The number of people battling major depression in the United States is estimated to be roughly 15 million. A highly depressed population results in an underproductive economy and less prosperity throughout the world. People that are depressed generally have a difficult time finding jobs, surviving a work (or school) day, and may find their depression so difficult, that they can’t summon the energy to even go to work.
Depression is insidious in that the longer you have struggled with it, the less likely you are to believe that there’s any escape. Believing there’s no possible escape is why the term “learned helplessness” is synonymous with depression. Whatever we focus our attention on and identify with, changes our brain through a process called self-directed neuroplasticity.
The more we identify with depression and harbor the belief that “nothing can be done to change,” the more that becomes our default way of thinking. Neural pathways that believe we are victims to our genetics get strengthened; we think more of these thoughts. Instead of thinking about our condition logically, we accept the misconception that nothing can be done to improve our situation except pop the flashiest psychiatric drug on the market.
Have you thought logically about your depression?
The reality of depression is that it’s excruciatingly painful, nobody wants to be depressed. Who really wants to be depressed? (Nada). Humans naturally seek out pleasure and avoid pain as a result of innate instinct. The problem with depression is that it taps the emotional center of our brain and makes us think illogically. All logic regarding the root of the actual problem goes out the window, and we start to believe that nothing can be done.
Since we are wired to seek out pleasure and avoid pain, we want the quickest relief possible. The quickest relief is often obtained via mind-altering chemicals (e.g. antidepressants). Drugs are the most heavily marketed and often become a first resort, when in fact they shouldn’t even be considered until we have logically examined our life and determined whether using a mind-altering chemical is really our best option. There is a time and place for drugs and a way to use antidepressants properly, but in general, they should only be utilized after logical lifestyle changes have been implemented.
Overcoming Depression without Meds Using Logic
Perhaps the best way to get directly to the “root” of the depression (rather than covering it up with an antidepressant) is to think about it logically. Ask yourself, “What do I honestly believe is causing my depression?” If you’re feeling extremely down and can’t think logically, look at it from the perspective of being honest with yourself. Discussed below are some common areas of life in which people are often putting off effort in exchange for a pill that serves as a temporary mask to these problems – all of which could contribute directly (or indirectly) to depression.
What are you eating on a daily basis? Has it ever occurred to you that certain dietary habits may have contributed to feeling more depressed? Most people gloss over their diet and nutrition like it’s something that plays zero role in depression. There is an abundance of evidence to suggest that poor nutrition and the wrong diet can lead to depression and other mental disorders.
While there is controversy as to what constitutes a “perfect” diet for depression, most common foods include: vegetables, grass-fed meats, wild-caught fish, fruits, and whole grains. The ideal diet for your brain does not tend to include preservatives, artificial sweeteners, and large quantities of refined carbohydrates. Also, failing to acknowledge your body (e.g. overeating or under-eating) can lead to depression.
Many people who become depressed either: have been using drugs and/or alcohol or will start using drugs and/or alcohol to cope. The problem with both drugs and alcohol is that they solidify the hold that depression will have over you and your brain. While they may provide temporary pleasure and/or escape from depressed feelings, they are a poor long-term strategy.
Certainly I could take heroin every time I get depressed and I’m sure it would make me feel great, but from a logical standpoint, I know that it’s going to create more problems for my depression. If you are using alcohol and/or drugs (other than prescription for a medical condition), understand that they may be strengthening your depression over the long-run and will ultimately make it more difficult to overcome.
If you live in an unsafe environment that is filled with violence, hatred, arguments, and negativity – do your best to escape it. Continuously upgrade your existence by finding a place to live that is safe, free of toxins, and that makes you happy. Even if you cannot move yet, hang out in places for as long as possible where you feel safe.
Stay with friends and/or family that live in a safer, healthier, and cleaner place. Although moving with the mentality that the “grass is always greener” probably won’t make you less depressed, it will make you happier if the grass was never green from the beginning.
Another key component to depression is that of exercise. Numerous studies have demonstrated significant psychological benefits of exercise including reductions in depression. Certain types aerobic exercise are even associated with the growth of new brain cells through a process called neurogenesis. Ironically, taking antidepressants also produce neurogenesis, and some speculate that their ability to promote the growth of new neurons is why they’re effective.
If you aren’t exercising at least a few times a week, the sheer amount of inactivity is likely contributing to your depression. Humans were meant to move around, not sit at a desk, lay in bed, or be slugs all day. Until you’ve come up with a consistent exercise routine, this is a key area of your life you must logically consider as a root cause for your depression.
Most people gather their knowledge about issues from their immediate environment. The problem with this approach is that if you aren’t getting good advice, ideas, or philosophies from your environment, you won’t ever realize that good ideas exist. To accumulate beneficial knowledge, it is recommended to do some exploring and seek out information from other sources such as: books, classes, podcasts, YouTube videos, articles, etc.
While many people can get some good advice from their immediate environment, those who are depressed often need a change in philosophy and/or some sort of inspiration. By seeking knowledge, your perspective regarding life may slowly start to change for the better. You may learn something that you never thought was possible.
You may find some sort of inspiration that you can use to improve your current situation. Also keep in mind that knowledge doesn’t only help expand our perspective, it can help us build skills that translate into opportunity. Continue to learn new skills, become proficient in them, and you may find that certain ones are likely to make you happier and less depressed.
How are your relationships with others? If your relationships are healthy and balanced, you may often find yourself getting caught up socializing and forget about your depression. Quality relationships are difficult to build and maintain, they require mutual respect and fairness. Unfortunately, many people are stuck in abusive relationships where they feel “trapped.”
Instead of getting out of these relationships for fear of loneliness or judgment, people stay “stuck” which is often the root cause of depression. If you are in a “toxic” relationship, have you logically considered the fact that it may be the root cause of your depression? Making changes in our relationships is tough, but proper changes can make us feel more empowered and in control.
If you currently don’t have a relationship or any sort of social life, it may be a worthy pursuit to attempt to make some friends. Rather than complaining about not having anyone in your life, keep trying and attempting to learn what can be done in order to make new friends and build those relationships.
Are you getting enough sleep or oversleeping? Many times people with depression sleep too much, and other times they don’t sleep enough. Determining the sleep quantity (i.e. duration) and perfecting your sleep quality takes time and a lot of self-analysis. If you feel as if your sleep quality is poor, this could be a direct cause of your depression.
Numerous people with depression assume that it’s the depression always causing sleep dysfunction and not the other way around. In reality, the relationship is symbiotic, if your sleep suffers, so will your mood. Those who don’t get sufficient sleep tend to produce significantly different hormones and brain waves than those who’ve gotten a proper night’s sleep aligned with their individual circadian rhythm.
Many people with high stress also have depression, and it’s not really a coincidence. High stress significantly reduces activity within the prefrontal cortex of the brain, an area associated with positive mood, creativity, and relaxation. When we become stressed, other areas take precedence over the prefrontal region, and we get stuck in a negative rut.
If you aren’t managing your stress, this could be another direct cause of your depression. Have you tried things like: meditation, heart-rate variability training (emWave2), or self-hypnosis to help tone down the sympathetic nervous system and beef up the parasympathetic response? Too many people neglect stress management, but it is imperative in the reduction of depression.
Not everyone loves being out in nature and getting sunlight, but humans were not meant to be cooped up inside all day. There is significant evidence linking vitamin D deficiency with depression. The most efficient way for your body to get enough vitamin D is transdermally (through your skin), not by popping an over-the-counter supplement.
While supplementation can be beneficial, there is no evidence that supplementation actually helps with depression. It seems as though you need the real sunlight to actually get the benefit. In addition to getting enough sunlight, being out in nature and breathing clean air can bring significant psychological benefit to the distressed and depressed mind. If you aren’t getting outside each day, this could be reason as to why you’re depressed.
Regardless of whether you’re depressed, you have the freedom to think about whatever you want. You can choose to think about being depressed and ruminate on that thought, or you can think about something else. You have the freedom to choose what you think about just like you have the freedom to choose whether you want to eat an apple or an orange.
No matter your current physical condition, you can hold any thought you can imagine, and focus on it. Even if the majority of your thoughts are negative and depressing, you can still choose to shift that focus for as long as you can on something inspirational, happy, or completely unrelated to your depression. Until you realize this freedom, you may stay stuck in a depressed thinking pattern.
There are exercises that you can use in order to improve your ability to shift your attention away from something you dislike (e.g. depression) to something you do like (e.g. happiness). Various exercises include things like: focused-meditation and visualization (focusing on whatever creates feelings of happiness). Like anything, these exercises do not yield immediate results, but can result in dramatic improvement when practiced over an extended period.
First you should assess whether you are working a job you truly like. If you aren’t working a job that you like, logically understand that this could be contributing to your unhappiness. If you’re unhappy with some aspect of your career, it is up to you to change it.
While an antidepressant may blunt some of the unhappiness that you feel towards your career path, it’s not going to fix the problem. Take some small steps to improve your career by learning new skills, applying for jobs that you really want, or creating your own job. No one said that finding the ideal career would be easy, but if your current career is contributing to major depression, it’s something that’s likely worth changing.
If you don’t have any work, consider that lack of work may be contributing to your depression. There is research suggesting that unemployment changes your personality – often for the worse. Sometimes it may be beneficial to find a job, any job, even if it means volunteering for free so that you feel less depressed.
Having some sort of work provides structure in your routine, can provide personal fulfillment from contribution, and usually involves some sort of compensation. If you aren’t skilled enough to be earning a lot of money, keep learning new skills. Improving your job may also help you earn more money and there is evidence that money can buy happiness.
Are you perfect in every area of life?
No. Nobody is perfect in every area of their life, and perfection isn’t the goal. The goal is to make sure that you are living up to your full potential in every area and are continuously striving to improve. No matter how good you are in one particular area, there’s always going to be someone better, and always going to be room for improvement.
Although you may not be perfect in every area, you can constantly get better in these areas. If you had to honestly rate yourself on a scale of 0 to 10 in all of the aforementioned areas of life, how would your ratings look? Most people are at a “10” in one area, but damn near at a “0” in another area – usually one that they have “put off” dealing with.
If you want to experience the most benefit, target the areas that you’ve rated yourself the lowest. If you’re at a “0” in a particular area, work on improving it. If you’re at a “0” or ranked yourself low in several areas, just pick one and work on it. By improving from a “0” to even something as small as a “3” could result in a major positive change in your mood.
Make one simple change at a time…
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and you probably won’t notice an immediate improvement in your mood in one day. Too often people will read an article like this, get hyped up and try to be “perfect” in every area of their lives. They will be “gung-ho” about making changes, but this type of mentality doesn’t produce long-term results. As soon as the hype dies, the person falls back into their old patterns of thinking, eating, exercising, etc.
I challenge you to make one positive change in a key area of your life that you’ve been neglecting or putting off. Keep it up for at least 90 days before picking a new area of your life to improve upon. By picking just one thing to change for the better, you’ll be improving, yet you won’t be overwhelmed with changes in other areas of your life.
If you can’t think of what to pick, think about what area you believe will give you the best bang for your effort. If you honestly think that changing your diet will result in the most improvement, do that. If you think that volunteering will improve your mood the most – then do that. The hardest changes are often the ones that we don’t want to do, but will bring the biggest bang for the buck.
The Power of “Synergy”
As time continues to pass and you’ve made significant changes in a couple areas of your life, you may notice synergistic effects. Synergy is defined as: “the interaction or cooperation of two or more agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.” In other words, you may notice that changing your diet may have improved your mental health, but when you added exercise to the equation, it served as a force multiplier.
The combination of improving your diet from a “0” to a “4” and your exercise habits from a “1” to a “3” produced a greater change as a result of the combined effect. As you strive to improve in various areas of your life, you may notice that the improvements may result in synergistic antidepressant effects.
Are all cases of depression treatable without drugs?
No… that’s not the underlying message of the article. The underlying message is to honestly evaluate your life and determine whether lack of improvement in a particular area may be contributing to your depression. If there is a particular area that necessitates improvement in order to boost your mood, seeking out a pill (e.g. antidepressant) is circumventing the root problem.
The problem with treating depression with a pill form is that it often blurs the areas of a person’s life where logical change was necessary in order to feel happier and healthier. Medications may provide short-term benefit, but as most people know – antidepressants eventually stop working due to tolerance. This digs us into an even deeper hole because now we have a newly created antidepressant-induced chemical imbalance.
This inevitably may lead to the trap that is “antidepressant roulette” or constantly switching medications in hopes that we hit the “jackpot.” For many people that “jackpot” never comes, and they end up going through a hellacious withdrawal period, followed by a return to “Square One,” the exact same state of consciousness they were in prior to using an antidepressant.
This article is encouraging you to make logical changes in areas of your life that are subconsciously screaming for change whether it be: exercise, diet, relationships, career, etc. You know yourself better than anyone… where should you start making change?
Why should you even try to overcome depression?
Because if you don’t, it will probably overcome you – it’s really that simple. Those who are depressed may still feel depressed while trying to overcome it, but they know the ultimate goal is to keep trying until something – anything – improves their existence. While we often develop “battle fatigue” after continuously trying, this fatigue is often developed out of neglecting to make the difficult changes of the areas of our life that we’d honestly rate a “0” on the scale to 10.
Battle fatigue may provoke you to give in to the paradigm of “learned helplessness,” but that paradigm leads to nowhere but stagnation. Stagnation will not bring forth any improvement or positive results, you’ll stay stuck in a self-perpetuating state of functioning. Doing what you’ve always done, will get you what you’ve always got. Therefore we need to make some effort to change and at least “try our best” to overcome the depression we’re experiencing.
Don’t take the easy way out…
Most people that read this article won’t actually make changes, they’ll just read more, read more, and flood their brain with more information. It is my mission to impact at least ONE person that actually “gets it” and isn’t going to take the easy way out. I hope that just ONE person finds some way that they can improve an area of their life so that they feel better, think better, and function better with their depression than before.
Although the depression isn’t going to disappear overnight, it will slowly improve over time. Once you’ve mastered improvement in one area of your life, soon you will be onto another area. In a matter of a few years, you can become an entirely new person. Even if you are on an antidepressant, improving various areas of your life will likely have a positive impact on your mood – the science supports it.
It may not seem fair that you have to optimize every aspect of your life in order to feel less depressed, but life isn’t fair. I could eat cookies all day, smoke weed, watch TV, stop working, and complain about not having a job if I wanted. I could then seek a weight loss drug for the weight I gained as a result of my dietary choices, and I could take an antidepressant for the passionless pit of pop-culture drivel my life has become.
The alternative consists of examining my life logically and making one hard change at a time, which may not be appealing or comfortable in the short-term. In fact, it will likely be a struggle to: eat something healthy (instead of being lazy), exercise (instead of smoking weed), read an uplifting book (instead of TV), and learn a skill to get a job (instead of complaining). However, the consistent ability to sacrifice short-term “quick fixes” and indulgences often yield significant long-term benefits.
Having the discipline to show up every single day and work hard, is generally what gets people back on the right track. Much of society has become deluded into thinking that nothing can be done about depression, when in fact a lot can often be done if a person is willing to put forth effort. If you can take a deep, honest look at yourself in the mirror, knowing deep down that you’ve given every last ounce of effort to overcome your depression, that’s all anyone can ask.