Banish the Bules
There comes a point in all of our lives when we come to a stark realization: Life sometimes isn’t very fun. The realities of day-to-day existence are challenging, and setbacks common. Life may have been an eye-opening adventure in our youth, our teens, even our 20s, but as time passes, the glee of living gets harder to sustain.
Most of us cope just fine with this fact. With age, exuberance and excitement get replaced by a more subtle but deeper joy. We have families we love, jobs that are meaningful, friends that care, hobbies and vacations that provide real pleasure, accumulated wisdom that gives us a sense of value and uniqueness.
But rare is the person who doesn’t encounter times of major loss or challenge along the way. And for millions of people, the path of life occasionally takes us through the dark regions of depression. Often it is a negative event, or a sequence of events, that triggers this condition. Sometimes it is a shift in our attitudes — from a life half-full to a life half-empty — that brings it on.
And sometimes it is body chemistry itself — an imbalance in the chemicals of the brain that deprives you of the feel-good hormones and casts a long shadow on your moods and emotions.
Depression is a serious condition, demanding a doctor’s treatment. Here we aren’t trying to give you a diagnosis or treatment — that’s for professionals to do. But even if you are taking medication for depression, the following lifestyle tactics may increase the drug’s effectiveness. If you’re simply feeling low, they may give you the boost you need to pull out of it and help you avoid adding another expensive prescription to your list.
1. Spend at least one hour each week with a close friend. In a British study, when 86 depressed women were paired with a volunteer friend, 65 percent of the women felt better. In fact, regular social contact worked as effectively as antidepressant medication and psychotherapy. Regular social contact with a close friend may boost self-confidence and encourage you to make other positive changes that will help lift depression, such as starting an exercise program. Speaking of which — start an exercise program!
2. Eat seafood twice a week or more. A Dutch study found that people who consume diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, a type of fat found in cold-water fish such as salmon and mackerel, were less likely to suffer from depression than people whose diets were low in this important fat. Another study, this one conducted in England, found that pregnant women who didn’t eat fish had twice the rate of depression as women who ate 10 ounces of fish a day. In fact, one reason researchers think the rate of depression has skyrocketed in this country is that we get so few omega-3 fatty acids in our diets. Another good idea for getting your omega-3s: Keep a container of ground flaxseed in the fridge. Use it to sprinkle on everything from ice cream to yogurt to cheese omelets. Mix it into muffin mix, shakes, and salad dressings. Flaxseed is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
3. Play with a dog a few minutes every day. When non-pet owners played with a dog for just a few minutes a day as part of a University of Missouri study, blood levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and oxytocin — both mood elevators — rose. You don’t need to own a dog to experience these feel-good effects (although dogs are great antidotes to the kind of chronic stress that can result in depression). Pet your neighbor’s dog for a few minutes a day, volunteer at an animal shelter, or stop by your local pet store for some furry one-on-one therapy.
4. Take 600 milligrams of chromium picolinate a day if you have depression and insulin resistance. This mineral may improve function of the hormone insulin, which, in turn, may help normalize levels of the mood-boosting brain chemical serotonin. In a study completed at Duke University, people with atypical depression — characterized by mood swings, carbohydrate cravings, weight gain, and lethargy — boosted their mood and reduced their carbohydrate cravings and other symptoms when they began supplementing their diet with chromium. Consult your doctor first, though.