Like so many of us, I struggle daily with low mood, low energy, and depressed thinking. While researching for possible solutions, I came across the book ‘The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression Without Drugs‘ by Dr. Stephen Ilardi.
In the book, Dr. Ilardi outlines the Therapeutic Lifestyle Change program, a six-step research-backed program inspired by the extraordinary resilience of aborginial tribes such as the Kaluli of Papua New Guinea. Dr. Ilardi’s premise is that we were never designed for the frenetic pace of 21st Century life, and that our bodies are over-stressed, under-nourished, and sleep-deprived.
The six strategies outlined in the book are designed to facilitate a return to how our bodies are supposed to function; focusing in on things such as exercise, fresh air, social connection, and clearer thinking patterns to help boost your overall mood and sense of wellbeing.
Having tried out all six strategies from the book, what follows is a brief review of each one along with specific details on how I customized it to meet my own individual needs and how well I believe it worked for me.
First, let’s get the medical disclaimer out of the way.
I am not a doctor.
I am not a licensed healthcare provider of any kind.
This is not a medical or clinical review.
This is my own personal experience using the strategies proposed in the book The Depression Cure by Dr. Stephen Ilardi. It is in no way intended to be construed as medical advice and/or a professional endorsement. It is for informational and educational purposes ONLY. Consult with your own doctor or medical professional before trying any of the strategies from the book for yourself.
Now that’s out the way, let’s begin.
Strategy #1 – Get Enough Sleep
Now THIS is a strategy I can fully embrace! I LOVE to sleep. It’s my special skill. I can literally sleep pretty much anywhere, for hours at a time. Yet despite my fondness for forty winks I don’t get enough during the week.
The National Sleep Foundation recommends adults get between 7-9 hours a night, and I’ve learned over the years that to feel refreshed I need at least 8. Unfortunately, usually only get 6.5 to 7 hours a night during the week, leaving me in a 5 – 7.5 hour deficit by the weekend. Inevitably, my body tries to ‘catch up’ and I’ve been known to sleep in until past 10am on weekends. Not an effective strategy in terms of my sleep routine or my weekend productivity.
Implementing this strategy was a little tricky. My wake-up time is fixed at 6am so that I have enough time to get ready for work, so I had to try and bring my bedtime forward to 10pm to get in my 8 hours. Some days I was successful and others I was not, and I felt it the next morning. The more consistent I am in getting to bed at a reasonable time the better my mood is next day and the less likely I am to sleep in on the weekends. This in itself is a mood-booster to me as I was then able to enjoy my weekend fully, get stuff done, and make progress on my goals and projects, further boosting my mood and sense of accomplishment.
One strategy – multiple mood boosting benefits. Definitely a winner and one I have to try harder to implement consistently!
Strategy #2 – Interrupt Rumination
Adopting this strategy was tricky, yet for me was the most effective of all the strategies in shifting my thinking and moving towards positive action. Rumination is the tendency to repetitively think about the causes, situational factors, and consequences of a negative emotional experience. When we ruminate, we focus our thoughts on a problem or negative situation for long periods at a time, mulling it over and over in our minds and becoming more deeply entrenched in negativity.
Rumination is essentially problem-solving gone wrong; instead of thinking constructively about a problem to come up with a solution, ruminators spend too long going over the negative aspects and digging themselves in deeper. Often, ruminators spend so long thinking about the problem they don’t ever get to the solution-seeking part of the process.
In order to break my rumination habit I came up with a very simple question to snap myself out of it. Whenever I found myself being to ruminate on a negative thought and get carried away I would ask myself, “Is this helping or hurting?” Inevitably, the answer was ‘hurting’, to which I would tell myself to stop it and do something more positive and productive.
This proved to be a very effective strategy. Once I’d identified that my ruminations were hurting me, it was almost impossible to continue on with them without feeling like an idiot.
To make sure I didn’t slip back into the negative thoughts, I also needed to switch tasks and/or focus to something else. Simply telling myself to stop wasn’t effective without something else to take the place of the ruminating behavior. Telling myself to find something more productive to do or think about boosted my productivity (as I’d want to find something ‘helpful’ to do instead), which in turn further boosted my mood and made me feel better overall.
Strategy #3 – Supplement with Omega 3
(Here’s another reminder of that medical disclaimer – check with your own doctor before trying this for yourself!)
I had heard about the benefits of omega 3s for brain health in the past, but had not come across a specific recommendation for omega 3 as an antidepressant and mood enhancer. Dr. Ilardi’s research and experience with his patients showed that a high dosage of omega 3 – specifically EPA and DHA omega 3 – has a significant, measurable mood-boosting effect.
I chose BioSchwartz Omega 3 from Amazon, which in my opinion was the best value for money option that met the dosage recommendations from the book. The pills were HUGE, and I needed to take several of them a day to get the recommended dosage, but after mastering swallowing them without gagging this was a very easy strategy to implement (provided I remembered to take them of course!)
I actually had pretty good results. I did experience a noticeable improvement in my mood in the days immediately following beginning the supplements. The lighter and brighter mood I experienced was enough that I see value in continuing to take omega 3.
Strategy #4 – Get Outside
Implementing this strategy was probably the most difficult of all 6 strategies. I work at a University, spending 8 hours a day at my desk staring at a computer screen. Now, I do have a window, which is a step up from my last office that had no natural light at all. Yet being stuck at a desk all day makes it difficult to get outside into the fresh air.
Here’s how I managed to get some fresh air into my life during the working week:
– Taking a walk on my lunch break
– Taking routes to other offices that take me outside of the buildings rather than walking through them
– Taking 10 minutes in the afternoon to sit outside in the Shakespeare Garden (beautiful little garden on campus right outside my building)
– Having my window open as much as possible
– Drinking my tea outside if I managed to get home early
Did I notice a difference? Maybe, but to be honest the short bursts of time outside were mired by the fact I was usually on my way to a meeting or back in to my office (which doesn’t fill me with happy thoughts). The lunchtime walks were much more effective, especially as I would have a longer period of time to legitimately spend away from my desk and could combine it with strategies #5 and #6 (social connection and exercise). As a lone strategy I think it is beneficial and certain lifts your mood (research also agrees that getting outside and enough daylight is vital to our physical and emotional health), but I feel its power is amplified when combined with the other strategies.
(However, I will say that being outside meant I might see a chipmunk. And I LOVE chipmunks. They are so cute and adorable and I just love them so much! So if going outside included a guaranteed chipmunk sighting I would absolutely rank this strategy the BEST HAPPINESS BOOSTER EVER!)
Strategy #5 – Social Connection
As an introvert, spending time with others can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it (I LOVE spending time with my friends), it just means that while extroverts are known to feed off the energy of others and feel revitalised after social encounters, introverts like me feel worn out.
Implementing this strategy is therefore significantly more challenging for introverts. Low mood is often accompanied by low energy, causing us to withdraw from others rather than push ourselves to interact. I chose to implement this strategy on a micro-level, making small but meaningful connections with others instead of avoiding it. Smiling and making eye contact with others instead of stomping about in a foul mood, stopping in to say hello to colleagues and ask how they are rather than hiding in my office, and sending a couple of ‘how are you texts’ to friends to connect.
Each time I connected with someone, however briefly, I felt lifted. Focusing on multiple smaller connections also meant I didn’t have to expend the energy needed to engage in longer conversations or social engagements. This strategy worked well for me on a moment-to-moment basis, particularly during the workday when calling my mum for an hour or spending time with a close friend wasn’t possible.
Strategy #6 – Exercise
The mood-boosting effects of exercise are well documented. For me, the challenge in implementing this was finding a time that I could consistently work out in a way that was enjoyable. I managed to get into the habit of working out first thing in the morning and have written a whole blog post on how I managed to motivate myself – or more accurately ‘trick’ myself – into doing it.
I’m the first to admit this was not a very scientific experiment. I implemented all six strategies at once so there is no real way to know how much of my improved mood and wellbeing was due to each individual strategy. What I can say with some certainty is that all 6 strategies were effective in their own way and the combined effect was significantly positive. My overall mood improved, I found myself feeling happier and more positive on a daily basis, I was more productive, and I found I had more energy and time to focus on achieving my goals and doing the things I wanted to do.
The great thing about the strategies in the book is that you can customize them to fit your lifestyle and specific needs. Dr. Illardi carefully outlines the science and research behind the strategies, the essential elements to include, and different areas of flexibility whereby strategies can be customized. I’ll certainly be keeping up with all six strategies and working to incorporate them into my daily life.
Have you read The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression Without Drugs by Dr. Ilardi? I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with the strategies in the comments below!
Want to try it for yourself?
I have created a 21 day Happiness Habits Challenge based on the six strategies from The Depression Cure. The Challenge Workbook is available FREE for members of my Facebook Group ‘Intelligent, Successful, & Frustrated. Join the group here to get free access to the workbook download link!
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