The grey days of winter as Christmas gaiety subsides bring the realities of a New Year to muted light. What will you do about lofty resolutions made over a glass of wine or a plate of turkey? Is it possible to achieve real change? Can you overcome past mistakes or embrace opportunities for happiness?

This is one of the worst times of year if you suffer from depression. Making decisions seems impossible. Holidays are especially tough, especially for individuals with no family; a lonely time full of longing and dark thoughts. While others celebrate, depressed people sink deeper into misery.

How Can You Tell?

Some people seem to recognize depression in others. How can they see signs on the outside when these are so carefully disguised? It’s not easy, but experts and those who understand depression from personal experience recognize over-compensating, self-isolation, subtleties of word choice, dress, behavior, and more. What about the individual: does he know he has depression? How can he take steps to help himself? People with mood disorders and their families are caught in a delicate dance: they can’t obtain personal information from a loved-one’s doctor and yet they want to do something.

Starting with Self Diagnosis

There are many signs and this list is by no means comprehensive:

• spending a lot of time alone
• thinking about death or planning suicide
• losing interest in people, activities, and subjects you once liked
• turning to a substance or activity for solace (drink, drugs, cigarettes, food)
• irritability
• weight loss or weight gain
• lethargy
• sleeplessness or sleeping too much
• feeling generally unwell all the time
• headaches
• believing you are worthless

Exhibiting one or two signs does not indicate you definitely need attention, but these could be indicators of the onset of depression. Talk to a friend or even your doctor. The second point above, however, is of particular concern.

Although you probably don’t have the energy to commit self-harm, one day you might succeed in committing suicide if the misery becomes more than you can bear. If someone is talking about a plan to commit suicide, he or she needs to be admitted to hospital right away.

Depression Causes

Catalysts for depression include genetics, drug use, and events in a person’s life. One might be healthy until he or she is subjected to abuse by a spouse, involved in a car crash, or loses a loved one. Some individuals with a healthy outlook are better able to cope with distress and fight off depression in spite of circumstances but it’s important not to judge or compare.

During this time, individuals with low moods should also stay away from those who make them feel worse and seek support from a pastor or counselor. Why one person handles grief better than another is a complicated issue.

Some people are genetically predisposed to mental illness. Depression can be triggered by a head injury or drug use. It can also be a sign of malnutrition; something many Americans suffer from in spite of (or perhaps because of) obesity rates and lifestyle.

Food and Mood

One of the most natural ways to approach mental illness is to consider what and how you eat.

Firstly, do you eat out of boredom or sadness? If so, you need to replace this habit with a new, healthier one. While habits are difficult to form, determination and support can and will give you strength to persevere and replace food as your drug of choice with exercise, prayer, or needlepoint.

Plan meals ahead of time in order to prevent desperation eating: meals consumed in a hurry because you feel “hangry,” as the saying goes (emotional due to lack of blood sugar). The tendency is to reach for the first thing that comes to hand, something requiring no preparation; a food that will instantly satisfy your need. Make sure the food that comes to hand first is a piece of fruit or a handful of almonds, not a chocolate bar or a cookie.

Explore the science of nutrition and which foods support healthy hormone production and, thus, better moods. Experts are recommending probiotics for gut health because some mood-related hormones are absorbed there.

They also suggest taking a B-complex with numerous B-vitamins (also found in protein-rich foods) to promote healthy moods, metabolism, and energy. Exercise also releases “happy” chemicals into the bloodstream.

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Jana Evans

Janet Evans is our resident Health Nut and aspiring chef. She can shop at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's with her eyes closed.