Clinical depression is a devastating illness, and profound sadness is just the beginning. Depression can rob people of their energy, memory, concentration, sex drive, interest in usual activities - and in severe cases, even the will to live. Seventy million Americans will be afflicted at some point.
Depression is a serious medical condition and should be treated by a doctor or licensed therapist.
Trap 1: Being a Couch Potato
When you're feeling down, it's tempting to hole up in your bed or on the couch. Yet exercise - even moderate activity like brisk walking - has been shown to be at least as effective against depression as antidepressant medication. It works by boosting the activity of the "feel-good" neurochemicals dopamine and serotonin.
For an "antidepressant dose" of exercise, try at least 40 minutes of brisk walking or other aerobic activity three times a week.
Trap 2: Not Eating "Brain Food"
Omega-3 fats are key building blocks of brain tissue. But the body can't make omega-3s; they have to come from our diets. Unfortunately, most Americans don't consume nearly enough Omega-3s, and a deficiency leaves the brain vulnerable to depression. Omega-3s are found in wild game, cold-water fish and other seafood, but the most convenient source is a fish oil supplement. Ask your doctor about taking a daily dose of 1,000 mg of EPA, the most anti-inflammatory form of omega-3.
Trap 3: Avoiding Sunlight
Sunlight exposure is a natural mood booster. It triggers the brain's production of serotonin, decreasing anxiety and giving a sense of well-being. Sunlight also helps reset the body clock each day, keeping sleep and other biological rhythms in sync.
During the short, cold, cloudy days of winter, an artificial light box can substitute effectively for missing sunlight. In fact, 30 minutes in front of a bright light box each day can help drive away the winter blues.
Trap 4: Not Getting Enough Vitamin D
Most people know vitamin D is needed to build strong bones. But it's also essential for brain health. Unfortunately, more than 80 percent of Americans are vitamin D deficient. From March through October, midday sunlight exposure stimulates vitamin D production in the skin - experts advise five to 15 minutes of daily exposure (without sunscreen). For the rest of the year, ask your doctor about taking a vitamin D supplement.
Trap 5: Having Poor Sleep Habits
Chronic sleep deprivation is a major trigger of clinical depression, and many Americans fail to get the recommended seven to eight hours a night. How can you get better sleep?
Use the bed only for sleep and sex - not for watching TV, reading, or using a laptop. Turn in for bed and get up at the same time each day. Avoid caffeine and other stimulants after midday. Finally, turn off all overhead lights
Trap 6: Avoiding Friends and Family
When life becomes stressful, people often cut themselves off from others. That's exactly the wrong thing to do, as research has shown that contact with supportive friends and family members can dramatically cut the risk of depression. Proximity to those who care about us actually changes our brain chemistry, slamming the brakes on the brain's runaway stress circuits.
Trap 7: Mulling Things Over
When we're depressed or anxious, we're prone to dwelling at length on negative thoughts - rehashing themes of rejection, loss, failure, and threat, often for hours on end. Such rumination on negative thoughts is a major trigger for depression - and taking steps to avoid rumination has proven to be highly effective against depression.
How can you avoid rumination? Redirect attention away from your thoughts and toward interaction with others, or shift your focus to an absorbing activity. Alternatively, spend 10 minutes writing down the troubling thoughts, as a prelude to walking away from them.
Trap 8: Running with the Wrong Crowd
Scientists have discovered that moods are highly contagious: we "catch" them from the people around us, the result of specialized mirror neurons in the brain. If you're feeling blue, spending time with upbeat, optimistic people might help you "light up" your brain's positive emotion circuits.
Trap 9: Eating Sugar and Simple Carbs
Researchers now know that a depressed brain is an inflamed brain. And what we eat largely determines our level of inflammation. Sugar and simple carbs are highly inflammatory: they're best consumed sparingly, if at all.
In contrast, colorful fruits and veggies are chockablock with natural antioxidants. Eating them can protect the body's omega-3s, providing yet another nice antidepressant boost.
Trap 10: Failing to Get Help
Depression can be a life-threatening illness, and it's not one you should try to "tough out" or battle on your own. People experiencing depression can benefit from the guidance of a trained behavior therapist to help them put into action depression-fighting strategies like exercise, sunlight exposure, omega-3 supplementation, anti-ruminative activity, enhanced social connection, and healthy sleep habits.