by Darra McMullen,
Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher
The emotional conditions of anxiety and depression can be a problem for sufferers at any time of year, but the winter months, around holiday time, or the beginning of a new year can be particularly difficult for some people. The stress of the holidays, the shorter periods of sunlight in winter, unresolved life issues from the previous year, or unrealistically high expectations for the New Year can touch off an unexpectedly severe and negative reaction in some individuals.
Whether winter “blues” are an issue or anxiety and/or depression is a problem year-round, there are a variety of treatments and solutions available.
We’ll take a look at some lifestyle actions that relieve anxiety and depression, and then move to some food and supplement options that can correct imbalances in the body’s chemistry to help bring relief.
Please note: NEVER stop taking a prescription drug for anxiety, depression, or any other mental illness without first talking to your doctor. The suggestions listed below are generally safe for most people and can complement a prescription drug regimen in most cases, but ALWAYS check with your doctor before adding a new element to your health battle against anxiety and depression.
One of the best actions we can take to relieve anxiety and lift mood is to go for a walk on a regular basis. Walking has been shown, over and over again, to relieve anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure, improve circulation to the brain (which allows the brain to better respond to stress), and to cause the release of endorphins to boost mood, while also giving greater access to dopamine and serotonin, which act as natural antidepressants.
If possible, take the walks outside whenever conditions permit. Communing with nature also has been shown scientifically to relieve tension and boost mood.
If walking simply doesn’t appeal to you, most any kind of exercise will improve mood. If weightlifting, cycling, yoga, aerobics classes, dance, or tai chi is more your style, then you “go for it”. All of the above choices (plus many forms of exercise not mentioned here) can boost a flagging outlook or reduce anxiety.
Other Options to Find Relief:
- Massage has many health benefits, including reducing stress and anxiety.
- Acupuncture and acupressure also have been used successfully to treat anxiety and depression.
- Do not forget the simple act of laughter as a source of healing. Laughter relieves stress and anxiety and improves overall mood. Watch a funny movie or find something “joy-producing” to do.
- Be sure to get enough sleep. Not only do memory function and decision-making ability decline with inadequate sleep, but also does mood. Studies have shown that people sleeping fewer than eight hours per night typically tend to be more at risk for mood problems, including (but not limited to) worry and anxiety.
- Make allowances for some real relaxation. Being over-scheduled and over-committed constantly is a recipe for anxiety and depression. Be sure your schedule leaves some time for you. Mark off some time to just kick back, relax, unwind, and do something you enjoy, or do nothing at all. The body and mind need restorative breaks to heal, consolidate and reflect on recent events, and just let go of stresses and concerns.
If travel is enjoyable for you, consider taking a regular vacation. If travel itself brings on new stress for you, consider a “stay-cation” wherein you can be close to home but can still commit to having fun, relaxing, sleeping, and eating nourishing food.
- Remember the simple helpers – essential oils. Lavender, rose, orange, bergamot, lemon, sandalwood, clary sage, and chamomile can be used as additives to baths or as massage oils. Likewise, these oils can be dabbed on the wrists or used in aromatherapy treatments to treat anxiety and depression.
- Therapy and support groups are another useful option in the battle against anxiety and depression. Therapy sessions can teach new coping skills, helping sufferers learn to effectively deal with their symptoms, while simultaneously learning how to get at the root of what’s bothering them and working to change it. Support groups can help sufferers not feel so alone in their battles, and members may even be able to exchange information on coping strategies. New friendships may even form.
Joining a therapy or support group or taking individual therapy sessions is not shameful or a sign of “weakness”. Emotional problems (or any other mental illness) are not things to be ashamed of or to have to hide; they are diagnosable, treatable, legitimate health issues, just like cancer, heart disease, or strep throat.
Nutritional Aids to Battle Anxiety and Depression:
- The B-vitamin group is essential to proper nerve function and mood stability. In the book, The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution, by Trudy Scott, CN, the author recommends taking a B-complex supplement with at least 50 mg. of vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6 in addition to a multi-vitamin and a multi-mineral. Additionally, Trudy notes, the B-vitamin, inositol was studied in an experiment involving people with either: depression, panic disorder, or OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder). Inositol was found to be as effective as an anti-anxiety medication.
Further, other studies have shown folic acid and vitamin B12 to be effective for treating depression, and given the links between depression and anxiety, the two B-vitamins, folic acid and vitamin B12, may be beneficial for anxiety as well.
Food sources of the B-vitamins include liver, meat, turkey, whole grains, potatoes, bananas, legumes, nutritional yeast, and molasses.
- Magnesium and calcium are also important to treating/preventing anxiety and depression. Magnesium is a calming mineral, which helps prevent anxiety, fear, nervousness, restlessness, and irritability. Studied amounts range in the 200 mg. to 600mg. range in most cases. Magnesium is usually paired with calcium, as it is best to ingest approximately twice the amount of calcium per day as magnesium. Calcium doses would run in the 800 mg. to 1200 mg. amounts, typically.
However, taking magnesium by itself to treat anxiety is not uncommon. People suffering from anxiety, in some cases, may need more than the typical dose, but not to exceed more than 1,000 mg. per day. Decrease magnesium intake if loose stools follow consumption.
Food sources of magnesium include: dark-green, leafy vegetables; whole, unrefined grains, like oats, buckwheat, millet, and quinoa; legumes, beef, chicken, fish, nuts, seeds, bananas, watermelons, figs, potatoes, and green beans.
- Vitamin C and zinc are also especially important to preventing/treating anxiety and depression. Both vitamin C and zinc are important to helping the body and mind cope with stress successfully. Vitamin C can easily be taken in the 1,000mg. to 3,000mg. range in divided doses as a supplement. Zinc supplementation should probably stay in the 30mg. area in most cases, with short forays into the 60mg. dose if stress or illness is severe or anxiety episodes are intense.
Food sources of vitamin C include: oranges, bell peppers, potatoes, strawberries, kale, and other leafy greens.
Food sources of zinc include: shellfish, red meat, fish, chicken, beans, nuts, seeds, esp. pumpkin seeds, mushrooms, and broccoli.
- Fatty Acids:
Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil are well known for alleviating depression, and depression sufferers are encouraged to consume fish often and/or take fish oil supplements in reasonable amounts.
Interestingly, many people suffering from anxiety are often able to get all the omega-3 fatty acids they need simply by consuming fish regularly with no supplementation necessary, but some anxiety patients may need to supplement a particular omega-6 GLA, ideally coming from evening primrose oil.
Author Trudy Scott recommends having your personal fatty acid levels tested before supplementing with either omega-3 or omega-6 fatty acids to determine what is actually needed by the individual.
As you can see from the list of many options above (and it is not even a fully comprehensive list!), there are numerous ways to battle anxiety and depression. Don’t lose hope in your quest for emotional stability; the right answer for your situation is out there. Keep looking and experimenting until you find the right combination of solutions to fit your needs.