Friday, January 29, 2010

Natural Answers for Depression: An Overview

By Ellen Asherah CMT CHT BA Certified Herbalist

Depression is a large and weighty issue in the United States today. There are numerous ways of treating symptoms of depression by combining natural modalities. There are actually so many options available to assist with conquering depression that it is up to each individual to choose what will work best for them based upon issues of availability, personal preference and individual needs. It is important to realize that a repetitive and multidimensional approach is going to be most effective. So many factors can contribute to depression. On one level depression is seen as a chemical condition in the body, depending upon brain chemistry, hormone levels, toxicity levels, lack of sunlight, low thyroid functioning or vitamin deficiency. On an energetic level depression can be viewed as the result of stagnant energy or Qi (pronounced "chi"). When considering depression from this perspective a number of approaches come forward which activate the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energies including breath exercises, physical exercise, and especially mind-body methods like yoga or qi gong. It is interesting to recognize that these more energetic approaches effect physical chemical changes including oxygenation of the blood, lymph drainage, increased circulation throughout the body and brain, and improved brain functioning.

The most important action is to take action, which can be a challenge to a person who is depressed, so finding a combination of actions to take that are easy, appealing and accessible is key. All the herbal tea in the world won’t do any good unless it is made and ingested. Having a shelf full of vitamins, herbs and supplements is great - but only if they are used on a regular basis. Also, different herbs and supplements work better for some people than others and not every medicine is right for everyone. After doing some research to determine whether a particular herb or supplement is right for your specific health situation the next step is to try it and see if and how it works. Because there is quite a range of options, if one thing does not work, just move on and try something else. It is wise to consult with your health care professionals to be sure that what you are trying is safe and appropriate for your current state of health.

Combining the consistent use of appropriate herbs and supplements with healthy lifestyle changes that include things like breath exercises, physical exercise, qi gong, yoga, nutritious organic foods, raw foods, hypnotherapy, self-hypnosis, psychotherapy, massage, acupuncture, meditation hydrotherapy and creative expression is the way to true transformation from depression to happiness and wellbeing. Regularly eating processed foods can be very toxic to and taxing on the body and therefore lead to depression. Overeating is another habit which contributes to depression, physically and emotionally.

On an emotional level there are numerous reasons for depression such as loss, grieving, post traumatic stress, relationship challenges, financial stress, childhood abuse, addictions, chronic pain, illness, anxiety or patterns and habits picked up from childhood and family. Most often a feeling of powerlessness accompanies depression while the stories behind the feeling of victimization or powerlessness are many. It is valuable to address the content of depressing thoughts and feelings with the aim of self-discovery and transformation. PERSONAL EMPOWERMENT is vital to combating depression. When a person has the power to take charge of his or her own physical and emotional state, depression diminishes and self esteem increases. Hypnotherapy, self-hypnosis, psychotherapy and analytical transformational processes such as "the work" of Byron Katie can be useful for this. It is up to each individual to shift their own energy, thoughts and as a result mood and emotions. Breath, sound healing, light therapy and color therapy are some techniques which, when used, can shift energy very quickly and easily, bringing a sense of relief and aliveness. Employing some of these modalities to shift energy is a good idea BEFORE moving on to address the content of emotional issues and dissatisfaction. Through shifting energetically, physically and chemically, depression lifts, creating a much more productive state of mind for examining the stories behind the feelings. As the energy and mood shifts, a person’s attachment to HABITUAL thought patterns and limiting beliefs lightens and becomes less rigid, setting the stage for emotional growth and the creation of new healthy and happy mental/physical/emotional habits.

The first step is to notice and recognize when a habitual negative thought/feeling/story is playing out in the mind. Often a person does not even notice these thoughts because they are such a constant backdrop to life. Noticing this negative self talk is the first step. Next comes taking action once the negative mental routine is noticed. Having tools ready to use, noticing the need for them, and then using them is the recipe for success and the doorway out of depression into transformation and wellbeing. Paradoxically, the more often a person find’s oneself in the grips of negative self talk, the more often opportunities come available for the creation and habituation of new positive self-talk and shifted energy. If an individual notices once an hour that they are slipping back into the depressed and powerless mind frame, once an hour they can practice shifting out of that state through breath, exercise or self-hypnosis. Because repetition is the key to creating new habits, the more the old negative feelings arise, the more habituated the shifting out of depression can become, until it can actually happen automatically because it is the new habit. There is a level upon which we are all operating on auto-pilot, as our subconscious minds lead us. Personal empowerment comes when we are able to determine for ourselves what happens to us habitually when we are on auto-pilot by reprogramming ourselves into habitual wellbeing. Sometimes depression lifts without addressing content, beliefs and negative stories or issues when these various natural approaches are employed. Even when depression is due to personal hardship, chronic pain, loss or grieving it is possible to transform our programming around how we approach these issues. More than anything else we are most limited by our own habitual limiting and narrow thoughts and beliefs.

Self worth, self esteem and self love are vital to happiness and wellbeing. It is essential to give yourself permission to spend time doing what you love which involves feeling worthy. Doing things everyday that are enjoyable and enhance your state of happiness is vital to health on all levels and needs to be a priority, not an afterthought. Laughter is another key to happiness which has far reaching effects (physical, chemical, emotional, mental) for ourselves and those around us. Laughter produces endorphins, chemicals in the brain which bring bliss. Having fun and making time for enjoyable experiences on a constant basis is actually an irreplaceable ingredient for health.

St. John's Wort
Ginkgo Biloba
Siberian Ginseng
American Ginseng
Passion flower
Lemon Balm
Oat straw
Yerba Mate
Purslane Yohimbe
Rose petals

Drinking herbal teas is a great way to shift your mood. Steep leafy herbs. Decoct (simmer) roots or barks in water for 20 minutes. When you find the herbs you like the best, make a tea with these herbs and then drink periodically throughout the day.
Taking herbal tinctures or glycerites is a convenient way to integrate herbs into your routine.
If you like to use vinegar in your food, you can make vinegar tinctures, infusing the herbs into your vinegar, then eat and enjoy.
Below are links to a number of websites where you can research about herbs for your specific needs.

Essential oils of:
Bergamot (Citrus aurantium)Clary Sage
Cedarwood, Atlas (Cedrus atlantica)Chamomile, Roman (Chamaemelum nobile)Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens)Helichrysum or Immortelle (Helichrysum agusifolium)Jasmine (Jasminum officinale)Lavender (Lavandula augustifolia)Neroli (Citrus aurantium bigaradia)
Orange essential oilPeppermint (Mentha piperita)Rose (Rosa damascena)Sandalwood (Santalum album)Ylang Ylang (Cananga odorata)

Use essential oils in infusers, diluted in water or witch hazel in a spray bottle, or use as perfume by diluting with jojoba oil. Essential oils send messages to the brain and have a quick effect on mood and emotion.

Essential oils are very concentrated and as a rule need to be diluted with either a water, alcohol or an oil based carrier. Water, witch hazel, and jojoba oil all work well depending upon use.

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid)
Vitamin B complex
Emergen-C antioxidant
Vitamin D
Flaxseed Oil
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP)
Alpha-Linolenic Acid (ALA)
Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA)
Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA)
S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe)

As is true with herbs and essential oils, your choices in vitamins and dietary supplements like amino acids should be well informed. Some of these herbs and supplements have contraindications to consider and consulting with a health professional, medical or holistic, is recommended. This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical care.

There are many products and devices which are easy to use and instantly shift energy and mood without requiring any effort other than TO USE THEM, often just by turning them on.
SOUND HEALING: wind chimes, singing bowls, music you love
LIGHT THERAPY: parabolic heaters, full spectrum light bulbs, colored light bulbs
COLOR THERAPY: clothing and decorations in colors that feel uplifting to you
Your personal research is your personal empowerment. Take back your power to feel good. Go online and research for yourself so you know which options may be best for you. Go to and sample qigong and meditation videos. Seek guidance and advice from your health care professionals, especially in relationship to herbs and supplements because individual needs vary.

The sites listed below are references for this article as well as a starting point for online research.

University of Maryland Medical Center website: