Updated: Mar 30
As many of you know as I tend to be quite open about it, I’ve had my share of mental health struggles over the years, and fortunately most of the severe episodes are many years ago. This is however where things tend to hit me when life is out of balance, hormones change or stress has been too high. I’m currently about 3 weeks into a moderate depressive episode, and although my instinct right now is to very simply get on with work and pretend that I’m really doing fine, I’ve decided to share with you steps that I take when depression rears it’s head again, as it does from time to time. I hope that this may be helpful to you too, and through sharing this you might feel less alone in it. Through talking with so many people over so many years, I now recognize that we all have our struggles, and even the people who appear to be so confident, competent and put together also suffer in their own ways, and vulnerability is often the way through.
As I’ve just come to terms with a depression episode that appears quite locked-in over the past 3 weeks, it’s time to pull out the toolbox now and also seek help. After becoming quite immobilized today from a busy weekend of needing to be ‘on’, here’s what I have come up with for an action plan.
My depression toolbox action plan:
1. Exercise every day
Quite simply this is the number one way to prevent the inertia of depression from really take hold. In my world, this means HIIT training for 20 minutes 4-5x per week, and daily walking. Daily movement has been one of the key ways I’ve moved through long depression episodes in the past, and I know it’s tricky because depression feels so tiring on it’s own and can feel physically disabling too.
2. Prioritize sleep
Not getting enough sleep, or at least hours of rest if sleep can really unravel the mood. It takes discipline to go to bed early, but it’s essential to break the mood cycle.
3. Get back on track with vitamins
Many of you may be surprised that I don’t take handfuls of supplements and vitamins every day. I honestly believe in getting most of what we need through food. However, during my deep dive into physiological causes of depression and anxiety, I discovered major issues with methylation pathways through studying personal genetics. I’ve found that optimizing intake and levels of vitamin B12, B6 and folate makes a huge difference in my mood and energy levels, and the requirements for them go up with stress.
4. Nourish those adrenals
I believe that the biggest trigger to this episode is a period of high stress. Have you heard about the stress cycle? After a period of high stress, there is often a period of fatigue that can mimic depression. It’s your body’s way of making you slow down to recover, but it’s not comfortable and feels a lot like the heaviness of depression. (Read more here – Is it Burnout or Depression?).
5. Build in a few more gaps in the schedule
In an effort to be more kind to myself, I am building in some more gaps in my schedule and my days off. Riding the balance between staying productive and feeling good about that, and also allowing for extra rest is key.
6. Contact my therapist
I truly believe that old traumas and emotions come up when we’re ready to deal with them. Perhaps now that stress levels are a little lower, my body is asking me to take the next steps at resolving some of the deeper layers.
7. Eat properly
Now this may sound strange from a naturopath, but most of us when in the throws of depression are either not eating, or overeating the wrong things. I tend to flip between lack of appetite and just wanting carbs (gluten-free bagels to be precise). Green smoothies and focusing on daily protein are the two things I’m focused on right now.
8. Run some bloodwork
Many physiological changes can trigger or aggravate depression, so it’s always a good idea to check: iron levels, vitamin B12, thyroid function, free T3 levels (check for overtraining), morning cortisol, markers of inflammation and hormone levels (maybe it’s perimenopause!).
9. Practice gratitude
I’ve recommended a gratitude practice so many times over the past years, and I recognize how tough it is when you’re peeking out from underneath the darkness. I think of gratitude as rewiring – moving out of the ruts of negative self-talk, and creating new thought patterns of appreciation. I’m especially grateful for the work that I do, and the ability to help people on their wellness journey every day. This level of fulfillment truly does prevent depression from dipping too low, through creating meaning and purpose in my life).
10. Trusting that this will pass
I know from where I’m sitting right now that although life feels empty and dark that this is a temporary perspective. It’s shown up enough times in my life, that I truly do trust that it will pass. These tools really do work for me, and many of them right work for you too.
My hope with this short article is that you may find some insight into your own mood management, or at the very least feel less alone in the struggle. Many of us who enter into healthcare as a profession have found our own path to where we are now through learning how to work through our own health issues, and I want to be transparent in this journey with you along the way.
I choose to view depression as a symptom that things are out of balance, not a label. We each have different stacking factors that will tip it over the edge, ranging from stress, nutrient depletion, inflammation, gut imbalance, environmental toxins, hormone imbalance, thyroid disorders, trauma, over-work, and many more possibilities. We’re looking for the levers – the ones we can adjust to provide some relief. (Also read Dr. Lachlan Crawford’s view of depression here: https://darouwellness.com/what-really-causes-depression/).
Please reach out if there’s some way I can support you with your emotional wellness, physical health or even if you’re just not feeling at your best but don’t have a name for it. We’re all aiming for a state of joy, fulfillment and sense of ease in our bodies, and there are so many tools to help you get there.
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