As mentioned in my previous blog posts, my burnout in 2019 brought to light my PTSD that I have always had since my childhood trauma happened. The symptoms of a PTSD are actually very similar to depression and anxiety (negative changes in thinking and mood, strong physical and emotional reactions), except that in the case of PTSD we know which traumatic event causes the distress. And in the therapy we can address this traumatic event.
Beyond the therapy, I have been also following the work of Dr Andrew Huberman, an American neuroscientists who-in his podcast- discusses how our brain controls our perceptions, our behaviors, and our health. I find in particular interesting that he discusses behavioral tools (“do’s and don’ts”), and the role of nutrition, exercise, supplements, prescription drugs and electronic devices for measuring and changing the way our nervous systems work.
I extracted some useful behavioral tools, based on the following episodes, that I also use:
-Tools for Managing Stress & Anxiety | Huberman Lab Podcast #10 -Understanding & Conquering Depression | Huberman Lab Podcast #34
-Dr. Paul Conti: Therapy, Treating Trauma & Other Life Challenges | Huberman Lab Podcast #75
-Science-Based Tools for Increasing Happiness | Huberman Lab Podcast #98
Tool 1: Light Exposure Timing & Brightness Timing
In order to have a good circadian rhythm and a better mood, you should avoid the exposure to light between 22h and 4h and you should increase your light exposure before 10h in the morning (after waking up), for at least a 15 min duration. What this says is that you should try to get the most light possible during the day and dim your light starting from 18h until bedtime (later in summer months).
As I live in Belgium -with less sunlight overall-, I try to walk to work, hence being exposed to morning light, and I also use the Beurer light therapy during the tough winter months.
Tool 2: Diet
The ingestion of certain high carbohydrates, like turkey and other meat (rich in amino acid tryptophan), can be indeed part of the self-medicating of depression treatment. It is so, as says Dr Huberman, because it can blunt the cortisol level and increase serotonin. The other effective diet -supported by peer review- is the ketogenic diet that is also working in the case of epilepsy. Finally, it is also advised to ingest 3-4 servings of fermented foods per day. This keeps the gut healthy, hence the mood level in balance.
Tool 3: Vitamins and supplements
Dr Huberman underlines the proved effect of Omega 3 tackling depression. He suggests Omega 3 with min 1000 EPA (Essential Fatty Acids) per day to reach this effect. Further, it is advised to take vitamin D, especially during the winter months. To complement this, I also take I vitamin E (800 IU), vitamin A (5000 IU) and some Rhodiola Rosea roots that help tackling the high cortisol level during stressful weeks.
Dr Huberman also talks about creatine as a new supplement tackling the symptoms of depression (3-5 g per day). Read more on the creatine related research below.
Tool 4: Exercise and Exposure to cold
Regular sport activity -running, cycling, box, etc.- can relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety as it increases your dopamine and serotonin levels. Research suggests that you should get between 150 and 180 min exercise per week. My trick is 1h squash, 1h dance and 1h yoga every week.
Concerning exposure to cold, Dr Huberman suggests taking a cold shower (or one part of your shower), because as a result your body and brain will release epinephrine and norepinephrine that reduces symptoms of anxiety. I am honestly not at the stage of applying that every day, but I take cold showers when I go to the sauna.
Tool 5: Meditation
Being present in what we do is key and this is what meditation teaches us. In his podcast, Dr Huberman explains that even a 13 min meditation per day get greatly enhance your, mood, sleep and ability to focus.
Also, meditation can help us change our relationship to anxiety, so we're able to let feelings come and go. For my short meditations, I use the Headspace app.
Tool 6: Quality social connection
Research qualifies quality social connection different relations such as a relationship, friendship, interaction with co-workers or daily superficial interactions. Even seeing faces in the morning and making eye contact can elevate our mood, which can be explained by our primate nature, as humans.
Research proves that social connection can indeed increase our ability to increase our level of happiness and overall well-being. So the tip here I think is to find connections in your life, with whom you feel comfortable and understood.
Dr Huberman highlights that this does not mean that you necessarily need to have a deep conversation for that. Everyone is a bit different (introvert/extrovert), so you need to find the balance that is comfortable for you.
The Official Website of the Huberman Lab Podcast: https://hubermanlab.com/
The YouTube channel of the Podcast https://www.youtube.com/@hubermanlab
Review of Creatine for the Treatment of Depression - https://www.mdpi.com/520864