7 Steps to Total Health
This 7-step framework comes partially from the work of Dr. Steven Ilardi. I have modified it but I use a lot of his ideas. He outlines a 6-step program in his excellent little book The Depression Cure which I highly recommend.
Here are a couple of differences in my work and that of Dr. Ilardi.
Dr. Ilardi correctly emphasizes increasing Omega-3 vitamins. I think Omega-3 supplements are so important that they are in their own category separate from Diet. However, I think that nutrition is extremely important so I have added another step, Diet, which is a lot deeper and broader than just Omega-3s.
I expanded his rumination topic and call it ‘Mind Management Strategies’. Dr Ilardi’s book focuses on depression and rumination is a critical for depression. Thus it is totally clear why Dr. Ilardi emphasized only rumination in his depression cure book. However, we do a lot of mental things other than rumination that are self destructive, so Mind Management serves the topic of Total Health better than simply focusing on rumination.
The 7 steps are not listed in any particular order. We are all different and we all have to start where we are at, focusing on our own individual situation.
Do whatever you are willing to do to help yourself. Make it happen.
The 7 Steps
Minimum: Three times a week get 30-40 minutes of moderate to intense exercise.
Exercise is anything like weightlifting, running, hard yoga, calisthenics, walking fast, biking, or playing basketball, that gets your heart rate elevated and makes you breath faster. Mild exercise like gentle walking or slow mellow yoga is better than nothing, but exercising with some intensity seems to have the strongest beneficial effect on stress reduction and your mood. Many people report that finding a regular exercise partner and/or routine helps to stay on track.
Omega-3 fatty acid supplements
Minimum: 1 gram (1000mg) daily of EPA.
You can buy these at a drugstore or health food store. Look for a brand that will give you 1000 mg of EPA and 500 mg of DHA per day. This is the amount that has been shown in studies to be beneficial to people with depression.
You can take these even if you are on other medications; there are no known interactions with drugs. The only side effects some people have reported are that they sometimes burp up a fishy taste after taking them. Solutions to this problem are to freeze the pills and take them right before a meal. If all else fails, there is a liquid form available that some people prefer.
Here’s a link to a high quality Omega-3 that you can buy online. These are the ones I take myself:
From Crossfit.com: In plain language, base your diet on garden vegetables, especially greens, lean meats, nuts and seeds, little starch, and no sugar. That’s about as simple as we can get. Many have observed that keeping your grocery cart on the perimeter of the grocery store while avoiding the aisles is a great way to protect your health. Food is perishable. The stuff with long shelf life is all suspect. If you follow these simple guidelines you will benefit from nearly all that can be achieved through nutrition.
This isn’t that complicated, but it is difficult to eat like this given the way many of us have structured our lives.
Minimum: 30 minutes daily.
This step is very helpful to people who notice that there is a seasonal component to their depression. We recommend that people get at least 30 minutes of bright light exposure per day. You can actually go outside in the sun or get light exposure from a special light box that emits the same amount of light (10,000 lux).
Try www.LightTherapyProducts.com to order a light box; a good one costs around $170. Try to get light exposure at the same time every day. Some people like to sit by the light while they eat breakfast and read the paper. Some like to sit by it while they read or study in the evening. Experiment to see what works best for you. And don’t miss a day of light exposure if you can help it. This is something that will only work for you cumulatively if you are consistent!
If you cannot get enough light, try supplementing your diet with vitamin D3. Here’s a good cheap one:
Mind Management Strategies
Mindfulness practice, thought watching, de-stressing- there are a lot of mind management skills you can employ. Daily mindfulness practice will show you where your mind management weaknesses are and can also help you relax, eventually. Read a book on like The Happiness Trap, Calming your Anxious Mind, or Leave Your Mind Behind to learn different ways you can be more free from your self-destructive thinking.
Minimum: 5 times a week
You have probably noticed that when you are more anxious or depressed, you are less motivated to seek out others for socializing. Try to spend as much time as possible with healthy, supportive others. This is a powerful way to focus on something else besides your thoughts and get you the support you need.
Even online support is better than being stuck in your own head. Participate in an online community.
Minimum: 6 hours daily
Ideally you are getting 8 hours of sleep per night. One of the biggest risk factors for mental health is having a problem with sleep. As best you can, go to sleep and wake up at the same time every night. Prepare yourself for bed by having a “bedtime ritual”. Dim the lights, turn off the TV and computer, put on your PJs, and do a quiet activity like read. Avoid caffeine and alcohol for several hours before you plan to go to bed.