Antidepressant drugs are only marginally effective for most people, and come with a laundry list of side-effects (see my article, 5 reasons to think twice before taking antidepressants).
But when the black dog (as Winston Churchill famously referred to his gloomy spells) is nipping at your heels, you’re obviously going to want relief. Fortunately, there are proven, safe and effective measures you can take which will not only lift your depression, but leave you in better physical and mental health – and therefore reduce your risk of becoming depressed again.
Top tips for bringing your black dog to heel:
1) Get moving
Not only are people who exercise in their leisure time less likely to become depressed (1), but exercise works just as well as medication on people who are already depressed, including those suffering from severe clinical depression (2, 3).
Importantly, the beneficial effect of exercise on mood is long-lasting; one study found that people who participated in a 12-week exercise program not only made significant improvements in their depression, anxiety and self-concept than the non-exercising control group; they also maintained most of these gains through the 12-month follow-up period (4).
In another study which compared the effects of exercise to medication in moderately depressed people, at 10-month follow-up, those treated with exercise only had significantly lower rates of depression than those treated with medication only, or medication plus exercise, suggesting that taking antidepressants may actually blunt the effectiveness of exercise at relieving depression in the long term (5).
Both aerobic and strength training exercise are effective; the most important thing is to get moving!
2) Nourish your brain
Your brain is an organ of your body, and just like any other organ, it will malfunction if you deprive it of nutrients and bombard it with toxins. Brain malfunction results in low mood, negative emotions and recurring negative thoughts (6, 7).
Eating a plant-based, whole-foods, high-nutrient diet takes care of your brain’s nutritional needs and prevents it being exposed to depression-inducing toxins such as aspartame (8), as well as nutritionally depleted and toxin-generating foods such as refined carbohydrate, fried foods, and animal fat (9).
As I wrote in Good mood food, people who switched to a diet that contained no flesh foods or eggs, experienced a significant improvement in their mood in just a couple of weeks, while those who ate fish but no land-animal meat didn’t experience any improvement compared to those on a diet containing meat.
3) Correct nutritional deficiencies
Low levels of several nutrients, including folate and vitamin B12 (10), vitamin D (11) and zinc (12) are linked to depression. Blood tests can determine your levels, and if low, increased intake through diet, supplements and, in the case of vitamin D, judicious sun exposure, will correct the deficiency.
4) Use EFT to overcome blocks to change, and address underlying beliefs that drive depression
It’s all very well knowing that eating better and exercising will help banish your depression, but what if you’re too depressed to even get off the couch? I have found EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques, commonly known as ‘tapping’) to be the perfect tool to get depressed people unstuck. By aiming EFT at all the reasons why you simply can’t go for a walk or make a salad, the resistance to taking care of yourself that is bred by depression starts to melt away.
The next step is to heal from the impact of the experiences you’ve had throughout your life that shaped your core beliefs and set you up for depression.
Most people who battle chronic or recurring depression have beliefs such as ‘I’m not good enough’, ‘I have to be perfect to be worthy of love’, and ‘There’s something intrinsically wrong or flawed about me’. These beliefs are almost always generated by experiences in our childhood.
Fortunately, with EFT and Matrix Reimprinting (a form of EFT that facilitates ‘reprocessing’ of past incidents without retraumatising) we can gently and effectively work through these experiences and ‘rewire’ the brain so we’re able to have new, healthy beliefs about ourselves. A growing body of clinical evidence supports the effectiveness and safety of EFT (13).