Understanding Why You Are Depressed

Let me first say that everyone’s experience of depression is different. Nevertheless there are themes that I see emerging again and again that I hope will be helpful to explore and describe.

Theme One: You’re Exhausted

From a holistic (Chinese Medicine) perspective, depression is the symptom that arises when the body’s nervous system has become overwhelmed with exhaustion. Normally when you’re exhausted you rest (and recuperate) but the cruel part about depression is that you get stuck in a limbo land where you’re unable to access true rest. Instead you find yourself in a state of agitation where you’re unable to switch off mentally and emotionally and, as a consequence, even if physically you’re quite sedentary and it looks like you’re not doing much you are still burning up tremendous amounts of nervous energy. You’ll find yourself going over things again and again in your head, thereby perpetuating a state of agitation and exhaustion.

Theme Two: How It Started

Well for some people it’s pretty obvious, symptoms first appeared after a traumatic event: the death of a loved one, a motor vehicle accident, being bullied at work or the ending of a relationship. The event didn't cause the depression but it created the conditions where the nervous system was stretch beyond its capacity for too long.

For others, they have always had the tendency to be depressed and traditional medicine calls this a ‘constitutional’ condition, modern medicine calls it genetic. Either way it means that ‘the way you are wired’ predisposes you towards depression. That doesn’t mean you just have to put up with it. However, you will need to become an expert in managing your mind and emotions to stay on top of it.

Theme Three: Toxic Emotions

Whether initiated by a trauma or whether you’re just predisposed to depression you’re likely to be suffering from an overload of toxic emotions. Whilst some people don't seem to notice much that goes on around them, people with depression are highly attuned to their surroundings and to other people (or started out that way until they got exhausted). This state of hyper-vigilance leaves them vulnerable to having their emotional circuits constantly jammed up. Once you’re in a perpetual state of overload the effect becomes toxic. Like a compost bin that is overflowing with food scraps, it needs to be emptied otherwise it turns putrid.

Theme Four: You’ve lost Your Way

The other theme with depression is feeling lost and loosing connection with your passion and purpose in life. Of course if you’re exhausted, in mental limbo and suffering from emotional overwhelm it’s impossible to connect with what brings you peace and a sense of purpose. Rather than thinking “once I figure out what I want to do in life I’ll feel better” the opposite is true. Once you feel better, it will be much more clear in what direction you should move.

How to get out of the Maze

From a Chinese Medicine Perspective it’s a pretty simple process.

Step One: Emotional Detox

The first step is to clear the backlog of emotional clutter and toxicity. Without removing the clutter, it’s almost impossible to move forward. From my experience, I’ve found acupuncture to be the key treatment to clear away the clutter and create some momentum. Other therapies that can be supportive include herbal medicine, exercise and dietary changes.

Step Two: Retrain Your Nervous System

It’s crucial to regain the ability to switch off mentally and emotionally, in order to access deep states of rest and peace. When you do, you truly begin to heal the exhaustion that underpins depression. Additionally, when you access deep states of peace you also declutter your mind and emotions which buffers you from going into emotional overload and rebuilds your residence for the inevitable stressful events that will come your way.

Again, I’ve found acupuncture excels at retraining your mind and nervous system to access states of deep peace. Who would have thought sticking pins in the body would be super relaxing but it is! I often describe acupuncture being like training wheels for your nervous system, giving the feeling of what it’s like to deeply relax. After a while you can find your balance on your own and don't need to rely on the treatment/training wheels.

Step Three: Practice Makes Perfect

Once you've got your equilibrium back, simple relaxation and meditation tools will enable you to stay feeling buoyant. The key is you need to do something that enables you to switch off EVERY DAY. Your body and mind’s need for relaxation is a bit like the need to brush our teeth. If you miss a day your mouth starts to feel a bit fuzzy and uncomfortable. It’s the same with the mind, if you don't do something that allows your mind to access rest and peace you are allowing clutter to build up and are sowing the seeds for future discomfort and distress. Meditation (and other deep relaxation practices) clear away the clutter and leave you feeling buoyant and resilient.

Please feel free to contact Live Well if you’d like further insights into how holistic approaches can help with depression.

Wes Smith is Live Well's Director and has 20 years experience as a practitioner and wellness educator. He has a special interest in working with chronic immune issues, stressanxiety and depression
Wes is passionate about inspiring and educating people to create and sustain their vitality and wellbeing so they can live life to the full.
Wes also enjoys teaching meditation and is the creator of meditatewithwes.com an online resource for learning how to meditate. es has a B.App.Sc.(Acup), Diploma of Herbal Medicine, a Yoga Teaching Diploma and is an APHRA registered acupuncturist. Learn more about acupunctureherbal medicine and meditation.

Learn more about Wes

Make an appointment to see Wes

Depression and Food for your Mood

Feel-good foods

The foods we eat can be either a completely destabilising cocktail for a healthy mood, accelerating and compounding depression; or an extremely powerful tool for preventing and treating it. So let’s take a look at the kinds of foods we can use in order to boost mood and enhance mental health. At the most basic level, it means eating a nutrient-rich, wholefoods (real foods) diet, and avoiding a handful of offending foods...

As a rule of thumb, try to opt for a SLOW foods diet:

Seasonal (in-season for you and your climate right now)

Local (sourced from close to where you live –Farmer’s Markets are great for this!)

Organic (wherever possible = higher nutrient value, with the added benefit of reducing intake of nasty chemical residues from pesticides)

Whole (foods in their natural state -such as fresh vegetables, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds, fruit, fish and lean, organic, well-fed, raised and sustainably farmed meats)

Wherever possible, try to avoid the packaged, processed, “food-like products” that are high in sugar, additives and unhealthy fats.  I saw a quote I loved recently, which said: “Real foods don’t HAVE ingredients, they ARE ingredients”They also supply your body with an array of nourishing and balancing nutrients that every cell, organ, tissue and body system depends on for good health and functioning.

Eating by these principles, your mood and your body will absolutely notice the difference!

At a glance, you really want to be increasing these specific nutrients in your diet on a daily basis;  so on a whole (pun might be intended!), the major foods to look at are:

Healthy (Omega 3) fats

Essential fatty acids play an important and therapeutic role in depression. The brain needs these fatty acids for both structure and function, as well as being required for serotonin and dopamine transmission, and to stabilise neuronal function.

Healthy fats are highly protective for the brain, neurological system and all body cells; and are necessary for brain chemistry production, amping up feel-good mood transmitters and enhancing their receptivity. They are necessary for hormonal regulation, and play a huge role in reducing inflammation, which is known to play a major role in the pathophysiology of depression, particularly as inflammatory processes degrade and inhibit health neurotransmitter production.

Find healthy, Omega 3 fats  in:

Oily Fish such as Salmon, Mackerel, Tuna, Sardines; Coconut and Olive oil; Avocado; all Nuts & Seeds; Eggs; Tofu.


The amino acids in protein foods are the raw materials the body needs to make our neurotransmitters for healthy mood; for example, Serotonin (feel good), GABA (relaxing), noradrenalin (motivating). If we are not getting enough quality proteins through the diet, our bodies won’t have the building blocks to synthesise our brain chemistry.

Protein-rich foods include:

Fish; Meat; Eggs; Nuts and Seeds; Legumes; Tofu; Tempeh; Quorn; Wholegrains (e.g. oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, millet..).

B complex vitamins

B vitamins are necessary for optimal functioning of the brain and neurological system; for production of feel-good neurotransmitters and their transmission; as well as for stress support, digestion and absorption of nutrients, and energy.

Find B complex vitamins in:

Dark, leafy greens; Whole grains (e.g. oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, millet..); Nuts & Seeds: Almonds, Brazil, Cashews, Hazelnuts, Pecans, Pine nuts, Pistachios, Walnuts, Sesame seeds/Tahini, Sunflower seeds; Soya beans; Yeast (bakers / dried / spread);Eggs; Kangaroo, Chicken, Turkey; Oily and white fish; Mushrooms.


Magnesium is an essential nutrient required by our bodies for stress, mood and nervous system support; energy production; and numerous cellular functions that play a role in depression and the regulation of neurotransmitters.

Find Magnesium in:

Dark, leafy greens;  Whole grains (e.g. oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley, buckwheat, millet..); Legumes; Nuts & Seeds: Almonds, Brazil, Cashews, Hazelnuts, Pecans, Pine nuts, Pistachios, Walnuts, Sesame seeds/Tahini, Sunflower seeds; Yeast (bakers / dried / spread); Licorice (confectionery), Dark Chocolate ; Chilli powder, Curry powder, Mustard powder; Goats milk;  Red meat, Chicken liver, Pork, Chicken, Turkey; Dried fruit: Apple, Apricot, Currants, Date, Figs, Sultana, Prunes; Passionfruit, Bananas, Blackberries, Raspberries.


Low levels of zinc in the body are correlated with depression, with studies showing the more deficient the zinc levels are, the worse the depression. Zinc is a co-factor (necessary ingredient) for neurotransmitter production (feel-good brain chemistry) and many other important functions in the body.

Find Zinc in:

Pumpkin seeds; Eggs; Oysters; Nuts: Brazil, Almonds, Cashews, Pine nuts, Walnuts; Tahini, Sesame seeds and Sunflower seeds; Garlic; Green peas; Broad beans, Butter beans;  Spinach and dark leafy greens, including fresh parsley & basil; Mushrooms; Yeast spread; Tomatoes – sundried; Red meats, Chicken, Duck, Turkey; Cheese  (especially hard, yellow & blue cheeses).

Vitamin D

A deficiency of vitamin D is associated with depression and is responsible for modulating several neurotransmitters. Vitamin D  exerts neuroprotective effects, and interestingly, studies show it having a neuroactive hormonal influence as well. So it is a vital nutrient for many functions.

Vitamin D is best sourced by soaking up some sunshine through exposure of the skin to UVB rays (this accounts for approximately 90% of bioavailable D3 in the body) short periods, at non-extreme UV times of day. But you also need to have the correct amounts of magnesium present in order to activate it in your body. Obtaining adequate amounts of vitamin D through diet alone is unlikely, as vitamin D is produced in the body, and relies upon exposure to UVB rays in order to do so.

Find vitamin D in:

Sunshine (direct contact to skin); Oily fish –Salmon, Tuna, Herring, Sardines; Eggs, Beef; Butter; Mushrooms.

And don’t forget these important nutrients:

·    Quality sleep

·    Daily exercise

·    Rest, relaxation and fun

·    Nature (especially fresh air and sunshine)

Taking care to avoid certain things is also really important.

You’ll be doing yourself and your mood a real service by limiting or eschewing the following:


Caffeine has a demonstrated correlation with depression. It’s actually a highly psychoactive substance; and whilst many of us casually use caffeine in our daily diets, it depletes essential nutrients such as B complex vitamins and magnesium - which are vital to our wellbeing, in helping buffer the impact stress has on our nervous system and adrenal glands. Caffeine  also alters neurotransmitter function, for example via its effects on dopamine transmission, and has a  negative impact on  quality of sleep –which is a fundamental pillar for mental health and mood.

Sugar and artificial sweeteners

Studies have implicated sugar intake as a notable causative factor in depression. It can be linked to several actions, including dysregulation of blood sugars (a marked driver of depression); exacerbation of inflammatory processes that impact the brain and mood; and the leeching of important minerals needed for neurotransmitter production and function.

Sugars and high-carbohydrate foods (that rapidly flood the bloodstream with glucose upon ingestion) hit the reward centres of the brain, and act to temporarily boost mood and relieve depression. This can create a cycle of reliance upon the very substances (e.g. chocolate, biscuits, bread and alcohol) further perpetuating the situation.


Whilst it can appear to help temporarily, the fact remains that alcohol is indeed a depressant, especially on the neurological system; and so will have a worsening effect on depression. Alcohol also rapidly uses and depletes those nutrients the body needs to maintain a healthy mood, and causes huge blood sugar spikes and crashes; so it can be a real triple-whammy!

Wheat and dairy

What we know is both wheat and dairy are highly inflammatory and aggravating to A LOT of peoples’ systems. There is much more that could be said on the matter, particularly discussing the link between wheat in the diet and depression (along with other psychiatric conditions!). But if you really want to try a simple, no-nonsense approach with your (mental) health and wellbeing using a nutritional, food-as-medicine-based approach;  try cutting these two “bad boys” down or out of the diet completely (along with reducing or eliminating caffeine, sugar and alcohol –if and where you can) for 3-4 weeks…

Be sure to keep a food and symptom log, either on notebook or on your phone to jot down what you are eating, and also to check in with yourself and how you’re feeling; are you noticing any changes or improvements?  See if you can track the quality of your mood, your energy, clarity and focus, sleep, stress/anxiety, digestion etc. (whatever symptoms and markers are relevant to you). A useful way to do this is to rate your mood and symptoms each day from 1-10. Starting your log a few days to a week before you make any changes will help you to establish a baseline so you can really see your improvements on paper, as well as feel the benefits!

Proper nutrition and nutritional therapy can be a real game-changer…

If you experience depression or other stress and mood-related disturbances, I encourage you to seek the support of a qualified and experienced healthcare professional, such as a Naturopath, for a holistic assessment and specific treatment plan that will be therapeutic for you.


Overcoming Depression Naturally

Australians use of anti-depressants has doubled over the last decade to the point where close to one in ten people are on medication for depression. Recent research into the impact of anti-depressants shows very little evidence of any benefit beyond placebo, especially for mild to moderate symptoms.

Of course that doesnt mean that for some people, drugs dont provide essential respite from difficult symptoms but for many the combination of unwanted side effects as well as limited effectiveness has them searching for an alternative. That search has created a surge in interest in non-drug based approaches like natural therapies.

Depression Postcard.png

Beyond masking the symptoms

A holistic perspective tells us that depression, like any other symptom is a sign that your mind and body are out of balance. Regardless of their effectiveness, anti-depressants ultimately don't tackle the underlying causes of depression which makes it worth considering approaches like natural therapies that treat you holistically and work to restore your balance and wellbeing.

 In my experience, natural therapies do offer true relief from symptoms rather than a band aid and long lasting improvement rather than just a short term fix and thats why they are emerging as a potent compliment or alternative to conventional approaches.

Where to start

Seek professional advice. Unfortunately when it comes to most peoples first foray into using natural therapies, theyre more likely to get advice from Dr Google or from their friends than seek expert advice. Even worse, even if they manage to figure out exactly what they need, most people then go and buy cheap, low quality supplements from the supermarket and are disappointed when they dont see any results. As a first step I would suggest booking in with a suitably qualified naturopath or acupuncturist.

Not so fast

Incidentally, if a client comes to me and tells me they want to get off their depression medication I always tell them that we have to get them feeling better first. Just like theres no point throwing away your crutches until your broken leg is healed, theres nothing to be gained by coming off anti-depressants before your body and mind are ready for it and even then only under supervision and guidance of your GP.


Wes Smith is Live Well's Director and has 20 years experience as a practitioner and wellness educator. He has a special interest in working with chronic immune issues, stressanxiety and depression
Wes is passionate about inspiring and educating people to create and sustain their vitality and wellbeing so they can live life to the full.
Wes also enjoys teaching meditation and is the creator of meditatewithwes.com an online resource for learning how to meditate. es has a B.App.Sc.(Acup), Diploma of Herbal Medicine, a Yoga Teaching Diploma and is an APHRA registered acupuncturist. Learn more about acupunctureherbal medicine and meditation.

Read more about Wes.

Make an appointment to see Wes.




For the month of May, Live Well is focusing on helping with depression. For more information please head to the Live Well website livewellnaturally.com.au