Beat Depression

How to Deal with Stress and Depression

woman wondering how to deal with stress and depressionWhen it comes to stress in our life, it is important to be able to accurately understand our stress levels, understand how we respond to stress, and develop effective ways to respond when stress levels get too high. Some stress is a good thing, keeping us alert and motivated. By triggering a burst of energy, stress can stimulate memory, help us to accomplish a task, or meet a challenge. Stress hormones increase with light exercise, or when we face the challenge of a test or deadline. Individuals vary in what they find beneficial or productive.

For some, meeting a challenge such as a ski run or performing before an audience is enjoyable; a different person may have an entirely different response.  When we feel in control of a situation and gain a sense of accomplishment, we experience stress in a beneficial way. Stress is also a normal response when facing a critical situation. Normally, once the cause of stress is gone, the body’s metabolism returns to normal.

However, chronic high levels of stress can result in continued elevated levels of stress hormones, where the body does not return to a normal relaxed state. It is this state of continued high level of stress, never really returning to normal, which will lead to physical and psychological problems that threaten our health and well-being.

According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, medical studies have shown that continued elevated levels of stress hormones may lead to anxiety or depression.  When we feel overwhelmed by circumstances, we begin to experience a perpetual stress response.

This is especially true when circumstances are not in our control, or when a stressful situation is ongoing, such as a death in the family, accident or illness of a loved one, as a caregiver for someone with a conditions such as Alzheimer’s, a job loss, financial difficulties – especially when compounded by lack of health insurance, domestic violence, or substance abuse by a family member.

Here are some tools you can use if you are wondering how to deal with stress and depression:


A healthy diet is a powerful tool for health.  But just what is a healthy diet? Which, among the barrage of diet recommendations, will help with stress and depression? Much of what is quick and easy to grab to eat when we are overtaxed and stressed is highly counterproductive.  Some foods will boost serotonin, and are “comfort foods”.  Other foods cut the cortisol and adrenaline levels, reducing those stress hormones that trigger stress.

Carbohydrates are comfort foods, but need to be complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal, whole grain bread, pasta and cereal. Simple carbohydrates such as sugar and foods sweetened with fructose and corn syrup will destabilize the blood sugar and aggravate the effects of stress.

Magnesium is an important electrolyte that is essential to good muscle tone.  A lack of magnesium will lead to muscle tension, resulting in the intensification of the stress response. Nuts and beans, whole grains, green leafy vegetables and seafood such as halibut and salmon are rich in magnesium. Epsom salt is magnesium sulfate, and a soak in a hot bath with two cups of Epsom salts is also a good way to relax the muscles and absorb magnesium.

A modern diet tends to be deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential fatty acids that are critical for a number of metabolic processes.  Fatty fish, (not farm-raised; because of the low-omega-3 feed, farm-raised fish do not supply omega-3 fatty acids), flax seed oil, or supplement with fish oil or a combination fish and flax seed oils.

Herbal Supplements

Although more research is needed to verify effectiveness, two herbs show promise for their calming effect. The most researched is St. John’s Wort; studies have shown this herb may relieve mild to moderate levels of depression.  Valerian root has not been as well researched to date, but has a long history of use for its ability to reduce stress and tension.

Many holistic clinics recommend Valerian for the relief of muscle tension, which is a common condition with those under stress. As with any supplement, it is very important to always discuss the wisdom of using any herbal remedy with your health provider before using it, in order to understand any possible side effects and make sure there are no contraindications or interference with any medications you may be taking.

Mind and Body

While it may be difficult to summon the motivation to exercise and engage in mindfulness-based stress reduction practices, research has shown that these are very helpful in reducing stress and depression.   Whether it is a workout at a gym or at home, a walk in nature, yoga, and tai chi are all effective by helping to support the health of mind and body.  Spiritual practices such as meditation and prayer have also been proven to help cope with stress and depression.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Because stress and depression are so debilitating, and often triggered by events outside of our control, getting the kind of help that will effectively address the issues is very important. Research is showing that cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the most effective strategies for dealing with stress and depression. Dr. Esther Sternberg, M.D., chief of neuroendocrine immunology ad behavior at the National Institute of Mental Health is a top stress researcher.  In an article by Karen Bruno, reviewed by Lauren J. Martin, M.D., on WebMD, she states: “It is important that people suffering from depression not blame themselves – it’s partly your genetic makeup, partly your current environment, and partly your early environment that led to the depression.  If you’re depressed, seek help.  You can’t beat it on your own.”

As stated by Dr. Arthur Janov, creator of primal therapy, suppressed pain and painful memories are highly stressful physically, mentally and emotionally. Primal therapy was highly controversial when first introduced in the late 60’s. Nevertheless primal therapy is one of the most documented therapies for stress and PSTD, and is found to be one of the most effective treatments for stress from repressed emotion or trauma.

Dr. Janov states that “talking therapy” involves the higher reasoning process and cerebral cortex, without engaging the source of pain in deeper areas of the central nervous system. In an interview with Psychology Today, Dr. Janov states:

“A common misnomer: it is not Primal “Scream” Therapy, but Primal Therapy, and rather than saying it is “cool”, I would rather say that it is scientific. It is one of the most heavily researched private psychotherapies extant in the world; and the “cool” thing about it is it is also one of the most effective modalities extant.”


Deal With Stress

What is the Best Way to Deal with Stress?

What is the best way to deal with stress?Get Moving

Movement – our bodies need to move, and the normal process of burning off stress hormones doesn’t happen when the stressors are ongoing, and the day’ activities are primarily sedentary in nature.  Almost any resource on stress management emphasizes the value of exercise as a key tool in developing resilience to stress.  There are three primary benefits of physical activity.  First, the “feel good” hormones called endorphins are released through physical activity. Second, by getting physically active and focusing on the body, simple physical activity becomes meditation-in-motion where problems are shed and we gain a healthier perspective. Finally, physical activity brightens our mood and promotes deep and restful sleep which is an important stress management requirement.

When the body enjoys physical activity, it produces endorphins.  These “feel good” hormones give us that “feel good” mood lift, often called “runner’s high”.  Games like tennis, racket ball, baseball or a hike in nature will produce those same endorphins, so you can pick something that you especially enjoy.  Scheduling a game with a friend also has the added benefit of teaming up with another to support each other in staying fit, or in the case of a volleyball or basketball night, a whole support group.  Where we might set our own well-being aside, we are much less likely to renege on a physical activity when we have set an appointment with another, as there is a natural reluctance to disappoint our fitness partner or team members. This is a powerful motivator that we can use to everyone’s benefit and better health.

Movement is meditation in motion, whether it is a walk in nature, a traditional practice such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong or Yoga, or a fast game of tennis. Our mind focuses on the physical, the heart and circulation bring fresh oxygen to the body and removes metabolic waste, and excess stress hormones are burned off.  Check out the report from Harvard Medical School about how the benefits of exercise reduces stress and anxiety and helps fight depression.

Regular exercise will brighten your mood.  Schedule exercise should be scheduled almost daily, as movement will increase self-confidence and reduce symptoms of most mild conditions of anxiety and depression.  Chronic elevated stress levels interfere with sleep, and by building in daily scheduled exercise we can take control and enable a deep sleep that will further reduce the negative health effects of stress. Again, schedule activities with a partner or take a class to take advantage of the power of strength in numbers.  Regular exercise and good health habits are a foundation investment in our health and we really cannot afford to put the basics on the back shelf.

The Mayo Clinic has a great strategy for using exercise as a health and stress management tool.

Get in Control – in a Good Way

Most people probably don’t want to be labeled as a control freak.  But there are really two kinds of control.  The one with the bad name is the frustrating and futile attempt to control others or to control circumstances outside of our control.  The other kind of control is really the act of taking command of our own thoughts and responses.  Often times we have heard the advice, “Just Say No”; this is an example of examining our beliefs and how we spend our time.  Are we habitually responding in a way that serves others to our own detriment, or are perhaps habits that we learned as a child that no longer serve an adult, or learned by modelling after dysfunctional behavior that simply doesn’t work, or is no longer useful? By examining our own responses to life’s challenges, we can choose our goals, and determine what changes in lifestyle and thought habits might be beneficial.  The serenity prayer asks that we recognize and act on those things that we can control, accept those things that are not in our direct control, and have the wits to be able to tell the difference.  In managing stress, we need to actually let go of – attempted – control of others’ behaviors and situations beyond our control.  But, in the case of chronic stress, we need to get control over our response to the situation … to develop response – ability.  Remember that the stress response begins in the brain, in the hypothalamus.  This begins the cascade of stress hormones.  In normal situations, our metabolism is ramped up to meet a challenge or threat, and once the incident is over, the metabolic state will subside to a normal relaxed state. It is when the stress hormone levels stay elevated that our health and well-being begin to suffer.

Mayo Clinic medical staff tells us that we should begin with the brain; that science tells us we can choose to be happy, and that medical research shows that decisions we make will affect how we handle stress.  Get in command of your time so that you have time for family and friends.  One teacher told me, we can’t afford negative thoughts; choose the “attitude of gratitude” and counter negative thoughts with positive affirmations.  Seek and feel a sense of purpose; if this seems unanswered at the moment, volunteer in a way that helps others.  You will meet a community of caring people, and the very act of getting out and helping others will mitigate an anxious and depressed mood. In a very real sense, this also, is a moving meditation.  Again, physical activity grounds us in our body and we are living in the moment.  Creating through dance, art or music also accomplishes this, and if it is shared with others the pleasure is multiplied many times.

The Mayo Clinic article reminds us that changing long-established habits is not like turning on an electric switch; but rather takes time.  But the benefits of taking control of our thoughts and emotions are very real … practice, practice, practice!