Let’s talk depression.
This is something I have been wanting to be more transparent about lately, as it is something I personally have struggled with my whole life. I use to look at it as this demon that followed me everywhere, consuming me from the inside out.
Now, I see it as another teacher that only wishes to help me look at the parts of myself I would otherwise gloss over, and help me grow.
First, what is depression?
“A mental state of altered mood characterized by feelings of sadness, despair, and discouragement. … Depression is closely associated with a lack of confidence and self-esteem and with an inability to express strong feelings. Repressed anger is thought to be a powerful contributor to depression. The person feels inadequate to cope with the situations that arise in everyday life and so feels insecure.”
Depression manifests in people in different ways and can have different triggers. I can only speak from my own experience, so here is what I found:
When I was depressed, it was because there was a part of me I was avoiding. It stemmed from fear and especially the fear to open up and be vulnerable. I put a cage around myself to prevent my own growth. A limit to my own ability to experience and participate in life. I told myself I was stupid and unworthy. I couldn’t see past where I was in that moment and made up stories to cling to for identity.
As I began unraveling these beliefs, I began to see gradual improvements in my mood. I told myself that I was worth it and I had dreams and ideas worth working towards. When I told myself I was stupid, I immediately turned it into “I am smart and have a great capacity to learn.” If I told myself I was ugly, I immediately listed off things I loved about myself.
There are two things that helped me most with depression:
- Rewiring thoughts. Changing the dialogue. Challenging the stories I held to for a sense of identity and turned them into the type of person I wanted to become.
- Learning to settle into the areas of discomfort and face my “demons” head on. Inviting the darkest parts of myself to afternoon tea and hearing what they had to say without judgement, then deciding for myself what was true and what needed to change.
This isn’t something that happened overnight. This was a long process of journaling, meditating, and observing the way I acted around others. I had to teach myself to live vulnerably and in my authenticity, first by figuring out who I was not (often – the person I told myself I was) vs. Who I actually am (someone full of creativity, love, knowledge, potential, and ability to grow).
This is a topic I intend to dive into more on this website. For now, I want to offer you some tips that have helped me improve quality of life and be gentle with myself during the days I experience a cold case of the blues.
Nourishing the Nervous SystemThe nervous system is what sends signals throughout the body and to the brain to tell us how to respond to the world around us. When we get depressed, signals can often slow down or misfire and increase our sensitivity to external stimuli. This can lead to symptoms of stress and anxiety. Meditation, Yoga, Qi Gong, and other forms of moderate exercise and breathwork help to oxygenate the body and strengthen the nervous system. It enhances communication throughout the body and ensure the energy is flowing smoothly.
Eating a healthy diet rich in whole grains, beans and legumes, fruits and vegetables, and nuts and seeds can also help the nervous system by supplying it the proper nutrients it needs to send signals across the synapses. Minerals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium are all beneficial here to ensure proper muscle contraction and reduce tension in the body.
Water is another vital foundation to a healthy nervous system. This system communicates using electrical impulses throughout the body. Water is the conductor for electricity to run through, therefore staying hydrated will keep communication channels clear and energy flowing freely.
Lastly, as an herbalist I must mention some strengthening herbs I have found to be beautiful for depression and the nervous system. Milky Oats, Passionflower, Skullcap, and Lemon Balm are my absolute favorite herbs for the nervous system and are also highly beneficial for those who also struggle with anxiety. St. John’s Wort also deserves a shout out here. Though it is controversial for its usage in treating depression, and is often advised against, I have found it to be helpful in treating cases of apathy and lack of motivation. With herbs, it is best to be patient and experiment to find the best ones for you.
JournalingI do not know where I would be without journaling. It is journaling that kept me from killing myself and helped me realize how my brain was dictating the way I viewed myself and my life. It also helped me to release all of the baggage that I was carrying until I got to the point where I could be honest with myself, my dreams, and the things that I actually wanted for myself in my own life. If you choose to journal, I recommend making a daily practice of it and try to do it for at least 10-20 minutes a day. Morning and night if possible. When journaling was helping me the most, I was writing everything down for almost an hour each day (I had a lot of time on my hands). Encouraging myself to sit and keep journaling – even when I felt I had nothing else to say – often led to incredible breakthroughs, and things coming to the surface I was unaware I was holding onto.
Journaling does not have to be complicated either. There are multiple journaling prompts one could find online, or you can do it “stream-of-consciousness” style where you just pick up the pen and start writing. This is my preferred method.
Loving RelationshipsWhen I was extremely depressed, I was surrounded by others who were extremely depressed. We seemed to all feed each others desire to leave the earth and complain about where we were in life. One of the best things I did for myself was create some distance between myself and those people and start hanging out with those who were living healthier and happier than I was. This encouraged me to live healthier and do the things that brought me joy, and enabled me to be an inspiration for those who I cared deeply about and were still struggling.
It can be difficult to separate ourselves from relationships, even when we know they are negatively impacting our health. We do not necessarily need to leave people for good, but oftentimes by going away for a bit of time or creating more distance is all it takes for us to get stronger in our sense of self and confidence. Then, we may continue our relationships with a new view that allows us to be there for others in a positive way rather than continue to feed a negative spiral.
HobbiesI find when I am getting depressed, one of the first things I neglect are the things I love doing. This is often because in those times of depression the things we love doing somehow stop bringing us the same joy they once did, or we doubt our ability or worthiness to indulge in our beloved hobbies. Keep a variety of hobbies under my belt has helped me incredibly to be able to keep my mood up and my body out of the bed for an entire day. Sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves on those very depressed days is to just get up, get dressed, and do anything that makes us feel productive and gives us some peace of mind. I personally enjoy reading, creating art (even if it is using a coloring book!), cooking my favorite meals and trying new recipes, yoga, meditation, and getting out into nature.
CleanOur environment largely impacts how we are feeling. Keeping a clean environment helps me to manage anxiety and clears the clutter of my mind, helping me easily navigate the way to the roots of my emotional issues. Cleaning can also aid a sense of accomplishment and make a space feel more inspiring to be in.
When cleaning, try experimenting with essential oils to uplift the mood and boost motivation. They can be added to cleaning supplies or diffused in the room while cleaning. My favorites for depression are cypress, lemon, pine, rosemary, and sandalwood.
Another important note here is the importance of personal hygiene. This is another thing that starts to give when prone to bouts of depression and apathy. Sometimes getting up, brushing the teeth, taking a shower, putting on a nice perfume and getting dressed is all it takes to start the date on the right foot. If you are finding yourself not wanting to get out of bed, try just taking a shower or bath and go from there.
It’s the little accomplishments that build lasting and powerful habits that promote a more positive mindset.
Avoiding StimulantsThis one can be hard. I’ll be honest with you. Sometimes stimulants and even depressants are the only ways we feel we can cope with the gnawing emptiness that has made a home where our heart and lungs use to be living. I highly encourage trying to avoid or limit drug use, caffeine, alcohol, and even to an extent – spicy foods. Also, processed foods and sugar. The only reason I say this is because being depressed or anxious is already a sensitive internal environment to be in.
By dumping extreme mood altering substances into our bodies, we make ourselves susceptible to greater crashes after they have worn off, leaving us dependent and craving more.I am all for a cup of coffee in the morning and glass of wine at night, but I have had to take great care to know and honor my limits by first separating myself from substances entirely for awhile.Try experimenting with the herbs mentioned above for the nervous system that will be more gentle and loving to the body without leading to crashes afterwards.
Stimulating Herbs: American Ginseng, Garlic, Catnip, Angelica, Licorice, Pine, Red Clover, Milk Thistle, Cordyceps
Calming Herbs: Kava, Valerian, Chamomile, Lavender, Blue Vervain, Sage, Reishi
Adaptogenic/Balancing Herbs: Shatavari, Eleuthero, Rhodiola, Ashwaghanda, Chaga
- Flower Essences
Last I would like to give a shoutout to flower essences. I was a bit skeptical at first with these, seeing as they are made simply by putting different plants and flowers into a bowl of water, allowing that bowl to sit in the sun, then taking a few drops and diluting them into water and brandy. It is similar to homeopathy, as it isn’t using the volatile oils or other active constituents one would usually get from tinctures, teas, or pills. These are working on the subtler levels, influencing the energy field of a person and bringing it back into alignment.
I was skeptical until the day my naturopath made me a personalized blend and I felt an immediate shift and euphoric feeling wash over me. Placebo or not, it worked. I now offer flower essences to my own clients and believe them to be incredible valuable for anyone looking to improve their sense of wellbeing. I recommend finding a practitioner who can make a blend special for you rather than buying single bottles from the store. It is more cost effective, and I believe you can get more out of it this way. You are, however, free to pick up single essences and dilute them yourself if you wish. Bach Flower Remedies are the most trusted and available brand I am aware of.
Do you have any tips for easing depression? Share below what has helped you on your journey!