From the moment my eyes open in the morning until the second that I pull my sleep mask over my face as I go to sleep, I am engaged in battle: I must protect myself with armor against ongoing negative intrusive thoughts that flood into my brain, while sending my prefrontal cortex — the home of logical thought — the green light to make decisions and to take charge of my brain’s limbic system (the emotional hub). That is, before the amygdala (fear center) spazzes out.
I start the day in the pool. I show up before I can even think about what I’m doing diving into ten feet of cold water loaded with chlorine with a bunch of other nutjobs. Tom Cruise believes that all a depressed person needs to do to get rid of the blues is to strap on a pair of running shoes. I think a few other steps are needed; however, exercise is the most powerful weapon I use every day to whack the demons.
2. Record my “joys.”
A very wise person once told me to try to let go of the big thoughts (“Why do I suffer from depression?” “When will I feel better?” “Will I ever feel good again?”) and concentrate instead on the little joys that happen throughout my day, to allow those unsuspecting moments of delight carry me over the ones fraught with anxiety and sadness. So each day I record in my mood journal a list of joys: a long swim with friends, my daughter’s little hand in mine as we crossed a street, my son’s proud expression after making a three-point basket, seven hours of sleep, a warm dinner.
3. List my accomplishments.
I started to do this when I was too depressed to work. As someone who had always attached her self-esteem to career achievements, I felt completely worthless when I couldn’t produce a single piece of writing. I read books by positive psychologists and happiness experts like Dan Baker, Ph.D., director of the Life Enhancement Program at Canyon Ranch, who said to start with small accomplishments, and build strength and confidence from there.
Charlie Chaplin once said, “To truly laugh, you must be able to take your pain and play with it.” I suppose that’s why some of the funniest people out there — Stephen Colbert, Art Buchwald, Robin Williams, Ben Stiller — have journeyed through periods of torment.
I’ve read more than 100 articles on how meditation can help relieve depression and anxiety. Research has shown that formal practices of meditation can halve the risk of future clinical depression in people who have already been depressed several times, its effects comparable to antidepressant medications.
6. Take DHA and vitamins.
Okay, this is coming from someone who gets vitamin catalogs sent to her house, but I believe that a brain armed with all the right nutrients is going minimize your struggle with depression by at least 50 percent.
7. Drink a power smoothie.
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so I start off with a smoothie of kale, chard, spinach, or collard greens mixed with pineapple or strawberries. Then I add a potent probiotic, a powdery mix containing bacteria (yep, you read that right) that helps keep the intestines healthy and supports digestion.
8. Avoid sugar and grains.
Bestsellers “Grain Brain” by renowned neurologist David Perlmutter, M.D. and “Wheat Belly” by preventative cardiologist William Davis, M.D., should be required reading for anyone prone to depression and anxiety. Both authors explain that the cornerstone of all degenerative conditions — including depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder — is inflammation, and the most prominent stimulators of inflammation in our diet are gluten and sugar. We get into trouble because we can’t feel the inflammation in our brain like we can in other parts of the body, so we rarely link a kind of food we eat with our mood.
9. Use my sun lamp.
This is by far the easiest thing I do on the list. Each morning I turn on the sun lamp on my desk. An hour later, I turn it off. It’s relatively small for producing full-spectrum fluorescent light at an intensity of 10,000 lux. If I have spent a few hours outside, or if I know I will be, I don’t bother.
Lots of folks lump meditation and prayer together. I think they are very different.
Meditation, for me, is a mental health exercise of being aware of my breath and staying in the present moment as much as possible. Prayer is my chat session with God.