Depression can feel like a dark cloud that won’t lift. For some, it turns down the brightness on colors, dials down the volume on laughter, or makes even the sunniest of days feel cold and dim.
Depression can last for hours, days, weeks, years, and for some people – decades. While grief is normal after losing a loved one or experiencing a traumatic life event, prolonged feelings of guilt, shame, lack of joy, or hopelessness is something that should be addressed.
For people who struggle with feeling down, depressed, unmotivated, or have lost joy in things they used to love – the good news is – there are many natural remedies for depression. This blog will focus on specific herbs for depression.
Herbs, like humans, have personalities. To determine which natural remedies may be helpful for your depression, understanding the characteristics of your depression is key.
Rhodiola is like a bright, golden, energizing light.
Rhodiola is an herb that helps to uplift the spirits. It can promote a feeling of energy and motivation to take on tasks, complete projects, and try new things. It is particularly useful to combat fatigue and better manage everyday stress. Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb, which means it helps the adrenal glands manage chronic stress.
Rhodiola is an energizing herb that is best for people who feel bogged down with too much mental work. Clinical trials have shown that Rhodiola is effective for reducing depressive symptoms and increases dopamine, serotonin, as well as epinephrine and norepinephrine in the brain. These are neurotransmitters (chemicals in the brain) that influence our mood, motivation, energy levels, and behaviors. Long-term stress can cause the body to “burn through” these neurotransmitters, leaving you to feel “blah.”
Rhodiola is an excellent herb for undoing what years of stress have caused on your mood.
Avena Sativa (Milky Oat)
I like to think of Milky Oat as a giant warm hug.
Milky Oat is a gentle, tonifying herb. Unlike Rhodiola, it is not stimulating – rather calming for the nervous system. For some people with depression, their depressed mood is caused by long term overwork and stress to their nervous system. For these people, Milky Oat helps nourish the nervous system on a deep level to restore energy and vitality. Milky Oat is especially useful for people weaning off addictive substances, including nicotine and caffeine. It helps to soothe the nervous system during withdrawals. This is a herb that can be taken long term and has very few side effects.
Milky Oat is food to nourish an overworked nervous system.
Melissa Officinalis (Lemon Balm)
Lemon Balm feels like a cool summer night under the stars.
For people who feel worn out, restless, and experience stress-induced migraines or palpitations, Lemon Balm may be useful for you. Lemon Balm is a sweet, refreshing herb which helps to uplift your spirits while calming excess worry. It has the effect of bringing joy into your heart and a smile to your face. Lemon Balm can help you remember what it feels like to open-mouth smile and belly-laugh. It is especially helpful for people who also struggle with irritable bowel syndrome, whose symptoms worsen with emotional upset. Caution in hypothyroidism as Lemon Balm can decrease thyroid hormone output.
Lemon Balm calms and invigorates the mind & digestive system.
Verbena Officinalis (Vervain)
Vervain is like pressing the pressure-release button.
Vervain is a wonderful herb for a specific type of person: a person who is quite structured and disciplined and experiences neck and shoulder tension. They often have an intense or inflexible outlook on life and struggle to go with the flow. They are known as “workaholics” and often push beyond their mental limits to get things done. Their mind often drives the body further than it should, resulting in burn-out and depression.
Vervain can help to increase relaxation and restoration, as well as support a person in re-defining boundaries for themselves. Vervain helps to move stagnated energy in the body, which allows the release of suppressed emotions as well as muscular tension.
Vervain helps to re-connect people’s minds to their bodies.
Curcuma Longa (Turmeric)
Turmeric helps you to let go.
Turmeric has been used in both Ayurvedic medicine and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for centuries. It is a potent anti-inflammatory herb that is helpful for several health conditions – from gastric ulcers to muscle pain, to cognitive decline, as well as depression.
Turmeric helps the liver to purge and detoxify. In TCM, the liver holds many of the emotions and can become overburdened when feelings are repressed or just too overwhelming. Turmeric helps people to let things go and to rid themselves of things that are no longer serving them – including thought patterns. Turmeric is especially useful for people who suffer from elevated liver enzymes or and physical liver health conditions.
Turmeric detoxifies the body and the mind of damaging thoughts.
Aside from herbs, there are other considerations when it comes to addressing depression naturally.
Exercise and Depression
The first and most important factor is exercise. Exercise has been shown in research to be a very effective anti-depressant therapy.
From an energetic standpoint, exercise helps to move stagnant energy and emotions.
From a physiological perspective, exercise increases oxygenation to the brain and other tissues, which increases cellular metabolism.
Exercise also helps to increase the circulation of our lymphatic fluid, which promotes the removal of cellular wastes. It is important to remove cellular wastes as they can cause inflammation within the body, a known factor in depression.
Exercising for 30 minutes 5x/week is typically recommended. However, some people feel better when they move more than this. Keep in mind, you don’t have to hit the gym to exercise. Chasing with your dog, dancing while you cook, or gardening are all forms of movement which achieve many of the same goals as traditional exercise.
Listen to your body – is your body asking to be moved? Stretched? Sweated?
How do you feel after you are sedentary for a long time? How do you feel after you engage in physical activity?
What is holding you back?
Nature and Depression
In addition to exercise, nature is one of the best therapies for depression.
We often stay indoors under artificial lighting, breathing recycled air. Even reading about this likely makes you feel stuffy and sub-optimal. Getting outdoors and feeling the sun on your skin, the grass under your feet, and the fresh outdoor air is exceptionally therapeutic. Connecting with Mother Nature is a big part of what is missing in many people’s routines.
It sounds too simple, it’s completely free – but connecting with nature is an essential part of being human.
Diet and Depression
Diet is fundamental to health and wellness – including mental and emotional health.
Fresh fruits and vegetables provide antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals that help with every single process in the body, including the creation and processing of neurotransmitters. On the other hand, simple sugars and processed foods are devoid of nutrients. They actually rob the body of vitamins when they are metabolized.
Consider food your medicine.
How do you feel after eating certain things? Tired? Sluggish? Heavy?
Or vibrant, light, and clear-minded?
Listening to our bodies is fundamental to choosing foods that promote emotional healing and overall health.
Nutrition and diet can be a challenge as there is conflicting information everywhere about what to eat, what not to eat, crash diets, fasts, etc. Although there are some general dietary guidelines, for each person, the ideal eating patterns are different. There are many aspects to consider when it comes to nutrition and eating habits, and a qualified Naturopathic Doctor, holistic nutritionist, or nutrition expert who understands the importance of individualizing diet can help you make sense of nutrition and create a healthful eating program.
Each person feels depression differently, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach. The more you can understand yourself, including your temperament, your tendencies, and your thought-patterns, the more specific you can get with natural remedies for depression. Working with a qualified health care provider who doesn’t see depression as simply “a chemical imbalance that requires anti-depressant drugs” can help you identify the true reasons for your depression and, most importantly, effective therapies for you.
Both of our Naturopathic Doctors focus on holistic, individualized approaches to depression. They take time to understand you as a person, and what in your biology, environment, thoughts, lifestyle, and day-to-day life could be contributing to your depression.