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If you don't want to wear a patch or get a machine strapped to your forehead, another surprisingly effective depression-puncher is to simply grab your top hat and cane and go for a walk around your neighborhood. People with mild to moderate depression who walked for half an hour six times a week reduced their depressive symptoms by almost 50 percent, making walking about as effective as taking an antidepressant.
Although at least 20 percent of it is probably top hat-related happiness.
How Does That Work?
Come on, you don't need me to tell you that exercise is good for you. Exercise, even not-exactly-strenuous exercise like walking, stimulates production of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter that's awesome for mood. It also increases blood flow to the brain and helps nerve cell growth. It's pretty much magic, and it comes with almost no side effects, apart from maybe looking funny when you try to run.
Of course, the issue here is that motivating yourself to exercise is hard enough even when you're physically and psychologically healthy. We all know exercise is good for us, but most of us still don't do enough of it. I mean, it might be cold outside, and there's people out there, and squirrels might look at us funny. And this reluctance gets a hundred times worse when you're depressed and your motivation factory has shut down completely and outsourced its jobs to hating yourself. But hey, you can always try ...
#1. Inflammation Murderers
That red patch around the spot on your finger where your cat bit you? The puffy area on your face where you were stung by a wasp? The painful swollen area surrounding your sprained ankle? Those are all examples of a protective response called inflammation, and too much of it might be making you depressed (also, you should probably go to the doctor, dude, what the hell is wrong with you?). A recent Harvard study found that a diet full of foods that inhibit inflammation in the body (like vegetables, olive oil, wine, and coffee) can cut depression risk by 41 percent, compared to eating foods that tend to trigger it, such as refined grains and red meat. Certain anti-inflammatory drugs can also help in easing depressive symptoms and sending them back to hell where they belong.
How Does That Work?
Think back to the last time you had the flu. You were probably lethargic, unable to concentrate, and generally uninterested in anything that didn't involve lying in bed waiting for your next sweet NyQuil dose. You might think it was flu virus itself causing this mental crappiness, but nope, it was your own body, the little bastard. When you're fighting an infection, stress, or anything else that the body thinks is bad for it, your immune system releases proteins called cytokines, some of which cause inflammation. The apathetic mood produced by these little cytokines is known as "sickness behavior," and it's no coincidence that it looks a lot like clinical depression -- among other things, pro-inflammatory cytokines lower serotonin levels, and low serotonin does not exactly equal kittens and rainbows.
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Not even kittens on rainbows could cheer this guy up.
On the surface, making you feel like crap mentally when you've already got sickness to deal with seems like a dick move on your immune system's part, but inflammation is a crucial part of fighting off infection and fixing damage to your body. The sickness behavior it brings with it can actually be an advantage; you're more likely to get better from the flu if you stay in bed and stare at the wall rather than go out to compete in a roller derby. The system only goes wrong when sickness behavior appears without an obvious illness or injury to cause it, and that's when things really start to get weird. There's a theory that a lot of what we call "depression" is actually sickness behavior caused by a source of inflammation that's hiding out in your body somewhere, messing the whole place up like a rotten burrito at the back of a fridge.
You'd expect that if some forms of depression were in fact long-term inflammation in disguise, medical treatments that supercharge the immune system (and therefore cause inflammation) would also cause depression. And you'd be right, smart person! The hepatitis C virus is sometimes treated with injections of a type of cytokine called interferon, which pumps up the patient's immune system. One in four previously non-depressed patients who undergo interferon therapy will develop a major episode of depression as a result of treatment, and some estimates are even higher than that. That's right: If you're lucky enough to be one of the people vulnerable to the psychological effects of a crazily boosted immune system, depression is injectable.
Do it for the Vine.
So if you're currently depressed, and the people around you keep brushing it off and telling you to toughen up, clearly the thing to do is carry an interferon-filled syringe around. The next time someone tells you that depression is "all in your head," jab them in the neck with your syringe and see how they like it.