Now that the holiday season is upon us, some of us may be in a funk. The holiday blues are so prevalent that they are almost a cliche. Years ago, when I volunteered at a crisis hotline, the phone lines were busy in the month of December! So, what do we do? If you’re like many Americans, you may be running to your doctor for a course of antidepressant medication.
Depression is a real problem in our society, and those whose lives are compromised by depression may need medication. I don’t want to imply that depressed people don’t need medical treatment — it can be lifesaving.
However, Dr. Andrew Weil, in his new book Spontaneous Happiness, suggests that those of us who have mild to moderate depression try non-drug treatments first. He expresses a concern (and I agree with him) that people are turning to antidepressant medication when they are experiencing normal sadness, such as when a loved one dies or when they are diagnosed with illness. It feels as though we think we should be happy all the time, and when we’re not, we’re doing something wrong!
I learned of the brilliant Dr. Weil many years ago in my search for physical health. Dr. Weil, as many of you know, is a pioneer in the field of integrative medicine, where traditional medicine is blended with nutrition, exercise, breath, and other holistic methods to create increased health and well-being.
What many of us didn’t know is that Dr. Weil has experienced dysthemia, a low to moderate level of depression, on many occasions over the years. In Spontaneous Happiness, Dr. Weil combines scientific study with his own personal experience to create an intimate and thoughtful book about depression and anxiety. As I read it, I felt as though I had found a kindred spirit, a fellow introverted writer whose creativity leaves him vulnerable to depressive episodes. His attempts to balance necessary social interaction with his need for solitude caused me to nod my head in understanding. Like Dr. Weil, I am prone to reclusiveness and have to work at getting out and being with people. Even my kindergarten report card reports this attribute!
Harvard-educated, Dr. Weil approaches research with an analytical mind, offering solutions that, in his view, meet rigorous criteria. For example, he notes that St. John’s Wort has been shown ineffective at treating major depression — but in many studies, is useful for mild to moderate depression. This information can help a confused reader sort out treatment options available.
Readers familiar with Weil’s work will recognize many of the tried and true remedies he recommends: plenty of Omega 3 fish oil and Vitamin D, for example. For some time now, hubby and I have included weekly servings of wild-caught salmon in our diets to ensure that we get plenty of Omega 3s. Weil also indicates that he is working on the sustainability issue by working to develop algae-based sources of Omega 3s that will hopefully protect salmon populations.
Diet, exercise, daily breathing exercises, meditation, social interaction, and thoughtful use of supplements provide the cornerstone of Dr. Weil’s program. After several chapters designed to provide a foundation for understanding, he offers an eight-week program to improve mood. It’s safe and it’s sensible. Though I know and practice most of the principles, I did learn a few tricks that may help me. More than anything, though, I felt less alone. Thumbs up to Dr. Weil! I loved the book.