Depression has been in the news a lot recently with the untimely death of world renown and beloved comedian, Robin Williams.
I, like so many others of my generation grew up watching the whirling dervish of comedy, Mr. Williams, captivate in many of my most favorite childhood films, from “Mrs. Doubtfire” to “Hook” and later as I grew up in tremendously moving performances such as “Good Will Hunting” and “Dead Poet’s Society”. So how does someone who by all accounts has so much to be grateful for – money, celebrity, wife and children- find themselves in such a state of desperation? The not so simple answer is – depression.
All news vehicles cite depression as one of the main causes for Robin Williams’ suicide, and thus it has brought an issue that is often dealt with in private into the public eye and consciousness. Depression is a mind disorder that is defined as:
A pervasive and persistent low mood that is accompanied by low self-esteem and by a loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities.
Depression affects everything in your life from how you perform at work to the quality of your relationships. You see, when you are feeling blue, it colors your world and everything in it. Things, people and activities that once brought you great joy and delight can no longer elicit those same feelings. Motivation to participate in them and in life in general can be hard to find, and thus you can withdraw into a pool of sadness.
If I seem to be speaking rather intimately about depression it is because I have throughout the course of my life struggled with bouts of it as I am certain many of you have. Sometimes depression is happening because of a tragic or life-altering event like when my only brother, Nimrod, was killed, and at other times it seems to come completely out of left field because of completely unexpected reasons. Regardless of the reason for your current state of depression, there are some simple changes you can make without drugs that can actually alter the chemistry of your brain to boost your mood and prevent falling into further depths of depression.
- Get enough sleep: The brain and the overall health of your body are directly linked. When we are physically run down and are not nurturing our bodies in the most basic of ways, our mind follows suit and begins to fray which can bring on depression and low mood. One of the easiest ways to re-set your mind is to ensure your body gets the proper amount of sleep, which is thought to be between 8-10 hours of sleep a night.
- Avoid Sugar: Researchers from 6 countries found a direct link between sugar consumption and depression. For example have you ever gone on a sugar binge where you consumed several sugary treats and felt a jolt of energy, only to find a couple hours later that you felt exhausted and moody. Well there is a reason for that. What goes up, as they say, must come down. Sugar affects body chemistry so if you are noticing a drop in your mood, it is a good idea to cut back and cut out sugar.
- Brain Booster Foods: Just as it is good to reduce sugar intake, it is also a good idea to incorporate Brain Boosting foods. Upping your intake of leafy green vegetables and fruits, while also making sure to eat Omega 3 fatty acids (from fish like Wild Salmon) and other healthy proteins (Chia seeds, lean meats etc.) has been scientifically proven to help with depression. Vitamin D3 has also been shown to have a great impact on mood and often people who struggle with low mood are found to be deficient in Vitamin D. Thus you should take a daily supplement of Vitamin D and Omega 3 rich Fish Oil to naturally boost your mood.
- Move Your Body: You’ve probably heard this before, but it’s absolutely true. Exercise is linked to a better mood. The reason being that moving your body, and getting between 30-60 minutes daily, boosts levels of Seratonin and Dopamine in the Brain and has been proven to have the same benefits (and none of the side effects) as Anti-depressants.
- Connect With Friends and Family: The natural tendency when you are feeling depressed is to withdraw from the world and the people you love, or conversely depression can come on as the result of being disconnected and isolated from people you love and your community. We live in a feeling universe and by nature we are social beings. While it may seem counter-intuitive to your current low mood, the act of connecting and forcing yourself to go out and be among friends and family that love and support you is a great method for treating depression.
- Accentuate The Positive: As I’ve already mentioned, for a depressed person it is very challenging to see the good in their life or in the things around them. While at first this activity might seem ineffective, starting small and acknowledging even the small ways in which things are going well for you can trigger a positivity domino effect and thus ward off feelings of depression. Start small, perhaps you are grateful for the beautiful day you can get out and enjoy on your bike, or a compliment you received at work for your performance, look for the good and hold onto it no matter how small.
- Avoid Drinking and Drugs: Unfortunately drinking and drugs are two of the most common ways people with a mood and brain disorder such as depression use to cope. The problem is both of these methods are not only a slippery slope to addiction but they are also depressants. While you may think you are numbing the pain of continual low mood, you are actually self-medicating yourself into a worse mood and one that you will have much more difficulty repairing.
- Seek Help: While all of the methods I’ve listed are extremely effective and free, I do want to address the fact that sometimes it is important, as was the case with Robin Williams, to seek outside professional help such as a therapist or support hotline when you cannot shake your depression. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you for needing the support of a therapist, and if necessary antidepressants, they are simply more advanced tools to help you get through a difficult time and back on your feet. The important thing to remember is you are not alone, depression does pass, and it is empowering not weak to take the steps necessary for a full recovery.
Would love to hear what you think about these techniques, and if you're taking other actions to beat your depression at times – please do share it with me.