Three things to do when you’re down

Posted on 8 October 2014

There are three things you should incorporate into your life (whether you have depression or not) – good sleep, exercise and nutrition.

1. Make the time to exercise
When you exercise, your body releases endorphins that trigger a positive feeling in your body. Exercise has many benefits including improving your sleep, reducing stress and boosting your self-esteem. Plus regular exercise can lower your blood pressure, reduce body fat, increase your energy levels and strengthen your heart.

If you’re looking for some examples of the type of exercise to do, here are a few to get you started: yoga , swimming, gardening, cycling, walking or jogging.

Try and make the time to do 30 minutes or more of exercise three to five days a week to improve symptoms of depression. If you’re stretched for time, smaller amounts (as little as 10 to 15 minutes at a time) can make a difference.

2. Get a good night’s sleep
Depression often affects your sleep – either you don’t sleep enough or you sleep too much. Research shows that people who are depressed are more than four times likely to develop unexplained fatigue, while people who are fatigued are three times as likely to become depressed. In South Africa, insomnia affects about one-third of the population. If you struggle to get a good night’s rest, here are a few tips:

• Avoid taking naps during the day – if you feel sleepy, go for a walk or drink some water instead. Don’t fall asleep on the couch in the evening, rather go to bed when you feel tired.
• Create a bedtime routine – going to bed at the same time and waking up at the same time (even over the weekend) helps to regulate your body’s clock. Taking a bath or reading a book also helps your body prepare itself for sleep.
• If you can’t fall asleep, get up and do something like read a book until you feel tired. But avoid all electronics – studies show that the ‘glow’ from your phone or tablet affects your sleep. Small amounts of light pass through your retina into a part of the hypothalamus (this is the area in your brain that controls sleep activities), which may then delay the release of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormone, and affect your sleep.
• Avoid any stimulants like caffeine, alcohol or nicotine.
• Invest in a good pillow that supports your head and neck, airways and spine.

If you find that you’re struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep and are fatigued, it’s a good idea to visit your doctor and discuss what options you may have, especially if you’re depressed. Ask your doctor if you’re a good candidate for a sleep clinic.

3. Eat healthily
Although there isn’t a diet that will fix depression, a healthy diet in general may help.
• Carbohydrates are essential in your diet, as carb craving may actually be linked to decreased serotonin activity, which is the mood-boosting brain chemical. So instead of cutting out carbs, choose the healthier ones – eat complex carbs (whole grains) instead of simple carbs (baked goods made with processed flour), plus plenty of fruits, vegetables and legumes.
• Protein contains an amino acid called tyrosine, which may help boost levels of dopamine and norepinephrine that help you feel more alert and make it easier to concentrate. Include low-fat cheese, fish, milk, poultry and lean beef in your diet.
• Alcohol has a depressant effect on your brain so it’s a good idea to limit your alcohol intake as it can worsen your mood.

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The information provided in this article was correct at the time of publishing. At Mediclinic we endeavour to provide our patients and readers with accurate and reliable information, which is why we continually review and update our content. However, due to the dynamic nature of clinical information and medicine, some information may from time to time become outdated prior to revision.

Published in Exercise

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