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How is Your Depression Hygiene?

Depression is often confused with many other psychological states - sadness, melancholy, ennui, and grief, for instance - but it is actually quite different than those. Certainly, when we are depressed we may feel waves of sadness, melancholy, or boredom; but those are expressions of a deeper condition, a state of being cut off from one's own life force and soul. It is currently en vogue for mental health professionals (especially psychiatrists) to attribute depression to biological factors such as genetic predisposition, medical conditions, substance use, or mental illness. For example, The National Institute of Mental Health, one of the largest and most influential mental health organizations in the United States, recently asserted that "Mental disorders are biological disorders involving brain circuits that implicate specific domains of cognition, emotion, or behavior."
In my view, this perspective fails to address the personal, spiritual, social and community dimensions of depression (both its causes and its solutions). In psychotherapy, I tend to focus not on the eliminating the symptoms of depression but on helping my clients understand the underlying causes of those symptoms. This often leads to significant change and growth - and a strengthened capacity to reflect on oneself and one's choices, thus enabling you to choose better for the future. That is not to say that taking medication for depression cannot help; it may provide a great deal of relief, particularly in severe cases. But there are many easy, natural ways that you can manage depression as well. Collectively, these natural methods constitute "good depression hygiene" - simple things you can do to maintain mental balance, clarity and buoyancy.
I. Exercise

Regular, moderate exercise can be as effective as antidepressants in combating mild to moderate depression. That means that walking for 35 minutes a day can help your body produce more of the chemicals it needs to keep your mood stable. More importantly, taking the time to walk - preferably in nature - is way of giving yourself a dedicated break from the daily bustle of your life. This is an opportunity to reflect, practice being in the present moment, become more in touch with your body and your senses, see a new part of your neighborhood, get some...

II. Sunlight

Getting enough natural sunlight is essential for maintaining mental health. Studies have shown that countries at higher latitudes (and consequently receive less sunlight) have significantly higher rates of depression. Try to get at least 15 minutes of mid-day, non-SPF-mediated sunlight each day. If that isn't possible or practical, try buying a full-spectrum UV lamp and taking vitamin D3.

III. People

Depression and social isolation often go hand in hand, and they frequently exacerbate one another: the lonelier you are the more likely you are to fall into a depression; and the more depressed you are, the less desire you will have to interact with others. We are wired to be in relationship with one another. So even if you don't feel like it, try to force yourself to interact with people whom you can trust and rely on - it can be something low-key, like cooking dinner or watching a movie together. Just try to get in some face-time (social media isn't as effective.)

IV. Diet

What we eat can have a huge effect on how we feel, particularly on our energy levels. Eating well (and the right amount) helps our bodies repair and manufacture more energy. Make sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, minimized sugar and processed foods, and drink lots of water.

V. Avoid Depressants

In the same vein, avoid substances that have a depressive effect on your mood and nervous system - particularly alcohol and depressive drugs like marijuana. Although they may make you feel better temporarily, they will only worsen your depression over time. Using these substances may also be preventing you from dealing with your feelings head-on. Try to find ways to relax or unwind naturally - go for walks, meditate, take a bath, have sex, listen to music, play with your pet, or read a book.

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