There are times when training is a dream.
You constantly feel motivated and driven. You make it to all your training sessions, and you find yourself feeling stronger every single week.
Every time you look in the mirror you seem to be getting healthier and leaner.
Like I said – a dream.
However, this isn’t always the case.
There are times where things get in the way. Your mindset changes, and simply finding the energy to drag yourself to work is about all that you can handle.
Exercise takes a back seat. As does socializing, getting out of the house, and about anything else that requires some sort of effort.
Every time you see yourself you no longer feel motivated or impressed with your progress. In fact, you see nothing but your faults. Those few areas that you desperately need to improve upon – however, you don’t feel the drive to do anything about it.
The black dog comes barking, and motivation, energy, and mindset plummet.
Yep, I am talking about depression.
There is no doubt that each and every one of you has felt overwhelming feelings of sadness at one time or another.
In fact, it really is quite common to feel moody or down in the dumps from time to time.
However, some people experience these feelings in an extremely intense manner, and for much longer periods of time (sometimes weeks, sometimes months, and sometimes even years).
Moreover, these feelings often come on suddenly, without any obvious rhyme or reason.
This is depression.
In this manner, depression is so much more than just a bad mood – it’s a serious and reoccurring disorder that has been linked to declines in daily functioning and quality of life, in conjunction with an increased risk of physical illness and all-cause mortality.
In short, it’s not good – and I should note, it’s not uncommon either.
In fact, depression is one of the most common mental disorders here in the United States, with around 16.1 million adults aged 18 years or over experiencing at least one major depressive episode per year.
It is also important to note that this statistic only accounts for those individuals who suffer a
major depressive episode – meaning that they are likely to result in hospitalization.
This means that it is highly likely that there are millions upon millions of individuals out there suffering from mild depression who are yet to seek help.
People who are struggling to get by on a daily basis.
Like I said, not good.
As I have already stated, depression is so much more than just feeling down. It is a serious disorder that comes with a multitude of signs and symptoms.
“My patients who make a point to exercise, maintain healthy eating habits and have good sleep hygiene, experience the greatest improvement in battling their depression symptoms”, says psychiatrist Dr. Lindsay Israel, from Success TMS, depression treatment specialists out of Florida.
Exercise is one of the most potent anti-depression tools we have available to us – and it also happens to be free, accessible, and extremely effective.
Take the test. What was your score?
Physical activity in any form causes the release of complex proteins known as neurotrophic growth factors into the brain. These compounds actually cause nerves within the brain to grow and create new connection with one another, causing a subsequent and sustained improvement in mood.
With this often comes increases in both confidence and self-esteem, enhanced feelings of self-worth, and general improvements in energy levels.
And the results?
Exercise has been shown to cause significant reductions in the signs and symptoms of depression – so much so that it should really play a part in any depression treatment plan.
Building on this a little further, there is recent evidence to suggest that when it comes to the modality of exercise best suited to improving mood and staving off depressive symptoms, resistance training might be king.
In fact, regular resistance training has been shown to seriously improve mood, thus reducing depressive symptoms in a very big way.
This means that weight training will not only offer you some serious physical benefits, but also has the capacity to cause huge improvements in your mental health as well.
While depression is most commonly thought of as strictly a psychological and neurological condition, most healthcare practitioners believe external factors play a much larger role in one’s happiness.
You are what you eat.
With this in mind, there is evidence to suggest that nutrition can play a key role in both the onset and duration of depression.
I have briefly discussed the role that neurotransmitters play in normal brain function. But what I didn’t mention is that the to produce these neurotransmitters, you need adequate nutrients available to produce them.
Now while these nutrients may sound somewhat complex, it is important to note that they are found in a number of foods that appear in what most of us would consider a ‘normal’ healthy diet.
In fact, as long as you eat a good amount of green leafy vegetables, beans, eggs, cheese, yoghurt, fish, poultry, red meat, and whole grains, you will get in more than enough of these super important nutrients.
If we look at these types of foods, it should become pretty apparent as to why people who follow the Mediterranean diet often have much lower levels of depression.
Alternatively, research shows that individuals who consume a diet that is both high in refined carbohydrates and sugars have been shown to be at an increased risk of developing depression than their healthier-diet counterparts.
This means that when it comes to fighting depression, your best bet is to make sure that your diet is for the most part built around whole foods, vegetables, and lean cuts of meat.
Additionally, you should avoid processed foods like the plague.
Finally, in conjunction with diet and exercise, there is one other factor that has consistently been shown to have a huge impact on relieving depression.
And it comes down to sleep.
Most of us know that sleep is important – but I really don’t think many realize just how important it truly is to boosting your mood.
Moreover, these same people tend to display a down-regulated ability to recover from exercise, in conjunction with reduced physical performance capabilities.
To put it simply, inadequate sleep wreaks absolute havoc with the human body.
So it should really come as no surprise that poor sleep quality has been consistently linked to increased rates of depression.
You see, the sleep wake cycle of the human body is regulated by both the brain and nervous systems, as well as by the hormonal system – in which they both work synergistically to help manage the body’s regular sleep routine.
Interestingly, both depression and regular sleep disturbances can cause abnormalities within this cycle, driven by alterations in normal brain and hormone function.
While in this scenario it can be hard to determine whether depression drives or sleep disturbance or vice versa, we do know that as many as 90% of individual suffering from depression will also have sleep quality complaints.
In fact, some health professionals have gone as far as to suggest that without an associated sleep disturbance, the diagnosis of depression should be made with extreme caution.
With this in mind, causing significant improvements in sleep quality and sleep duration have been shown to not only reduce the severity of depressive symptoms, but may also reduce the risk of developing depression in its entirety.
Here are 3 very simple tips that can be implemented to maximize your sleep quality and keep your mental health in top shape:
Electronic screens (such as those in phones, TVs, iPads) emit what is known as blue light.
Blue light is a specific form of light that stimulates certain receptors in the eye that interact with the brain, stimulating feelings of wakefulness and alertness, while simultaneously disrupting your normal circadian rhythm.
Through this mechanism, the use of electronic screens before bed has been shown to cause significant disruptions in sleep quality, while also reducing sleep duration throughout the night.
However, simply avoiding screens for at least 30 minutes before going to bed has been shown to help you fall asleep faster, and cause large improvements in sleep quality.
The circadian rhythm is a funny thing. It is really what dictates your sleep-wake cycle, and therefore when you fall asleep and when you wake up.
But it is also prone to disruptions, with something as simple as varying bedtimes enough to impact its efficiency.
With this in mind, creating a sleep routine where you go to sleep at the same time every night (yes, even on Saturday…) has been shown to help regulate the circadian rhythm, thus making it easier to fall asleep.
As a bit of a bonus, this will also cause an increase in sleep quality throughout the night.
Current guidelines suggest that you need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night to optimize physical and mental health.
An easy way to achieve this is to try and aim for at least 8 hours per night, every night.
This might mean making your sleep routine from 10pm to 6am. That way, even if you take 30-40 minutes to fall asleep, you will still get more than the recommended minimum amount.
Joe Rogan had Johann Hari on his podcast to discuss depression and here’s what I found interesting.
“Depression is measured on something called the Hamilton Scale.”
“Hamilton scale goes from 1 where you are dancing around in ecstasy”, “to 51 where you’d be acutely suicidal”
“If your sleep patterns get better, you move 6 points”
“If you’re sleep patterns get worse, you generally lose 6 points”
“On average, chemical antidepressants move people 1.8 points on the Hamilton scale”
Only 1.8 points!
Now, a bit of a disclaimer: the causes of depression remain for the most part unclear.
With this in mind, depression has previously been treated as a traditional medical condition through the use of key prescription medications.
Known as antidepressants, these substances provide a dose of certain neurotransmitters directly to the brain.
You see, certain neurotransmitters play specific roles in the maintenance of normal mental states. As a result, manipulating these systems through prescription medications is said to help regulate brain function, therefore returning it to normal, thus fighting off depressive feelings.
However, they are not without their downfalls.
These medications can result in dependence, and often come with a number of associated side effects.
Moreover, in some susceptible individuals, these pharmaceutical grade compounds may even make the symptoms worse – which is we why we have seen such a huge investment into research looking into alternative treatment methods.
Which is what we are talking about today…
You see, over the last few years we have seen a growing body of evidence clearly demonstrating that there are certain things we can do to help fight depression without the need for powerful medications.
Depression is one of the most common mental disorders on the planet.
Typified by slumps in mood, energy levels, and associated feelings of worthlessness, it is also one of the most debilitating.
Traditionally treated with potent medications, there is recent evidence to suggest that a more conservative, and natural approach may have more merit – built around enhancing exercise, diet, and sleep quality.
Improving upon each of these has been shown to cause large improvement in mood and reduce depressive symptoms, suggesting a potent means of treating depression.
Work hard, stay strong.