Other medical disorders and conditions which can cause depression include: stroke or heart disease, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, Parkinson’s Disease, and Alzheimer’s dementia. The way I found out I had MS was during a routine annual physical. So it goes to show how important it is to get a wellness check up at least once a year.
- While you are getting your annual physical, ask about getting your vitamin levels checked.
My doctor routinely checks my vitamin levels during my annual exam but some doctors may skip this blood work. I would ask to have it done because a vitamin deficiency can lead to neurological problems and depression. This is how I discovered that I was low in both Vitamin B-12 and Vitamin D.
- Think about taking supplements and vitamins.
Although supplements and vitamins can be regarded as "alternative" therapy for depression, they are now becoming more and more mainstream and some supplements are promoted by many general practitioners. For example, my doctor gave me a prescription for Vitamin D and told me to purchase Vitamin B-12 to help with my vitamin deficiency. Another supplement which may help with your depression is folic acid or Deplin. There are many more supplements and vitamins that I would like to talk about and I promise to devote more posts to this topic so we can fully explore the possibilities in depth. In the meantime there is a government run web site put out by the National Institutes of Health which will give you information about complementary and alternative medicine.
- Get moving by doing a physical activity you love to do.
The problem with calling exercise a "work out" is that word "work." We usually are more attracted to doing things which are fun and not like work. So make your exercise more fun and reinforcing by doing something you love to do. For me that something is bike riding. For you it may be running, swimming, roller blading, hiking, or playing a sport.
- Start off with five minutes of daily exercise.
It is my opinion that anyone can stand five minutes of anything. Start off by doing five minutes of cardiovascular exercise (something which gets your heart pumping) and increase the time by five minutes each day you exercise, until you are able to do 30-45 minutes of aerobic activity. What I do is I have an exercise step and I step up and down while I watch TV or listen to music. The time goes fast especially when I get into rhythm.
- Eat foods that are known to boost your mood.
There are some foods and diet which will more likely lead to feelings of depression and there are foods which boost your immunity, give you more energy and make you feel good emotionally. Jerry Kennard has written about the relationship between food and mood in his post entitled, "Diet and Depression." He cites a study where it was found that: ""participants who had a dietary pattern of largely processed foods had a 58 per cent higher risk of depression. People whose intake of whole foods was the highest had a 26 per cent lower risk of future depression than those who ate the least whole foods." Some feel good foods include salmon, flaxseed, fruits, nuts and vegetables. I will be writing more on this topic with greater detail in the future.
- Make sure you get a good’s night sleep.
It sounds so simple that many people ignore this tip. But think about it. If you are tired because you aren’t sleeping well then you are greatly upping the odds for depression to occur. If you have a mood disorder like Bipolar Disorder then the problem can be even more magnified and dramatic. Some people will stay up most of the night during a period of mania and then crash into fatigue, irritability, and depression some time later. And it is not enough to just sleep, it has to be deep REM type of sleep so that you feel rested and refreshed in the morning. One over the counter supplement which has helped me immensely is called Melatonin. It doesn’t work for everybody but, for me, it helps me to fall asleep within 45 minutes to an hour of taking it. Exercise can also improve your sleep. I have to say that getting a good night’s sleep is probably my number one physical tactic to preventing depression symptoms. If I don’t sleep well I can expect to be depressed within 24 hours.
I am going to stop here. I could easily go on with this list. I am sure you have heard many of these suggestions before but they really can help. Try to do one thing on this list a week. Keep adding on more ways to improve your physical health and I bet you will find that your depression decreases. These are all easy things any one can do. You may dismiss this as, "Oh that isn’t going to help because I am too depressed." Yet the cumulative effects of these commonsense suggestions can be very effective in the prevention of depression symptoms. With each small choice you make towards wellness is one step closer to chipping away at depression until it diminishes to something you can manage.
I will leave you with one last resource and that is our Diet and Exercise website. They have a ton of great ideas there for how to get started on eating healthy and also beginning an exercise program suited for your needs.
Let’s get healthy Now is the time. Together we can do this.
I am a mother, a writer, and now an MS patient