New research has come out the University of Kansas in the United States in regards to a new approach to treating depression. This new approach,Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC), focuses on how modern lifestyle changes in our culture have made us, as a society, more likely to experience depression. Their new TLC programme has shown a 70% success rate in treating depression, including people diagnosed with treatment resistant depression.
When the change began
Since about 5,000 years ago, our society was about half hunter-gatherer, and half agricultural. We lived on the land, and there was no internet, cell phones, etc. It has only been within the past 100 years that our society has become industrial. This is where the change began. Since the industrial revolution began, we spend hours upon hours indoors, sit behind desks, and have almost completely worked any physical activity in our daily lives. In modern hunter-gatherer tribes, such as the Kaluli tribe of Papua New Guinea, only 1 out of 2,000 people showed symptoms even resembling depression. Depression is the new epidemic.
A big factor: stress
While we understand now that depression is more prevalent than it used to be, what caused the change? Part of it is things like diet and exercise, but a big factor is stress. Our fight or flight stress response symptom is important, in that it gave us the energy and power to fight off, or run away from predators and other dangers. However, today our body responds to the stress of a looming deadline in the same way. While we now live in the 21st century, our brain does not. Our stress response is built to only last for 30-60 minutes; but when we stress over deadlines, taking care of finances, etc, we often stress for days, weeks, or months. This chronic stress response leads to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, healthy sleep, etc.
Changing your life for the better
We all know we could do a bit more to be healthy, but there are certain lifestyle changes specifically, that can help reduce your chances of experiencing depression, or help ease your current symptoms.
We all know that physical activity and exercise is good for us, but why don’t we all do it more? Because it’s unnatural! In hunter-gatherer days, we had to save our energy for long hunting treks, gathering food, building homes, and caring for our community. So when we would spend all day walking around, why would we suddenly go run or exercise? W e would be wasting precious energy that we needed for later. Exercise is more than just doing it be thin. Research has shown that exercise is just as effective as antidepressants as a treatment for depression. Exercise is a lot cheaper than medication as well.
Diet: Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Our diets used to contain a 1:1 ratio of Omega 6 to Omega 3 fatty acids, and is now a 16:1 ratio. This is mostly because livestock are now fed grains, instead of eating their own natural diet, and because so many of our foods now are processed. Omega-6 is a pro-inflammatory fatty acid that promotes the risk of depression. Omega-3 is an anti-inflammatory fatty acid, and reduces the risk of depression. The balance of the 1:1 ratio is important, as the correct fats are needed to line the neural pathways of our brains.
Today we tend to sit inside all day, we no longer get the amount of sunlight we need. Sunlight is important for Vitamin D, and to reset our circadian rhythm. Lack of Vitamin-D in the winter is one of the main causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder. Low Vitamin D levels are also correlated with higher risk for depression. When measuring light, it was found that an overcast day provides more light, than bright indoor lights. So get outside to reset that body clock!
As hunter-gatherers, we rarely spent time alone. Everyone lived as a community, and supported each other. Even just having a loved one in close proximity has been shown to drop cortisol levels, the stress hormone. We were created to be social beings, and it is unnatural for us to be alone. Today with Facebook, internet, Skype, we are more likely to email them, then to go visit them and see how they are doing.
Sleep is extremely important to physical and mental health, there is a reason sleep deprivation is considered torture. When we do not get our 8 hours each night, our brains cannot work they way they are supposed to. That is because our body repairs itself from daily wear in our sleep.
Rumination is when we repeatedly focus on the symptoms of distress, its possible causes, and consequences. In hunter-gatherer days, we were too busy finding food, taking care of the community, building homes, etc. We did not have time to sit and think negative thoughts. In today’s modern environment, we no longer live as communities, leading to isolation, and more time for us to ruminate.
If you are interested in learning more about this research and the TLC programme, keep an eye out for my workshops on Lifestyle Changes for depression, and check out the researcher, Stephen Ilardi’s book, “The Depression Cure.”
Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.