Sometimes life is hard. Sometimes we get sad. It’s a natural and necessary reaction whenever bad things happen. If the sadness stays with us, it is called depression and I believe depression is neither natural nor necessary. Most of us have been there, some more often than others. That dark state of mind seems to drain all energy out of you. Some even lose the will to live.
This blogpost is for you who suffer from depression and I will give you five things you can do to stop those dark thoughts. I am not a trained psychologist, but I have worked as a therapist and more importantly, I have been a sufferer of depression from time to time. Some say depression goes hand in hand with creativity (I’m a novelist), that it’s a necessary evil for creative people, but I don’t know about that. What I do know, is that there really are things you can do do stop depression.
First of all, we need to understand that depression is not caused by what happens to you. It’s caused by the way you percieve what happens. I know you’ve heard that before, but let me explain what that really means. Depression is a real, physical reaction in your body. Physical in the sense that your chemistry changes. It really isn’t very wise to view it (or any other mental/mind-related issues) as something non-physical, something that goes on in your mind only. Your mind is just a mixture of solid matter, electricity and chemistry, it really is that simple. So when we get depressed, something changes in that mixture and we want to change it back to how it was before. If you have the wrong mixture, you can get depressed for no reason at all. If you have the right mixture, you don’t really get depressed. You get sad sometimes, but you move on.
So it’s really about changing that mixture.
I’ll tell you right away that I am not a fan of pills and potions. I am not a fan of any toxic substance that alters the human mind, it goes against everything I believe in. The evidence that such substances have any long term positive effect isn’t very convincing either. What we do know, is that there really are healthy, quite simple things you can do to enable your body to keep the above mentioned mixture fine tuned. If you’re already depressed, getting the level of those chemicals where they should be will probably stop your depression. Here are five things you can do to help your body do just that:
1, Change your environment
People living in hunter-gatherer societies rarely get depressed. I studied this a lot when I worked as a therapist and what seems to be going on in those societies is that the pysical activity, the often nomadic lifestyle and the fact that you have friends and family near you in a natural environment keeps you mentally healthy. Also, hunter-gatherers rarely think in a linear fashion. Modern people tend to think about life as past, present and the future, which is obviously an impossible way to view things. (There is no way to measure the present, there is only past and future.) Hunter-gatherers think in a more circular way, where everything, including yourself, is part of a cycle. In my culture, the Norse, that life cycle concept is called the rók. That is not only a wiser way to view life, it is also much easier for the human mind to understand.
Now, you can not go out into the woods and live there today. I get that. But if you suffer from depression, it can be a good idea to change your environment. I know that if you’re depressed right now, you probably feel you don’t have the energy. But if your house was burning, wouldn’t you go out? I think you would. And depression really is like that. It gets worse as time goes on, and if you just sit there, those flames will start burning you and life seems untolerable. You need to get out before that happens.
Changing your environment forces your brain to rewire. It is very hard to bring your depression with you if you’re thrown into a very different environment. For instance, if you live in a city and struggle with depression, and then sign on as a crew in a Trans-Atlantic yacht race, you would probably not suffer from depression very long.
Of course, people say that the depression will be waiting when you get back. To that I say: Why go back?
2, Be with friends
Homo Sapiens is a pack animal and our minds are designed so that we are happiest when we’re with other people. Some of us thrive in solitude, I know I do. But that is different, because we know we can go back to friends and family whenever we want to. The solitude is not forced upon us. When it is, we get lonely and depression often follows. Having friends makes you happier, but make sure those are good friends with a healthy view on life.
If you have no friends, look above. You’re probably in the wrong environment. Move. Get out of that hole you’re in and find something interesting to do. There will be other people there who share your interests.
3, Get physical
Intense physical activity helps fight depression. That is a scientific fact. I used to believe that lifting weights was the best way to deal with depression, and I still think it helps a lot, but so far we can only say with certainty that intense cardio workouts have an effect. That would be hill running, interval swimming sessions, short distance cycling and so on. Such workouts have the effect that the chemicals causing depression have to get out of the way to make room for «good» ones and that will make you feel better.
4, Get the right food
No, I’m not going to preach that processed food is all bad, that refined sugar is a poison and so on. I will, however, say that most people simply eat too much and what they eat, is not what they should be eating. To fight off depression, you need to get enough of certain vitamins and nutrients:
Vitamin B6 and B12: Essential for your well-being. A diet rich in animal protein will have more of these vitamins than a vegetarian diet, but everyone not watching their diet could suffer from a vitamin B deficiency.
Fish oils: Essential for your brain functions.
Vitamin D: Not really a vitamin, but a hormone. Your body makes it when exposed to sunshine. People in nothern areas (like Norway) and people who cover themselves up in clothes for some reason are vulnerable.
5, Keep the right perspectives
There are people who would to anything to be able to life your life, even if it’s not perfect. Never forget that. Even if your spouse just left you, you’re broke and your house is burning down, there are people who would consider living your life a dream come true. If you are somewhat healthy and not starving to death, you have every reason to feel blessed. Yes, we do suffer loss in our lives. But most of us still have a lot and any reasonably healthy person should consider himself/herself rich and fortunate.
So there you have it, five things you can actually do to stop that depression or at least dramatically reduce its impact. It’s really about change — changing how you think, what you do and where you do it. I often say that depression is anxiety that is not dealt with, and that anxiety is a sign that something is needs to change. You don’t always need to make huge changes. Sometimes small things like scheduling a woodland walk with a friend at a given time every week can be just what you need to get out out that depressive state of mind. (Forest walks are said to lower depression, by the way.) There are other things you can do as well, and my list here is by no means exhaustive, but I know that whatever you do, do something. If you’re struggling with depression and you continue to live your life as you’ve been living it so far, you are guaranteed that the depression will not go away. So make those changes. Start today.
-Bjørn Andreas Bull-Hansen
Read more: The Day Odin Gave Me A Blanket