It’s the most wonderful time of the year…for some.
The fact is, the holidays can be really difficult for a lot of folks. Especially if you’re susceptible to depression.
So, today, let’s talk about five simple and effective ways to raise your spirits during the holidays—and all year long.
But first, let’s look at why the mainstream’s pharmaceutical antidepressant answers just don’t work for most people…
Common antidepressant drugs only work in 1 out of 7 patients
Depression afflicts more Americans than ever. And, of course, the mainstream’s misguided answer is to simply dole out more and more drugs. Even to young adolescents who haven’t yet reached their teenage years!
In fact, according to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control, almost 13 percent of people ages 12 and older took an antidepressant in the last month. And older women over the age of 60 appear to be struggling the most—with almost 25 percent of them taking one in the last month.
Not to mention, people are taking antidepressants for longer periods of time. In fact, 25 percent of people have been taking them for more than a decade. And sadly, taking one of these drugs is a lot like a climbing onto a merry-go-round and never being able to get off…
Of course, synaptic serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most widely prescribed of all antidepressants. They artificially raise levels of serotonin in the brain by preventing its normal re-uptake into neurons or nerve cells. (Despite the fact that you can naturally support serotonin, as I’ve written before.)
Prozac, the first SSRI to come out in the 1970s, was hailed as a miracle pill. But as time went on, we learned that SSRIs only work as intended in about one in seven people. Which means the remaining six out of seven patients continue to suffer with no end in sight.
That grim state of affairs reminds me of Dante’s warning about entering the circles of hell, “Lasciate ogni speranza voi ch’entrate,” which we typically translate as, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” (Literally translated, it means, “let go of any hope, you who enter.”)
Which brings me to my next point…
Antidepressants increase self-harm and harm to others
It’s bad enough that antidepressants don’t actually help most people with depression. But it’s even worse that they may also cause great harm.
As I’ve reported many times before, SSRIs actually increase the risk of suicide—the one irreversible outcome of depression. In fact, when I worked in forensic medicine, I saw case after case of chronically depressed patients who were “successfully” treated with an SSRI. But then, sadly, they committed suicide.
You may wonder why this happens…
Well, when people are depressed, they’re often tormented by endless, negative thoughts running through their brains. Many times, these thoughts are about harming themselves or others. But because depressed people tend to lack energy, they aren’t usually physically capable of acting on those thoughts. It’s the body and brain’s way of protecting itself from harm.
Then, when a depressed person starts taking an SSRI, the drug suddenly increases their energy…without ever addressing or resolving the underlying reason why the person feels depressed in the first place.
So, some people use that sudden unbridled energy to put their negative thoughts into action. Including harming themselves—or others.
It’s better to “do nothing”
Twenty years ago, I first suggested (in my medical textbooks and elsewhere) that any beneficial effect from antidepressant drugs is associated with the placebo effect.
And now the science backs me up…
In fact, in one infamous study, researchers compared an antidepressant drug to St. John’s wort, a popular herbal supplement, and a placebo.
Neither the drug nor the herbal supplement worked better than the placebo. But get this…
The “placebo” in this study wasn’t a pill. Instead, it involved at least 15 hours of intensive talk therapy from a highly skilled mental health professional. And as it turns out, the benefits of real therapy (the so-called “placebo”) outweighed any benefit that could be added from taking either pill.
In another study, researchers conducted a systematic review of 252 clinical trials on drugs for depression published between 1978 and 2016. Again, they found that only one treatment consistently worked for more than 35 to 40 percent of patients: placebo.
And that bears repeating…in all 252 of the clinical trials, the patients who fared the very best came from the placebo groups!
So—contrary to all expectations and all the ballyhoo about “new and improved” drugs for depression—placebo is the most effective treatment for depression over the past 40 years.
But remember, everyone is different. What works for your friend may not work for you individually—and vice versa.
So, I suggest starting with talk therapy, which may be responsible for some of the “placebo effect.” Then, try adding some different methods of lifting your spirits this winter and year-round…
5 simple, effective ways to raise your spirits year-round
In addition to talk therapy, the following simple daily habits can also help improve your mood without resorting to drugs…
1.) Take a vitamin D supplement. Make sure you supplement daily with 10,000 IU of vitamin D3, especially during winter, as studies show low D is associated with low mood. Also make sure you eat plenty of foods rich in vitamin D, including full-fat dairy, eggs, and fatty fish, such as tuna and wild-caught Pacific salmon.
2.) Engage in mind-body therapy. Add activities like meditation and yoga to your daily routine, which have been shown in many studies to improve depression and mood. (To find out which mind-body therapy will work best for you, take this short quiz and check out my book with Mike Jawer, Your Emotional Type.)
3.) Get moderate exercise. Of course, countless studies show that getting moderate amounts of physical activity also helps lift depression. In fact, in one study, researchers gathered 126 people who had been taking SSRIs for at least two months—but still felt depressed. After four months of mild exercise, nearly one-third of the people reported that their depression had disappeared. So start adding about 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity, like walking, swimming, gardening, or even housework, to your routine each week.
4.) Spend time in Nature. Simply spending time in Nature has been shown to be highly beneficial for mood. In fact, in one study, men and women who took walks at least once a week experienced more positive emotions and lower stress. They also experienced significantly less depression. Plus, they better handled the negative effects of stressful life events, such as the death of a family member. So, I highly recommend bundling up this winter and taking regular walks in Nature to help lift your mood. (In the upcoming March 2020 Insiders’ Cures newsletter, I will tell you all about the mind and body benefits of “forest bathing.”)
5.) Enjoy holiday spirits. It may surprise you to learn that enjoying some holiday spirits—in moderation—can actually help lift your spirits. In fact, studies show moderate alcohol consumption improves mood and works better than a fast-acting antidepressant. You can learn more about this important research in the December 2019 issue of my Insiders’ Cures monthly newsletter (“Your step-by-step guide to a happier, healthier holiday season”). If you’re not yet a subscriber, I can’t think of a better time to become one!
So, as we turn the calendar to 2020, make a resolution to spend some time focusing on improving your mental health. Even if you’re not depressed, you and yours will still benefit tremendously from following the five spirit-raising recommendations I talked about today.
Here’s to a happy and healthy New Year!
“Antidepressant Use Among Persons Aged 12 and Over: United States, 2011–2014.” Centers for Disease Control, 2017. (cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db283.htm?mod=article_inline)
“Ethanol and a rapid-acting antidepressant produce overlapping changes in exon expression in the synaptic transcriptome.” Neuropharmacology. 2019 Mar 1;146:289-299. doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2018.11.007
“FMRP regulates an ethanol-dependent shift in GABABR function and expression with rapid antidepressant properties.” Nature Communications, 2016; 7: 12867. doi.org/10.1038/ncomms12867
“Exercise as an augmentation treatment for nonremitted major depressive disorder: a randomized, parallel dose comparison,” J Clin Psychiatry, 2011 May;72(5):677-84. doi.org: 10.4088/JCP.10m06743
“Examining Group Walks in Nature and Multiple Aspects of Well-Being: A Large-Scale Study,” Ecopsychology, September 2014; 6(3): 134. doi.org/10.1089/eco.2014.0027