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Are Depression & Stress Getting the Best of You? — Natural Feel-Good Remedies

Are Depression & Stress Getting the Best of You? — Natural Feel-Good Remedies

Say Goodbye to Overwhelming Depression, Anxiety, Exhaustion & Stress...at Any Age — Naturally

To listen to my radio interview, Say Good-Bye to Depression with host Ric Bratton on his national radio program This Week in America, please click HERE.


With the holidays rapidly approaching, this can be the time for many people when depression and anxiety set in and stress takes over, so what we eat and how we live are significant, if we want to avoid them. In this excerpt from one of the radio broadcasts linked above, I discuss what lifestyle choices and foods contribute to depression, and also what foods, herbs, spices and simple daily practices will help alleviate depression.

To help make it easier to follow, I'll keep it in the question and answer format. To listen to this interview, click on the link above. 

1. Is there a tie-in between depression, stress, and anxiety?

When life's seemingly endless stressors feel like they're wearing you down, depression and anxiety may be close at hand. Research from the University of Michigan found that 90% of episodes of depression are attributable to stressful life events. One of the contributing factors may be elevated cortisol levels. Individuals suffering from depression exhibit higher than normal levels of cortisol along with lower than normal levels of brain chemicals that signal pleasure in the brain, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Anxiety disorders including panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder are also associated with the elevated cortisol levels of the chronic stress response.

Prolonged stress interferes not just with our emotional well-being but also with our cognitive functions like memory. Chances are you've experienced forgetfulness during periods of intensive stress (who hasn't misplaced their keys while rushing to get to an important meeting?), but over time chronic stress can lead to full-blown memory loss. Initially, the stress response may improve brain function as increased blood, oxygen, and glucose are funneled to the brain. However, eventually cortisol reduces brain cells' ability to take up glucose – their only nutrient source – and causes them to shrink. Stanford stress researcher Robert Sapolsky has demonstrated that chronic exposure to stress can actually change brain circuitry and kill brain cells, especially in the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for learning and memory. This can ultimately make it difficult for the brain to store new memories or recall old ones.

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2. Give us an overview of 5 of the several things that you mention in your latest books The Joy Factor: 10 Sacred Practices for Radiant Health and Walking on Air: Your 30-Day Inside and Out Rejuvenation Makeover that help alleviate depression before we go through these and more in detail.

It’s hard to limit it to only five, but these would definitely be non-negotiable in my healthy lifestyle, what I suggest to others and recommend in my book to help alleviate depression. These also help quell stress, boost immune function and energy, and bring a sense of empowerment and confidence. Sleep strive to get a solid 7-8 hours of deep sleep nightly: Foods Eat a diet of colorful, natural foods, as close to the way nature made them as possible. Include sprouts in your diet for their life-enhancing effect (refer to my website for information on growing sprouts). Water  keep your body hydrated with purified water. Dehydration suppresses immunity, saps energy, ages you quickly, and causes depression. Exercise A regular exercise program does more than help you lose weight. It brightens your mood and boosts self-esteem and confidence. Meditation  Daily respites of meditation promote calmness, relaxation, and compassion and, if that were not enough, slows down the aging process. Forty years of disciplined meditation have shown me its powerful effects. It will have a positive impact on every aspect of your life.

3. What about healing practices like massage, visualization, deep breathing, yoga and music? Do these help quell depression?

Many age-old healing practices have been proven by modern research to effectively reduce the impact of stress on body and mind. In numerous studies, massage has been shown to reduce cortisol levels, blood pressure, and overall anxiety, and increase serotonin and immune system function. Yoga, when practiced regularly, leads to reduction in cortisol levels, blood pressure, and feelings of anger and exhaustion. In one study, those who practiced yoga reported better skill in coping with stress, elevated mood, and increased life and job satisfaction than counterparts who merely relaxed reading books. Meditation, deep breathing, and visualization have also been shown to slow heart and breathing rates, decrease nervous system activity, and bring calm to the mind. Other reflective practices to decrease cortisol levels include spirituality, prayer, and journaling.

It's clear that making even minor modifications in our lifestyles (a hot bath, our favorite music) can fortify us against the upheavals of the stress response. The importance of good diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, and stress-management practices in limiting the stress response cannot be overstated. However, since our stress-filled modern lives often don't allow us the flexibility to cook three healthful meals a day, hit the gym several times a week, and schedule weekly massages, we may need a helping hand from nature in the form of vitamins and herbal supplements. While supplements cannot fully substitute for sensible lifestyle choices, they can safely and effectively keep cortisol levels in an optimal range, making them an integral partner in stress management. Let’s talk about some safe and effective stress-relieving choices from nature's medicine chest – foods, herbs and spices.

4. What are some of your favorite herbs to reduce anxiety and depression?

Here are some of my favorite herbal remedies for stress and depression. I always get them from the Penn Herb Company.

  • Black Cohosh Root: Black cohosh is most commonly used for natural support for women during periods of nervous irritability, hot flashes, and other uncomfortable symptoms associated with menopause. However, it may have wider effectiveness as a tonic for stress. Native American healers have used black cohosh for centuries to calm the nervous system. The herb may work like a mild sedative and can be used to treat headaches that are due to depression, stress, or anxiety.
  • Catnip Herb: While catnip drives cats crazy, it has exactly the opposite effect on humans. In fact, the aromatic herb is a traditional home remedy for quieting the nerves, helping the body unwind, and promoting restful sleep. This member of the mint family is also the preferred herb for humans who want to soothe a stress-related upset stomach, gas, nausea, and bloating. Sip this relaxing, minty brew after dinner or a heavy meal to encourage healthy digestion.
  • Chamomile Flowers: Chamomile has been taken to promote healthy digestion since at least the 1st century. Its calming effect makes it a salve for stress-related gas, indigestion, and acidity, as well as for peptic ulcers, Crohn's disease, and irritable bowel syndrome. Millions also enjoy the fragrant flowers for gently calming the nerves and soothing stress and tension.
  • Hops: While hops is popularly known as the herb that gives most beer brews their bitter-aromatic flavor, the fact is this calming botanical has been used since antiquity for promoting relaxation and for relieving occasional sleeplessness and nervous tension. Hops is listed in all the major pharmacopeias of the world for its historic soothing effects on the nerves. However, long before its addition to alcoholic brews, the Native American Cherokee tribe, the Chinese, and Ayurvedic practitioners all used hops as an herbal sleep aid and for restlessness associated with simple nervous tension. Today, various hops preparations are recognized throughout Europe and other Western countries for their gentle calming abilities.
  • Kava Kava: Kava Kava, the "South Pacific Soother," has been used in that region's natural healing tradition for 3,000 years to calm and relax the mind. Today many appreciate kava for its ability to soothe stress and anxiety and to relieve the tensions of the day. This root from a pepper plant acts as a mild nervous system depressant without the "hangover" side effects of other depressants like alcohol. Research indicates that its natural compounds (kavalactones) relax the body and bring tranquility and peace of mind without the side effects of habit-forming drugs. It can safely be taken long term to relieve chronic stress. In European trials, kava consumed over a period of 4 weeks successfully relieved anxiety and other emotional problems associated with stress.
  • Lavender: A potpourri of lavender slid under a pillow or an herbal infusion at bedtime have long been thought to calm the nerves and ward off insomnia. According to the National Institutes of Health, there is now good evidence to support lavender aromatherapy as an effective treatment for anxiety, and preliminary evidence for its use to treat insomnia. I use a combination of lavender and chamomile as a tea and sip it slowly.
  • Passionflower: Originally used by the Aztecs of South America, passionflower has a longstanding place in the European pharmacopeia. One herbal expert suggests passionflower for people with internal chatter, like a radio going on in their heads when they’re trying to sleep. Indeed, this trusted herb has been used for centuries to promote relaxation and relieve occasional sleeplessness. Despite its name, passion flower cools passions rather than excites them. In fact, herbalists praise it as one of nature's best botanical aids for promoting tranquility and exerting a quieting, soothing effect on the nervous system.
  • St. John's Wort; St. John's Wort might be called "nature's antidepressant." In numerous clinical studies, the herb has proven to be as effective for relieving mild to moderate depression as such antidepressant drugs as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil. It is thought to work by correcting neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain. Those who take St. John's Wort during times of stress report that it helps to restore energy, balance mood, and lift the spirits. St. John’s Wort is currently the subject of numerous research studies, particularly in Europe, where it is recognized as a standard herbal aid for emotional wellness.
  • Lemon Balm Tea: Also referred to as Melissa and Balm, this tea comforts the mind and soothes the nerves. It also eases tension. As well, it alleviates gas, bloating and upset stomach. Try this tasty tea after lunch or dinner.
  • Ginger and Turmeric: When you are depressed, it causes an inflammatory response in your body. Ginger and turmeric are superb anti-inflammatory spices, and help to balance your body. Click for detailed information on Inflammation.

5. How about any vitamins, minerals, or other supplements needed by the body to prevent or reduce depression, stress and anxiety?

  • Antioxidants: Antioxidants are important vitamins for stress and depression. Vitamins A, C and E are all antioxidants and they protect the body against free radical damage and this helps to quell depression. When the body is under stress and when feeling depressed, more free radicals are produced, so extra antioxidants can be of great value in stress relief management. Antioxidants also help to strengthen the immune system, which can be compromised during stressful times.
  • B Complex Vitamins: Life's constant stress-caused depression can rob the body of vital nutrients. B-complex vitamins are important in stress relief management because one of their primary roles in the body is to keep the nervous system functioning well. Deficiencies of B-vitamins are associated with nerve problems and an increase in stress-related symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and irritability. The B-complex vitamins work as a team, and supplements should include a balanced formula containing all of them. Vitamin B-1 (thiamin) helps turn carbohydrates into energy, so more is needed during periods of stress. When included in a mixture of B vitamins, vitamin B-5 (pantothenic acid) has been shown to control cortisol levels. Vitamin B-6 (pyroidoxine) is involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters in brain and nerve cells. It may lower blood pressure and counteract the adverse effects of elevated cortisol levels. In studies, subjects supplemented with vitamin B-6 had fewer stress-induced ulcers than the non-supplemented subjects.
  • Calcium & Magnesium: Calcium and magnesium are typically thought of as minerals primarily for bone health, but they also play an important role in buffering the body from the effects of stress and depression. Low calcium intake is associated with elevated cortisol production within fat cells. In animal studies, rats placed on a low-calcium diet became agitated; when calcium levels were returned to normal, the animals became calm and relaxed once more. Because magnesium is an important coenzyme in nerve and muscle function, it can be depleted rapidly during periods of intensive stress and depression. Research shows that supplementation with magnesium can lessen feelings of anxiety, depression and overall stress.

6. Now that we’ve covered some herbs, spices, vitamins and minerals, let’s get specific about the foods that cause depression and which ones keep it in check.

Many of us make the wrong choices every day by consuming foods that were never intended for our miraculous bodies. In my books, The Joy Factor and Walking on Air, I discuss how to make the appropriate food choices to reduce our risks of depression, premature aging, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, diabetes, reduced vision and mental functions, and depression … and lose body fat at the same time.

Here’s a good way to think about a nutritious anti-depression/anti-stress diet: Produce is the most important health care your money can buy. As my grandmother used to tell me, look to nature for what to eat. In nature, we won’t find ice cream trees, donut vines, or potato chip bushes: We find superfoods. Foods rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, enzymes and fiber are the foods that nourish the body and stave off depression. Colorful, natural foods like berries, melons, leafy greens, broccoli, oats, apples, beans, walnuts and almonds, bananas, tomatoes. If your plate looks like a fiesta in terms of the colors, you’re probably eating healthy foods. In other words, eschew foods made with white flour, white sugar, artificial colorings and flavorings, and foods that have a shelf life and, instead choose life-enhancing foods.

Eat every 3 hours so your blood sugar level doesn’t get too low, which affects your mood and causes depression. Grazing like this also helps lower cholesterol and reduces extra body fat. Put simply, it stokes metabolism and causes your body to burn more calories, even at rest.

RAW FOOD: If you eat a diet of entirely cooked foods, it will exacerbate depression. Raw foods give your body natural hydration, loads of nutrients (that are cooked away), and countless enzymes. Refer to my books The Joy Factor, Walking on Air, and The Healing Power of NatureFoods, Health Bliss, Vegetable Soup/The Fruit Bowl (for children ages 1-8), Recipes for Health Bliss, all described in detail on my website, for more information on the healing benefit of raw foods and natural, whole-foods in general.

7. I read in your book The Curative Kitchen & Lifestyle that there is a tie-in with constipation and depression. Please explain this to our listeners. Also, if you go to Susan's homepage of her website, you'll be able to get a FREE copy of this informative and helpful book.

Constipation can be caused by a number of factors, many of which are related to our modern diet and lifestyle:

  • Not enough liquidsLiquids add fluid to the colon and bulk to stools, making bowel movements softer and easier to pass. Most Americans do not drink the recommended 8 glasses of water per day. Instead, they consume sodas and other caffeinated drinks as well as alcoholic beverages, all of which exacerbate dehydration. Make sure to drink at least 6-8 glasses/bottles of purified water daily.
  • Diets low in fiberThe bulk and soft texture of fiber help prevent hard, dry stools that are difficult to pass. Most Americans eat too few fruits, vegetables and whole grains and too many processed and refined foods from which the fiber has been removed. The average American consumes only 5 to 14 grams of fiber daily, which is far short of the 20 to 35 grams recommended by the American Dietetic Association.
  • Diets high in dairy, wheat, refined sugars and excessive red meat: These foods can be difficult for the body to digest and promote the formation of a sticky mucus to buffer against irritation. This dense mucus can slow the bowels.
  • Lack of physical activity: Long periods of physical inactivity can bring on constipation. Every year, there is a fresh survey that comes out that determines that Americans do not get enough exercise, adding to the constipation epidemic.
  • Prescription medicationsA number of pharmaceutical drugs such as pain medications, anti-depressants and blood pressure medicines can cause constipation.

Chronic constipation can cause all sorts of health complications, from hemorrhoids to fecal impaction. Many people also experience related symptoms such as headaches and back pain, which accompany the constipation. None of this is pleasant, but from the standpoint of detoxification, constipation is one of the largest barriers to the efficient elimination of accumulated toxins. If stool sits inside the colon too long without being eliminated, the toxins contained within may be circulated back into the blood. Furthermore, stools that are held up from being eliminated may generate even more toxins. The bacteria implicated in constipation emit their own wastes, which must be eliminated. With chronic constipation, good bacteria may die off as harmful bacteria flourishes and their toxins may damage the colon, causing further stagnancy. For more information on Colon Health, click HERE.

8. Can you be more specific on how exercise can make us feel less depressed, stressed, and anxious?

The ancient Athenians wisely adopted as their own the Roman motto: "Mens sana in corpore sano" which translates to "A sane mind in a sound body." Researchers are finding, however, that there’s much more to the adage than might first appear. It seems that our sense of happiness and well-being depends on how much exercise we get. Malcolm Carruthers, head of a British medical team, believes that “most people could ban the blues with a simple, vigorous ten-minute exercise session three times a week.” He came to this conclusion after spending four years studying the effect of norepinephrine on 200 people. Norepinephrine is a depression-destroying hormone, “The chemical key to happiness,” according to Carruthers. Ten minutes of exercise doubles the level of norepinephrine in the body.

Enkephalin is another spirit-lifting chemical produced in the brain during vigorous aerobic exercise. Enkephalins are the source of the feeling known as runner’s high among the long-distance runners that have been studied often. Enkephalin is a type of endorphin, morphine-like chemicals that serve as natural opiates, increasing pain tolerance and producing euphoric feelings. A study at Massachusetts General Hospital found a rise of more than 145% in endorphins during one hour of vigorous exercise. So you might want to remember to do this: Walk your dog every day, whether you have a dog or not.

Exercise can work in conjunction with psychotherapy to alleviate depression, according to work done at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas. “It’s not a panacea, but it is a useful adjunct for treating depression,” says the clinic’s Robert Conroy. One of Conroy’s hypotheses is that exercise boosts self-image by changing an individual’s worldview from that of passive bystander to active participant. People who exercise believe they have control over their health and the quality of their lives.

9. Do you recommend stimulants like coffee and alcohol to help with depression?

Avoid stimulants like coffee and alcohol: When we're feeling stressed, depressed, and fatigued, many of us reach for a drink, whether it's a cocktail or a cup of coffee. But while alcohol may temporarily relax you and caffeine may temporarily boost energy and concentration, ultimately these two substances can exacerbate stress and depression. Both act as diuretics, which dehydrate the body (and dehydration causes depression, among other things), and this physiological stress increases cortisol levels. Both can disrupt sleep, with alcohol often causing nighttime awakening and caffeine making it difficult to fall asleep. Alcohol in particular can interrupt the body's daily cortisol rhythm, while caffeine can activate an already stimulated nervous system to the point of jittery anxiety.

While the caffeine in coffee and supplements like diet pills should be avoided, research suggests that the type of caffeine found in black tea and green tea can actually help you recover from stressful events more quickly and soothe depression. In one study, those who drank four cups of tea daily for 6 weeks reported feeling calmer and had lower levels of cortisol after stressful situations than those who drank a tea-like placebo.        

10. Any thoughts you want to share in conclusion on how to lead a more upbeat, uplifted joyful life?

It may seem cliché to "stop and smell the roses" more, but research demonstrates time and again that simple pleasures can decrease our stress considerably. As I write about in my books The Joy Factor: 10 Sacred Practices for Radiant Health, Recipes for Health Bliss, and Walking on Air: Your 30 Day, Inside and Out Rejuvenation Makeover, reveling in life’s simple pleasures at least once a day will not only help keep stress and depression at bay, but will also will enrich your life immeasurably. Indulge in a relaxing hot bath – Japanese researchers found that among high-stress people, hot baths reduced cortisol levels. Go ahead and get away for that long weekend.

One study showed that after a three-day, two-night weekend away, subjects had a decrease in cortisol and overall stress markers and a boost in immune system function. Spend time with your pets, too – "dog therapy" has proven to reduce cortisol levels. Simply petting a dog or a cat lowers the pulse, blood pressure, and breathing rate. Listen to your favorite (preferably relaxing) music. Music, especially after a stressful event, has been shown to increase the relaxation response; decrease heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels; and increase immunity. Finally, don't forget to LAUGH. Research shows that laughter improves mood after high levels of daily stress and even boosts immunity.

Take charge of your body today. Become the CEO and president of your health and life. Like a butterfly, you can climb out of your cocoon of depression and anxiety and transform your life into a great adventure filled with laughter, peace, balance, vitality, and success. And in no time, you will feel like you are walking on air again.     

In times of stress, the best thing we can do for each other is to listen with our ears and our hearts and to be assured that our questions are just as important as our answers.

~ Fred Rogers

In times of great stress or adversity, it's always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive.

~ Lee Iacoocca

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