6 Habits for Dramatically Reducing Depression

Patient Expert

It's a safe bet to say that anyone experiencing symptoms of depression would like it to go away. The tricky part is many people suffering from depression are reluctant to get the help that they need.  The stigma surrounding mental health causes people to try to bury the issue or "deal with it" instead of finding the right treatment that will help. Or they get prescription medication in hopes of fixing it. But what if there was another way?

Stephen Ilardi has developed a program for reducing depression that he talks about in his book, The Depression Cure.

Don't get me wrong; I believe that medication can play a critical role in the ability to fight depression. If you are suffering from symptoms of depression it is important to seek help from a licensed professional first. But, when you are working on recovery, the program from this book is a powerful supplement to your existing treatment regimen. It will improve your quality of life and help you prevent future crises.

The steps in Ilardi's program are rooted in the idea that humans were much healthier in past civilizations. People were designed to be hunters and gatherers, and when we live in that lifestyle, our bodies function optimally. One study interviewed 2,000 individuals living in a tribe in New Guinea and found that only one was clinically depressed. They were living stressful lives, but they knew how to grieve and then move on from trying times. Ilardi believes that this is due to their lifestyle. Here are the six steps included in Ilardi's program that can help you accelerate your recovery from depression:

1. Physical activity

We know that exercise is good for us, but when we are depressed, it's hard to care about it. Ilardi doesn't believe that modern-day exercise routines are natural. People in ancient civilizations that were healthier than we are today were not hitting the gym. Instead, they were leading active lifestyles. Ilardi found that by just going for a brisk walk for 30 minutes three times a week the levels of dopamine and serotonin in your brain increase. Doing this has the same effect that anti-depressant medication has.

2. Consume Omega-3 fatty acids

Very few of us eat the same way that hunters and gatherers used to eat. Between fast foods, processed foods, and other convenience items we are lacking many of the nutrients that our bodies need in order to thrive. Research suggests that we should consume between 1,000 to 2,000 mg a day of fatty-acids with a focus on eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

Several studies have found positive results including one that "showed that EPA had an effect on insomnia, depressed mood, and feelings of guilt and worthlessness. There were no clinically relevant side effects noticed." Omega-3 supplements can be purchased at most local stores and pharmacies. Ilardi recommends taking this along with a multivitamin and Vitamin C.

3. Sunlight

When we don't get enough sunlight during the day, our serotonin levels begin to drop. The drop in serotonin levels leads to feelings of depression and is a primary cause of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). If you live in a colder climate, you have probably experienced this, if only on a minor level. You really notice a dip in your mood after a few days without the sun. When you struggle with depression, getting the right amount of sunlight is even more critical. You should aim to get 15 to 30 minutes of sunlight every morning. If you live somewhere that the weather won't cooperate with you, use a lightbox inside as the next best option.

4. Get eight hours or more of sleep each night

The right amount of sleep plays a vital role in our mental and physical health. Tribes of hunters and gatherers tend to get eight to 10 hours of sleep each night. The average American gets six to seven hours and many people brag on their ability to thrive on only four or five. Scientific studies show that our bodies need more sleep than we are getting. While you may not be able to get a full 10 hours of sleep each night, you should be shooting for around eight.

5. Engaged activity

When we are engaged in an activity, we do not spend time ruminating. When we dwell on thoughts over and over again it often leads to anxiety and depression. Choosing activities that force you to engage your mind so you are not able to mull over the same thoughts that bring you down will help in reducing depression. This is as simple as starting a conversation with someone else. It doesn't need to be anything significant, just something to distract your thoughts from ruminating.

6. Social connection

Social connection is another key to reducing depression. When we struggle with depression, we tend to withdraw and pull away from the people in our lives. Although it appears to make feeling depressed more manageable, it is one of the worst things that you can do. We need social interaction, especially when we don't feel like it. We need support from loved ones around us. Make sure you have a few people in your life you can reach out to when you are struggling, and who know they need to reach out to you if they notice that you are pulling away.

Making these changes will help

The statistics on mental health are staggering. The age that people begin dealing with depression continues to get earlier and earlier, and the numbers are rising. Doctors continue to prescribe anti-depressants as more people continue to need them. As I stated previously, I believe that medication can play an important role in dealing with depression. At the same time, these six steps can accelerate your recovery. And for those not taking prescription medication, these steps may be able to help them get on the road to recovery.

Unless you are willing to uproot and move to somewhere like New Guinea, you are most likely not going to live the hunter/gatherer life. That doesn't mean we can't learn a few things from those who still do in order to help fight depression.

See more helpful articles:

10 Signs of a Depression Relapse

How to Rest When You're Depressed

How to Reduce the Symptoms of Insomnia and Depression