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General characteristics

General characteristics

Depression is a very common but often misunderstood condition. It refers to a state of melancholy, sadness, despair or lack of hope and joy that persists for several weeks, months or years.
Depression refers to a lasting change in the mood and behaviour of an individual, presenting symptoms such as headache, aches and pains, changes in weight and eating patterns, tiredness or insomnia, feelings of hopelessness and despair, lethargy, complete inability to relax, feeling guilty and ashamed of the depression, fearfulness, the low mood prevents the person from participating in normal daily life, lack of pleasure or interest in everyday things and anxiety and restlessness.
Although depression is not in itself a disease, its symptoms are both physical and psychological and can be debilitating. Many changes happen in the brain chemistry, nervous system and body chemistry as a result of depression including reduced levels of neurotransmitters.
Depression results from a chronic state of low nervous functioning, often arising as a result of relentless hyperactive nervous states such as long term stress and anxiety, when the nervous system has a kind of 'crash' due to nervous exhaustion. Depression is classified as ranging from mild to severe depending on the severity and duration of the symptoms. In mild depression there may also be anxiety or irritability present, whereas in severe depression the system is often so 'burned out' that the individual feels almost numb emotionally.
The triggers for depression may include hormonal imbalance (e.g. postnatal, pre-menstrual, puberty or menopausal), excessive use of stimulants (caffeine, alcohol etc.), stressful life events (death, divorce, bullying, lack of confidence etc.), chronic pain or illness, under active thyroid gland, blood sugar imbalances, certain food allergies, low blood cholesterol levels, some pharmaceutical drugs (including statins and anti-depressants!) and of course poor diet.
Herbs and natural healing aim to boost nutrients useful to the nervous system, alleviate unpleasant symptoms and restore strength and vigour to the entire system.

Diet and lifestyle

Diet and lifestyle

Eating well during depression can be so difficult, especially if you have little appetite or are craving junk foods. However nutrition can make a significant positive impact on depression so it really is worth making the effort.

Processed foods such as sweetened desserts, fried food, processed meat, refined grains and high-fat dairy products have been linked to depression so be careful to avoid or drastically limit these food types. They have very little nutritional benefit and are often just 'empty calories'.

Food sensitivities have been linked to depression and other mental disorders so consider cutting out certain foods week by week to see if symptoms improve.

Eat a portion of oily fish once or twice a week.

Drink at least a litre of plain water a day.

Try to eat 3 meals a day at regular times and include a good source of protein (e.g. beans, peas or other legumes, oily fish or organic egg, meat or poultry) with each meal. Protein is vital for healthy brain and nervous system functioning.

Base your diet on an abundance of fresh natural foods with as many fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds and grains as possible. Organic if possible.

Include plenty of foods rich in B vitamins such as dark green leaves, sprouted seeds and grains and wholegrains like brown rice and oats.

Limit the amount of sugar and refined carbohydrates you eat as an excess will cause blood sugar swings and irritate the entire system. See 'blood sugar(high)' in the 'common ailments' section of the site for dietary tips to maintain a balanced blood sugar level.

Avoid stimulating drinks like coffee, alcohol or energy drinks as these can leave the body tired and worn out after the initial forced 'high' they induce.

Useful herbs

Useful herbs

Herbs used to help treat depression are the 'nervine' herbs, herbs that deliver key nutrients to the nervous system and aim to rebalance chemistry and restore vitality. Such herbs include vervain, st johns wort, oatstraw, lemon balm, skullcap and damiana. Use equal parts of the dried herbs to create a formula. Make a batch each morning by adding 3 heaped teaspoons of the mix to a teapot or jug and add a pint or so of water and leave to stand. Strain off enough to fill a cup 3 times a day.
You can add cornsilk and elderflowers to the above formula occasionally for their anti-depressive and restorative effects.
You could also add celery seeds to the above formula for their nerv tonic effects.
Drink nettle and oatstraw tea regularly for its beneficial effects on the entire system and its high concentrations of useful nutrients. Add red clover flowers every now and then for their soothing and energising qualities.
Ginkgo improves blood circulation to the brain which may help to alleviate some symptoms.
Dandelion root can have a remarkably uplifting effect on the nerves and mood when used as a tea or tincture, some good results with manic depression also.
Sage tea is an old trusted remedy for depression associated with mental exhaustion and also weariness in old age. Use a heaped teaspoon and drink a cup daily.
Siberian ginseng and other adaptogenic herbs such as ashwagandha helps the body to adapt to the physical effects of long term stress and is a useful tonic. Take a teaspoon of the tincture 3 times daily in a little water.
For depression with heart palpitations try motherwort, a gentle but powerful herb that strengthens the heart both physically and emotionally. 20-40 drops of tincture in water every few hours can provide quick relief from anxiety and restlessness also.
For bouts of extreme anxiety try valerian, passionflower and chamomile. Mix the tinctures in equal parts and take 20 drops of the tincture in water when needed.
Plants such as milk thistle and holy thistle stimulate the liver and help promote a sense of well-being. Add to tea formulas or grind milk thistle seeds to a powder and add to cereals.

Natural healing

Natural healing

When suffering from depression it is difficult to find enthusiasm for anything, even if it may well help you, so the advice to 'do things that make you feel good' may seem like a glib comment. Perhaps 'do things that used to make you feel good when you weren't feeling depressed' is a better way of putting it! Positive memories of enjoying activities or environments when you were feeling good can be triggered and have a subtle yet healing influence on you.
Positive thoughts and actions and laughter have a beneficial effect on the nervous system and can help to raise the mood so engage in any activity that makes you feel good as often as possible.
Physical exercise or therapies like yoga, tai chi and massage can relax the nervous system and encourage the production of the 'feel good' hormones and neurotransmitters. Practiced regularly they can help restore strength and vigour to the nervous system.
Try to get some sunshine on your skin (WITHOUT SUNSCREEN) for 20 minutes every day if possible. Vitamin D is the 'feel good' vitamin.
Take a tablespoon of cider vinegar in warm water sweetened with honey daily.
The Bach flower remedies can be useful for dealing with specific emotional issues surrounding depression.

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