Welcome to March, that funky month that suggests that winter is over but we haven’t quite come out of the cold and into spring. March is that month when you don’t know if it is going to snow or if you should throw on your shorts and go for a hike. It is also that month where many suffer the worst from anxiety, depression, or Seasonal Affective Disorder.
How we manage these things differs from person to person. Many choose to continue their hibernation. Some sleep the month away. And still others turn to medications to ease their problems.
Medications do not address the root cause of the problem and frequently make the problem worse. In the case of SSRI’s such as Prozac or Zoloft, to just name a couple, taking these medication cause serotonin, the “feel good” hormone, to stop being produced in as short as 3 weeks. Just a few of the side effects are changes in brain function, anxiety (wait! Isn’t that WHY we are taking it?), nervousness, trouble sleeping, and diarrhea or constipation. Withdrawing from an SSRI is extremely difficult and should not be undertaken without a physician’s guidance.
To quote Dr. Mark Hyman, “Despite what we have been programmed to believe, depression (and anxiety) are not a Prozac deficiency.”
Functional medicine helps you find the root cause of why you are depressed and anxious. Here are 5 tips to help you manage and reverse your state:
- Food sensitivities, which are different from food allergies, are frequently contributing to your anxiety. Gluten is an especially common culprit, as are dairy and soy. Partially digested wheat particles have been found in the urine of severely depressed patients. Eliminate all gluten from your diet for 2 weeks, reintroduce it, and journal any differences that you may feel. Gluten hides in products like soy sauce, salad dressings, and places that you would not expect to find it, so be sure to read labels.
- Insufficient sleep will always make us feel grouchy and anxious, especially if it has been a long-term problem. A good way to try to improve sleep is to treat yourself as you would a small child. Start your bedtime routine at least 30 minutes before bed. Take a warm bath, turn the lights down, play calming music, and read something light. Do not watch t.v., use an e-reader, or check or email. There is time for that later. Be kind to yourself. (There are more tips for a good night’s sleep here.)
- Increase your vitamin D. The best way to boost vitamin D is through direct sunlight. Unfortunately for those of us who live in New England, the sun is not strong enough here from October to April. Vitamin D can be acquired naturally through food such as cod liver oil which, thankfully, comes in a pill now, fatty fishes, egg yolks, and organ meats.
- High sugar diets also contribute to anxiety and depression. Sugar causes inflammatory events in our bodies which affect our brains.
- A diet low in protein, especially animal protein. The amino acids that create serotonin and other neurotransmitters come from protein and, unfortunately, our bodies do not have a pantry that it can go to if the amino acids start running low. We need to provide our body with the proper fuel to create those amino acids daily along with specific vitamins and minerals including iron, folate, and vitamin B6.
These are just a few things to explore when looking for the root cause of anxiety or depression.
As we come out of the winter, this is the perfect time to explore if your diet or lack of sleep may be contributing to how you are feeling.
It is also important to note that anyone who is experiencing these feelings needs to prioritize pleasure. We tend to take time off and do things fun in the summer. Treat yourself to something you enjoy in the winter too, and not just once in a while but daily. This is a key to good mental health.
NOTE: If you are suicidal, please call the Suicide Helpline at 1-800-suicide!
Missy Cohen, MPH, Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner has been working in Functional Medicine over the past decade.