If you think you get more moody and upset at menopause, you are right. Fluctuating hormones affect our moods throughout our lives from puberty to post menopause and as women get depressed more than twice as often as men, we can definitely blame our hormones.
Because of the issues with potential health risks with HRT many doctors have started to prescribe antidepressants instead, but if anxiety and low moods are your main symptom then there are some every day solutions that might just help instead.
First step – hormone balance
If hormonal imbalance is behind depression then generally that relates to a combination of low progesterone and oestrogen dominance.
Progesterone is our ‘feel good’ hormone as it enhances mood and helps us relax so if we have low levels we are more likely to feel anxiety and depression.
If you don’t have any signs of oestrogen dominance then you may be low in both hormones and Dr Jeffrey Dach in the USA has found success supplementing with a combination of both progesterone and oestrogen together.
Second step – eat your way out of it
Now that might sound like a call for chocolate, but your overall diet is crucial to your mental health. Many vitamin and mineral deficiencies are linked to symptoms of depression as is a diet high in sugar, processed foods and additives.
This is nothing new; you know that a diet with plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit and whole grains and a good balance of omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish such as salmon and mackerel is good for your body, and your mind.
So are flaxseed, nuts, soybeans, and dark green vegetables and if the chocolate is plain and with a high cocoa content, a square or two a day won’t hurt either.
If you are a fan of a high protein diet you may want to switch back for a while as carbohydrates raise your level of the brain chemical serotonin, which enhances your sense of well-being. Whole wheat pasta and potatoes also give you fibre, which again helps your overall health.
Third step – cut down on stimulants
Does not sound logical, as surely you want to rev yourself up when depressed, but stimulants such as alcohol and caffeine have a short term lift often followed by a crash that you really don’t need.
Caffeine in particular can make nervous, jittery, or anxious – all states that are linked to depression.
Fourth step – keep moving
When you are depressed you want to curl up and stay that way, but exercise works almost as well as antidepressants for some people.
Keep it simple, and if you can make it an activity you share with a friend then that will help you feel better physically, sleep better at night, and boost your mood.
Just a short walk can make all the difference, and you will be increasing your levels of vitamin D from even weak sunlight. There is some discussion over whether low levels are related to depression, as in SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) for instance, but better to get it naturally from short sun exposure than supplements.
Fifth step – get connected
Real connections with people through joining a group, having a phone conversation, meeting someone for coffee can help overcome the sluggish, lonely feelings of depression. If you feel you can’t face that yet, then be active online in discussion forums in a way that engages you and puts you in touch with others. Not just clicking on a link, but writing a comment or expressing a view.
What is often lacking in depression is any sense of purpose, but when you spend time with people or causes you care about, you can regain that. You could volunteer with a charity, or join a discussion group at the library or online.
Don’t lose, or shut out, the connection to your family and friends as is so common when feeling depressed. The people who love you want to support you and if you let them in, you’ll feel a lot better.
You may find it helps to talk about your depression and if not with family or friends then seek professional help from a counsellor to talk about how you are feeling.
Sixth step – relax
Stress and anxiety can add to your depression symptoms and make it harder to recover. Learn to relax and you can help restore a sense of calm and control.
Use what works for you, whether that is listening to music, walking the dog, gardening or taking up yoga, tai chi or a meditation class.
Occupy your mind in some way that is outside your current mindset maybe by starting to write a daily journal of how you feel. Research has shown that doing this is very helpful in improving mental health by writing out your feelings. No one has to see it but you, so just open your heart and write what comes.
You could try a structured new hobby by taking a class or look at something like The Artist’s Way which offers a series of exercises such as going on an Artist’s Date to stimulate your creativity. A book I personally have found very helpful is ‘The Van Gogh Blues’ by Eric Maisel which looks at the link between depression and frustrated or suppressed creativity.
Seventh step - get ‘real’ sleep
Depression makes it hard to get good rest either from sleeping too much to avoid how you are feeling, or not sleeping enough with your problems going round in your head.
It can help to establish good habits by going to bed and getting up the same times each day, no matter how you are feeling.
Use relaxation techniques or a relaxation music or meditation CD to help you because good quality sleep makes a massive contribution to how you feel.
Getting hormone balance under control can help with anxiety and depression as well as helping you with other issues such as stress and poor sleep.