10 Steps to help Depression

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While conventional medicine will have you believe that antidepressants are the lone approach to treating depression, research has shown that there are many more effective ways to lift your mood and reduce depressive symptoms. In fact, most scientific research that has reviewed the effectiveness of prescription anti-depressants has concluded that they are no more beneficial than a placebo (1). To be clear, people taking a sugar pill reported the same benefits as those taking the actual pharmaceutical. Don’t lose hope, there are proven ways to improve depression and you don’t even have to visit the pharmacist.

Blood sugar

When blood sugar tanks, many people get irritable, moody, and anxious. This is a normal physiological reaction meant to prompt us to eat. However, if your body lives in a constant state of blood sugar spikes and dips, you can experience symptoms of depression related to this fluctuation alongside increased inflammation from high blood sugar episodes. Manage your blood sugar with these tips:

  1. Eat breakfast and eat regularly throughout the day. Instead of forcing your body into a state of “catch-up” make sure to start your day with a healthy breakfast filled with fiber, healthy fat and lean protein. These food components slow digestion which helps to maintain consistent blood sugar all day. Eggs, vegetables, nuts, seeds, organic protein powders, and oils like coconut and olive will help your blood sugar regulate all day.
  2. Remove simple carbs and processed foods from your diet. Just as fiber, healthy fats and lean proteins will help to slow digestion, refined foods are digested very quickly leading to blood sugar spikes which are followed by a plunge.
  3. Consider taking a chromium supplement or increasing your dietary intake of chromium. Chromium has been shown to help balance blood sugar by helping it move from the blood into the cell where it can be used for fuel (2). Chromium can be found in romaine lettuce, broccoli, potatoes, green beans, raw tomatoes, black pepper, grape juice and ham.

Spend time in nature

Spending time in nature on a regular basis has been correlated with better health and lower risk of depression. Recently, studies have focused on something called “green exercise” which literally means exercise in green spaces such as forests or the countryside (3). Researchers have found significant benefits to mood and less depressive symptoms after people were active in green spaces (4). However, it doesn’t seem to be exercise dependent. Complementary research has identified that time in nature gardening or watching wildlife are also effective in relieving stress and reducing depression, as well (5,6).

Get sunlight and Vitamin D

Low Vitamin D levels has been linked to risk of depression, along with other inflammatory diseases such as cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, allergies, and more (7). Vitamin D is synthesized in the skin with exposure to sunlight. Interesting data has immerged that reveals a distinct connection between depression and levels of an inflammatory molecule called interleukin-6 (8). While vitamin D has long been studied for depression treatment, now research supports that sunlight improves levels of IL-6 in those with depression (9). Exposing yourself to sunlight for 20 minutes a day and supplementing with a quality Vitamin D until serum levels reach above 50 ug/ml can reduce inflammation and support a healthy mood.

Fish oil

Fish oil is rich with Omega-3 fatty acids, a precursor to anti-inflammatory molecules in the body. A 2014 review of multiple studies found that depression improved after Omega-3 treatment in people with major depressive disorder and those that were depressed without a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (10). Eating fish twice a week or taking a high-quality fish oil supplement can improve depression. Due to the risk of environmental pollutants now found in larger fish, it is best to stick with wild Alaskan salmon, pole-caught tuna, Atlantic mackerel, rainbow trout, black cod, or Pacific wild sardines. This will minimize your exposure to toxins while increasing Omega-3.

Lavender oil

Lavender oil is another natural option for improving depressive symptoms. In fact, using lavender oil as aromatherapy has been shown to decrease anxiety and increase mood (11). It is believed that this benefit is due to the calming effect on the limbic system of the brain, as well as positive psychological effects (12). Pharmaceutical companies have caught wind of lavender as an effective treatment and have been testing it against conventional anti-depressants and the well-studied herbal remedy, Kava. In trials, lavender seems to fare better than both substances for reducing symptoms of depression when taken orally as a tincture (12).


Neurofeedback (also called EEG biofeedback, Neurotherapy and Brainwave Biofeedback) is a noninvasive procedure that involves placing electrodes on the surface of the scalp. Electrodes measure activity throughout the regions of the brain and display the brain waves on a computer monitor. By utilizing neurofeedback procedures, the practitioner can monitor brain waves while the patient watches a movie or TV. The computer will monitor the brain waves and as soon as the waves go out of the range they are supposed to be in, the brain will get feedback to go into the proper range. As soon as the brain finds the healthy range, the screen and sound will come back on. This is all done subconsciously, and the brain learns a new permanent brain pattern to stay in. The goal is to train the brain by providing biofeedback associated with utilization of the appropriate areas of the brain. This can be thought of as exercise or conditioning for a brain and the benefits are often permanent.

For treatment of depression, patients learn how to upregulate areas of the brain linked with positive emotions (13). Neurofeedback has been shown to improve depressive symptoms by up to 75% after 8 weeks of treatment (14). The FDA has approved neurofeedback training for stress management, to relieve control chaotic thoughts, improve relaxation, treat Attention Deficit Disorder, and to support meditation.


Yoga is effective in treating depression and research continues to focus on the link between yoga and mood (15). One reason that yoga may be effective in reducing and eliminating depressive symptoms is because it can reduce inflammation and move the body out of stress cycles (16). Yoga is also thought to improve interactions between areas of the brain that are involved in depressive symptoms (15). In adults with mild-to-moderate major depression, an 8-week hatha yoga intervention resulted in statistically and clinically significant reductions in depression severity (17).


Exercise has been shown to significantly reduce depressive symptoms after as little as 8 weeks (18). The added value from using exercise as a tool for managing depression is that participants in a recent study also reported improvements in strength and functional capacity, decreased cortisol levels, enhanced body image, as well as improved sleep.

Personal Relationships

Depression is clearly linked to loneliness and lack of support (19). Putting energy into the personal relationships in your life that feel truly supportive is an effective way to combat depression. The research is strong that social support has a direct impact on long-term health, stress hormones, and immune function (20, 21).

Reconsider Social Media

Connections between “problematic” use of social media (SM) and depression are on the rise, especially in young people. Researchers found direct associations with how people use social media, not the amount of time spent scrolling, and depressive symptoms (22). Pay attention to the thoughts and feelings that you experience when using SM. If you notice that you feel low after using SM or if it is affecting your self-esteem, take a SM vacation for 3-5 days and pay attention to the difference in your mood.

  1. Pigott H., Leventhal, A., Alter, G., & Boren, J. (2010). Efficacy and Effectiveness of Antidepressants: Current Status of Research. Psychother Psychosom; 79:267-279
  2. Panchal, S., Wanyonyi, S. & Brown, L. (2017). Selenium, Vanadium, and Chromium as Micronutrients to Improve Metabolic Syndrome. Curr Hypertens Rep; 19 (10). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11906-017-0701-x
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  4. Pretty J., Peacock J., Hine R., Sellens M., South N., Griffin N. Green exercise in the UK countryside: Effects on health and psychological well-being, and implications for policy and planning. J. Environ. Plann. Manag. 2007;50:211–231. doi: 10.1080/09640560601156466.
  5. Van Den Berg, A. & Custers, M. (2011). Gardening promotes neuroendocrine and affective restoration from stress. J Health Psychol; 16(1):3-11.
  6. Curtin S. (2009). Wildlife tourism: The intangible, psychological benefits of human-wildlife encounters. Curr. Issues Tourism;12:451–474. doi: 10.1080/13683500903042857.
  7. Hossein-nezhad, A., & Holick, M. F. (2013). Vitamin D for Health: A Global Perspective. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Mayo Clinic, 88(7), 720–755. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.mayocp.2013.05.011
  8. Hodes, G. E., Ménard, C., & Russo, S. J. (2016). Integrating Interleukin-6 into depression diagnosis and treatment. Neurobiology of Stress, 4, 15–22. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ynstr.2016.03.003
  9. Levandovski, R., Pfaffenseller, B., Carissimi, A., Gama, C. S., & Hidalgo, M. P. L. (2013). The effect of sunlight exposure on interleukin-6 levels in depressive and non-depressive subjects. BMC Psychiatry, 13, 75. http://doi.org/10.1186/1471-244X-13-75
  10. Grosso, G., Pajak, A., Marventano, S., Castellano, S., Galvano, F., Bucolo, C., et al. (2014). Role of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in the Treatment of Depressive Disorders: A Comprehensive Meta-Analysis of Randomized Clinical Trials. PLoS ONE, 9(5), e96905. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0096905
  11. Walsh E. & Wilson C. (1999). Complementary therapies in long-stay neurology in-patients settings. Nurs Stand;13:32-35
  12. Xu, F., Uebaba, K., Ogawa, H., et al. (2008). Pharmaco-physio-psychologic effect of Ayurvedic oil-dripping treatment using an essential oil from Lavendula angustifolia. J Altern Complement Med;14(8):947-956.
  13. Linden, D. E. J., Habes, I., Johnston, S. J., Linden, S., Tatineni, R., Subramanian, L., … Goebel, R. (2012). Real-Time Self-Regulation of Emotion Networks in Patients with Depression. PLoS ONE, 7(6), e38115. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0038115
  14. Eun-Jin, C., Bon-Hoon, K., & Joong-Hyun, C. (2018). The Efficacy of Neurofeedback in Patients with Major Depressive Disorder: An Open Labeled Prospective Study. International Journal of Psychiatry Clinical Practice;1-6. doi: 10.1080/13651501.2018.1425458. [Epub ahead of print]
  15. Kinser, P. A., Goehler, L., & Taylor, A. G. (2012). How Might Yoga Help Depression? A Neurobiological Perspective. Explore (New York, N.Y.), 8(2), 118–126. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.explore.2011.12.005
  16. Brown, R. & Gerbarg, P. (2005). Sudarshan Kriya yogic breathing in the treatment of stress, anxiety, and depression: part I-neurophysiologic model. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine; 11(1):189-201.
  17. Prathikanti, S., Rivera, R., Cochran, A., Tungol, J. G., Fayazmanesh, N., & Weinmann, E. (2017). Treating major depression with yoga: A prospective, randomized, controlled pilot trial. PLoS ONE, 12(3), e0173869. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0173869
  18. Leone, M., Lalande, D., Theriault, L., Kalinova, E., & Fortin, A. (2018). Effects of an exercise program on the physiological, biological and psychological profiles in patients with mood disorders: a pilot study.; International Journal of Psychiatry & Clinical Practice.:1-6. doi: 10.1080/13651501.2018.1425458.
  19. Teo, A., Marsh, H., Forsberg, C., Niolaidis, C., Chen, J., Newsom, J., Saha, S., & Dobscha, S. (2018). Journal of Affective Disordance; 230:42-49. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.01.003. [Epub ahead of print]
  20. Heinrichs, M, Baumgartner, T, Kirschbaum, C., & Ehlert, U. (2003). Social support and oxytocin interact to suppress cortisol and subjective responses to psychosocial stress. Biological Psychiatry; 54(12):1389-98.
  21. Giesbrecht, G., Poole, J., Letourneau, N., Campbell, T, Kaplan, B. (2013). The buffering effect of social support on hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis function during pregnancy. Psychosom Med.;75(9):856-62. doi: 10.1097/PSY.0000000000000004. Epub 2013 Oct 25
  22. Shensa, A., Escobar-Viera, C., Sidani, J., Bowman, N., Marshal, M, Primack, B. (2017). Problematic social media use and depressive symptoms among U.S. young adults: A nationally-representative study Social Media Science & Medicine;182:150-157. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2017.03.061. Epub 2017 Apr 24.

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