I am choosing to write today about something a bit different. This is a Health and Wellness site and not everything in our world is what we eat and how we move. Sure, those things are important – but, how are we emotionally?
This time of year we look forward to sunshine and warmer temperatures, and we wait anxiously for a rodent from Pennsylvania to tell us our winter prognostication. But, then spring shows its true colors and there are dreary and dismal days where you think it will never warm up! That can be depressing! I know I succumb to those feelings.
However, I would like to write a bit on something that I am seeing quite a bit on Facebook postings and so on. That issue is depression – and, I too have been a victim of it. I see the havoc it wreaked in my life (thank heaven for a very understanding and supportive husband).
My issue is that I am not sure depression is increasing – or, whether we have a platform in social media to announce it more broadly. I am also not sure whether we are self-diagnosing the malady and what people are writing about is general ‘run of the mill’ depression that goes away when circumstances change – that is just sadness.
I know that, in my case, it was there for years. I went to counselors to try and talk through the issues. I took antidepressants (they didn’t work). But, it was always there.
Finally, last year – I was introduced to a book that literally saved my life “The Depression Cure” by Stephen Ilardi, Ph.D. (DaCapo Press, 2009). He outlines six steps to beat depression and not take drugs. He is not against using drugs to treat it, he says we need more. He considers depression a disease of lifestyle.
Here are the steps he outlines…
- Dietary Omega-3 fatty acids. According to Dr. Ilardi, the human brain is about 60% fat (by dry weight). Our body needs these Omega-3’s for our brain to function, and our bodies can’t manufacture it. Unfortunately, we are eating less of this. There are 3 types of Omega-3’s
- DHA – docosohexaenoic acid. This is the predominate Omega-3 in the brain.
- EPA – eicosopentaenoic acid. This is important for anti-inflammatory function and shows anti-depressant activity.
- ALA – alpha linolenic acid. Not really involved in brain function.
Per Dr. Ilardi: “About 70% of those who received the supplement went on to recover, compared with only 25% of patients who keep taking only the medication.”
I take an Omega-3 supplement every day, per Dr. Ilardi’s prescription of 1000 mg EPA and 500 mg of DHA each day.
Also, keep the Omega-6’s down (these are somewhat inflammatory). So, limit fast food and grain-fed meats.
- Engaging Activity to stop ‘rumination’. Rumination is dwelling on problematic or negative thoughts. I do this from time to time when I wake up at night. And, my thoughts were always worse than what could actually happens. However, he states to find an enjoyable activity to take your mind off of the issue (ideas include music – whether listening or playing; reading or listening to audio books, playing games – but, how about drawing or painting as well).
He also states that you need to be aware of what you are doing. And, stop yourself when the negative emotions take control.
- Physical Exercise. We don’t really exercise anymore. Our movement generally includes mouse clicks and typing. But according to Dr. Ilardi – “exercise increases the activity level of important brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin (the neurochemical targeted by popular drugs like Zoloft, Prozac and Lexapro).” It also increases a key growth hormone of the brain – BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor). This hormone drops considerably in the brains of depression patients.
So, do we all have to run to the nearest gym and get a trainer? First off, that would make ‘me’ very depressed. While I like working out, I don’t really relish the thought of ‘gee, I can’t wait to go to the gym’. However, I will admit that some people might – often because they are going to a class with their friends – or, they have camaraderie with other people who frequent the gym at the same time.
What Dr. Ilardi suggests are activities such as walking. He states that “a brisk half-hour walk three times a week” can significantly impact depression (and is more effective than Zoloft). So, what is ‘brisk’? Think about walking fast to catch a bus or train (about 75% of maximum).
- Sunlight. Ah, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a problem especially in the winter and spring months. And, there is a reason we call it ‘June Gloom’ in California. However, sunlight is not just for getting a tan. It is critical to our circadian rhythms. Melatonin goes up when it gets darker; Serotonin levels rise when sunlight hits our eyes. Sunlight also increases the amount of Vitamin D your body manufactures which is also critical.
OK, do we all move to Arizona, Florida and California. No, it would be nice. But, another ‘more practical’ option is a ‘light box’. I have one and I use it for 10 minutes every morning when there is no sunshine and I can’t be sure I can get outside. But, if you can get outside – aim for 15 minutes a day. Preferably in the morning when the UVA/UVB rays are not as strong.
- Get Connected. I admit that I am an introvert and that I am very comfortable in my own company (and that of our 4 dogs). But, connection is key! I have a few friends with which I can share my thoughts – but, many are far away. So, there is Skyping and certain Facebook communities with which you have a common interest. But, here are some other ideas:
– Animals – I mentioned 4 dogs. Oftentimes, animals can also provide social support (you are, after all – the pack leader). I adore our pups, and appreciate their unconditional love. Plus, they really make me laugh.
– Social Organizations – if you can, find an organization where you can volunteer your time and effort.
– Exercise – wait, you mentioned that above. True – but, I also stated that some people do like to go to the gym. If you can, connect with others when you exercise. Make friends at the gym or invite someone to go on your walk!
- Sleep. Jackpot! I was a lousy sleeper. I would wake up around 2:30 am and start my rumination practice. He has ten ‘habits’ that you should employ if you have sleeping problems.
My biggest issue was reading with my tablet at night. The blue light mimics the light from the morning sun and it totally screwed up by sleeping pattern. The same was also true with falling asleep with the TV on! If I read now, it is a paper book – not any other type of medium.
What I find astounding about all this – is that it is so intuitive and not unlike how we lived 50 years ago. I am all for taking back our health – and, even for non-depressed people, these steps will improve the quality of our lives.