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Six Lifestyle Habits that Help Fight Depression

Issy Tait, LSCSWIssyTaitValeo Outpatient Psychotherapy Services

Healthy lifestyle habits can help both physical and mental health.  The following are 6 basic lifestyle components that help alleviate depression.

  • Exercise
  • Sunlight exposure
  • Social contact
  • Anti-rumination strategies
  • Sleep hygiene
  • Omega 3 and vitamin supplements

Exercise:  Exercise at least three times a week for 35 minutes. Aerobic exercise that raises the heart rate helps to change the chemicals in our brain that govern depression.

Sunlight exposure: Studies show that getting at least 30 minutes of sunlight five days a week can help people with depression, especially those who have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  Light boxes that reflect broad spectrum light or “white light” can be used when sunlight is not available.

Social contact: Maintaining social contact with others is key to aiding depression.  This can include anything from activity groups, social groups, friend and family contacts, and time spent around others.  There are different levels of socializing (intimate to more casual) and they can all help fight depressive symptoms.

Anti-rumination strategies: The very symptoms of depression can, unfortunately, generate even more depression.  One symptom of depression is to ruminate, dwell on, or over-analyze your thoughts.   Rumination usually comes in the form of negative, stress-based thoughts which leads to a more negative overall mood state.  Noticing that you are ruminating and then distracting from those negative thoughts by getting engaged in an activity that will occupy your mind and bring you back to the present moment, can help stop this cycle.  This takes some practice, but can make a big difference in your mood state.

Sleep hygiene: Most people need 7-9 hours of sleep a night.  Again, a symptom of depression that can cause more depression is oversleeping or not getting enough sleep.  Try to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time each night.  Learn about what mindfulness is.  Mindfulness is a skill that helps people to not get caught up in their thoughts and this can help with sleep as well.  Turning the thermometer down can help our body sleep better.  Make the bedroom a haven that is not cluttered.  Use the bed for sleep rather than activity such as computer work or other projects.   This helps to cue our brain to associate the bed with sleeping.

Omega 3’s and multivitamin supplements: Omega 3’s used to come from grass fed beef and other animals that we ate routinely in our diet. However, many meats now are from grain fed animals and have little of the Omega 3 vitamins that we need.  Omega 3 supplements may help reduce depression.  Talk to your doctor about whether taking an Omega 3 supplement is appropriate for your needs.

If you think you might have depression, I would suggest you talk with a mental health professional.  Your primary care doctor can refer you to one or Valeo Behavioral Health Care offers a full range of assessment and therapy services.   If you are interested in learning more in-depth about these lifestyle components I would suggest getting the book “The Depression Cure.”

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