You finally beat depression. But even after the sadness lifts, your symptoms may return. So how can healthy habits like ditching the booze, getting more vitamin D or practicing yoga help? We talked to experts about the top 10 natural ways to manage moods. Plus, how much do you know about depression? Take our quiz to find out...
After months of battling depression, you’re feeling normal again. Your doctor or therapist has given you tools for staying positive, and you know the warning signs of a depressive episode so you can get help as soon as you sense them.
Now’s the time to enjoy life – and to take better care of your physical and mental well-being.
Depression is a lifelong, chronic condition, and it needs to be maintained like any other disease.
“You have to approach depression the same way you would diabetes. There’s a vigilance you have to maintain for a balanced life,” says Alan Manevitz, M.D., associate professor of clinical psychiatry at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City.
Besides medication or therapy, that means practicing healthy habits associated with better moods.
Healthy living is an important part of self-care, Manevitz says. For example, when you eat right, brain cells get appropriate nutrition so “the brain works at its maximum,” he explains.
And exercise releases endorphins, brain chemicals that act as natural antidepressants.
Here are 10 lifestyle changes that can keep you feeling your best.
1. Lose the booze.
People with chronic depression sometimes use alcohol to self-medicate.
Drinking releases neurotransmitters that may make you feel better, but only temporarily. And as you develop a tolerance, you need larger amounts, and then it becomes even more of a depressant on your central nervous system, Manevitz says.
If you’re taking antidepressants, alcohol can also increase their side effects, making you drowsy, more intoxicated than usual, or in some cases, causing a blood pressure spike that could lead to a stroke, according to the Mayo Clinic.
2. Work up a sweat.
Exercise is great for mental well-being, says Jasper Smits, Ph.D., director of the Anxiety Research and Treatment Program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
It can head off a recurrence of mild to moderate depression, or help you overcome an episode, according to his team’s research.
With severe depression, exercise can augment traditional treatments, including psychotherapy or antidepressant medication, adds Smits, co-author of Exercise for Mood and Anxiety: Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being (Oxford University Press).
Researchers are still determining how physical activity helps, but evidence suggests it may act as a form of behavioral activation, a depression treatment strategy that encourages people to be productive rather than inactive.
“If you’ve been productive, your mood improves,” Smits says.
Smits recommends aiming for the government’s physical-activity recommendations: 150 minutes per week of moderately intense movement (brisk walking, water aerobics, gardening); 75 minutes of vigorous activity (jumping rope, running, hiking); or a combination of the two.
Multiple studies have found benefits from doing 20-60 minutes of exercise per session, so aim for at least 20 minutes. But if you’re new to exercise or short on time, that doesn’t mean you should skip it.
“Even a 10-minute walk has short-term positive effects on mood,” Smits says.
3. Eat like a Spaniard.
Closely following a Mediterranean diet is strongly associated with lower depression risk, according to a 2009 Spanish study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.
Researchers speculate that the diet’s heart-healthy benefits – reducing inflammation, improving blood vessel function and decreasing the risk of metabolic syndrome – may play a role in keeping the brain fit.
Mediterranean-style eating is simple: When you’re grocery shopping, fill your cart with fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans, fish, poultry, nuts and low-fat dairy. Meanwhile, cut back on refined carbs, fatty meats and highly processed food.
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