Winter blues got you down? Try these integrative antidepressant approaches.

 
 

Winter blues got you down? Try these integrative antidepressant approaches.

 

By Alex Belser
 

I have been studying depression for a decade. Here are some integrative antidepressant approaches that have low or no side effects and won't cost you an arm and a leg.

Dark therapy
Turn the lights low at night. This improves quality of sleep. Research shows mood disorders are the flip side of the coin to sleep disorders.

Light therapy
Get a sun lamp for the darker winter months, and look into it each morning. You probably need more lumens.

Circadian stabilization therapy
Set a wake time and stick with it, set a bedtime and stick with it. Nap as needed.

Cold water therapy
Take a hot shower at night, and a cold shower each morning. This has powerful anti-depressant effects. This is a luxury therapy that you can do on the cheap. You don't need to lie down in an ice bath: just do the hokey pokey under cold water (right arm then left arm, right leg then left leg, then let the water run from face to groin. Do not let the water run over the top of your head, your back, or the tops of your thighs. Instead of swearing, say something affirming like "yes!" Or "thank you!" or a mantrum like "waheguru!").

Break a hard sweat
When was the last time you soaked your clothes? Do this at least once a week.

Fasting
Try intentional fasting, intermittent fasting, or a detox like the master cleanse. These practices will break the feeding pattern--which gives you a chance to reset. Stop it with the sugar, in all its forms.

Stop drinking alcohol
Really. Booze screws with your sleep and has cumulative depressogenic qualities. If you need to loosen up at night or with friends, substitute something like kava kava, passionflower, or poppy extract.

Morning sit
I know you are tired of hearing that you should meditate. But seriously, ask yourself: why am I so resistant to sitting for ten minutes? Don't fret about which meditation or pranayama to choose to begin, just begin, then figure it out with a good teacher and/or group.

Sex and masturbation
What is your current masturbation practice? Is it still serving you? If not, shake it up. If you cannot remember the last time you had a powerful orgasm, something is wrong.

Rushing everywhere? Stop it.
Take a week and plan to get everywhere 15 minutes early, at a leisurely pace. Stop running around like a maniac and your heart and mind will thank you.

Have more fun
Schedule fun events for yourself each week with other people. This is called Behavioral Activation therapy, and is more effective than SSRIs at combatting depression, along with the next one:

Schedule mastery time
What are you good at? Do more of that and become masterful at it. Practice something you are good at, like cooking well, playing guitar, writing, running numbers, etc., get better at it, and savor your skill.

Social hour
How many hours each week are you in the company of people who actually care about you? Double or triple it. We are social animals, and you are probably isolated (whether actually alone or among strangers).

Try the talking cure: go to therapy
Despite rumors to the contrary, this actually works. Get initial consultations with 2-3 therapists and pick one. Find a therapist you actually like and respect. Your mind is a house. If you need some light rehab (new roof, fix up the living room), once a week therapy will suffice. Do you need a full reconstruction job? Consider psychoanalysis.

Adopt an ecstatic practice
This is not for the faint of heart. Pursue this with a wise and skilled teacher and practice harm reduction. Some suggestions: holotropic breathwork, kundalini yoga, ecstatic all night dance, body mortification ritual (e.g. Lakota sun dance), spirit quest, multiday fasting, ritualized BDSM, Sufi zikr circle, intentional psychedelic plant or medicine practice, and shamanic rattling. I have profound respect for the wisdom lineages. Please do not desecrate them, but rather approach with reverence, respect, and curiosity.
 

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These are general recommendations for people with depression that have low or no side effects and may have other benefits.

These approaches may not work for everyone. If you are experiencing more severe depression, you should seek help from a mental health professional, or go to your nearest emergency room. If you see a psychiatrist, get a second opinion on any psychoactive medications you are prescribed, or make sure you understand the science (ask about response and remission rates, as most antidepressant medications aren't much better than placebo, and ask how discontinuation would work).

The winter blues are real. But they aren't your destiny. Go back to basics.
Do something differently and see what works for you.
 

Alex Belser is a doctoral fellow at New York University and the Administrative Director of the NYU Psilocybin Cancer Project, investigating the effect of psilocybin on end-of-life anxiety in patients with advanced cancer.