Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplements
Omega-3 fatty acids come from naturally occurring plants and animals that eat them. These fatty acids have been shown to have antidepressant and anti-inflammatory properties, and studies indicate that they help serotonin and dopamine circuits in our brains function more efficiently. Our bodies cannot produce Omega-3 fatty acids, and our diets generally do not provide the optimal Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio necessary for an antidepressant effects. Thus, we recommend that you supplement your diet with omega-3 fatty acids.
You can buy Omega-3 fatty acid supplements at a drugstore or health food store. We recommend brands that give you 1000 mg of EPA and 500 mg of DHA per day (this amount has been shown to decrease depressive symptoms and improve mood). This supplement can be taken by those on antidepressant medications, as there are no known interactions. In general, however, it is always recommended that you inform your doctor of any changes or additions to medications or supplements you take.
In the ancestral environment, people had less time to sit alone and think negative thoughts. There were often activities to do, or other people around to serve as distractions. This is no longer the case, and many people in the modern environment may find they have plenty of opportunity to ruminate.
Rumination, a habit that many depressed people get into, is dwelling on negative thoughts and feelings. Rather than coming up with a solution to a problem and acting on it, people with depression often let their negative thoughts spiral out of control. It is important to recognize rumination for what it is and put a stop to it immediately. Rumination only makes peoples’ moods worse. When you find yourself doing it, do one of these things: call a friend, exercise, write down the negative thoughts in a journal, or do some other pleasant activity (like knitting, reading, or another hobby).
Exercise is one of the most beneficial, but most difficult elements of TLC. A cardinal symptom of depression is low energy, which makes exercise difficult. Initially, it takes a lot of energy to exercise, but once you begin, you’ll find that you have increased energy, and subsequently, increased mood! In fact, several studies have found that exercise is about as effective, if not more effective, than most antidepressant medications.
We’ve found the most effective exercise schedule to get antidepressant effects is 35-40 minutes of moderate physical aerobic activity, at least three times per week. Aerobic exercise is anything like running, walking fast, biking, or playing basketball, which gets your heart rate elevated to about 120-160 beats per minute. Anaerobic exercise (like yoga or weightlifting) is better than nothing, but the strongest antidepressant effects have been observed from aerobic exercise. Lots of people report that finding a regular exercise partner and routine helps them stay motivated.
This element of TLC is most helpful to people who notice that there is a seasonal component to their depression. We recommend that people get at least 30 minutes of bright light exposure per day. You can actually go outside in the sun (take off the sunglasses, but leave on the sunscreen!) or get light exposure from a special light box that emits the same amount of light (10,000 lux).
You should try to get light exposure at the same time every day. Some people like to sit by it while they eat breakfast and read the paper. Some like to sit by it while they read or study in the evening. Experiment to see what works best for you. And don’t miss a day of light exposure if you can help it. This is something that will only work for you cumulatively if you are consistent!
Our ancestors lived in small tight knit communities. Rarely did one do something alone, and community members looked to each other for entertainment, comfort, safety, and support.
You have probably noticed that as you or someone you love becomes more depressed, there is less motivation to seek out others for socializing. Evolutionarily, our brain may interpret depression as an illness. Just as we keep away from others when we have the flu (which gives us time to recover and keeps others from becoming infected), our natural inclination when depressed is to withdraw from our social networks. Unfortunately, this worsens depression.
Thus, it is important to lean on friends and family, not only to get needed social support, but also because spending time with others is a good way to distract yourself from rumination. Try to reconnect with loved ones from whom you’ve grown apart. Telling friends and family about your struggles with depression can help them better understand what you are going through. For family and friends that do not live nearby, utilize phone calls, email, or video chatting.
Many today see sleep as expendable. When there is extra work at the office, studying for finals, or just a late night TV show to watch while you unwind, it is easy to cut into valuable sleep time. Our ancestors did not have many of these distractions – when the sun went down, there may not have been much else to do but sleep.
While everyone varies in the amount of sleep they need, the average is approximately 8 hours of sleep per night. One of the biggest risk factors for depression is sleep deprivation. Thus, it is important to maintain a regular sleep schedule and protect that time for sleep that may be pushed aside when our lives become hectic.
To create a healthy sleep pattern, try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day. Prepare yourself for bed by having a “bedtime ritual”. Dim the lights, turn off the TV and computer, put on your PJs, and do a quiet activity, like reading. Avoid caffeine and alcohol for several hours before you plan to go to bed.