A Holistic Toolkit for Anxiety & Depression
Feeling sad, depressed, nervous, anxious? You’re not alone. According to the Census Bureau, 1 in 3 Americans have symptoms of clinical anxiety or depression due to the coronavirus pandemic, double than 2014 levels. Depression and anxiety can stem from unfulfilled expectations or desires. We all go through happy and sad times throughout our lives. Like everyone else, I have also had my down moments and discovered many tools to navigate choppy waters. In this article, I am compiling some natural remedies and self-help tools that work in relieving stress, depression and anxiety. While a lot of these may seem like common sense, it is hard to remember even the most basic practices (like breathing fully) in desperate times. The below techniques, when used in a combination, offer benefits to the body, mind, spirit, and emotions. So feel free to add the most enjoyable ones to your list.
Take care of your body
- Drink: At least 5 glasses of water every day. Sufficient water intake is scientifically proven to cut the risk of depression by half. Avoid stimulating beverages like alcohol and coffee.
- Eat: A balanced plant-based diet consisting of fiber-rich, fermented foods. Fruits, vegetables, ginger and turmeric decrease anxiety-induced inflammation.
- Get tested: The annual doctor’s visit says a lot about mental health. It’s quite obvious that our mood is directly impacted by our physical condition. For example, Vitamin D deficiency is linked to higher levels of depression and anxiety. In my most recent analysis, my Vitamin D was half of the optimal levels, and after two weeks of supplementing, my anxiety started to fade away.
- Forest bathing: Involves slowly walking through a forest and enjoying it with all the senses. Although doctors everywhere are even prescribing this, it originated in Japan (known as shinrin-yoku) in the 1980s to offer a natural connection as an antidote to the tech-boom. Plenty of research suggests that it reduces anxiety, depression, anger, and insomnia.
- Grounding/earthing: Walking barefoot in the grass, touching the earth, and even tree hugging connect us with nature and make us feel good.
- Sun bathe: Expose yourself to sunlight at least 15 minutes per day to optimize Vitamin D intake.
- Yoga: While most people manage their mental health through psychotherapy or meditation, one of the reasons why I decided to get certified in yoga was to manage my own mental health. A regular yoga practice is clinically proven to reduce anxiety, depression, fatigue, stress, and improve sleep. Balasana (child pose), seated torso rotations (Sufi grinds), Shavasana (corpse pose), and any forward bending poses are beneficial. Pranayama works wonders for regulating the emotions through the breath. Anywhere between 5-15 minutes for beginners is good. Start out with slow and equal diaphragmatic inhalations and exhalations with a gradual increase in the count to relax the sympathetic (fight or flight response) nervous system. Other pranayamas like Anulom Vilom (Alternate nostril breathing) and Bhrahmari (humming bee breath) are instant stress-relievers.
- Exercise: Walk, jog, lift weights, dance, or do whatever, but move! If 10,000 daily steps feels like a lofty goal now that we’re spending most of our time at home, even 5,000 steps will do. Check out the 7-minute scientific workout and Muscle Wiki for inspiration.
Connect with others
- Socialize: An 80-year long Harvard study found that quality of relationships is the deciding factor for happiness and directly linked with physical health.
- Volunteer: Help those in need without expecting anything in return. Thinking about others focuses the attention from personal problems to come up with creative solutions for the collective good.
- Meditation: The goal of yoga is self-realization or samadhi and the way to attain it is through meditation. As little as 10 minutes a day of mindfulness meditation after asana practice can increase focus and relieve stress, according to a study. Moreover, various studies have pointed to changes in the brain structure with a 30-minute regular meditation. For free guided meditations, I recommend Calm, Spotify podcasts, and InsightTimer apps.
- Massage: In Ayurveda, massages are combined with herbal medicines for treating majority of ailments. Abhyanga is a simple head to toe oil massage and is super simple to do it yourself. Follow with a warm bath for further relaxation. If time is a constraint, Padabhangya or oiling the feet at night helps ease stress.
- Herbs: Relax with a soothing chamomile, lavender or lemon balm tea or essential oils including jatamansi (spikenard). Melissa Supreme and Rescue Remedy are a blend of herbal supplements for calmness.
|De-stress with a little self-indulgence|
- Yoga nidra: Is a systematic relaxation of every single body part. Anyone can do this highly effective practice of meditation.
- Music: Any relaxing music can work wonders for music lovers but if you’re looking for a scientifically designed song that is proven to improve sleep and anxiety, check out Weightless by the Marconi Union
- Tapping: - EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) is a combination of acupressure and mindfulness. It can be an effective self-help tool or done under expert supervision. Here is a manual explaining the details.
- Journal & Be Grateful: Writing down feelings is great for self-expression. I particularly enjoy gratitude lists, mood journal, and listing personal qualities or achievements that I am proud of. I also jot down activities that energize me for when I’m feeling anxious because of self-doubt or fear.
- Visualization: When feeling very anxious, just visualizing myself in a calm, beautiful place or achieving a desired goal serve as positive affirmations.
- Stop self-comparison: The majority of social media are to blame here. How many times do we see someone’s post or personal success stories and feel like a loser? Minimizing our time scrolling endless news feeds is hard but great for mental health. Every success has suffering behind it and everyone is on a different timeline. So it is futile to compare ourselves to others.
- Read & Watch: This one is a given, but we all know that a plethora of self-help books and gurus offer solutions to anxiety and depression. This video discusses language, cognition, and the science behind putting on the mental brakes to negative thoughts.
- Pray: Faith moves mountains and prayers pave the way for optimism. Believing in a higher power or God can release an enormous burden of fear, stress or pain that we might be carrying. Sincere prayer can bring about any transformation that the seeker desires though inner strength and peace.
- Chant: About 3,500 years ago, way before Hinduism, profoundly wise poems and phrases were revealed to the sages and mantras are just an adaptation of these verses. They are powerful meditative aids and chanting is said to remove any fears or obstacles. The Gayatri and Mahamrityunjaya Mantra are some of the most frequently used to overcome fear, depression and anxiety.
Get help when you need it
While self-help can be enough for some of those suffering anxiety and depression, seeking help from mental health professionals can accelerate the healing process.
While there is still a stigma surrounding mental health, it is about time that we normalize and prioritize it just like we would any physical illness.
If you have made it this far, let me know in the comments about your favorite practices to destress. Also feel free to check out my daily practice of warm up and relaxation. While the above tips may seem like a lot, my goal in this article is to present the different options available to overcome anxiety and depression. The first step is to allow ourselves to accept whatever it is we are feeling and have faith that the feelings will pass because nothing is permanent. In my opinion, a holistic approach that combines the physical, emotional and spiritual is crucial to treat any mental ailment. The difference between suffering and bliss is in the perspective. Don’t let pain become suffering. We can overcome fear or anxiety by treating uncomfortable emotions as an energy form that can be transformed into a creative or physical movement like exercise or dance. On the spiritual front, the more we connect with our innermost self, the more relaxed we are with imperfections. After all, perfection is an illusion. It is possible to come out of despair by taking good care of the body, mind, thoughts and emotions. When there is harmony in all aspects of our being, depression and anxiety die.