Last night I attended an event at The School of Life called Understanding Depression. Although the majority of my clients do not have depression, one or two do so I wanted to learn more about the causes, symptoms and effective interventions.
Taken by a Neuroscientist some of the content was a little over my head I have to say but I have always understood that clinical depression is mainly down to chemical imbalances, namely the stress hormone cortisol depleting our happy supplies of serotonin and dopamine.
What I didn’t know was that nitric oxide can regulate the levels of these essential chemicals, keeping them in check. And we increase our levels of this gas through pleasure. So in times of stress, it is important to take baby steps towards doing more of the things that we enjoy and that give us pleasure.
Other ways that it was suggested that we can take care ourselves better are listed below. And of course we don’t need to be clinically depressed to benefit from them.
- Talk to people - friends, family, coaches etc.
- Prepare for change by researching it, talk to others who have been through it
- Take time out - make a date with yourself for 2 hours a week to do the things you enjoy
- Physical exercise - just 20 mins a day can work wonders
- Listen to music
- Healthy diet - reduce carbohydrate intake as large amounts can cause mood swings; eliminate caffeine as this increases anxiety; reduce alcohol intake; and eat more mushrooms, eggs, shellfish, green veg, turkey and fish oils.
- Sleep - we need a lot of it. Make sure you get what you need. You know when you’re not getting enough.
- Laugh as much as you can each day.
- Smile, even if you don’t feel like it as the muscle movement releases positive chemicals in the brain that make us feel better.
- Eye contact and hugging release the chemical oxytocin, which we love so try and increase these (where appropriate obviously!).
To end with, the speaker talked about research conducted by Blue Zones which found common factors within the oldest members of our society living without depression or dementia of any kind, even at 120 years old. These factors included the fact they still worked (good thing considering the rising retirement age!); they contributed to society in some way (altruism pays emotionally); they ate as a family every night; didn’t smoke; and lived actively as a member of their community. So perhaps we need to follow suit by putting down our iphones/ipods, talking to our neighbours a bit more and take part in altruistic activities.
After all, it’s good for the brain; science says so.
I really enjoyed my sessions with Alice. They have helped me look objectively at the areas of my life I am happy with and those areas which need a bit more attention. She has put together some thoughtful suggestions on how to improve my life, which have been invaluable.