Our journey through life is accompanied by a continual oscillation in our emotional state which is very normal and essential. The experience of suffering and discontent is key to the entire process of life as it helps us navigate through life with meaning, directing our actions towards that which brings us joy and prosperity. In Buddhism this quality of life is referred to as Dukkha. When we get stuck in states of sadness or suffering we are forced to identify the obstacles that lie in our path and more importantly move past them. If we fail to take action the suffering persists and can intensify. The idea of Dukkha is important because it reminds us that suffering is normal and temporary, thereby encouraging action to move past the suffering.
In more clinical terms, the idea of being stuck in a state of suffering, despair, or sadness is termed depression, a mental disorder that will affect 25% of the population at some point in their lifetime. Like all mental disorders, depression is plagued with a social stigma due to its medical classification as a disease or disorder, which some experts believe discourages people from seeking treatment and reinforces the feeling of having no personal control of the situation.
Although alternative treatments for depression are still criticized by conventional medicine there is growing evidence that these treatments may be as, or more, effective than pharmacological treatments. The consensus from both alternative and conventional perspectives is that depression involves altered production and distribution of neurotransmitters in the brain. The question still to be answered is what causes this alteration. New research is providing compelling evidence that nutritional factors such as omega-3 as well as physical exercise may help the brain establish the proper levels and distribution of serotonin and dopamine, the feel good neurotransmitters.
The strength of this evidence prompted Health Canada to approve omega-3 (from fish oil) supplements for the promotion of healthy mood balance. Although the claim refers to a mood balancing effect, the studies referenced by Health Canada are fish oil depression studies. Exercise appears to be not only effective for boosting mood, it appears to be indispensible for overall brain health. As described in his book Spark Dr. John Ratey reveals the secrets of exercise for improving emotional wellbeing and cognitive performance.
Stress is also believed to play an important role in the pathophysiology of depression, so stress management and relaxation are important tools for improving emotional wellbeing. While omega-3 and exercise are proven to be effective at reducing emotional and mental stress another simple and powerful tool is breath mindfulness. Coming back to the idea of Dukkha, this natural process of suffering is a great reminder that in life we need to let go of things that no longer serve us, and open ourselves to new opportunities that promote healing, learning, and growth. Unlocking your inner greatness and happiness requires you to take responsibility and action. Start by being more physically active, eat a healthy balanced diet, 1000-2000mg of omega-3 EPA + DHA, and remember that inner joy starts when you learn to love yourself. For more information on depression and natural therapies visit Wylde About Health.
This blog entry is not a substitute for conventional diagnosis or treatment of depression. Please consult a physician if you suspect you may suffer from depression.