With an estimated 1 in 4 people expected to experience mental health problems in the course of a year, it’s likely either you or one of your friends or family will suffer some type of depression or anxiety disorder.
Still taboo, the first step is definitely to seek help. This means you must go and see your GP. This will allow you to discuss your health. This might involve medication or counseling. From here - in conjunction with more tried and tested methods from your GP - you might find other types of intervention might help.
Perhaps the most misunderstood part of depressive illness is the fatigue. Due to the fact your limbic system fried - the part of your brain responsible for sleep-wake cycles, temperature control, temper control, eating patterns and hormones - but most notably mood - you’ll need to rest. There’s no other way around this.
I’m particularly referencing stress-induced depression here. But, just because this is a mental illness and not a physical illness does not mean you shouldn’t take some time out to become well again. Whilst you’re feeling low you’ll need to rest.
With symptoms of depression including disrupted sleep, fluctuations in appetite, energy & enthusiasm, difficulty concentrating and memorising the first priority is to stop and recover.
To help recharge your batteries you’ll find eating better will help. Your priority in this instance is not to reduce calories or even to be too strict - remember if you’re suffering with stress-induced depression you’ll no doubt be feeling overwhelmed by your environment anyway - therefore to be to strict with a diet can increase your stress.
However, by including more whole unprocessed food you’ll begin to nourish your body. This might start by improving the quality of breakfast to something with a little more protein and healthy fats - which is good for your brain - this might be scrambled egg on toast.
You could look at getting more fruits and vegetables into your diet by having a salad at lunch. This could involve a little bit of chicken or fish for protein with avocado for healthy fats and simple and easy to make homemade dressing of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
You must remember the aim is not to reduce calories. That’s akin to trying to run a sports car on half the amount of fuel it needs. Functioning on empty will not serve your body at this stage. I understand losing a little bit of weight might improve your confidence and self-esteem - both important for treatment of depressive illness - but you’ll need to be sensible about this.
The knock on effect of eating more fibre for someone who is feeling low is improvement in digestive function. If you consider the mood elevating neurotransmitters are produced in the gut, if you are struggling with a sluggish digestive system then this could exacerbate your problems.
It’s not uncommon for someone who is stressed to suffer a lack of appetite - and somewhat ironically the opposite can be true - sometimes you’ll not feel satiated from your food you eat and may not be able to stop! - if lack of appetite is true then sometime drinking your food can help. In this instance, a smoothie is ideal. By chucking your fruit and veg in a smoothie maker you’ll be able to consume your fibre and nourish your body without the anguish of trying to eat.
From here you might want to look at reducing the amount of stimulants in your diet - most notably coffee. If you’re looking for an elevation in mood, you might prop yourself up on caffeine. This can be a dicey game. This can also create more anxiety. Beyond one or two coffees a day, try switching to decaf. And, needless to say drinking a little more water will probably help.
When you’re feeling up to it you might try taking some exercise. Getting moving can give you a boost in happy hormones and improved your feeling of self. However, given your condition I’d advice caution with doing anything too challenging or strenuous. Exercise is stress and to add stress to a stressed out body can have adverse consequence.
To start with you might take a walk or try some mindful exercise like yoga. Be careful with yoga because some classes are different - some are faster and more powerful whilst others are slower and more relaxing - you want the slower one to start with. However, the fitter and stronger you feel means you might want to try something more challenging.
Needless to say, regardless of your depressive illness or not, you might feel a degree of trepidation before taking exercise - especially if you lack fitness. Most people - myself included - don’t feel like taking exercise before you start your session - it’s not normal to exert yourself - but the feeling after makes it entirely worthwhile.
If taking exercise seems like too much effort at this stage, then being active with your rest might be a better option. With free apps like Headspace available on your smart phone you should try a simple daily 10 minute meditation. With the focus on breathing and mindfulness this means you’re still taking steps towards getting better.
From seeking help from a doctor to resting, eating more nutritious foods and taking exercise you have a number of nutritional supplements which can help too. Again, I stress these are only options. The cost and quality of supplements will vary.
The first supplement to consider is fish oil. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils have been found to reduce the rates of depression. With many other benefits, fish oils improve cognitive function and is brilliant start point in terms of supplementation.
Diminished in stressed individuals, vitamin B (or more specifically vitamin B-12) have been found to play a role in producing brain chemicals that affect mood and other brain functions.
Like fish oil, vitamin D has been linked with many health benefits. Most notably in this instance, mental health. It’s not quite fully understood yet, but research links low levels of vitamin D symptoms of depression.
Another commonly depleted nutrient associated with depression is vitamin C. Connected with mood changes, fatigue and lethargy, according to Nutrition Journal in 2003 supplementing with vitamin C can elevate mood-enhancing neurotransmitters.
Considered ‘the original chill pill’, the mineral magnesium’s benefits have been stated for many years. From a simple point of view that stressed people tend to struggle to stay asleep, magnesium induces a deeper nights sleep and reduce tension within muscles.
Looking at slightly less common nutritional supplements inositol seems to be quite effective. Without the support of science, inositol is reported to have a similar effect to antidepressants. However, beware one of the side-effects of inositol appears to be increase in libido...
The only other supplement I’ll note in this article is psyllium husks. Available in capsule and powder form, this fibre supplement can improve your digestive system which can help production of vital neurotransmitters created in the stomach.
Needless to say, there is a very important lifestyle issue to consider beyond the natural treatment of stress-induced depression. The unfortunate truth is for your health beyond a certain point you need to change something or learn to cope. Again, for support and advice around these areas you must speak to your doctor first and then a counselor (or vice versa).