After going paleo a year or so ago, my chronic depression went away (along with 40 extra pounds and several medications). The past couple of months, though, it's come back. If one of my children is unhappy (even for something relatively minor), I go into a funk and don't pull out for weeks. For example, my teenage son has an injury that may prevent him from playing baseball again, which really has him bummed, which has made me depressed. I know in the larger scheme of things it's not that big a deal, but I can't shake it. How do I stop excessive worry and depression over my children?
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I have been fighting depression since puberty so I feel your pain. Your issues may just be situational, but the fact that they keep routinely coming back tells me that your constantly on the fence and at the mercy of every new situation. The good news is that you may be close enough to mentally healthy that other natural interventions may give you more robust mental health.
Some things to check out:
The Mood Cure
GAPS Do you have gut issues? IBS, gas, D/C, etc? This line of questioning leads into the Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) approach to mental health. If you're not familiar it's pretty interesting and like Paleo made too much sense (to me) to ignore. I follow this and Paleo.
Doing a carb refeed on the weekend tends to help me boost my spirits as does bi-weekly walk/sprint sessions. The body weight work I do probably helps me feel good in my body as well.
Full disclosure is that I take Wellbutrin daily and have for years now. Paleo helped me immensely in that my medication started working finally.
Best of luck and try and stay positive. You've made a good first step by asking for support from your community. We're here for you! You are NOT alone. :-)
This is probably not going to be the most popular response here, but you could always try an anti-depressant. Your doctor will start you on the lowest, most efficacious dose in order to minimize side-effects. I think it's always best to avoid medication if possible, but it sounds like you've been working hard at pulling yourself out of your funk. There is no shame in getting some additional help. Medication doesn't have to be forever, but it can be a nice kick-start.
Start a garden. I know that sounds over simplistic but I think you need to reconnect with the earth. I believe growing your own food and spending time digging in the dirt has a positive effect on mental health, not to mention all the great food. Also spring is in the air!
I've suffered intermittent depression and there's one insight I developed that hasn't yet been mentioned, which is that sometimes a change of scene/focus triggers remission but it's not necessarily permanent.
For example, I happened to be quite depressed at the time I was a passenger in a car involved in a serious car accident. The injuries I and my then-3-yr-old son received totally shocked me out of my depression and it was years before the tendency re-surfaced. Also, a few intense weight-loss diets in my past had the same--sadly temporary--effect.
The moral of my story has been at some point you have to confront the underlying issues whether they are situational or biological. The initial emotional benefits of the whole-foods lifestyle have also worn off for me and I've had to consciously work on reducing my stress and frequently recharging/supporting my serenity.
If you look away from how you're eating, what's going on in your life that may call for some compensating strategies?
I suffered from severe depression for a few years some years ago. I feel pretty much bullet proof now though.
In my case I believe there were two causes for my depression: a biological one and a psychological one.
When I used to wake up the morning, the depression would hit me the instant I gained consciousness. It was like being plunged into a river. I think that feeling stemmed from biological causes.
The fix for the biological problem, or at least a big part of it, was I think a better diet. The optimal diet is as I think you know lots of whole foods and plenty of healthy fats (and plenty of high cholesterol foods probably helps too).
The other problem was psychological.
Depressed people typically hold a lot of irrational negative beliefs. The fix for this is to challenge those beliefs using reason.
I'm not talking about positive thinking or affirmations or the "law of attraction" or any of that nonsense. There is nothing wrong with negative beliefs in and of themselves. For instance, "there are many starving people in the world" is a negative belief. But it's quite true, and it's not irrational to believe it. There is nothing wrong with it.
A classic example of a negative irrational belief that depressed people hold is "I will be depressed forever."
How could you challenge that? Personally, my conversation with myself went something like this, briefly:
"I will be depressed forever."
"No. While it's possible you will be depressed forever, it's unlikely because most people get better."
"Ah, yes, but I will be one of the unlucky few who will not get better."
"Why do you think that?"
"Because only bad things happen to me."
"That's untrue. Here's an example of something good that happened to you recently: [an example]. You have no reason to believe you will be one of the unlucky few."
"The strongest statement you can make is that you may be unhappy forever. To say that you will be unhappy forever would be an irrational belief because you can't justify it."
The more irrational negative beliefs you jettison, the more happy you will be, and the greater sense of relief you will feel. There are many beliefs that we hold that we just aren't required to hold. They weigh us down but there is no good reason for them. We don't have to hold them if they can't be justified.
It sounds like you've been working very hard to tackle the biology behind depression by eating healthy and exercising. Environmental triggers seem to be what's eating at you now. Eating healthy can only do so much. Us humans are complex little creatures. Eating healthy is an amazing first step! Eating healthy, however, won't get rid of your external stressors and how you respond to it because your mind will always be fighting for you to confront those triggers.
- Depression and anxiety tend to respond well to changes in cognition/perception. The road to getting back on your feet is to "train" yourself to think of situations in a new light. Have you considered seeking help and/or support to guide you along the way?
You could try to tackle these worries by using some CBT strategies. I don't know your situation well enough, but this is an example:
"Yes, my son hurt himself. Basketball means a lot to him, and I also know it's not black and white. It doesn't define who he is, and it doesn't mean that IF he is injured forever, that his life is doomed. He has many other strengths. I cannot predict the future"
Sometimes it might feel like you having so much on your chest and have nobody who can understand you. Journaling has been found to be effective in improving mood. Maybe each night, you can just write freely for 10 or so minutes, or however long or short you'd like. When you close your journal, think of it as putting your worries in a closed box, for that time being.
- Relaxation techniques/Distraction/social support
You stated that you have very little social interaction outside of your children. Could you maybe try to schedule one day a week to start with to just play board games, go on a walk with a loved one? You need to take care of you, as well. Don't feel guilty doing something for yourself, because in the end, a relaxed and happy YOU means that you have more energy to be a parent. You are more than a parent. You have many wonderful roles and talents and you should make time for yourself! Start a hobby:)
I realize your depression was chronic, but did you exhibit any sort of seasonal waxing and waning of your symptoms in the past? Some people actually feel (temporarily) worse in the spring ("April is the cruelest month . . ."). I'm not sure what strategies you've tried in the past, but there's a lot of evidence that cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) helps for both depression and worry.
Are you eating VLC? Sometimes I have noticed a brief return of depression when I don't eat enough carbs. If you don't have other health issues, you could try eating more sweet potatoes or other carb sources that work for you and see if it helps. I hope you figure it out and feel better soon. Depression is awful.
Balance your serotonin and dopamine levels: Ray Peat has some interesting thoughts about that.
I don't know how much of those thoughts are right, but...
maybe some natural caffeine stimulation would help, coffee, dark chocolate, green tea, etc. and maybe give meditation a shot.
Vitamin D3 (or more calcium), up the sugar, up the liver, up the oysters. I got depressed after going VLC during the winter too. Computer usage makes it worse, so I guess using bright light therapy might do a lot too.
I think we often label our diets paleo in the same way we label things low carb. A low carb diet may consist of sugar free cookies and all other types of minimally nutritious foods. Paleo can also act in this way, especially when you're emphasizing eating tons of coconut oil, fruits..etc, they're nutritious, but rather minimally--coconut oil is devoid many micronutrients and fruits have some vitamin C and such, but little else. My main recommendation is to make sure you're eating the most micronutritious foods on a 'very regular' basis. The following foods include sardines(bones and skin included), cod liver oil, egg yolks, bovine/lamb liver, and oysters. I have had depression for most of my life, and only after eating these foods regularly did it go away. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors!