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A Natural Approach To Depression In Women

Last updated on April 12, 2021

What Is Depression

Depression is classified as a mood disorder that features persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest.

Many people feel occasional sadness, and even have sporadic episodes of feeling blue or depressed. Depression can occur because of a major stressor, such as grief and loss experienced because of a death, financial problems, or a grown child leaving home. Sometimes depression is a result of low self-esteem and other emotional issues.

Clinical depression, a treatable medical condition occurs when the feelings of sadness, worthlessness and hopelessness are so severe that that they last anywhere from days to weeks and effect one’s ability to function in their daily life. Sometimes this type of depression may not have an external source, such as loss and grief, and is attributed to a chemical imbalance in the brain. 

Symptoms Of Depression

The National Institute of Mental Health advises that not everyone will experience the same symptoms when they are depressed. Their severity, frequency, and duration will vary from one individual to the other. This is why it is very important to seek medical help when symptoms arise, as early intervention is best, and depression is a treatable condition.

Common Symptoms Of Depression: 

  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Problems with concentration, memory and making decisions
  • Feelings of hopelessness, severe negativity, guilt and/or worthlessness
  • Feelings of sadness or emptiness
  • Excessive sleeping or insomnia
  • Anxiety, irritability and restlessness
  • Loss of interest in hobbies, and activities that were once of interest
  • Loss of sexual desire
  • Loss of appetite or overeating behind emotions
  • Body aches and headaches
  • Suicidal ideation and/or suicide attempts

Depression In Women

More than 3 million cases of depression are diagnosed in the United States each year. According to the American Institute of Stress, women experience major depression episodes twice as often as men do. 

In addition, Mayo Clinic sites that 1 in 5 women will develop depression at some point in life, and while it can occur at any age, it is most commonly seen in women between the ages of 40 and 59.

Stress Related Depression

These episodes of depression are closely tied to the levels of stress women experience. Women also exhibit more severe symptoms. Several factors may contribute to the higher instances of stress related depression in women. 

  • The regular hormonal fluctuations of women’s menstrual cycles are associated with depression especially when they become imbalanced. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS), premenstrual dysphoric disorder, perimenopause, menopause, postpartum depression, and hypothyroidism are all associated with depression and elevated stress levels in women.
  • Women have a genetic predisposition for depression based on the analysis of family histories and fraternal twin studies. Stress exacerbates the expression of this predisposition.
  • Women are probably more frequently diagnosed with depression and stress related illness than men, because they are more likely to seek assistance when they don’t feel well.
  • Women’s longevity exposes them to other stress factors associated with advanced age and depression: loneliness, grief, ill health, empty nest syndrome, menopause, and other factors, which contribute to depression.
  • Studies have shown women to be more likely to experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, depression related to sunlight exposure deprivation during winter in the Northern hemisphere and locations far north of the equator, with long periods of minimal to no sunlight.
  • Women are generally socialized to be caregivers, for children, friends, aging parents, and life partners and maintain multiple emotionally significant relationships. While some women pursue a career by choice, changes in modern economies also often require women to work outside of the home–creating additional social pressures and increased stress for women. A European study, which surveyed more than 30 countries, found women ages 25 to 40 experience depression three to four times more often than men did.

Stress And Depression Present A Majority Of The Same Symptoms: Lack of focus, irritability, low energy, physical aches and pains, dry mouth and sexual dysfunction to name a few. 

It can be argued that when people describe themselves as stressed, they are suffering the precursors of depression. There is a fine balance between motivational stress and debilitating stress. Without a doubt, chronic stress contributes to the development of more severe forms of depression.  

While general depression and depressive disorders present common symptoms, treatment is necessarily specific to the individual. 

Depression tends to occur on a spectrum of highs and lows and as due to a myriad of stressors. 

Some of these stressors are physical (chemical imbalances) and some of them are environmental (stressful working or home conditions). Treatments must be defined by the causes specific to the patient and their current health status.

Antidepressants

Antidepressant drugs are widely prescribed in the United States. They act as a buffer against the body’s response to stress. A New York Times article noted that the use of antidepressants has skyrocketed over the past two decades. A report from Medco Health Solutions, as published in the Huffington Post notes that: 

1 in 10 Americans now takes antidepressants, which includes 1 in 4 women in their 40s and 50s a number that is up 29% since 2001 and much higher than the 15% of men who do the same. 

Doctors are beginning to caution consumers regarding the hazards of being over medicated. Fueling this perception is a 2009 study by Mayo Clinic that found that nearly 70% of Americans take at least one prescription drug, and more than 50% take two. The study found antidepressants to be among those most commonly prescribed.

Prescription drug costs reached $250 billion in 2009, which is 12% of the total personal health care expenditures in the US. 

In England, antidepressant prescriptions rose by 25 million between 1998 and 2012, from 15 million in 1998 to 40 million in 2012. 

Antidepressants save lives, however they are not always appropriate for all forms of stress related depression, which is why it is so important to seek professional help and get an individualized evaluation. 

Additionally, most have significant side effects; many of the side effects can negatively affect a person’s overall health.

Antidepressant side effects include, but are not limited to:

  • Fatigue 
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Blurred vision
  • Constipation
  • Dry mouth 

These side effects make a clear case for investigating natural treatments and remedies to alleviate stress and depression whenever possible. 

The Emotional State And Heart Disease

1 in 4 women in the United States dies from heart disease, specifically coronary heart disease or CHD, which is actually the #1 killer of both men and women in the United States.

Broken Heart Syndrome

The National Heart, Lung And Blood Institute notes that women suffer from a condition called broken heart syndrome, and much more than men do.

This recently recognized heart disorder, also referred to as stress-induced cardiomyopathy is still being studied and occurs as a result of emotional stress that can lead to severe, through short term heart muscle failure.

It has similar symptoms to heart attack and so is sometimes misdiagnosed as such. However, unlike in a heart attack, stress-induced cardiomyopathy does not exhibit blocked heart arteries and sufferers have a full and quick recovery.

The Head-Heart Connection

According to the American Heart Association, doctors have always believed that the connection between mental health and heart health was strictly behavioral in that depression and sadness causes one to pick up bad habits, like smoking, eating junk food and drinking alcohol in excess.

In recent times, this thinking has begun to change, as studies have shown that there may be real physiological connections and both biological and chemical triggers in mental health that may play a role in heart disease. 

Experts advise that the head-heart connection should not be overlooked, and biochemical changes can predispose one to depression and heart disease. 

Depression, be it temporary or the more severe clinical form can affect heart disease. Varying levels of stress and anxiety also play a role, as the prolonged release of stress hormones, like cortisol and adrenaline contribute to heart problems.

How The Emotional State Affects Physical Health      

Scientific research supports the link between a person’s emotional and mental states and their physical health. People who engage in negative thought processes, or suffer from anxiety or depression, are less likely to experience positive health changes when ill. In fact, their negativity may increase their likelihood of becoming ill. 

The Effect Of Negative Emotions

Negative emotions literally hurt you. People who deal with chronic stress and repressed anger experience greater instances of high blood pressure, hormonal imbalance and a decrease in the brain chemicals needed to sustain happiness. The immune system also suffers negative effects under these conditions.

Experiencing depression, anger and chronic stress for prolonged periods of time affect a person’s quality of life as well as their lifespan. 

Each DNA chain ends with a series of telomeres. Science has proven a direct relationship between the length of a person’s telomeres and their potential longevity. Exposure to chronic stress shortens them. Short telomeres translate to a shortened lifespan.

The Effect Of Positive Emotions

Positive emotions have the opposite effect on physical health and personal well-being. People who experience positive emotions and practice a positive mindset build up a store of good feelings over time. 

This surplus of positivity supports emotional resiliency and a person’s general sense of well-being. In more concrete terms, this storehouse of positivity also keeps people healthy. They sleep better, catch fewer colds, and recover more quickly from heart related issues. 

Cultivating A Healthy Mindset

Human beings possess a negativity bias. The tendency to look for and settle on negative possibilities and outcomes is an evolutionary part of the way our brains function. It evolved to protect us from environmental hazards and predators. However, for those of us living in developed countries, it currently does more harm than good.

Fortunately, neuroplasticity allows you to change your thinking patterns. You don’t need to wait for the positive emotions, which support good health to arise spontaneously. They can be cultivated. 

You can train your mind to delay its reaction and respond differently to the stimuli present in your environment. 

You possess the ability to grow your capacity to feel joy, wonder, gratitude, contentment, inspiration, peacefulness, and awe. 

According to psychology professor, Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a person needs to experience three positive emotional expressions to offset one negative expression.

Changing your emotional mindset requires a balance of quality and quantity. You need to actively pursue activities, which engender positive emotions and do so at a relatively high frequency. These may be simple actions or more involved.

  1. Begin by evaluating your current emotional state. Take a few moments to review the events of the day and your emotional responses. Do you experience more positive or negative emotions?
  2. Make the decision to invest your energy in more positive than negative emotions. While you acknowledge all of your emotions, including the negative, you do not rehash and dwell on the negative feelings.
  3. Add the following activities to your daily routine to build a wealth of experiences steeped in positive emotions.
  4. Be kind. Choose one day each month to devote to being kind to others. You can volunteer, give compliments, or give out hugs. How you choose to practice kindness is up to you.
  5. Do something you like. Set aside a half hour each day to do an activity you enjoy. 
  6. Write down at least five items for which you are grateful in a notebook or gratitude journal each day.
  7. Use the variety of available audio and visual recordings of guided meditations, visualization scripts, and relaxation exercises to help you decrease your stress levels. You’ll clear your mind and be more productive.

Natural Approaches To Depression

In the article, “11 Natural Treatments for Depression; An M.D.’s Tips for Skipping the Prozac,” Dr. Lisa Rankin notes the importance of experience a full range of emotions. “Sadness doesn’t always  need treatment.” In addition, it’s important to remember that the pain muscle and the joy muscle are the same. If you can’t feel one, you won’t feel the other.” 

While depression often causes women emotional discomfort and pain, over-treatment can cause the same over the long term. A person disengaged from their emotions finds it difficult to maintain healthy and meaningful relationships. The doctor does not recommend abandoning antidepressant medication for the treatment of depression. In her article, she advocates for temperance in their application and recommends several natural alternatives for less severe instances of the illness.

Depression disproportionately affects women. 

According to the Mayo Clinic, women experience depression at twice the rate of men who develop the illness. 

The ongoing hormonal fluctuations accompanying a woman’s reproductive cycle makes her more vulnerable to depression. From adolescence through menopause, women need to monitor their moods for extreme changes throughout the phases of their reproductive life cycle.

Menstruation, Pregnancy, Postpartum (the period immediately following childbirth), Perimenopause and Menopause all involve significant hormonal changes which, if they fall too far out of balance, can cause down mood swings, including to the point if depression.

Why Choose Natural Options

With 1 in 5 women experiencing depression and 1 in 4 of them taking antidepressants, the question of whether or not women are over medicating their moods arises. While severe depression often requires medical interventions for mental and physical symptoms, other levels of depression do not.

Of course, you should always follow your doctor’s orders and consult with him or her when considering any other treatment options, especially when considering a treatment that will replace the doctor’s orders. 

Complementary treatment, that is options that complement conventional medical care and are  natural methods, like exercise, behavior changes, herbs, foods, and supplements can also provide significant benefits:

  • It empowers the woman dealing with depression to know the means to alleviate her depression is directly within her control since depressive symptoms include indecisiveness and feeling helpless or not in control.
  • No or minimal side effects. Antidepressants’ potential side effects include nausea, strange dreams, dry mouth, nervous energy, decreased libido, and diarrhea.

Natural Methods And Complementary Care

Behavioral changes can make a huge difference in the quality of your moods. Some behaviors, for example poor sleeping habits, take the body out of balance while others, for example regular exercise, bring the body into balance. 

Choosing Balancing Behaviors May Prevent Or Relieve Depression

  • Exercise regularly. The body releases endorphins during exercise. These brain chemicals affect the body in a way similar to that of prescription antidepressants.
  • Diet is important. Pay attention to your eating habits and adjust them as needed to enhance your moods.
  • Skip caffeinated beverages. Caffeine gives quick but unsustainable energy. It can eventually over stimulate the nervous system increasing feelings of lethargy. It also reduces the amount of serotonin in the body.
  • Eat foods, which boost your serotonin levels. Serotonin is a chemical produced within the body responsible for maintaining mood balance. Low serotonin levels have been linked to depression. Foods, which support balanced serotonin levels, include foods with high omega 3 fatty acid content: salmon, flaxseeds, flaxseed oil, nuts, or leafy vegetables.
  • Get enough sun. Exposure to sunlight improves mood. It also allows the body to produce Vitamin D. Depression is linked to Vitamin D deficiency, whether the link is causal, or the result of depression remains unclear.
  • Have a doctor check your hormonal balance. Although an imbalance in the sex hormones can lead to depression, the thyroid and adrenal hormone levels need to be checked for balance as well.
  • Make time for meditation. It alleviates the symptoms of depression by elevating energy levels while increasing mental clarity and a woman’s sense of well-being.
  • Supplements from natural sources offer mood-enhancing benefits: 5-HTP, SAMe, St. John’s Wort, L-Theanine, and Fish oil may eliminate symptoms of depression for many people. A course of supplements should be pursued under a doctor’s care. Their use may be accompanied by side effects or interfere with other medications.
  • If you are navigating your problems and challenges alone, talking to a life coach, psychiatrist, or therapist may help you feel less overwhelmed or frustrated. Talking to someone also provides mental space within which you can begin to discern solutions to your problems.
  • Take time to reflect on your circumstances and reconnect with yourself. Maybe there are things in your life that you find dissatisfying or constricting. Can they be eliminated or changed? Are you living the way you want in a way that provides meaning for you? Sometimes women just do not realize that change is possible. We are stuck in the day to day without evaluating if we are truly happy and fulfilled. Material possessions and external sources will never really fulfill, true fulfillment can only be found from within. Making changes in your life to support your wellbeing and improve its quality is possible, and certainly worth your while.
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