It’s not uncommon to feel a little down every now and again. Work stress, family life, and even the weather can all contribute to feeling sad. These blues are a normal, healthy part of life. However, there’s a completely separate condition: depression. It’s more serious than just feeling sad, and it should be treated carefully.
There are different categories of depression: mild, moderate, or severe (also called major). The type, severity, and frequency of the symptoms lend to the categorization.
Mild depression is often overlooked because it’s not as life-altering as other forms. It’s characterized by feeling down for a persistent period. Symptoms of mild depression include:
- Daytime sleepiness and fatigue
- Lack of motivation
- Reduced productivity
- Irritability and anger
- Appetite changes
- Weight fluctuations
- Aches and pains
- Disinterest in socializing
- Lack of interest in things once loved
- Difficulties concentrating at work
- Feelings of guilt and despair
A person with mild depression won’t necessarily feel all of these symptoms, but they’ll probably experience more than one. You usually won’t be diagnosed with mild depression unless you experience multiple symptoms three or four days a week for at least two years.
It’s often difficult to diagnose mild depression because the symptoms typically don’t incapacitate you. Most people won’t miss work because of it, and they’ll maintain a relatively normal social schedule. Many people don’t even realize that they’re experiencing something other than regular emotional changes.
When diagnosed, mild depression is by far the easiest to treat. By changing certain things about your lifestyle, you can boost levels of serotonin (the chemical that makes you feel happy). Medication is not usually a recommendation for mild depression, so any of these natural remedies is a better solution.
1. Regular Exercise
Several studies show a clear link between increased physical activity and decreased depression. One report, which reviewed 13 clinical trials, showed that a group with depressive symptoms who engaged in moderate physical activity including daily running, walking, biking, or swimming had improved symptoms compared to groups who didn’t exercise.
The biggest challenge is getting the motivation to exercise during a depressive episode. Try setting small, easily obtainable goals, like doing a 10-minute workout video, going for a short walk around the neighborhood, or training for a 5k. Once you’ve seen the benefits of these mild exercise goals, you can more easily work your way up to more consistent exercise.
2. Healthy Diet
Eating the right foods can enhance serotonin production in the brain and banish depressive symptoms. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, sardines, anchovies, herring, and mackerel are helpful; so are healthy fats like nuts, avocados, and coconut oil. Lean protein, whole foods, fruits, and vegetables are also highly recommended.
This may require some adjustments to your diet. The typical Western diet involves heavily processed meats and plenty of refined carbs. Create meal plans with foods you love that also offer adequate nutrition.
3. Take Your Vitamins
A healthy diet is an important part of fighting depression, and supplements can help. Multiple studies have shown the effects of taking the right vitamin supplements to promote fewer depressive symptoms.
SAM-E as well as B vitamins have been known to raise levels of dopamine and promote neurotransmission. There’s also ample evidence that BioCurcumin, a form of Turmeric supplement, can significantly improve depressive symptoms.
4. St. John’s Wort
Dozens of studies show that consuming St. John’s wort, a yellow weed found throughout the United States, can elevate dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. The reaction is very similar to a traditional antidepressant, but without the negative side effects.
St. John’s wort is usually provided as an herbal supplement in caplet form, and the recommended dosage is 300 mg, three times daily. Studies show that it’s a safe treatment for depression, but it’s always good to speak with a doctor before taking St. John’s wort, since it’s not regulated by the FDA.
5. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
One of the best treatments for depression at any stage is professional therapy. Talking to someone about your symptoms and feelings can be paramount to finding the cure.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is specially geared towards rewiring the brain. It teaches patients how to stave off negative thoughts, become more aware of their symptoms, note triggers for depressive episodes, and recognize situations and factors that can make depression worse.
6. Light Therapy
You can easily purchase a light box that mimic’s the sun’s rays without the harmful UV rays. Exposure to this special light for one hour per day can result in a significantly improved mood.
Light therapy is a common tool with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is often called winter depression. A common cause of SAD is a reduction in sunlight during the winter months when the days are shorter. The light helps to boost melatonin in the body and produce vitamin D, a lack of which can produce depressive symptoms. Though it’s most commonly used for SAD, research shows that light therapy can also benefit non-seasonal depression.
7. Mindfulness Training
Meditation, yoga, solitary walks, and other mindfulness practices can be highly influential in minimizing depressive symptoms. One study from the University of Michigan monitored depressed patients who attended a four-day retreat where they participated in hiking, guided imagery, journal writing, meditation, and drumming. The results were immediate improvements in depressive symptoms, which persisted for six months.
Spending just a few minutes a day in mindful practice can be a game changer for mild depression. If you’re not sure where to start, consider these suggestions for mindfulness practices that can be squeezed into even the least motivated of days.