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3 Depression Risk Factors and 5 Ways to Get Happier Without Drugs

Mental health disorders are now a leading cause of disability worldwide, and three main risk factors that occur in early childhood are huge influences on mental health later, MedicalXPress reports. Exposure to early-life stresses such as illness; parents’ separation or death; and adverse family circumstances all play a part.


While the medical profession most often resorts to medication to address feelings of depression, the good news is there are uplifting ways to get happier without drugs. One such strategy is to focus on positive memories. Four more include:

1. Light therapy Full-spectrum light therapy is often recommended over antidepressants for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), but it may be preferable even for major depression. Light therapy alone and placebo were both more effective than Prozac for the treatment of moderate to severe depression in an eight-week-long study.

Further, in a study of patients with bipolar disorder, who have recurrent major depression, bright white light therapy was also effective in boosting mood, with 68 percent achieving a normal mood after four to six weeks of treatment compared to 22 percent of those who received a placebo treatment.

Along these lines, exposure to sunlight is also important, not only because it will help optimize your vitamin D levels (another factor linked to depression) but also because via other mechanisms, like regulating your circadian rhythm and production of serotonin, which is released in response to sunlight exposure.

2. Exercise — Even a minimal amount of exercise may be enough to combat depression in some people — as minimal as one hour a week, according to an 11-year study in which people who engaged in regular leisure-time exercise for one hour a week were less likely to become depressed. On the flipside, those who didn't exercise were 44 percent more likely to become depressed compared to those who did so for at least one to two hours a week.

3. Your diet — It's not an exaggeration to say "you are what you eat," and dietary choices can and do have a significant effect on your mood. Men consuming more than 67 grams of sugar per day were 23 percent more likely to develop anxiety or depression over the course of five years than those whose sugar consumption was less than 40 grams per day, for instance, so limiting sugar is one strategy to boost your mood.

4. Meditation and mindfulnessMeditation helps you take a deliberate break from the stream of thoughts that are constantly flowing in and out of your mind. Practicing “mindfulness” means you’re actively paying attention to the moment you’re in right now, which is ideally done regularly throughout your day.

5. Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) — EFT, a form of psychological acupressure based on the same energy meridians used in traditional acupuncture to treat physical and emotional ailments, has proven effectiveness in improving mental health, including depression.

In one study of 30 moderately to severely depressed college students, the depressed students were given four 90-minute EFT sessions. Students who received EFT showed significantly less depression than the control group when evaluated three weeks later.

In addition to these nondrug methods of addressing depression, you might also supplement your diet with a high-quality, animal-based omega-3 fat such as krill oil. This may be the single most important nutrient for optimal brain function, thereby easing symptoms of depression.

In fact, one 2009 showed that people with lower blood levels of omega-3s were more likely to have symptoms of depression and a more negative outlook while those with higher blood levels demonstrated the opposite emotional states.

Last but not least, make sure you get enough sleep. The link between depression and lack of sleep is well established. Of the approximately 18 million Americans with depression, more than half of them struggle with insomnia. While it was long thought that insomnia was a symptom of depression, it now seems that insomnia may precede depression in some cases.

If you are feeling desperate or have any thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a toll-free number: 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or call 911, or simply go to your nearest hospital emergency department. You cannot make long-term plans for lifestyle changes when you are in the middle of a crisis.

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