One day in university, I walked into the cafeteria feeling like crap. Back then, I wouldn’t have called it depression; I would have just said I was having a bad day. That particular “bad day,” however, was so bad I couldn’t mask it as I usually did. I walked up to a table where a couple of my friends sat.
One of them—a very close, dear friend—took one look at me and jumped up, saying, “You need a hug!” My other friend gave me a curious look; he could see I was feeling bad but didn’t know what to do. After chatting for a few minutes, we went off to our separate classes, but that day stays in my memory.
You see, that wasn’t the only day I dealt with depression. In the ten plus years since university, I’ve had more “bad days.” For years, I refused to label it. I said I was just tired. I blamed my moodiness, lack of energy, or general feeling of lowness on the sleepless nights of a new mom. Occasionally, when my moods were very bad or lasted more than a day or two, I wondered if I should get help. Everything I read about depression and post-partum depression, however, seemed much worse than my occasional bouts with it.
This winter, those bad days began streaming together. I realized I finally needed to call it what it was, and to do something about it. My body was trying to tell me something and for years I hadn’t listened. Like most problems, ignoring it didn’t make it go away; instead, it slowly got worse. Since September, I’ve implemented several things to help with my depression. I’m happy to say these things have worked.
If you are also dealing with occasional “bad days” or minor depression, maybe these tips can help you too. Even if your depression doesn’t seem “that bad,” I urge you to name it, as I did, and to do something about it. Naming it will also help you with talking to your spouse about your mental health. Our bodies are complicated and we owe it to ourselves—and our families—to take listen to what our bodies tell us, and to take care of ourselves.
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See Your Doctor
Depression can be caused by medical problems such as thyroid imbalances and low iron levels. It’s worth a visit to your doctor and a quick blood check to make sure that your hormones and iron levels are okay. When I dropped by my doctor’s office this January, I learned that my iron levels were (not surprisingly) low again. Once you start taking iron supplements, it can take several months for your levels to reach normal again.
Another often undiagnosed cause of depression is the MTHFR mutation. If you have this gene mutation, then your body is unable to process folate (from the foods you eat) into methylfolate (the bioavailable folate enzyme needed to optimize health). The MTHFR gene mutation can cause depression, including extreme post-partum depression, as well as chronic fatigue syndrome, migraines, and other health concerns. Consider asking your doctor if this gene mutation could be causing your depression.
See a Homeopath or Naturopath
This was the first step I took after admitting to my depression. Because my depression “wasn’t that bad” and I’d heard that prescription anti-depressants didn’t go well with pregnancy and breastfeeding, I decided to seek natural treatment methods instead. Homeopaths are medical professionals who are trained in natural healing methods and remedies.
My first consultation with my homeopath was ninety minutes, as she went over my history (from that day in the cafeteria above to the present), my eating and sleeping habits, my relationships, and more. It may sound daunting to talk to a doctor for an hour and a half, but I left that appointment feeling like the homeopath had really heard me and understood my needs and concerns. She sent me a remedy which helped greatly for the next several months.
See a Counsellor
Depression can also be caused by emotional stress and grief. Life events such as the loss of a loved one, miscarriage, infertility, abuse, childhood trauma, moving, marital problems, job stress, a child with special needs, and more can cause us to feel low. Talking to a counselor about these things can help us to process them and find better ways to cope with the stress.
Ask friends or your priest or pastor for a recommendation for a counselor, or look up counselors in your area who offer help with what you’re struggling with. If the first counselor doesn’t “click” with you, try another.
Where’s the Light?
This was our first winter in our new condo. It wasn’t until about February, when a few sunny days began breaking up the Vancouver rain, that I glanced around our home and realized there’s very little natural light. We have a corner unit, with windows on two sides of our home.
In the living areas, we have a dining room window and a large patio window, but those both face a ridge or “mountain” and are shaded by the upstairs patio. On the other side, the bedrooms have large windows, but face a busy street, so I tend to keep the blinds closed (especially since one of my daughters has the habit of changing several times daily and doesn’t need to be flashing the strangers outside!).
Growing up in Alberta, I’m used to bright, sunny skies, even in the winter. I do think many of my bouts with depression over the last since years, since our move to the West Coast, have been caused by the grey, dreary weather here. Since February, I’ve been trying to take advantage of the sunny days we do get, and to get outside with the girls more often.
Other friends of mine have bought “SAD lamps” to help with these grey winter days. If you notice that your “bad days” are more frequent during the winter months, then you could be affected by seasonal affective disorder. Light therapy could be an easy solution for you.
Move It, Move It
One of my favourite ways of dealing with “bad days” during high school was to go for a bike ride or a swim. Something about the wind in my face or the water in my ears, and the simple act of pushing my body hard while letting my mind go blank, helped my mood improve. However, since having kids, being active has been more difficult.
This year, we’ve finally found a solution to biking with babies, but previously, I couldn’t just jump on my bike or head for the pool. I’ve had to find other ways of being active, including having dance parties with my girls or doing an exercise video at home. Getting out for a brisk walk, even in the rain, with the baby in the stroller or on my back, also helps us all.
Essential Oils for Depression
Essential oils have been one of my favourite natural remedies for a while. It made sense to me that they could also help my moods. Essential oils “have many components that affect the nervous system, helping to life mood and enhance well-being” (Essential Oils). They can help you relax, calm down and balance your emotions.
Depression and anxiety can also affect our bodies as well as our minds: “we tend to hold tension in our muscled when we are anxious. Many oils have both mood-enhancing properties and physiological effects so they treat both the mental and physical symptoms of stress and anxiety” (Essential Oils).
Oils that may help include chamomile (which is calming and can help balance emotions), lavender (relaxing), rosemary (clears the mind) or geranium (which is uplifting and can also balance emotions). Essential Oils also has a calming diffusion recipe with frankincense, neroli, and mandarin essential oils. I’ve been using Happy Joy blend for the past several months. I put a dab on each wrist and on my temples every morning.
When I’m feeling down, my go-to pick-me-up is a chocolate bar. My husband laughs at my chocolate stashes (which range from Reese’s in the cupboard to raiding the chocolate chips in the baking drawer), but there’s been many a time when chocolate has gotten me through the day. However, chocolate isn’t really a solution. In fact, it could have been causing a nasty cycle where the chocolate actually added to my depression.
Studies have found that eating more fruits and vegetables can help improve mental health. I’m always telling my girls to eat more fruits and veggies, so this was a good chance for me to walk the talk. I’ve tried to start my day with an orange or grapefruit, grab an apple for a snack instead of a piece of bread, and serve more veggies with our meals (or hide the veggies in the meal so nobody can avoid them!).
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is, for me, one of the biggest triggers for depression. Despite this, it took me years to really recognize this. Now, getting to bed late can actually cause me to start stressing out about how I’ll be feeling the next day. I’m aware that I need a minimum of 8 hours sleep a day (9-10 hours is better). With babies in the house, that’s been hard to do over the past ten years.
Sometimes, it means giving up my to-do list to have a nap when the baby does during the day. Other days, it means going to bed early (even though I’d rather stay up to watch Downton Abbey). I’ve talked to my husband about how important sleep is for my mental health, so he understands why I need it and can help me get enough rest.
Listen to Your Body
As I said before, our bodies are complicated. Several things could be triggering your bad moods. Over the past several months, I’ve recognized and tried to address several of the triggers of my “bad days.” I’m thankful that I haven’t had a bad day in several months now. Taking iron supplements, getting enough sleep, adjusting my diet, using a homeopathic remedy, and getting outside more often have helped with my moods.
If you’re also dealing with occasional depression, I urge you to think about what could be causing it. Maybe something on my list rings true for you. Whatever it is, take small steps to address the problem. It may take a few weeks or months to see results, but you won’t miss the bad days when they’re gone.
Have you dealt with occasional or more serious depression? What has helped you overcome it?