If you’re like most people, some days just rock. Sometimes you feel superhuman, other times it can just feel like something is just missing. Most people go through these times and rationalize them away as something that’s just part of life. Instead, biohackers learn to reject the idea that most of the these “normal” things are unexplainable, preferring instead to find solutions rather than suffer from the same problems over and over.
For example, most people know that low amounts of sleep make them perform poorly, and that’s just a part of life, or they believe that in order to be thin, you should just get used to being hungry all the time. We’ve seen how those ideas stand up to Bulletproof methods.
Sadness and depression are no different. It is normal to have small amounts of sadness or depression, and they manifest themselves in different ways. Or maybe you’ve experience a loss and it’s totally normal to feel sad and grieve. In those cases, if you don’t feel sad, you’re probably not processing an emotion so you can let it go.
However, sometimes sadness and depression are there for no good reason. When this happens, some people feel lethargic, others tearful, or maybe you just lack your normal level of motivation. Or maybe it manifests as irritability or even numbness. Whatever it is, at the end of the day, it saps your performance and makes you feel less Bulletproof.
So maybe it’s not full-blown depression, but hey, what if you could avoid those little grumpy moments that make your kids stay away from you, or those times your co-workers get coffee from a different floor instead of the coffee bar next to your office? What if you could build your resilience and even prevent it before it starts?
This post will give you some ideas to help transform the type of mild depression that sucks your energy into simple feelings you can work through and release, bringing you back to full strength.
The traditional approach to treating depression is to balance certain neurotransmitters with drugs. Drugs have their place, but many of the ones targeting depression are failures. They often work only as well as placebos, and they have a lot of unwanted side effects. Just like statins, these drugs don’t target the real cause of the disease – just the symptoms. They might help in the short term, but to really solve the problem you need to fix it with a more holistic systems thinking, Bulletproof methods.
This study’s four main recommendations for how to fight sadness without drugs are: happiness, spending time outside, exercise, and diet.
I used to have serious mood swings and unjustified bursts of anger that impacted my own health and my relationships with people I care about. That was until I hacked my brain and Bulletproofed my body. I started eating the Bulletproof Diet, lost 100 pounds, and used advanced technology to work my brain into a high performance state. Now, I’d be shocked to feel myself wasting that much productive energy on being angry or depressed. Here’s how you can do the same:
1. Be happy.
Studies have shown that when choose to redirect your attention to the positive, your serotonin levels increase. It’s been known for years that your thoughts can alter blood flow to the brain, but only recently have scientists discovered that how you think can also alter neurotransmitter levels. Meditation has been shown to increase dopamine levels, and feelings of happiness also alter serotonin levels in your brain.
Low serotonin receptor function is associated with poor mood, and high serotonin levels are associated with better mood. Basically, while low serotonin may cause you to feel sad, feeling happy may also increase your serotonin levels. It’s not clear which is more powerful, but one way to increase serotonin may be through psychotherapy methods like cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, and my personal favorite, HeartMath training.
Doing Heart Math training literally strengthens the part of your brain responsible for turning on the “happy state.”
2. Get outside more.
Mark Sisson has written some excellent articles on the importance of sunshine and light exposure. He’s made a great point about how working outside can increase your productivity, happiness, and health. The problem is that it’s hard to move your office outside (although there are some tricks you can use to make it work). Nevertheless, working outdoors is not something most people are going to do. However, other research is showing that bright light exposure may be a way to help increase serotonin levels and alleviate depressive symptoms.
Bright light therapy is especially effective in pregnant women. On a slightly macabre note, autopsies have shown that people who died in the summer have higher serotonin levels than those who died in the winter. In studies where they purposely restrict tryptophan to lower serotonin levels, bright light prevents the normal drop in serotonin levels. If you’ve been suffering from depression or unexplained sadness, try to get outside more often. If you can’t, think about getting a wakeup light or installing some halogen bulbs in your work area.
In fact, since I live in Canada where it gets dark in the winter, I have 1000 watts of halogen light mounted above my desk, which serves nicely to stave off the winter blues.
If you’ve been reading the blog or listening to the podcast for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out that excess exercise is not Bulletproof. However, the right kinds of exercise can be beneficial for a number of reasons. A massive review of most of the available evidence found that exercise is extremely good at improving depressive symptoms and increasing mood. Some forward thinking agencies are even prescribing exercise instead of antidepressants, because “the risk–benefit ratio is poor for antidepressant use in patients with mild depression.” In other words, exercise is more effective and safer, at least for people with mild depression. In animals, exercise increases serotonin levels and the firing rates of serotonin neurons. Does this mean you should start training for the Boston Marathon? No, but it is evidence you might benefit from a strength plan like the one we’ve laid out here. To learn more about the benefits of Bulletproof exercise, listen to our interview with Dr. Doug McGuff, M.D.
The last, and possibly most effective way to increase serotonin levels in your brain and improve your mood is to eat the Bulletproof Diet. In animals and humans, tryptophan increases serotonin levels. In cases of light to moderate to depression, tryptophan can also improve mood. Even in healthy people who are ranked as slightly more irritable than most, small amounts of tryptophan can make them more agreeable and less irritable. However, there is a difference between dietary and supplementary tryptophan.
Tryptophan supplements raise serotonin levels, but dietary tryptophan does not. If you do take tryptophan as a supplement, don’t take it when you have recently eaten protein, the other amino acids in protein compete with the absorption of tryptophan in the brain.
There is also evidence that a high tryptophan diet may be bad for you over the long-term. However, there are a few foods that may increase serotonin levels. Some of the proteins in whey can improve mood in humans after just a few hours. This might be one of the reasons people feel so much better eating Upgraded Whey.
In the end, changing the types and amounts of protein you eat is probably less effective than the types and amounts of fat you eat. Studies have shown that consuming omega-3s improves mood. On the other hand, consuming large amounts of oxidized artificial trans fats can decrease your mental performance and hurt your mood. When you eat these fats, they’re assimilated into your brain and other tissues. They replace the fats that you need like omega-3s, and make you more irritable, less intelligent, and less Bulletproof.
The Bulletproof Diet is high in omega-3 fats, clean saturated fats, and moderate amounts of animal protein to give your body what it needs for a stable mood, but not too much to cause inflammation.
How to Bulletproof Your Brain Against Depression without Drugs
Like most recurring problems, the Bulletproof approach is to try what should work, if that works, great. If no, then do what “shouldn’t” work. Drugs are supposed to be some sort of cure all for depression and mood disorders, but most of them don’t work very well. Here’s what you can do to help prevent and fight depression without turning to medication:
1. Practice pleasure. Use meditation or Heart Math training to learn to “turn on” a state of happiness that can replace sadness. At a minimum, take some time out of your day to focus on everything you love in life. Get therapy if these things don’t help.
2. Be in nature, or at least pretend to be. Humans evolved over millions of years living outside. Only in the last several thousand have we migrated into the sheet rock caves that we now call offices. Bright light therapy has been shown in several trials to helps alleviate depressive symptoms. If you can, install some bright lights inside your workspace. Being outside is even better, because you’ll also increase your vitamin D levels naturally. At least add a few plants to your work space.
3. Exercise. The right kind of exercise can do wonders for your body and mind. Not only will it get you leaner, stronger, and help you live longer, it also improves your mood. Use a plan like the Bulletproof Body or Body by Science to strengthen your mental and physical abilities.
4. Eat the Bulletproof Diet. Avoiding toxins and getting enough – but not too much – tryptophan will help your mood. The Bulletproof Diet also optimizes your omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acid ratios, which improves your brain performance and overall health.
Using a combination of high doses of fun, bright lights or nature exposure, the right kind of exercise, and the Bulletproof Diet, you can help fight mild depression and optimize your mental performance.
How do you take care of yourself when you are down? What has worked for you?
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