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1 – 2 Punch to Beat Depression

Posted: February 16, 2016 6:42 pm

Inside the brain, an area known as the limbic system is vastly involved with some of the most fundamental processes of being human, including, motivation, learning, bonding, storing memories, sleep/wake cycles, libido—and emotion.

Through our SPECT imaging work, we have found that when the deep limbic system is overactive, it lends itself to mood-related problems, especially depression. We’ve also observed that depressive symptoms can arise when the brain has low activity, which can be caused by injury from events such as concussions, infection, a loss of oxygen and exposure to toxins. Knowing the underlying brain biology of a person’s depressive symptoms is a key to efficiently targeting treatment. This is why we actually look at our patients’ brain function.

Whether medication is warranted or not, I rarely take a single-prong approach; there are some simple yet powerful lifestyle strategies that can be really helpful in reducing depressive symptoms. I will describe 2 of them here:

  1. Exercise: It’s the single most important thing to do when feeling depressed, yet for some, just thinking about it can seem overwhelming. When I use the term exercise, I mean physical activity of almost any sort, and one of the simplest for able-bodied individuals is to go for a walk. You don’t have to walk 5 miles; just get outside (or on a treadmill) and start walking— even if all you can muster the energy for is walking around the block. Remember, baby steps take you forward! Work up to 15 minutes, and then 30 – 45 minutes over time. If you are unable to walk due to weakness or a disability, there are a number of online resources for cardio routines you can do while seated.

With exercise, your brain releases “feel good” chemicals that help with a sense of well-being. In fact, a study that compared antidepressant medication with exercise found that both therapies were equally effective after sixteen weeks, and after ten months, exercise was actually more effective. Plus, it has no adverse side effects!

  1. Identify and Kill the “ANTs” – the Automatic Negative Thoughts that Wreck Your Day

ANTs are the negative thoughts that automatically pop into your head, causing you to get upset, depressed, anxious or just feel plain miserable. There are 9 species (or types) of ANTs:

#1 All or nothing thinking – also known as black and white thinking

#2 “Always” thinking – using words like, always, never, no one, everyone, every time and everything

#3 Focusing on the negative – selectively seeing only the bad in a situation and disregarding the good things that occur

#4 Fortune telling – predicting the worst possible outcome to situations

#5 Mind reading – believing that you know what another person is thinking even though he or she hasn’t told you

#6 Thinking with your feelings – happens when you believe your feelings and don’t question them– even when there is no evidence to support how you feel

#7 Guilt beatings – thinking with words like should, must, ought and have to

#8 Labeling – calling yourself or someone else a derogatory name diminishes your ability to see situations clearly

#9 Blaming – when you don’t take responsibility for your actions, you lose your power to make changes

To overcome automatic negative thoughts, you first must become aware of the dialogue in your head. Once you identify an ANT, write it down, identify it and then kill it (challenge it) by writing down a more realistic version of the same thought. For example:

  • ANT: No one will ever want to date me
  • ANT species: “Always” thinking
  • Kill the ANT: That really isn’t true. I can meet people by putting myself in new social situations

You can read more about getting control of your ANTs and other natural ways to help alleviate depressive symptoms in my new book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, Revised and Expanded 2015. In the meantime, find a way to increase your physical activity to boost the brain chemicals that can help you feel better.

  • Jill Ellena

    My name is Jill Ellena. When I was much younger, 16 years old to be exact. I suffered from a TBI that was ever changing. A car accident, causing my TBI among many broken bones and a comatose situation for weeks. My friends and family were told immediately that I wouldn’t make it. Instead, I chose to follow through with life back on earth.
    After months in the hospital I was able to go home, returning to life. Though, life now was much different than before. For about 10 years I struggled with everyday living as depression had become a part of my everyday living. Then a doctor friend of mine, helped me develop a new plan. Tweaking little things of my regular daily life helped me regain a happy life. I began daily exercise, regular sleeping patterns and regular/healthy eating habits. Almost instantly the ANTS that were lurking around every second, disappeared. Now, positivity is the only look for me.

    • Dr. Daniel Amen

      Jill, I am very happy for you that you found a healthy path to follow and are feeling so much better. Our behaviors and choices truly affect how are brains and bodies feel! Keep up the great work.

  • Fran Stone

    These are great depression busters. I refer to them often in my practice and also help children and teens with Mind Coach. Thank-you Dr. Amen ! Fran Stone LCPC

    • Dr. Daniel Amen

      Fran, I am so glad you find these and Mind Coach helpful with your clients!

  • Nelson Brann

    These are great tips. Thank you. We are working toward the SPECT experience. REALLY wish we could cut the check today!!

    • Dr. Daniel Amen

      Nelson, I’m glad you find the tips helpful!

  • John Vasilakos

    One way beating the Blues is walking outside now;being surrounded by the beauty,and sounds of Nature;and let your unique mind take it all in!!!! Sitting behind a computer looking at Social Media doesn’t cut it!!! Life is SHORT!!! If only God can answered my Prayers?

    • Dr. Daniel Amen

      I absolutely agree – too much screen time, whether it’s TV, mobile devices, computers, etc, is not healthy for the brain. Being in nature can be soothing and re-energizing. And, what makes it much better is exercising – walking, hiking, cycling, etc to get your heart rate up and nourish your brain and body.

    • What makes you think He isn’t doing it already?
      You pray for a nice house, it doesn’t appear outa thin air; He shows you how to get it, He opens a door for you, an opportunity, but its you who’s gotta make the conscious decision to take it, to walk through it.

      • John Vasilakos

        Everyday when things go wrong;or not as planned;I looked up in the sky;and asked God Why? And sometimes I cursed at him!! God is not Fair!! Does God have a glorious plan for me? Several years ago’I emailed the same question to the 700 Club. One nite I was watching;and my question was answered by Pat Robertson;who said:”Praise God Everyday.” It made my day.

  • Pardhasarathi Rayala

    Hi Amen sir my name Pardhasarathi rayala from India in telangana state .I am with panic anxiety and depression suffering from 4yrs .I traveled different phycologist in India they are giving me some antidepressants like clonazepam and nexito 10mg they are telling my case is moderate with anxiety and depression but it very affecting me .They told me to use for 3 years also life long.But I am getting more sleep by using it.How to deal my problem sir give me hope and help sir as ur only one person who I believe in the earth .Please sir help sir I beg u sir .My age is 25 yrs not married. I am with full of negativity and hopelessness worried ,lack of interest ,no confidence ,pounding heart ,full of fear .please help me sir I am with a hope of ur help. My no 919951659280.please help me sir I am unemployee.sir it’s very difficult to sustain and move forward sir .please sir I need ur guidance and divine help.Hopping for u sir.

    • Dr. Daniel Amen

      I am sorry to hear of your struggles with panic, anxiety and depression. Since you are so far from one of our clinics in the USA, I would encourage you to obtain a copy of my most recent book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life Revised and Expanded 2015. It provides a lot of information on these conditions as well as many natural ways to manage or overcome many of the symptoms. You my find it very helpful. Please note, the original version of the book published in 1998 does not contain many of the natural suggestions, so be mindful of the publishing date if you decide to purchase it or know where it may be available in a library. My best thoughts to you.

    • Pardhasarathi Rayala

      Hi Amen sir thank u for u advice .But give some advices regarding panic anxiety and depression how to deal it how to overcome this problem by using only antidepressants only it can be cured or not?In India many physiatrist are not seeing the MRI scans they are giving prescriptions only .Is there are any tests to be done if please tell me .I am struggling hard .My country is India how to reach u sir .please help me sir dealing this problem. I have complete and hope and faith on u sir .I beg u sir help me sir in treating it .I don’t know how to tell u I believe u only than God .Please help me to reach u sir .please sir I want ur help sir.I will wait for u sir .please sir love u sir.It’s very terrible sometimes give me life sir.please reach me sir .I can’t say any more sir…I am hoping for ur help sir.please give me rebirth to me sir .As a psychiatrist u only knows the pain and suffering.Think me as bigger and help me sir please show Mercy and peace on me.

  • Simona

    Should I give antidepressant to my 13 year daughter who suffer from anxiety/depression? She doesn’t want to do any kind of activity (sports, art, nothing) and she really struggles with school and friends. She says that sometimes she hears what people says but she cannot understand them, she is too worried or too sad or too afraid etc..
    Please I need your advise!

    • Simona, it is important to have your daughter evaluated by an experienced psychiatrist. If you can bring her to one of the Amen Clinics for an evaluation, our doctors can help. If not, we recommend looking for a doctor in your area who is highly recommended for working with teens struggling with psychiatric symptoms.

      • Simona

        Thanks so much for your answer. She is already taking therapies with a cognitive psychiatrist and he is suggesting antidepressant but I’m just to afraid of the side effects, I would like to support her in other ways, but at the same time I worried that I’m doing wrong in taking this path.. I’m just too confused..

  • John Vasilakos

    Today went to my former College. The campus hasn’t changed that much. Was planning surprising my former English Professor;Mario Susko;a proflic Writer;and Poetand former Poet Laureate; I haven’t seen since 1979!!! He wasn’t in his office;because I picked the wrong day. It was yesterday;what I was thinking!!! My mind plays tricks on me!!

  • John Vasilakos

    Sometimes I wonder what is LIFE;in all its’ infinite wonder,and incredible beauty;is all about? Wondering any noted Neuroscientist has studied if some people have a Depression-Gene? Could be?

  • socalcrrvs

    Are ANTs an occurring for most or all people who experience depression?

  • Shirley

    Saw and heard you on TedX, maybe a month ago. It touched a lot of buttons for me as I am entering a stage of not wanting to take my anti- depressants, mood stabilisers and whatever else I consume. I pick them out each morning and its like a physical weight settling on me.
    Our ANT’s are CBT’s here and I call them Change your Bloody Thinking which may not be too positive, but makes me aware that my thoughts aren’t taking me to a good place.
    I find that walking outside is the best; I go to a gym because I leave for work early and getting up and motivated is one of my manifestations. For me, the treadmill doesn’t seem to cut it but it’s the best I can do at the moment.
    I am grateful that you commenced the studies that you did and we now have a greater understanding of our brains response to depression and the different areas it affects.