Embrace and balance your yin and yang moods

As I’ve explained in past dispatches, antidepressants don’t work for mild-to-moderate depression. But that leaves us with a big problem: These drugs are the ONLY treatment offered by most conventional practitioners.

So now what, you may wonder?

Well, it’s simple: We just need to look at other treatments and lifestyle approaches that DO work. And fortunately, there are many steps you can take to help boost your mood if you suffer from mild-to-moderate depression. Including taking St. John’s wort, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D.

In addition to nutritional approaches, many lifestyle changes can help get you moving in the right direction. These seven suggestions focus on substituting negative thoughts with positive thoughts. It’s strategy used in behavioral therapy, a highly effective form of therapy.

  1. Make a daily “to-do” list. We all have things to do each and every day. Even if it’s just putting gas in the car. Or mailing bills. But writing these tasks down in the morning gives you a sense of order. Checking them off at the end of the day provides some sense of achievement and satisfaction. And a sense that things are “under control.” Plus, you can see that you got through another day without a disaster. This also helps you focus on the here and now. In other words, it helps you be attentive and mindful to the present moment. Instead of dwelling on an unhappy past. Or an uncertain tomorrow.
  2. Make an “I’m thankful for…” list. Being grateful is one of our healthiest feelings. And when you see it on paper, it can give your mood a positive anchor. This sort of list can also provide a sense of real progress through life’s challenges. The Classical Roman statesman, Cicero, said, “Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”
  3. Schedule activities and write them on your calendar. Then, stick to them. And get out of the house. You can also record your experiences on the calendar, keeping a kind of diary. Or blog about it. Remember, while you write, your mind focuses on something useful and creative. It can’t turn so easily toward negative thoughts. If all this writing isn’t really your thing, try another approach that appeals to your tactile senses. Painting, drawing, sculpting, taking photographs, etc. The more senses involved, the more the potential for positive feelings.
  4. Keep flowers in the house as a reminder that spring is coming. They look pretty and smell nice. Plus, making a weekly trip to the florist is an outing you’ll look forward to.
  5. Go outside and experience nature directly. Even if you have to bundle up, you’ll feel uplifted with some sun and fresh air on your face. Nature has its own stark beauty during winter. And it can provide vistas of the land that stay hidden by foliage during the rest of the year.
    Look for animal tracks in the snow. You may be surprised by the variety of wildlife that surrounds your home, neighborhood or nearby parklands. Or, if the cold is too much for you, visit a greenhouse at a local botanical garden or even a commercial nursery.
  6. Get moving, outside or indoors. Of course, getting your blood circulation going is good for your body and brain. But participating in physical activity also engages the mind. And it pushes out negative thoughts. In a recent study, U.S. researchers recruited 126 patients with depression. All the patients had been taking an SSRI antidepressant for at least two months. But none felt better after taking the drugs. So, the doctors asked their patients to start some mild exercise. After four months, nearly one-third of the patients experienced a complete remission!
  7. Listen to music. Let it fill your room or car with cheerful, soothing sounds. It also gives your brain something to focus on, other than worrying about negative concerns. But skip the radio stations with obnoxious chatter from advertisers, DJs, and “shock jocks.”

Our society tends to promote an “all-or-nothing” approach when it comes to mental health. Everything has to be sunshine and roses or else you’re depressed.

But most of the time, life happens in the middle. And it’s alright to feel “just okay,” content, or at peace. In fact, sometimes it’s even alright to feel a little low. Especially after an emotional loss, or when contemplating the nation’s ills and the world’s travails. A low mood could signal it’s time to slow down so you can take stock of things.  Sometimes you just have to accept a low mood and take it day by day until it lifts.

The great 17th-century English poet John Milton wrote a pair of poems about mood called, “L’Allegro” (the lively one) and “Il Penseroso” (the thoughtful one). He points out the benefits, and even pleasures, of being in a more somber mood sometimes.

Other English poets of the period even called this feeling, “pleasurable melancholy.” And studies show that men and women with a more somber mood are more realistic and accurate. Ultimately, this makes them more successful in dealing with life situations. They’re also more conscious of safety and security–not a bad thing in this day and age.

The Chinese express the two sides of life with the yin and the yang. Yin is the cooler, darker, quieter side. And yang is the warmer, brighter, more active side. Like the two sides of a hill or mountain. One is in the sun and one in the shade. And this balance is a great way to think about moods. Because sometimes it just takes a shift of the light to show different sides of the same thing.


1. “Exercise as an augmentation treatment for nonremitted major depressive disorder: a randomized, parallel dose comparison,” J Clin Psychiatry. 2011 May;72(5):677-84