I realize there are many forms of depression, and each may have a mixture of roots in biology, psychology and sociology. One may not easily parse out the roots, but if we do certain things to care for our body and mind and connection to others, then we stand a much better chance of preventing depression, or at least reducing its severity when it comes knocking.
Here are the things I know I should regularly practice if I want to stay ahead of depression. And I understand these to be with fairly strong scientific or traditional support:
I need to sleep sufficient hours – over 8 for me. I can handle one night off, and maybe two in a row. But my immune system and mental state really start to crash after that.
I need to keep to a fairly regular routine, with a steady bed time and wake time. I realize that I need to be capable of adaptation to unusual circumstances on occasion, but I resist slipping away from that routine.
The sooner I go to bed after sundown (and thereby rise early) the better I feel. This means ‘sleep when it is night time’ and get up with the light, and don’t stay up too late very often. I really suffer with sleep-deprivation hang-overs, and I don’t medicate with caffeine so I feel the full effect, so that motivates me to prevent it.
It is easy to take it for granted, but normal, everyday breathing technique matters. It is a habit for me to breathe from the diaphragm and breathe through the nose as much as possible. Exchanging air deeper in the lungs means more waste removed, more oxygen replenished per breath and less stress on the body. Breathing from the nose provokes the parasympathetic nervous system to keep things in mind calm, clear.
It is important to avoid foods that cause metabolic stress. I aim to eat foods that are lower on the glycemic index to keep blood sugars stable (emphasize vegetables and healthy fats, with a portion of protein and complex carbs). And I aim for micro-nutrient dense foods, with low metabolic liabilities, which are best found in plants.
I’ve written some specifics on this in:
I have questions about vitamin deficiency or hormone imbalance (as I noted in this post Beware Of Nutrition-Induced Depression), so I find it important to get a thorough blood test done and have the results studied by a specialist trained in nutritional intervention for disease and depression.
I keep working on drink more water, which means more than I feel the craving for, because I still have a problem getting enough. Anything with additives, even tea, is just not treated by the body in the same way, so I aim for plain water (often with a squeeze of lemon).
When I hear the healthful command to ‘Move more!” I know it is not referring just to exercise, or even about exercise. In this predominantly sedentary culture we live in, even I need to put effort into reducing the hours of sitting and stationary activities that our modern life imposes and increase the hours I spend moving the body in a variety of ways. The higher the moving-to-sitting ratio I can manage in the day the better.
In my athletics, I plan a mix of moderate work, long work and higher intensity work to stimulate growth in my systems. I aim to do something physically athletic 6 days a week. By having a mixture of physical activities (for me, it is primarily swimming, running and body weight exercises) I can handle more work per week because no single movement pattern is getting attention all the time.
Quiet Things Down
It is very helpful, though not easy, but the brain needs rest and recovery too – and not just at night, but during the day. Intermittent fasting of audio and visual stimulation (think ‘all forms of human-made sensory input such as music, talk, screen time, etc.) provide the brain and the mind with some rest and time to process and remove waste that was building up in the brain from all that processing (yes, the brain has its own lymph system too).
I think of it like eating and digesting food – I eat something and then the body needs time to digest it and turn it into something useful. And, sometimes the body needs extended periods of fasting to clean things out more thoroughly, preparing to be even more efficient when eating and digestion resumes. But a constant stream of food, or too eating too frequently caused digestion problems and eventually disease. So to with human-made sensory input.
Though I am still in the kindergarten of mindfulness training, I find my level of training in my awareness and attention invaluable for life. I’ve learn to observe with more sensitivity what’s happening around me and inside me. And, specific to stress and depression, I am so much more aware of micro-mobilizations, where little things trigger stress and worry and fear, and then I have a chance to respond and defuse them.
The more I observe the health problems of life in me and in people around me, the more I believe this practice and skill is critical for everyone and, if acquired by most people, it would make the world an enormously better place. It is not everything we need, but if this were in place, it would make the development of higher spiritual skills much easier to work on.
It is important to not only observe things around and inside, but to practice talking about it, to myself (in a journal, for example), and to others who care.
I am not alone in this experience. I listen to the stories of others who are working through depression, rising above it. This could be done sitting down with a friend or person on the street. It could be in reading a biography, or listening to a podcast or watching a movie.
I must consciously and deliberately be about something greater than myself – a sense of Purpose in Life, or at least a valued role in the lives of others who need me. I see that I can make a unique and important contribution in at least some small part of this world. This can pull me through times when I care nothing for myself. Being a parent has really helped me get off my ass and keep going when I don’t feel like doing anything for myself.
Loving and living to help others works well.