5 Natural Ways to Treat Anxiety and Depression: The Vermont Family Doctor Says, Issue # 1
It's January, and for those of us in the northern hemisphere, that means short days and grey skies, especially if you live in Vermont, which I (thankfully) do. Short days and grey skies, in turn, have a deleterious effect on mood--and that means for everybody, not just the approximately 1/3 of people at northern latitudes who meet the criteria for Seasonal Affective Disorder. It seems timely, then, to write a post about the best ways to boost mood without medication.
1) Get your ass moving: I could write an entire thesis on the mood effects of Exercise (fortunately for your mood I won't) but it would take too long and I want to go hiking later this morning. Suffice it to say that exercise causes your body to release endorphins, a chemical that has the effect of reducing stress, boosting mood, and decreasing the perception of pain. The best part about endorphins is that, unlike morphine to which endorphins are related, they don't engender addiction or habituation. Hot Damn!! Talk about the perfect drug! And it's naturally produced and free--all you need is a pair of hiking boots (or running sneakers or swim trunks or a rowing machine, etc.) If that's not enough to get you headed to the gym, exercise is also a proven way to boost self-esteem, and the sense of the well-being that comes from regular exercise is an independent promoter of good mood.
Here's a great article from the Mayo Clinic on the subject: Exercise and Depression
2)Into the arms of Morpheus: It wasn't until I became a resident physician that I came to understand the importance of Sleep. Well, I wasn't getting any (minimum 80 hour work weeks and TWO kids, both born during my residency) and Man, Oh Man was it an effort to keep my spirits up. Every once in a while, Morpheus would toss two or three nights of good sleep my way and the effect on my mood and spirits (not to mention my irritability index) was dramatic. I don't want to put you to sleep <grimaces from bad pun> with the medical literature on the subject, but suffice it to say that studies documenting the link between sleep and mood are rife and irrefutable. Take home message: Turn your damn computer off (after you finish this article and share it with your friends) and shut off the lights. zzzzzzzzzzz
The Link between Sleep Deprivation and Depression
3)Hit the Lights: As I referenced above, light has a lot to do with mood. I think most people would agree with this, but the issue is: What the heck can I do about it, other than move to Southern California? (And who can afford to do that?) Well, in the mode of killing three birds with one stone, why don't you skip lunch (we'll talk about the role of food and mood next) and go for a walk: Exercise, daylight, and fresh air all at once. Talk about being in a good mood. If you simply can not get outside for the natural stuff, buy a bright light, and use it every day for at least 1/2 hour.
How to treat depression with Light
4) You are what you eat: To all of you people who rely on M&Ms (yes, me...) to get you through the day, this one is for you. While there is no doubt that Skittles gives you a boost when you chomp a handful (Just ask Marshawn Lynch) you have to realize that the boost is very short term. The big spike in blood Sugar you just got from eating that whole bag of circus peanuts (substitute Gummi Bears, Candy Corn, Jelly Beans, etc,) leads to a big spike in insulin, which then drastically lowers your sugar levels, making you feel like a nap is the best idea in the world. Even worse, fluctuating blood sugar plays havoc with the levels of serotonin in your brain, adversely affecting your mood. Plan: Stay away from simple carbs, such as sweets, juices, sodas, sugars, etc.
If you want to read more about it, here's the link to A WebMD article on Food and Mood
5)Get Unplugged: The data is undeniable. Too much Screen Time causes depression, increased anxiety, irritability and loss of focus. Although the studies have been done mostly on children and teens (brains in formation) there is good evidence to suggest screen time has similar effects on adults as well. I can't imagine this surprises you, and it begs the question: How much is too much? This is still being worked out, and is probably the area where the distinction between forming brains and formed brains is most important. Keep something in mind: the frontal lobe (the area of the brain where decision making and judgment happen) doesn't stop forming until at least 25 years of age. So turn off the TV, take a walk instead; put away the X-Box, play Scrabble; Shut down the laptop, read a book instead (I can find the opportunity for shameless self-promotion anywhere).
Interested in more? Screen Time and Mental Health
The New American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations on screen time limits.
Peter Hogenkamp is a practicing physician, public speaker and author living in Rutland, Vermont. Peter's writing credits include The Intern, coming April 2020 from TouchPoint Press; Absolution, coming October 2020 from Bookouture, an imprint of Hachette UK; and THE LAZARUS MANUSCRIPT, a stand-alone medical thriller; Peter can be found on his Author Website as well as his personal blog, PeterHogenkampWrites, where he writes about most anything. Peter is the founder and editor of The Book Stops Here, the literary blog for readers and writers written by authors, editors, agents, publishers and poets. Peter is the creator, producer and host of Your Health Matters, a health information program, which airs on cable television, streams on YouTube and sounds off on podcast. Peter tweets--against the wishes of his wife and four children--at @phogenkampvt and @theprosecons. Peter can be reached at email@example.com or on his Facebook Page.