Depression isn’t something that people really like to talk about, but it’s devastatingly common. It’s so commonplace, in fact, that many people don’t realize that what they’re feeling is more than just regular sadness. Because of this, it can be difficult for many people to successfully overcome depression.
Over 4% of the global population is estimated to suffer from major depressive disorder, and in most developed nations, the chance of experiencing depression sometime in your lifetime is estimated to be around 8-12%. Many people quietly face the challenge of figuring out how to overcome depression.
Although not everyone experiences chronic depression, or meets all the symptoms needed for a formal psychiatric diagnosis, many people will experience depression at some point in their lives. A depressive episode can be brought on in a previously healthy person by stress, adverse life circumstances, economic instability, and other life problems.
Depression is one of the most common psychiatric problems, but its mechanisms are only beginning to be understood. Like anxiety, bipolar disorder, and other clinical mood disorders, depression arises from a complex interplay of personal, social, and biological factors.
Although some people are genetically predisposed to be more likely to develop depression, life circumstances, personality, and other psychosocial factors are just as important to understanding the etiology of depression. To overcome depression, both biochemical and psychological problems need to be resolved.
When patients see a doctor about depression, they’ll commonly be prescribed a combination of some form of therapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy or talk therapy, and medication. There are quite a few medications on the market today that can help treat depression, but for many people, they come with unwanted side effects.
SSRIs, the most common type of antidepressant, can cause low energy, low libido, and weight gain. The wrong antidepressant can make mood problems worse, even causing suicidal thoughts in some people. Also, strong antidepressants may be excessive or unnecessary for people with a milder form of the disorder.
Because of the side effects and other problems associated with most pharmaceutical antidepressants, many people opt for more natural treatments and therapies instead. This can include interpersonal therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy, in which a licensed mental health professional can help you reevaluate how you think, feel, and behave. This helps you develop better coping mechanisms and a more positive outlook on life. Meditation, physical exercise, and relaxing hobbies can also be therapeutic.
Along with these measures, there are also several natural herbs which may help you overcome depression. These plants naturally produce chemical compounds that bind to some of the same areas of the brain as many antidepressants, but without the negative side effects.
Understanding Signs of Depression
As we’ve mentioned, depression isn’t just a matter of chemical imbalance. It’s a combination of neurochemical factors, genetic predisposition, and individual psychology. Depression can be different for everyone, but in general, it’s marked by profound feelings of sadness and emptiness that don’t go away.
Signs of Depression
Depression is distinct from simply feeling sad about something, or even from grieving over a loss. Medical professionals recognize a set of symptoms that are typical of clinically significant depression, including:
- Depressed or irritable mood. People with depression feel sad, irritable, or emotional almost all the time.
- Decreased interest in previously enjoyable activities. The technical term for this symptom is “anhedonia,” meaning “lack of pleasure.” Depressed people often lose interest in hobbies and activities that they used to enjoy, because it no longer makes them feel positive.
- Changes in weight or appetite. Depression can affect people’s appetites differently. Some people overeat and gain weight, while others lose interest in food completely.
- Changes in sleep cycle. Some people with depression feel tired all the time, sleeping much more than usual. Others feel anxious or stressed out, and can hardly sleep at all.
- Changes in activity levels. Depression often causes “psychomotor retardation” or “psychomotor agitation.” Patients with depression may either move sluggishly and have trouble thinking and being attentive, or feel restless and unable to focus.
- Feelings of guilt or worthlessness. People with depression often question their own value, or tend to attribute self-blame inappropriately. This leads to low feelings of self-worth.
- Poor concentration. Depression makes it difficult to focus and concentrate, which can cause problems in school or at work.
- Suicidal thoughts. In severe cases, depressed people may entertain the thought of ending their own lives.
Overcoming Depression Naturally
Although people who are very severely depressed (as determined by a mental health professional), or who are feeling suicidal, may need to be acutely hospitalized for their own safety, most cases of depression are mild to moderate in severity.
Although pharmaceuticals like SSRIs are one of the most common solutions for depression, they may not always be the best option. Although antidepressants treat the biochemical imbalances associated with depression, they don’t do anything about personal and social problems like low self-worth, maladaptive coping mechanisms, self-doubt, and unwarranted guilt.
Many people opt for a more natural approach to overcoming depression. This can include therapies like CBT, which directly address the underlying attitudes, thought processes, and behaviors that perpetuate mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
Research has also indicated that mindfulness meditation also has positive benefits, and may help people overcome depression. There is also evidence that regular exercise can also help mitigate the symptoms of depression, along with a balanced diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Another option to help overcome depression naturally, along with psychotherapy, mindfulness, and a healthy lifestyle, is to try one or more herbs that may help reduce the symptoms of depression. These herbs are completely natural, and their effects come from chemicals produced by the plant. They can be taken as supplements in capsules, or incorporated into herbal teas.
Natural Herbs Can Help You Overcome Depression
For millennia, people all over the world have used medicinal herbs to help overcome depression, reduce anxiety, and combat insomnia. Modern research has revealed that many of these plants contain natural chemical compounds that have positive effects in the brain, helping to improve mood, promote relaxation, and reduce sleeplessness.
Here are some of the natural herbs that may be able to help you overcome depression. You’ll find that many of them share biochemical mechanisms with some prescription drugs, but unlike pharmaceuticals, natural herbs generally don’t produce any negative side effects.
Combining some of these ingredients into an herbal tea can help you improve your mood and energy level, reduce feelings of anxiety, and correct imbalances in your sleep cycle. When combined with mindfulness, a healthy lifestyle, therapy, and other measures, these herbs can be a great tool to help you in your journey toward overcoming depression.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s Wort, or Hypericum perforatum, is a wild plant known for its antidepressant effects. Clinical research has supported its effectiveness for treating certain types of depression, and interestingly, its side effect profile is essentially the same as for patients who were given a placebo instead.
According to a published 2015 meta-analysis of the existing clinical literature, St. John’s Wort appears to be as effective for helping people overcome depression as synthetic SSRIs. Like pharmaceutical antidepressants, St. John’s Wort works by altering the reuptake of neurotransmitter molecules in the brain, particularly serotonin.
Serotonin is a key chemical for the brain’s regulation of mood and emotion, and many types of depression are strongly associated with serotonin imbalance. St. John’s Wort prevents the brain’s cells from reabsorbing serotonin too quickly, raising its concentration in the brain. This helps correct the underlying biochemical imbalances that contribute to depressed feelings.
St. John’s Wort is safe for most people to take, but it shouldn’t be mixed with certain medications. This includes SSRI antidepressants, warfarin (a blood thinner), or oral contraceptives.
Saffron is a colorful, fragrant spice derived from the styles and stigmas of the Crocus sativus flower. Native to Southwest Asia, saffron was first cultivated over 3,500 years ago in ancient Greece. It later spread to Persia and India, eventually arriving in China. Saffron is valued as a culinary spice, as well as for orange-yellow dye and natural fragrance.
Along with its culinary and aesthetic uses, saffron also has a long history of usage in folk medicine. Historically, it’s been used for everything from stomach cramps, to colds and coughs, to measles and dysentary. However, the best modern evidence for saffron as a medicinal herb suggest that it may help overcome depression.
In randomized, double-blind controlled trials testing adults with depression, researchers found that saffron was significantly more effective than a placebo at reducing depression symptoms. In fact, it was similarly effective to prescription antidepressants, suggesting that saffron has real potential to help alleviate depression naturally.
The mechanism behind saffron’s herbal antidepressant effects is thought to be related to serotonin modulation in the brain. Saffron has no negative side effects, and can be easily incorporated into herbal tea blends designed to help overcome depression.
Kava (Piper methysticum) is a root crop grown in the western Pacific. The roots of the kava plant have a long history of ethnobotanical use as an entheogen, or a plant used in religious rituals as part of a spiritual experience. It’s valued for its effects which are relaxing, but that also preserve mental clarity.
Kava roots are ground and mixed into a drink like an herbal tea, although some people take it in capsules as a supplement. Kava’s effects are sedative and anxiolytic, meaning that in patients with anxiety accompanying depression, it can help ward off restlessness, sleeplessness, and distress.
Kava’s anti-anxiety properties come from naturally occurring compounds called kavalactones. These chemicals are active in the brain, where they potentiate GABA-A receptor activity. It shares binding sites with many pharmaceuticals used for anxiety, like benzodiazepines, but without as many negative side effects, and without the addiction potential. Kava also inhibits the reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine, which can also help reduce anxiety symptoms.
Kava is widely available and safe to take, although there has been some question of long-term liver toxicity. The current consensus is that such toxicity is rare, but if you have pre-existing liver problems, you may want to avoid kava.
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), also known as Maypop, is a North American species which may have chemical effects that could help overcome depression and anxiety. Historically, passionflower was used for anxiety, nervousness, and insomnia.
Today, passionflower is a common ingredient in many herbal teas, especially teas designed to have a calming effect. Passionflower’s anxiolytic properties come from a natural compound called chrysin, which binds to some of the same receptors as benzodiazepines. It also contains harmol, harmaline, and harmalol, which can have similar effects to the class of antidepressants known as MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors).
Passionflower herbal teas can be helpful for people who struggle with insomnia as a symptom of depression. Its mild calming effects can help induce sleep, without causing negative side effects or morning fatigue.
Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) is a Eurasian perennial flowering plant. The roots of the valerian plant are often used in herbal teas and supplements designed to help reduce insomnia and anxiety. Despite its strong odor, valerian root contains a variety of natural chemical compounds that give it its calming effects.
Valerian’s effects are thought to come from interactions with the brain’s GABA receptors. Some of the natural compounds in the root act as GABA analogs, binding to receptors with similar effects to benzodiazepines.
Valerian is widely used as a sleep aid, and unlike many pharmaceutical sleep medications, it doesn’t produce negative side effects. Herbal teas containing valerian can be helpful for people whose depression interferes with their sleep cycles.
Lavender (Lavandula sp.) is a family of closely related flowering plants, known for their pleasant aroma and distinctive light purple color. Lavender is used as a culinary ingredient in many teas and herbal teas, and its essential oils are used in aromatherapy.
Lavender scents are widely reported to have a calming effect, but interestingly, controlled studies have demonstrated that lavender essential oils may help overcome depression and anxiety. Lavender oils can help improve sleep quality, as well as reduce anxiety. In Germany, it’s actually sold as an anxiety treatment called Lasea.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a common herb in the mint family, known for its citrus-like fragrance and flavor. It’s commonly used as a flavorful ingredient in herbal teas, often in combination with other mints. Its essential oil is also popular for aromatherapy.
Studies have produced evidence that when combined with other calming herbs, like chamomile and valerian root, lemon balm may help overcome depression and resulting insomnia. In a study of people with minor sleep problems, lemon balm with valerian produced improvement in 81% of the test subjects. Other studies found helpful effects from 300-600 mg doses of lemon balm.
When incorporated into a soothing herbal tea for depression, 1.5-4.5 grams of lemon balm can be steeped in hot water, along with other ingredients. It’s also available in tinctures or capsules.