In our continuing examination of The Depression Cure, Stephen Ilardi, PhD has identified six key areas where Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLCs) can significantly help prevent and even reverse depressive symptoms. Over the last few weeks we have reviewed five of these: 1) Diet (Brain Food), 2) Engagement, 3) Exercise, 4) Getting Connected and 5) Sleep. Today, we review the final TLC, Light Therapy.
While many of us grew up being told to go outside for some fresh air because it was good for us, now we know more about exactly why that is. Each one of us has an ‘internal clock’ that runs in the background of our brains, much like automatic processes that run on your computer. This is commonly known as your sleep/wake cycle or more scientifically known as your circadian rhythm. It is a 24 hour “brain clock” that cycles between sleepiness and alertness. Dr. Ilardi explains how our brains calculate the amount of light we take in each day and use that information to regulate our bodies circadian rhythms. Without this light exposure we can easily get off-sync and this affects our energy, sleep, appetite, hormone levels and other important body processes. When these things are out of balance it can trigger clinical depression.
Increasingly more research is directed at this phenomenon. One study by Dr. Anders West in Copenhagen (2016) looked at patients recovering from strokes who typically suffer from depression and fatigue. When simply exposed to lighting in the hospital that mimicked outdoor, natural light, he described the outcomes as comparable to giving the patients antidepressant medications. Dr. Ilardi explains that natural sunlight is so much brighter than indoor lighting, as much as a hundred times brighter, even over LED, that just a half hour is enough to reset your internal clock to a good balance. This is true even on gray cloudy days.
As we sum up our review of the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC), a great take-away is that you don’t really have to stress over making sure you get all the changes done. When you think about it, you can actually check off many of these good activities at the same time. For instance, this weekend you could connect with friends for some outdoor exercise and follow that with sharing a good healthy meal, discussing something you are really interested in…do this and you have hit five of the six! The idea is that we can mix and match all of the TLCs, developing some as regular habits, and over time, we most likely will find we can have a positive impact toward prevention and reduction in depression symptoms.
Bill Mory is a Texoma-based licensed therapist in private practice. He integrates mindfulness training in working counseling clients and is a strong community-building advocate and a provider of workplace training on a variety of topics. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.