Are you having trouble sleeping or concentrating? Are you easily frustrated? Increasingly prone to angry outbursts? Avoiding social situations? Are you gaining or losing weight? Frequently feeling sad? If you’ve said yes to the majority of these questions, and these symptoms have been persisting for weeks or months, you may be experiencing a mild depression.
Sometimes people trace the onset of their down mood back to a stressful period. Sometimes a chronic medical condition simply wears a person down. Being socially isolated, especially as you grow older, can also become depressing. Sometimes people are at risk because depression runs in their family.
Whatever the cause, here’s 10 strategies for dealing with mild depression:
1. Exercise. In a recent review of the scientific evidence, the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that participating in physical activities resulted in significant improvement compared to patients who didn’t exercise. The problem is getting started, which is hard to do when you’re feeling down. So start small – short walks, gentle yoga classes – and work your way up to the recommended 30-40 minutes.
2. Fish and whole foods. People with diets rich in whole grains, produce and seafood have lower rates of depression, according to a 2010 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
3. Positive Psychology. Researchers at UNC Chapel Hill have proven that people are much happier when they learn how to create more positive emotions and are able to attain a ratio of 3 positive feelings for every negative reaction. Sometimes there’s not much you can do to reduce chronic stress. But learning to stay above the 3:1 threshold provides great relief from negative situations. Create counterbalance by generating positive feelings such as gratitude, serenity, hope, joy, interest, pride, amusement, inspiration and love.
4. Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. Another proven approach for alleviating depression is to decrease the number of negative thoughts. CBT teaches patients to identify misperceptions in their thinking that amplify negative feelings, thereby improving their ability to solve problems. CBT also helps patients to spot triggers for negative thinking that lead to negative emotions, and to change their behavior so as to avoid spiraling down. A 2012 Boston University review of various treatments for depression found that CBT is often most effective compared to all other methods.
5. Mindfulness practices. Patients with heart disease who were also suffering from depression attended a 4-day retreat as part of a study at the University of Michigan. They engaged in meditation, journal writing, guided imagery, drumming, and hiking. There was an immediate reduction in their depression, along with increased hopefulness – improvements that were still reported as present 3 and 6 months later.
6. Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Professor Zindel Segal developed this 8 week group approach at the University of Toronto. This treatment is for patients who’ve recovered from depression. It teaches them how to cope with negative emotions and has been shown to reduce the risk of recurrence by 50%. MBCT helps patients to become aware of all their incoming thoughts and feelings and accept them, rather than attaching or reacting to them.
7. Light therapy. Light boxes have proven effective in treating seasonal affective depression that occurs in the dark winter months. Recent research has shown they work for non-seasonal depression as well. Patients in a 2011 study conducted in the Netherlands saw significant improvement after being exposed to a light box for 1 hour each morning. Researchers found the treatment improves the brain’s circadian rhythms, boosts melatonin, and regulates cortisol – all crucial factors for getting a good night’s sleep.
8. SAM-e and B vitamins. 400 – 1600 mg of SAM-e combined with 1 mg of B12 and 800 mcg of Folate has been shown to be effective in raising the level of the brains ‘feel good’ chemicals, reports Victoria Maizes, M.D., director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, in Prevention Magazine.
9. St John’s Wort. Dr. Maizes also recommends 900-1500 mg daily of a standardized extract of 3-5% hyperforin, the active ingredient in this herb. She cites nearly 30 studies that show this treatment works as well as standard antidepressants. Consult with your own physician before starting any supplement.
10. Antidepressants. Although almost 25% of middle-aged women take antidepressants, there is questionable evidence regarding their effectiveness for mild depression, according to the internationally respected group of researchers known as the Cochrane Collaboration. They recommend that psychotherapy be the first-line treatment for mild to moderate depression, with antidepressants being reserved for people with more severe or chronic depression. In other words, try 1-9 first.