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What You Can Do About Depression

Excerpted from John Preston, Ph.D.


Over hundreds of thousands of years, the human brain evolved to what it is today. Though the brain consists of biological hardware, it is an open system that reacts to our external environment (and our internal thoughts). With the advent of modern culture, we have changed the environment that our brain has relied upon for regulation. While we might not want to turn back the clock on our culture, we can more approximate the conditions of bright light, exercise, sleep, nutrition, and social interaction that allows for emotional well being.


1.      Bright Light

·        Our primitive ancestors evolved in equatorial Africa.  We were outdoors all day and exposed to 12 hours of bright light year-round.

·        Bright light helps to both reset the circadian (24 hour sleep wake cycle) as well as reduce symptoms of depression.  Exposure on the retina travels to various centers in the brain.

·        Spend 10 minutes every morning outdoors in the bright light without sunglasses.  Even overcast days provide sufficient light.

·         Some people may prefer high intensity full spectrum light boxes which can be purchased for apx. $250. As 2500 lumens is needed on the retina, a 10,000 lumen light is recommended. (Northern Light 800-263-0066 or ETA Systems 800-321-6699).

·        Repeated exposure of 10 to 60 minutes helps reduce depression in most sufferers.


2.      Exercise

·        Our ancestors spent a minimum of 4 hours per day exercising in the pursuit of hunting and gathering.

·        Exercise improves our ability to maintain “deep sleep” (which is necessary for seratonin production).

·        Exercise increases production of BDNF which causes nerve growth in the areas of the brain responsible for depression.  This appears to be same mechanism by which anti-depressants work.

·        Exercise enhances pain tolerance, increases self-esteem, and reduces stress.

·        10 minutes of brisk walking may provide a 1-2 hour “quick fix” for the down moments of our day.

·        10 minutes of exercise 3 times per day can reduce depression symptoms in a few as 10 days.

·        20 minutes of exercise (with a 10 min. warm-up and a 10 min. warm-down), 3-4 times per week can reduce depression symptoms as much as anti-depressants by the 20th week

·        As it is hard to motivate a depressed person to exercise, hiring a personal trainer for several months is a great way to increase follow through. 



3.       Sleep

·        While we may not need to sleep 12 hours per day as did our ancestors, sleep deprivation, inadequate “deep sleep” and circadian clock alterations can precipitate depression.

·        Deep (delta wave) sleep is necessary for production of seratonin and other neurotransmitters

·        Choose a regular sleep schedule and keep to it, even on the weekend.  This helps keep the circadian rhythm (24hr sleep-wake cycle) stable.

·        Do not use alcohol, tranquilizers (like Xanax and Valium), nasal decongestants and Sudifed, at bed time, as it disrupts deep sleep. 

·        Sleep aids, Sonata and Ambien, and the anti-depressant Trazadone work well and do not disrupt deep sleep.

·        Do not have any caffeine.  Even if taken before 12 noon, it greatly reduces deep sleep.

·        If you want to try Melatonin, take ½ mg at 6 pm.  You may not notice any effect, but it helps reset the circadian rhythm.

·        Unnoticed muscle tension can inhibit falling asleep.  A warm bath or Jacuzzi an hour before bed can help.  Systematic Muscle relaxation recordings are helpful as well.

·        “De-activating” your mind is helpful.  Reading a boring book or watching a boring movie before bed can help.

·        Ruminations can be “let go of” by writing them down or recording them before bed.


4.      Nutrition

·        Your brain is made of fatty proteins.  Having sufficient omega 3 fatty acids or the proper balance of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids is important.

     Omega 6 fatty acids are provided in abundance in our fast foods. Omega 3 fatty    

     acids are found in deep sea fish (salmon, tuna, mackerel) and in flax seed oil. 

·        A daily supplement of 500 mg of Omega 3 fatty acids, 2 times a day has been shown to be helpful for many people with depression. 

·        As there is concern about mercury and pesticides levels in fish oil, molecularly distilled DHA  or flax seed oil capsules can be used instead.


5.      Social Interaction

·        Through most of our history and in many societies today, people live and work in    

            larger social groups of extended family or tribes.  We are social animals.

·        It is well established that good social support systems lessen psychological and even physical recovery from illness or trauma.

·        Increasing social interaction improves emotional functioning and counteracts depression.

·        Get together with friends or a group of people on a daily basis, even if you are not fully into it. It is not necessary to talk about problems or issues.

·        For some people, even a pet is very helpful to have.

·        Volunteering and doing for others can be very helpful in managing depression.


 While the proceeding interventions may seem too simplistic, too time consuming or expensive, they actually are well researched and highly effective.  As depression is a complex phenomena, it makes sense to “hit it” from all sides as opposed to just taking a pill.  As to cost, when you look at the devastating effect that depression can have on your life or compare these interventions to what you would do to rid yourself of cancer, the cost is well worth it.


Wilmes-Reitz Psychological

23945 Calabasas Rd., Suite 202

 Calabasas, California  91302

(818) 591-8270





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