May 16, 2011 | Filed Under Tips
Depression is a terrible, debilitating thing that thankfully, more often than not, can be beaten with some simple lifestyle changes. Sure, it takes work. But all good things in life take work. And given what’s at stake (your well being and happiness) it’s worth it.
I struggled with a relatively persistent depression for several years in my mid-twenties. It was the result of many things: poor health, stress, over-indulgence, taking on too many responsibilities, feeling incompetent as a philosophy student/teacher, lack of control, nihilism, cynicism, etc.
Very often, the root of depression is physical. Poor physical health, lack of exposure to the sun, vitamin deficiency, sedentary lifestyles, etc. There are certainly cases of depression that are due to massive chemical imbalance in the brain, and these sometimes require professional medical attention and prescription drugs. And there are those who are dealing with depression that is primarily rooted in deep psychological trauma.
But most people are simply dealing with a depression that emerges from displacement: social displacement, environmental displacement, nutritional displacement, emotional displacement, spiritual displacement. And the key to fixing the depression is to engage and nurture your body and your soul: to give them what they need. What they were made for.
Here are 10 tips for dealing with depression. No one of these tips will work on it’s own. They have a cumulative effect and together will contribute to a much healthier mental life. I haven’t dealt with serious depression in years thanks to these simple changes to my lifestyle. If you have any to add, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.
1. Fix your diet
I think the number one issue with depression is an unnatural diet. Try to eat the food that nature produces. The less processed/manufactured your food, the better. The more local your food, the better. My educated opinion is that the best diet for a human being is meat, vegetables and water. Think of sugars, grains, coffee, alcohol, etc. as treats that you eat in very limited quantities. But remove them as the staples of your diet. Taking these steps should decrease the number of insulin spikes your body goes through as well as chronic inflammation, which both provide negative feedback to your mental state, contributing to your overall feelings of depression.
2. Be more active
The human body is meant to regularly engage its environment in three dimensions. It is not meant to sit in a chair 8 hours a day and a couch another 3 hours. The sedentary lifestyle makes the body feel lethargic (it literally puts biological systems to sleep because they are not called upon) – to thrive, the body needs to be used. so use your body. Take a few walks each day. Don’t sit for more than 20 minutes at a time. Get up and walk around the office. Sneak in a few pushups or pullups during the day. Bring some dumbbells to work and use them.
3. Work In Short Bursts
Modern man has created very artificial environments for himself. Part of the task of fighting depression is the idea of getting back into a more natural setting. Human beings are built to work in short intense bursts, both mental and physical, followed by low-level activity and rest. You can mimic this behavior in your work setting by working really hard and focused for 10-20 minutes, then getting up and walking away from your desk. Even if you just go grab a glass of water. Breaking up your work will keep monotony and that mental numbness (the brick wall) from setting in.
4. Develop A New Skill Every 6 months
Developing a skill builds your confidence. And a confident person is much less likely to get depressed. Learn an instrument, a martial art, a language. Learn how to make your own food, your own energy, your own clothing. The less you have to rely on others to provide you with the things you need, and the more you rely on yourself, the more safe and secure you will feel. And did I mention confidence?
5. Keep Learning
Always keep your mind engaged. Whether you take a college course or watch one of the brilliant TED lectures once a week, there are plenty of ways to keep learning. If you’re really up for a challenge, take up a research project and become an “expert” on a topic that interests you.
6. Build Someone Else Up
Take the time to give some time to someone besides yourself. There’s a spiritual law in this Universe such that “giving” is not a zero-sum game. When you give to others with a loving heart, you are also richly rewarded. Write a letter to your grandfather. Visit a nursing home and spend time with the lonely. Tell your son what you admire about him. Take your mom to a Broadway show…. You get the point.
7. Get Regular Exposure To The Sun
Try to get about 1 hour of exposure to the sun ever day. Our skin absorbs the sun and derives nutritional value from it. On overcast days, or in the winter when it is too cold, take Vitamin D supplements.
8. Get Plenty of Sleep
If find that if I get less than 6 hours of sleep, I feel a hovering depression the entire next day until I either get a nap or sleep through the night. Speaking of naps, my favorite kind of days are the kind where I get a 1-2 hour nap in the middle of the day around 2pm. I wake up refreshed and energetic and ready to go.
9. Go Out of Mind
Many human beings identify themselves with their mental life and so are constantly thinking, constantly worrying, etc. So much so that adult human beings often forget how to play, to lose themselves.. to be creatures. By “going out of mind” I simply mean that you need to play (even if that’s reading a mindless novel). You need to stop thinking for a bit and just enjoy life. You were not intended to carry the burdens of the world on your shoulders nor to be thinking at a rat-race pace. Depression is a psychological state of hopelessness and feeling burdened. Re-learning to play can be pivotal: play forces you to stop being anxious and to just “be” for a while. It also helps facilitate being more active (point number 2).
10. Be Wide Eyed
The most fundamental attitude, I believe, is thankfulness. A person who can maintain a frame of gratitude for the gift of life and the gift of others will be the person closest to the heart of God. Be like little children. Be mystified. Hold onto hope.
A. Get Social: Join a group that meets regularly for conversation and activity. Build up your network of friends and your overall social support.
B. Have Frequent Sex: A research paper from two Dartmouth economists suggest that increasing the frequency of sex from once a month to once a week will increase a person’s happiness more than a $50,000 increase in annual income.