by Mary Shomon
Thyroid Patient Advocate, and New York Times Bestselling Author of “The Thyroid Diet Revolution”
When you are experiencing depression, it is always important to first talk with your health care practitioner to rule out strictly physical causes. Autoimmune diseases, thyroid problems, menopause, hormone imbalances, and many other conditions — as well as some prescription medications – can cause depression as a side effect. Your health care practitioner can also determine if what you are experiencing is “dysthymia” — which is more of a temporary depressed mood — versus a more significant clinical depression that would warrant further investigation.
But if you are feeling slightly down, here are some basic self-care tips that may help you get back on track.
1. CHALLENGE UNHELPFUL THINKING
If you are stuck in patterns of negative thinking, challenging those thoughts can help shift a depressed mood. One helpful technique is the “4 Questions” approach featured in Byron Katie’s method, called “The Work.”
2. GET ENOUGH SLEEP
If you are not getting enough sleep — and for most people, that means at least 7 to 8 hours per night – that an trigger or aggravate depression. Aim for a good night’s sleep every night. Avoiding computers, phones and television at least an hour before bedtime, and making sure your bedroom is dark can help you get a better night’s sleep.
3. EAT WELL
Overdoing sugar and simple carbohydrates (breads, pastas, desserts), or eating too much or too little, can aggravate fluctuations in mood, and leave you low in energy. Focus on nutritious foods, and eat mindfully — taking time to chew slowly, and take deep breaths between bits. Aim for two to three healthy meals a day plus snacks, spaced out to help maintain blood sugar balance.
Any type of physical activity can have an effect on brain chemicals that help improve mood. Even a gentle daily walk with a friend or pet can improve your mood.
5. GET SUNLIGHT EXPOSURE
Exposure to sunlight has been shown to help improve mood. Aim for 10 to 15 minutes of exposure — without sunglasses – to help. If it’s winter, or sunshine isn’t available, consider using a light therapy box. (A lightbox that is a 10,000 lux strength is the minimum level needed to have an effect.)
6. AVOID TOXIC PEOPLE, AND SEEK OUT AFFIRMING PEOPLE
When you’re feeling down, it’s not a good time to be around people who are negative, toxic or draining — the “energy vampires” who increase your stress level, or make you feel anxious or frustrated. Better to schedule time with family and friends who make you feel relaxed, who help elevate your mood, and who are supportive and positive.
7. LEAN MORE
Stress can make even a mild mood shift more difficult to overcome. One of the most important things you can do is to incorporate at least 15 minutes of some form of active stress reduction — note: reading and watching television don’t count — into your daily routine. Some of the most effective approaches? Guided meditation, deep breathing and pranayama techniques, tai chi, qi gong, or prayer. For some people, activities that involve repetitive hand motions – like needlework, beading, gardening, bread making, and crafting – can have a similar de-stressing effect when done regularly.