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Natural Remedies for Depression and SAD
Do you know anyone close to you who is often depressed? Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects many people during the winter months. If you live somewhere that receives very little sunlight, you could possibly be suffering from this very common yet insidious condition. Non-seasonal depression can be even more debilitating as it affects your mental health all year round.
Fortunately, there are some natural ways to address and overcome these disorders. Below are nine supportive tips on how to help someone with depression and SAD.
1. Get Some Sun
Sunlight plays a vital role in producing vitamin D within your body. When your skin is exposed to the sun’s UV rays, your vitamin D levels increase. However, without any sun exposure, you may have difficulty achieving an optimum level. If you become deficient in vitamin D, it can affect your mood and increase your risk of depression.
Therefore, it is important to expose yourself to midday sunlight (wearing a T-shirt and shorts) for approximately 10 to 30 minutes every day to maintain a healthy balance. In colder climates, you may need to spend more time outside since you would likely have less skin exposed wearing a jacket and pants.
Also, skin pigmentation also plays a role in how much vitamin D is generated from the sun. Fair skin individuals require less exposure, while people with darker skin would require slightly more.
Remember to Wear Sunscreen
Regardless of your skin type, remember to wear sunscreen lotion (SPF 30 or higher). Put on sunscreen if you plan to be outside for longer periods to protect yourself from harmful UVA and UVB rays.
2. Use a Happy Light
During winter, or in climates that receive very little sunlight, you should consider buying a happy light. Artificial light simulates the positive effects of sunlight without the harmful UV rays.
Bright light therapy has been used for over 20 years as a treatment for SAD. Plus, recent research has shown that light therapy can relieve non-seasonal depression.
For instance, one particular study found that light therapy was an effective adjuvant treatment to antidepressants for people suffering from nonseasonal depression (Even, Schröder, Friedman, & Rouillon, 2008). Terman and Terman (2014) also determined that light therapy accelerated the improvement of patients’ mood and reduced residual symptoms of depression.
3. Take Vitamin D
Again, your body generates vitamin D from via sun (or an artificial light). However, depending on your situation, you may not have access to either of those options all year round.
In that case, you may want to consider taking vitamin D supplements if you are getting limited exposure. Not only can vitamin D supplementation reduce the onset of depression, but it has other benefits, such as protecting against osteoporosis, hypertension, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, and cancer.
How Much Vitamin D Should You Take?
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States recommends the following dosages per day for adults:
- 5mcg (200 IU) for people under 50 years old
- 10mcg (400 IU) for people 50 to 70 years old
- 15mcg (600 IU) for people over 70 years old
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Foods High in Vitamin D
As an alternative to supplements, try adding foods to your diet which contain high amounts of vitamin D. Keep in mind, not many foods contain much vitamin D. Nevertheless, you can still get some from:
- fatty fish
- almond milk
- beef liver
- fresh orange juice
Exercise can be just as powerful—or even more effective than medications—for reducing depression. Why is working out so helpful? Physical activity releases “feel good” chemicals in the brain called endorphins and boosts serotonin levels to make you feel better.
Research indicates that exercise has a profound impact on relieving depression. For instance, a study from Duke University found that people who exercise three to five days per week at 40-minute intervals receive the most benefits.
Other research by Ströhle (2008) suggested that exercise training reduced the incidence rates of depression and other mental disorders, such as anxiety.
Increasing your support groups also has a positive influence on your mood. These groups could include family, friends, athletic clubs, sports teams, book clubs, photography groups, or any other community that you meet with on a regular basis.
The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) states that forming connections and interpersonal relationships helps depressed patients recover faster. Plus, maintaining these strong social bonds can prevent any further relapses.
So find something that you are interested in. Then, try to make it a social event that could become part of your weekly routine.
Numerous recent studies have demonstrated the positive influence that meditation has on people suffering from depression.
Medical imaging has shown that meditation regulates activity in certain areas of the brain associated with emotion. Moreover, with a regular meditation practice, one can learn valuable skills that alleviate depression, such as self-regulation, relaxation techniques, and methods for dealing with negative information (Annells, Kho, & Bridge, 2016).
Other research by Alderman, Olson, Brush, and Shors (2016) suggests that combining meditation with physical aerobic exercise can significantly increase cognitive control and decrease rumination.
Most notably, Loving-Kindness Meditation (or Metta) is a very powerful practice for your mental health. For example, Kearney, D.J., Malte, McManus, Martinez, Felleman, and Simpson (2013) demonstrated that a 12-week program focusing on that specific form of meditation radically reduced depression and PTSD symptoms in war veterans.
7. Try Cold Water
Immersing your body in cold water or having a cold shower are also effective medication-free methods for relieving depression. When cold water contacts the skin for a prolonged period, it sends a surge of electrical impulses to the brain which has a positive effect on your emotional state.
A recent study by van Tulleken, Tipton, Massey, and Harper (2018) determined that swimming in cold water immediately improves mood and can gradually reduce symptoms of depression if a person swims (in cold water) on a weekly basis. It also prevents relapse and helps people become less dependent on medication.
Not up for swimming? Try taking a cold 5-minute shower or bath. These alternatives would have a similar effect on improving your mood.
Other benefits of cold water therapy include increased metabolism, better circulation, and a stronger immune system. In fact, brief cold-water stress that is repeated daily can enhance longevity and actually decrease your risk of getting cancer.
8. Reduce Sugar and Carbs
Changing your diet not only improves your waistline, but it can also make you feel better. In the long run, consuming excess sugar and carbohydrates will have a negative impact on your physical and mental health.
A recent study found that men who had over 67 grams of sugar per day were more likely to be depressed over a period of five years than those who at 40 grams or less per day (Knüppel, Shipley, Llewellyn, & Brunner, 2017).
Similarly, other research found that diets laden with high-GI foods and added sugar increases levels of depression (Gangwisch et al., 2015).
For these reasons, try to reduce the amount of added sugars and excess carbs that you have every day. It is much healthier to eat low-GI foods, such as fruit, instead of high-GI foods like white rice or white bread.
There is a lot of added sugars in products that you may not be aware of too. Thus, remember to read the label to see how many “hidden” grams of sugar there are before you purchase anything.
9. Practice Random Acts of Kindness
Perhaps the easiest way to improve your emotional state is to be kind to others.
Studies from Japan and Canada demonstrated that random acts of kindness and practicing compassion improves subjective happiness for most people and reduces depression for individuals who are low on agreeableness.
Hence, to make yourself happy, go out of your way to make another person happy. It could be as simple as buying a friend (or a stranger) a cup of coffee. Hold the door open for the person behind you. Carry your neighbor's groceries. Send a friend a gift.
When was the last time you made someone happy?
By following adding these nine strategies to your weekly routine, you should notice a significant improvement in your overall health. Overcoming depression is not easy. However, try implementing some (or all) of these strategies to see how you respond.
Note, this advice is not a panacea for chronic mental health issues. If you are struggling with serious depression or another disorder, consult a physician to get the treatment that you require.
More Tips on How to Help Someone With Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder
Do you have any helpful advice for people suffering from depression or SAD? Please leave a comment at the bottom of the page.
- Alderman, B. L., Olson, R. L., Brush, C. J., & Shors, T. J. (2016). MAP training: combining meditation and aerobic exercise reduces depression and rumination while enhancing synchronized brain activity. Translational Psychiatry. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/tp2015225
- Annells, S., Kho, K., & Bridge, P. (2016). Meditate don't medicate: How medical imaging evidence supports the role of meditation in the treatment of depression. Radiography. 22(1), e54-e58. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1078817415000942
- Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. (2014). Social groups alleviate depression. Science Daily. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140319143938.htm
- DiSalvo, D. (2017). The Link Between Sugar And Depression: What You Should Know. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/neuronarrative/201709/the-link-between-sugar-and-depression-what-you-should-know
- Even, S., Schröder, C. M., Friedman S., & Rouillon, F. (2008). Efficacy of light therapy in nonseasonal depression: A systematic review. Journal of Affective Disorders, 108(1-2), 11-23. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165032707003369
- Gangwisch, J. E., Hale, L., Garcia, L., Malaspina, D., Opler, M. G., Payne, M. E., Rossom, R. & C., Lane, D. (2015). High glycemic index diet as a risk factor for depression: analyses from the Women’s Health Initiative, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 102(2), 454–463. Retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/102/2/454/4564524
- How Much Vitamin D Should You Take For Optimal Health? (n.d.). Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-much-vitamin-d-to-take
- How to Safely Get Vitamin D From The Sun. (n.d.). Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/vitamin-d-from-sun
- Kearney, D.J., Malte, C. A., McManus, C., Martinez, M. E., Felleman, B., & Simpson T. L. (2013). Loving-kindness meditation for posttraumatic stress disorder: a pilot study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 26(4), 426-34. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23893519
- Knüppel, A., Shipley, M. J., Llewellyn, C. H., & Brunner, E. J. (2017). Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Scientific Reports. Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-05649-7
- Mongrain, M., Barnes, C., Barnhart, R., & Zalan, L. B. (2018). Acts of kindness reduce depression in individuals low on agreeableness. Translational Issues in Psychological Science, 4(3), 323-334. Retrieved from http://psycnet.apa.org/record/2018-43625-010
- Otake, K., Shimai, S., Tanaka-Matsumi, J., Otsui, K., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2006). Happy People Become Happier Through Kindness: A COUNTING KINDNESSES INTERVENTION. Journal of Happiness Studies, 7(3), 361-375. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1820947/
- Small, G. (2010). Can Exercise Cure Depression? Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/brain-bootcamp/201009/can-exercise-cure-depression.
- Ströhle, A. (2009). Physical activity, exercise, depression and anxiety disorders. Journal of Neural Transmission, 116, 777. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00702-008-0092-x
- Terman, M. & Terman, J. S. (2005). Light Therapy for Seasonal and Nonseasonal Depression: Efficacy, Protocol, Safety, and Side Effects. CNS Spectrums, Cambridge University Press, 10(8), 647–663. Retrieved from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/cns-spectrums/article/light-therapy-for-seasonal-and-nonseasonal-depression-efficacy-protocol-safety-and-side-effects/4B8A682E41D528C82D38BE420B00D306
- Top Foods for Calcium and Vitamin D (n.d.). Web MD. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/guide/calcium-vitamin-d-foods
- van Tulleken C., Tipton M., Massey, H., & Harper, M. (2018). Open water swimming as a treatment for major depressive disorder. Case Reports. Retrieved from https://casereports.bmj.com/content/2018/bcr-2018-225007.full
- Vitamin D Supplements & Foods. (n.d.). Dr Weil. [online] Available at: https://www.drweil.com/vitamins-supplements-herbs/vitamins/vitamin-d/
- Watson, K. (2017). Cold Shower Benefits for Your Health. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/cold-shower-benefits
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on January 14, 2019:
Great article, with helpful tips and suggestions to overcome depression. Sounds useful, especially exposure to the Sun, physical exercises and meditation. My morning and evening walks help me, whenever I am feeling a bit low.
Thanks for sharing this useful information!