Finding your way back

As we reach the depths of winter, many people often begin to feel a little low. I often think of the 1981 Jefferson Starship song Find Your Way Back at this time of year. Of course, the song’s literally about the singer’s loneliness on the road and finding his way back to a girl, but it could also symbolize the road we all sometimes seek to return to happier times.

With that song in mind — I have spent quite a bit of time reviewing all the “antidepressant” therapies that work well to help give your mood a boost during the winter. And the most effective technique goes back 150 years…to what was then called “moral therapy.”

To some extent, we can compare it to today’s “cognitive behavioral therapy,” as they share some similarities.

Moral therapy consisted of having people with depression and mood disorders live and work among people with “normal” mood. That way, they could observe normative behaviors and reactions, and hopefully begin to have some positive experiences of their own. The key seems to be building a fund of positive experiences to know that things can feel good and be good again.

How do you use this simple approach in today’s world?

With cognitive behavior therapy, you talk to a therapist who listens and helps develop insights into your feelings. But in the end, you — on your own — must find your way back to experience positive feelings or mood.

Once you can have an experience of feeling good again, you remember what it is like.  And once you get there, to that place in your head that feels good, it helps you figure out the pathways that can help you get back there again.

The good news is, many different things can help you find your way back to that place.

  1. Spend time out in Nature

Nature has its own stark beauty during winter. And it can provide vistas that stay hidden by foliage during the rest of the year. So — even if you have to bundle up, you’ll feel uplifted enjoying the new winter landscape with some sun and fresh air on your face.
You can also keep your brain actively engaged while you 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.

New research shows getting some sun directly on your skin activates your immune system to help fight colds and flus. This effect is due to the blue light in the sun’s rays and works year-round, not just from April to October when sunlight also activates vitamin D. (I’ll tell you more about this new research in February.)

2. Drink alcoholic beverages in moderation

As I reported recently, studies show that moderate amounts of alcohol actually behave as an antidepressant.

For decades, the government-industrial-medical complex lectured us that alcohol is a “depressant.” They said it deadens the feelings telling us that we are tired, unhappy or distressed. And, therefore, it creates an “illusion” of being happy. But they had no real evidence for this theory. (Sound familiar?) In fact, it turns out, the reason moderate alcohol makes feel people happy is that it actually acts as a fast-acting antidepressant in your brain.

3. Get moving, outside or indoors
Of course, getting your blood circulation going is good for your body. But it also engages the mind by pushing out negative thoughts.

In a recent study, U.S. researchers recruited 126 patients with depression. All the patients had been taking an antidepressant drug 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!

4. Listen to music
Let it fill your room or car with cheerful, soothing sounds.

Music 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.”

5. 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.”

6. Keep an active schedule
Even though you may not feel like it, 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. It also helps you ignore physical as well as mental pain.

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.

If these activities don’t appeal to you, look for other things that help get you back to that “happy place” in your head. And once anything helps you get there, you have a better chance of finding out how to get back there again.

For more information on what is going on with drug treatments for depression please read the lead article in the January issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter. (If you’re not yet a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started.)


  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