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Physical Self-Care

Our body is a temple for the living spirit. If we are to experience wholeness and vitality, it is important that we take care of and honor our body's needs. Being in good health will enhance your ability to do the remaining steps of this program.

Diet and Nutrition

Good nutrition supports the optimal functioning of your brain and body. To insure that you are meeting your nutritional needs, eat a balanced diet of healthy foods. Eating as much organic produce as possible will help to minimize the intake of chemicals and preservatives which can cause problems in sensitive individuals.

Another part of nutritional self-care is cutting back on the sweets. Studies have shown that too much sugar can foster anxiety as well as depression. Reducing intake of sugar may also bolster your immune system, reduce allergies and cut the risk of diabetes and reactive hypoglycemia.

Finally, there seems to be a loose connection between depression and food sensitivities. Although no one has proven that allergies can cause depression, it seems reasonable to assume that allergies can aggravate a depressive condition since both conditions are known to involve similar biochemical imbalances (low norepinephrine and high acetylcholine levels). Common food allergens include dairy products, wheat, and corn. If you think you have food allergies, consult a doctor who specializes in allergies or environmental medicine.

Vitamin and Mineral Supplementation

In addition to eating a balanced diet, you might want to take a good multi-vitamin and multi-mineral supplement with special emphasis on the antioxidants-vitamins A, C and E. The entire vitamin B complex is known to maintain and promote normal mental functioning, so it may be helpful to take a good B complex tablet. Calcium and magnesium, which help to calm the nervous system, are especially helpful to anxiety-prone individuals. Deficiencies of the B vitamins, as well as of magnesium, manganese, zinc and iron, can be a factor in depression.


Any activity that promotes endurance, flexibility or strengthening is a natural antidepressant. Aerobic exercise in particular improves circulation, brings increased blood flow and oxygen to the brain, and releases endorphins, the body's natural pain-killing chemicals. Studies have shown that exercise works as well as pharmaceuticals in healing mild to moderate depression. The only "side effects" of aerobic exercise are a stronger cardiovascular system and better overall health. As little as three hours a week can reduce the level of depression. Even if you have no history of mood disorders, regular exercise can profoundly improve the quality of your physical, mental and emotional well being. Researchers like Candace Pert have shown that "molecules of emotion" are located not just in the brain, but throughout the body.

Our bodies were made to move. Whether it is a daily walk in the park, a water aerobics or yoga class, or dancing to your favorite music, get into motion. Start with small steps and remind yourself that you don't have to be perfect. At the pool where I swim, I see many disabled, elderly and overweight people taking part in water exercise classes. Thus, even if you have a physical disability or carry extra pounds, it is usually possible to engage in some form of movement.

Abdominal Breathing

One of the most powerful ways to impact the emotions and the involuntary nervous system is through the breath. In Sanskrit, the word for breath is prana, which also means "life" or "spirit." Most people in our society breathe rapidly and shallowly, using only the upper part of their chests. This is especially true for depressed individuals, whose life force is at a low point.

Abdominal breathing (also called diaphragmatic breathing) involves using your entire chest and abdominal cavity to breathe. I first learned about abdominal breathing in a yoga class many years ago. You can also learn diaphragmatic breathing techniques in any stress reduction clinic, biofeedback center, pain clinic, or from any individual who has practiced yoga.

Sleep Hygiene

Part of staying physically balanced means developing regular sleep patterns that give you adequate amounts of rest. (Studies show that most Americans are sleep-deprived.) Try to develop a sleep schedule-a regular time of going to sleep and arising-and stick to it. Sleep irregularities are among the early warning signs of both mania and depression.

These symptoms include:

  • trouble falling asleep
  • trouble staying asleep
  • early morning awakenings (followed by ruminations)
  • sleeping too much

Sleep medication can be useful in trying to break a pattern of sleeplessness, but it is only designed for short-term use. Behavioral changes, such as those listed in the book No More Sleepless Nights by Peter Hauri, can be extremely effective. In addition, you may wish to be evaluated at a sleep clinic to rule out the possibility of physical problems such as sleep apnea. (Sleep apnea is a temporary suspension of breathing that occurs repeatedly during sleep and often affects overweight people or those who have an obstruction in their breathing tract.)

Water Intake

To maintain healthy body functioning, it is important to drink adequate amounts of fluids, at least two quarts a day. Your body is composed of 70 percent water. Water is essential to proper metabolism, circulation and elimination. It flushes out toxins and restores chemical balance to cells, tissues and organs. Many people report a direct improvement in mood once they increase their fluid intake.


If antidepressant medication is part of your treatment plan, it is important to take it as prescribed. Medication is not a miracle cure or a replacement for psychotherapy. What medication can do is to create an inner stability ("take the edge off," as a friend described it) that will allow you to make use of therapy. Some people need to take antidepressants on a long-term basis, while others are able stop the medication after their depression lifts. Consult your medication prescriber to determine the plan that is right for you.

For those people who cannot tolerate antidepressants or for whom they simply do not work, there are other "natural medications" you can try. These include, St. John's Wort and the amino acids 5-Hydroxy-Tryptophan (5-HTP), L-tyrosine and S-Adenosyl-Methionine (SAM). Because even "natural" substances can produce strong reactions in sensitive individuals, anyone taking these remedies should do so under the supervision of a nutritionally oriented physician (psychiatrist, family doctor, chiropractor, naturopath, etc.).

Treating Underlying Metabolic and Endocrine Disorders

Finally, untreated endocrine problems of all sorts are recognized as having the potential to cause mood difficulties. The most common of these is depression caused by hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), which can be successfully treated using thyroid medication. Other medical conditions which may exacerbate or even cause depressive symptoms are chronic fatigue syndrome, candidiasis, reactive hypoglycemia, hormonal imbalances, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and amino acid deficiencies. Thus, you may want get a complete physical to rule out any of the above conditions before you decide on a diagnosis of clinical depression.