There are many effective treatments for depression you can do on your own.
Posted March 14, 2011
I treat many, many sleepy people. Many of them, especially those with sleep apnea, chronic pain, and fibromyalgia, are or have been clinically depressed. Lots of them have seen their GPs and been placed on antidepressants without success. They’re already on a laundry list of medications, and in hard economic times want to do something on their own. What can they do to get better, particularly without medications, by themselves?
The first thing to think about—what will help regenerate your body will often aid getting you out of depression. And lots of people do not know that:
Antidepressants are rather ineffective as the sole treatment for decreasing depression. Though Big Pharma has sold many doctors on the idea there’s a pill for everything, anti-depressants are superior at preventing future depressions and treating anxiety than in treating the illness they’re named for.
Therapies are different outside the U.S. Severe depressives in Holland are put to live and work on farms; depressed patients in Britain often walk in parks, where they talk to each other in groups; Japanese depressives are asked to meditate, contemplating their personal difficulties and the social relations of their lives.
Depression is a final common pathway for literally hundreds of different medical conditions. People can get depressed from hypothyroidism, sleep apnea, pancreatic tumors than don’t show clinically for more than a year, blood dyscrasias and much more. You want to try to make sure there’s not a medical cause for why you feel so bad.
Once that’s accomplished here’s a quick and preliminary list of things you can do to get undepressed or stay undepressed—actions that will also in most cases help regenerate your body:
Take a walk.
Lots of data out there now demonstrating that walking and physical movement make people feel far, far better, and work as well as most drugs do for minor depression.
Light is a drug. Nature makes people feel better—especially depressed people, so it’s better to walk outside if you can. Light boxes have been used to treat more than seasonal depression, and sunlight (on your eyes, not your skin) can improve overall mood for many, even those who feel perfectly okay.
E.M. Forster’s most famous line is “only connect.” The veteran Bloomsbury group member was correct. People who are more socially connected get depressed less often. People who are suffering from depression generally want to hide and avoid others, which makes their symptoms worse. Social support is a robust factor in keeping all of us alive, but it’s particularly helpful when you’re depressed.
Look at what you can do, not what you can’t.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy generally works as well as medications to treat depression, and aids medication treatment to boot. Though best carried out by people who know what they’re doing, cognitive treatments can partially be learned from books and articles. It’s about training the brain to think in terms of solutions, not problems.
Humans are built to move. Terrestrial life is built upon rhythm. A great way to combine them is to dance—with those you love, or even alone.
Even if you can’t dance, move to music.
Music makes people feel better. Moving to that music, however you do it, makes people feel still better. (There is now a university group in Salzburg which treats depression with music alone.)
Keep your body clocks straight.
Time rules life. If your body’s inner time gets out of alignment, with you sleeping in the daytime rather than at night, much of your physiology will not work well. Resetting your clocks resets you.
Read history and the classics.
Life has generally been crazy throughout history, even if present days look more than usually nutty. Economies and countries have blown up before, and people have found innumerable ways to effectively respond. Humans are fundamentally resilient. We get through. Some of the best wisdom in the world has been around for hundreds or thousands of years, and can provide solace for the tragedies of individual life.
What You Can Do Now
About 30% of the American population will get depressed in their lifetime. You don’t have to be among them.
However, if you do become depressed, remember that there are many treatments—psychotherapies and medications—that do help. Many work better together—and will work synergistically with some of the techniques listed above.
Remember that your body stays alive through regeneration. We remake ourselves, just like an oak tree grows from an acorn. And we regenerate quickly.
Think of what regenerates you every day and you’ll have a good shot at avoiding depression—and dealing with it if it comes. The above list is one quick way to start the process.
Dr. Matthew Edlund, M.D., M.O.H., is an internationally recognized expert on rest, sleep, and body clocks. His books include The Body Clock Advantage, Designed to Last, and Psychological Time and Mental Illness. His new book, The Power of Rest, shows that rest is a skill that rebuilds, renews, and rewires mind and body, and can increase productivity, health, and pleasure. For more information, visit his website, TheRestDoctor.com. You can also subscribe to his new Fitcast via the iTunes Store.