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7 Natural Ways to Beat Low Mood & Depression: A Naturopathic Approach

7 Natural Ways to Beat Low Mood & Depression: A Naturopathic Approach

We all have days when we don't feel like doing much. We might be tired, sad, or feel lonely. But how do you know when you have depression? And what can you do to naturally treat it? Naturopathic doctor Stephanie Cordes has the answers in this guest blog post! And don't forget to Sign Up to get great content to your inbox!  

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 8% of Canadians will suffer from a major depressive disorder (MDD) in their lifetime. That percentage may in reality be much higher, as stigma and a lack of public awareness of mental health prevents a lot of people from recognizing the state of their mental well being and getting the support that they may need.  

Diagnostic Criteria for Major Depressive Disorder (DSM-V):  

  • Depressed/irritable mood or loss of interest/pleasure in daily activities for over two weeks
  • Mood is a change from their baseline
  • Impaired functioning in social, occupational and educational spheres
  • The presence of 5 of the following 9 symptoms on almost every day:
    • Depressed/Irritable mood most of the day
    • Decreased interest/pleasure in most activities
    • Significant change in weight or appetite
    • Significant change in sleep
    • Significant increase in agitation or decrease in physical activity
    • Fatigue/low energy
    • Feelings of guilt/worthlessness
    • Diminished concentration or increased indecisiveness
    • Suicidal thoughts

 All of us have days when it seems like things just aren’t working out; days when life in general becomes exhausting and overwhelming. It’s when our low mood causes significant distress and/or negatively effects the individual’s occupation, relationships, or other areas of daily functioning that it becomes depression, or MDD.       

According to data collected by Statistics Canada between 2007 and 2011, as many as 17% of women and 8% of men between the ages of 45 and 64 use antidepressant therapy. Antidepressants can improve quality of life and in some cases even save lives. However, psychoactive pharmaceuticals come with side effects that can be extremely uncomfortable and don’t work for everyone. Whether or not you use antidepressants as a therapy there are complementary therapies available that can be used to improve the efficacy of medication, help with the side effects, or be used as a stand-alone treatment.   Depending on things that come to light via an in-depth health history, focused physical exam, and lab work if appropriate, a naturopathic doctor may suggest a few of the following items depending on your situation:  


  • Load up on veggies: they contain vitamins and nutrients that are important for your physical and mental well-being.
  • Avoid inflammatory foods: inflammation plays a major role in mood disorders. Sugar, processed foods, red meat, and refined grains are all things that can trigger inflammation in the body and may aggravate a low mood.
  • Consume enough protein: your body requires it to make essential brain chemicals (“neurotransmitters”), such as dopamine and serotonin.
  • Eat plenty of healthy fats: your brain contains some of the highest fat levels out of any organ in the body, as fats are required for proper nerve conduction and function. High levels of omega-3 fats (fish, nuts and seeds) may have a beneficial effect on some mood disorders like depression.
  • Research has shown that exercise has a positive effect on mood. Physical activity causes the release of endorphins, those “feel good” pain-reducing chemicals that cause the euphoric “runner’s high”.
  • If the idea of exercise is overwhelming, consider spending at least 30 minutes to 1 hour outside every day for a brisk walk and some fresh air.
  • Moderate physical activity of 30-40 minutes at least 3 times a week is ideal. Some examples include cycling, swimming, and resistance training.


  • Getting enough sleep every night is key. Insomnia is a symptom of depression (as is too much sleep), but can also contribute to mood imbalance. Who wouldn’t be cranky and irritable after 2 hours of sleep?
  • A strict bedtime, sleeping in a dark room, and avoiding screen time 1 hour before bed are some examples of good “sleep hygiene”.


Many medicinal plants are used for low mood, including oat straw, lemon balm, and saffron. Some herbs interact with one another, interfere with medication, or cause dangerous side effects so it’s advisable to use herbs under the supervision of a licensed practitioner. St John’s Wort, a commonly used herb for mild to moderate depression, is known to interact with a large variety pharmaceuticals and can even cause an emergency condition called “serotonin syndrome” when taken with certain antidepressants. Just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s safe when used in combination with other medications.  


 Many supplements are used successfully for mood. Vitamin D is commonly suggested for depression, as we get very low levels of sun exposure here in the northern hemisphere (especially in winter). Vitamin B12 and folic acid can benefit mood and energy if levels are not within the ideal range. Exercise caution with supplements, as they too have potential side effects and interactions. 5-HTP, another popular supplement for depression, can be extremely dangerous when used in combination with psychopharmaceuticals.  


 Needling can provide relief from depression as well as some of the issues that commonly appear alongside depression, such as chronic pain, insomnia, hormone imbalances, low energy and irritability. Community acupuncture has the added benefit of interrupting the isolation of depression by zoning out with needles in a quiet, comforting and safe community space.  


 Perceived levels of stress have a huge impact on our health and our moods, so stress management is very beneficial to our short and long-term well-being. Some suggestions include:  
  • Making time for yourself. Baths, meditation, yoga, and reading are all great stress-busting activities. Other unwinding activities include writing, playing/listening to music, colouring, crafting, etc. Try to avoid tuning out with computer or TV screen time.
  • Relaxation techniques, like progressive muscle relaxation or four-square breathing, have been shown to effectively decrease stress and improve overall well-being.

Due to the overwhelming nature of depression, simple suggestions can be disempowering, making us feel helpless. If you are ready to make some changes you may want to add one therapy or lifestyle modification at a time, waiting until it becomes an easy routine before adding in another. What works for others may not work for you, so try to allow the space for mistakes and self-forgiveness. Remember: this mood will not be the same forever: the only thing that is constant is change.  

If your mood ever becomes unbearable, you find yourself having suicidal thoughts or engaging in self-harm, or you meet the criteria for MDD, please don’t wait to seek professional help. There’s a wide range of available therapies for mood that are worth trying. Life can get easier.  

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 Dr. Stephanie Cordes, ND has a special interest in mental wellness, pain, and digestive health. Health education and increasing the accessibility of complementary healthcare has been a longtime passion and she has built a practice that recognizes structural violence as a major player when it comes to human health. As a result she focuses on empowering the individual by delivering trauma informed care, offering insight about health conditions and current health research, and involving people in the own private practice in Guelph or poking people at Guelph Community Acupuncture. For more information visit, send an email to, or call 519-835-5215.
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