All of us have had days when it seemed like nothing was going right, and all we wanted to do was just crawl back into bed. But having a bad day and being depressed and anxious with seemingly no end in sight are two different things — and based on the rash of celebrity suicides we’ve seen recently, chances are high that you or someone close to you might be suffering.
In fact, about 40 million American adults, or 18.1% of the population, have an anxiety disorder. And the most common type of depressive disorder — major depressive disorder — affects about 16.1 million U.S. adults annually. Research also shows that the two disorders often go hand in hand, as a majority of people suffering from anxiety also experience signs of depression.
To someone on the outside looking in, a person suffering from one of these disorders may appear normal. But these disorders can manifest in a variety of ways, including fatigue, persistent sadness, changes in appetite or weight, disinterest in hobbies, low moods, difficulty concentrating or sleeping and thoughts of death or suicide. These symptoms may be the result of stress, a traumatic life experience, hormone imbalance or seemingly no reason at all.
Left untreated, anxiety and depression can take a serious toll on people. For starters, episodes can last longer, happen more frequently and become more severe. They can also affect personal relationships and work performance while taking a physical toll on overall health and contributing to chronic conditions like heart disease and obesity.
One recent small study found that people who suffered from untreated depression had more inflammation in the brain than those who weren’t depressed, which shows that depression actually changes the brain, similar to degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Depression and anxiety are obviously serious concerns that should be treated as such, and while prescription medications are certainly one option to help manage symptoms, there are also some drug-free options available. Here are my favorite ways to tackle symptoms of anxiety and depression naturally.
1. Watch What You’re Eating and Drinking
You may be surprised to learn that what you eat can impact how you feel — and that includes your mood. A 2009 study found that people who ate a whole-foods diet full of fruits, veggies and fish had lower odds of depression than those who ate lots of processed foods, including processed meat, refined grains and sweetened desserts.
Some of the best foods for depression and anxiety are omega-3 foods, which can reduce inflammation in the brain and may help combat mental disorders. These include wild-caught fish like salmon and mackerel, chia and flax seeds, walnuts and egg yolks. It’s also important to get enough fruits and veggies; healthy fats — like avocado, coconut oil and extra virgin olive oil — probiotics from foods like kefir and kombucha; along with lean protein like grass-fed beef, lentils, black beans, yogurt and organic chicken.
You’ll also want to limit caffeine and alcohol, which can exacerbate depression and anxiety symptoms.
2. Use Essential Oils
If you’re struggling to relax and unwind, using essential oils can help. In particular, I recommend lavender oil and Roman chamomile oil.
Lavender oil helps relieve stress and promote a sense of calm. Using it topically or inhaling it can also relieve anxiety symptoms like nervousness, headaches and muscle pain. Simply dab three drops of lavender oil on your palm and rub it onto your neck, wrists and temples when you need relief. You can also use it in an aromatherapy diffuser or add 5-10 drops to a warm bath.
Roman chamomile oil acts as a mild sedative to soothe nerves and help you relax. You can use it on its own or in conjunction with lavender oil to calm your nerves and improve sleep quality. Inhale the vapors directly from the bottle several times a day, apply 2-3 drops to your wrists and back of neck or diffuse 5-7 drops.
3. Don’t Skip Exercising If You Can Help It
Working out may feel like the last thing you want to do when you’re depressed and/or anxious. But if you can squeeze in that workout anyway, it’s one of the best ways to relieve symptoms, as exercise can give you an energy boost and help you sleep better. One systematic review found that exercising actually helps reduce depression symptoms, especially when combined with psychological therapy.
Another May 2018 study found that weight training, in particular, significantly reduced depression symptoms throughout 33 clinical trials, regardless of participants’ health status and even if no strength improvements occurred. But strength training doesn’t need to be your go-to exercise. Any kind of physical activity — whether it’s yoga, running or walking the dog — counts. And for a double dose of workout benefits, try using exercise as a form of active meditation.
4. Add in Adaptogen Herbs
Adaptogens are a class of healing plants that improve stress hormones and relax the nervous system. By reducing your cortisol levels, they help balance and protect the body. Best of all, they have no adverse side effects, unlike traditional medication.
Ashwagandha is terrific for anxiety. It works by stabilizing the body’s response to stress and can help improve focus and reduce fatigue. Rhodiola, meanwhile, increases the sensitivity of serotonin and dopamine — two neurotransmitters that help improve your mood and focus.
Finally, if you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, try reaching out for support from family, friends and a professional therapist. Taking the step to ask for help can be extremely difficult, but it’s also well worth it. And if you have a loved one you think may be dealing with anxiety or depression, make the first move and reach out to them.