You’re nowhere NEAR being alone if you get the mild winter blahs.You’re nowhere near being alone if you suffer from seasonal depression (or Seasonal Affective Disorder). And nope, you’re also nowhere near being alone if you suffer from completely debilitating depression during the dark, cold months of winter.
We’ve consistently been told that depression is caused by a “chemical imbalance” and therefore must be treated with chemicals to bring us back into balance. But is that really true? Here’s the Reader’s Digest version of how this chemical imbalance theory came about:
Sometimes, drugs are created in backwards order. You would think that scientists would first identify a disease and then create a drug to treat the disease. But sometimes, a drug is created first, and then we find out what that drug does to the body, and then a hypothesis is created around what it does to the body, then that hypothesis is tested, and finally the drug is approved for use. Okay, that’s a little confusing. It’s easier to understand this concept when it’s applied to a specific example, and depression drugs happen to be a perfect example…
So, once upon a time, some drugs were created that change the way the brain processes serotonin (a neurotransmitter that creates feelings of well-being and happiness). Scientists understood how the drugs acted on the brain, but they didn’t know if changing serotonin processes would fix anything. (It’s got to fix something, right?) So they created a hypothesis to test, in the hopes to prove that the drugs fix something, so that the drugs could then get FDA approval and go on to make billions of dollars. The hypothesis they chose to test is: people who suffer from depression have low serotonin levels, and using a drug that blocks the normal reuptake of serotonin will thence keep serotonin levels higher, and cure depression.
But the hypothesis failed. In 1983, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) stated, “There is no evidence that there is anything wrong in the serotonergic system of depressed patients.” In English, this means that people with depression don’t have abnormal serotonin levels. So most logical folks would argue that depressed people’s serotonin levels don’t need to be fixed.
A Way-Too-Simple Depression Treatment Plan?
I can’t explain why the SSIR (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) drugs ended up getting approved to treat depression despite the failed hypothesis. And going into the risks vs. the effectiveness of these drugs should be saved for another article. But what I can offer are real, scientifically proven methods that YOU can do, starting today, that will fight depression, and help prevent enough of your winter blues that you probably won’t even notice they’re there.
What I’m about to tell you seems like such a simple treatment plan that many will scoff at it, and possibly take offense. “It can’t be that simple. This is a serious disease that can be completely debilitating. You can’t just cure it with habits.”
To any of you feeling this way, please know that I’ve been there. Depression is a serious disease. It shouldn’t be taken lightly. In many cases, it’s not something where you can just wake up and tell yourself it’s time to be happy.
I’m writing from personal experience. I have suffered from severe depression in the past. Depression that has taken over almost every area of my life. Depression that has kept me from progressing in life. Kept me from fulfilling my responsibilities and enjoying my most precious relationships. I know what it feels like to be shocked by horrendous thoughts that creep into your head from out of nowhere. And I would be the first to tell anyone off who had the gall to tell me to, “Just snap out of it… Just go for a walk, you’ll feel better…”
Yes, depression is a real disease. But! Yes, it can be reversed. Please take hope in this.
Some people reading this will be able to implement all of the steps below immediately, and as a result, completely avoid any Seasonal Affective Disorder, winter blues, or whatever you choose to call it. That’s great… I wrote this article for you.
But I also wrote this article for the many people reading this who won’t feel they’re able to implement every single step outlined below. That’s okay! Be patient with yourself. Try the ONE step that seems most doable to you. Stretch yourself just a little. Do that item consistently until you see enough improvement that you can add a second step, and then a third.
The steps I have outlined below resulted in a complete turnaround of my depression. I wish I had these tips 10 years ago. Yes, I get the blues occasionally, but they’re quickly reversed when I bring some focus back to these simple steps. Just go with me on this…
Depression Buster #1: Exercise (but not just any exercise)
The amount of research in this area is overwhelming to say the least. There are studies that confirm exercise is as good as (and many times even more effective than) antidepressants. The right kind of exercise creates a change in the brain: it increases your level of endorphins, which are the hormones in your brain that make you feel happy.
Duke University conducted a study in the late 1990s that found that depressed individuals who used exercise as their only antidepressant had the highest depression remission rate (compared to those who exercised while also taking antidepressants, and those who took antidepressants and did not exercise).
But it’s not just any exercise that will zap that depression. Sure, you can go for a long run, or get on the elliptical machine and go at a steady pace for an hour. This will help a little bit. But if you want the maximum happiness effect, you need to rotate 3 types of exercises:
1. Skip the long treadmill jog. Replace your cardio with interval training. Whether your cardio of choice is walking, climbing stairs, or jumping on the trampoline, apply interval training principles by breaking your workout into one-minute segments. All you need to do is walk for one minute, then jog for one minute, then walk, then jog, and so on. Do this for as long as you can, but at least 30 minutes. Interval training not only burns more fat, it also increases those feel-good hormones higher and faster than regular cardio, and the effect will last long after you’re done exercising. You can apply intervals to walking/jogging outside, using the treadmill, the elliptical, climbing stairs, etc.
2. Strength Training releases feel-good hormones too, along with higher levels of HGH (human growth hormone) than cardio will give you. HGH has been shown to be very effective in fighting depression. If you’re not comfortable in the gym, there are so many fantastic options for strength training at home. DVDs and resistance bands can be purchased on the cheap. While it’s not the cheapest on the market, my favorite strength training DVD is here.
3. Mind-Body Exercise. Yoga, Tai-Chi, Pilates… they might seem a bit odd at first, but they go a step further in improving depression. You’re going to get the same benefits as described in the previous two exercises, plus a few bonuses. Stress, anxiety and tension melt away as you focus on movement and breathing. You focus on the present, and connect to your emotions while realigning your energy. It may sound a little nutty, but it’s been studied scientifically, and evidence suggests that it reduces anxiety and depression, along with many other health improvements.
Depression Buster #2: Get Fat
This is something every single person can do starting immediately, and could be the single most effective fighter of depression. I don’t mean for you to gain weight. I mean for you to get as much fat as you can in your diet, especially omega-3 fatty acids.
One of the best ways to do this is to eat a couple Tablespoons of sprouted flax every day. You can sprout them yourself, or purchase sprouted ground flax at your health food store. Other excellent sources of essential fatty acids are walnuts and salmon.
You can get omega-3 fatty acids as a supplement, in the form of flaxseed oil, cod liver oil and krill oil, but keep in mind that these oils are very sensitive to heat, light and oxygen. Choose a certified organic product that is refrigerated, packaged in a dark-colored jar, and keep it in your fridge or freezer when you get home. If you can find one that also contains Vitamin E, that’s even better, because E is a powerful antioxidant that keeps the oils fresh.
Depression Buster #3: Is McKenna a Broken Record?
Were you wondering why I haven’t said the words, “Green Smoothie” yet? Really though, getting optimum nutrition is one of the best ways to ensure emotional health. What you eat and how you feel are intrinsically tied together. It’s not just about avoiding the “bad” foods, though. Making sure you get plenty of the good plays into your emotional health even more. The easiest, fastest and cheapest way I’ve found to get killer nutrition is to drink just one green smoothie a day. For a free book with instructions on how to make one, including 30 recipes, click here: Green Smoothies for Beginners
Depression Buster #4: Keep the Sugar Out
Anyone who doubts the relationship between sugar and emotion just needs to give a child a can of soda and then watch for a couple of hours as utter mayhem and demonic behavior ensue. The same thing happens to adults, we’re just (usually) more culturally trained to keep our demons restrained from public view. 🙂
Your brain depends on a steady level of glucose. When your blood sugar spikes up and then drops rapidly, your brain can’t keep up, and aggressive behavior (usually in children), anxiety, depression, and mental fatigue are often the result. In a study of over 3,000 people published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, those who had a diet high in processed foods were found to have a 58% increased risk for depression.
Replace your refined sugar with natural sweets: fruit, honey, stevia, pure maple syrup, coconut sugar, dates, and occasionally agave are great alternatives. I have several amazingly delicious dessert recipes to help you ditch sugar for good without feeling deprived, here:
Depression Buster #5: Sunshine and D3
Those with low levels of vitamin D are at ridiculously high risk of becoming depressed. And nowadays, being D-deficient is pretty much normal, so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise to anyone that depression is on the rise.
The best way to get vitamin D is by exposing yourself to direct sunlight as often as possible, but not allowing yourself to burn. But in many parts of the world, this is difficult to do during winter, which is one of the main reasons we suffer from seasonal depression.
If you have time to sit in front of it every day, you might consider investing in a S.A.D. lamp, which mimics the UV-B rays from the sun that cause your body to create optimal levels of vitamin D. Amazon.com has many options, and you can read hundreds of user reviews to narrow down your decision.
If you choose to take a vitamin D supplement, look for D3, not D2. Have your health practitioner test your vitamin D levels a few times during winter to make sure you’re within the healthy range, because (although rare) it is possible to get too much vitamin D. A starting dose for adults is 5,000 units per day, although many people need a lot more than this. Please note that I am not a doctor and cannot prescribe a specific dose for you. The only way to know how much you need is to have your blood tested.
My Promise to You
The first year that I used the above treatment plan for depression was 3 years ago. That winter, the only thing I implemented was a vitamin D supplement. The improvements I experienced from just ONE of these steps was incredible. I can’t say that I felt like frolicking about with song every single day. In fact, I didn’t really notice it until around February or March when I all of a sudden realized–wait a minute. I feel completely normal and have all winter long! I can’t believe it!
If you can only implement one or two of the above, start with omega-3 and vitamin D. If you can take a pill every day, you can stretch yourself to do these two things every day. But you need to be consistent. Within a couple of weeks you’ll be feeling a little more like yourself again… and you might already feel great enough to start an exercise routine, which will make you want to eat better by decreasing your sugar and starting a daily green smoothie habit.
Do one of the above, and you’ll begin to feel like the clouds are parting so that your wonderful self can shine through. Do all of the above, and a very powerful synergistic effect will occur that will bring your brain and other body systems into harmony, happiness, and unstoppable energy.
I welcome your respectful comments on depression below. Have you found relief in any of these depression busters? Will you be trying any of them to prevent or get relief from depression this winter?