Depression rates in the West are skyrocketing, while in the East they remain low. In the West, peoples’ lives tend to be fuller—of material things, the ephemeral Cloud (whatever that is), other technologies, and appointments. And ironically this busy-ness and fullness is associated with increased incidence of depression.
When it comes to technology, some researchers have proposed that fewer face-to-face interactions catalyze feelings of loneliness and depression. But even if this is true, the same technological innovations that promote feelings of depression can be used to overcome depression.
1. Break the Cycle of Depression with Books and Journaling
When you think of technology, you may picture an iPad. But the definition of technology (the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes) actually includes books with ground-breaking theories. Sure enough, changing how people think about depression itself (hint: it’s more than just “the blues”) is well within the power of a book.
In Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, Dr. David Burns presents Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) methods directly to the people on a silver (or in this case yellow) platter. In simple, easy-to understand language, he teaches readers how to recognize harmful cognitive distortions, reframe negative thinking, and change the way the world affects them. No doubt this powerful text has changed the lives of thousands of people by empowering them with strategies to gain control over their minds.
In contrast, William Irvine resurrected an old philosophy to help depression sufferers. In A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, Irvine introduces the ancient Stoic belief system in a way that modern readers can understand. By adopting a Stoic mindset, readers will begin to understand that all striving is futile. They will learn to appreciate what they have and prize only things of true value. These reprioritizations help to defeat feelings of depression.
While an author’s rendering of depression can be helpful, a depressed person’s own writing may be even more transformative. Studies have found that expressive journaling can reduce feelings of depression and anxiety, most likely because it brings these feelings out into the light where they will no longer fester in the dark.
2. Nurture the mind with nutrition
Like paper and pencils, food has been around forever. But food’s connection to depression is all new. Scientists are beginning to discover that food affects mood. Specifically, depression has been linked to an imbalance of good and bad bacteria in the intestines.
Lifestyle factors like antibiotic use can deplete the good and bad bacteria. Then foods like gluten and dairy can irritate the intestinal lining, causing a breach. If food leaks into the bloodstream, the immune system will attack it, causing widespread inflammation. And chronic inflammation is at the root of chronic disease and depression. In fact, researchers have found that inflammation and depression are a vicious cycle.
With this in mind, many nutritionists recommend eating a whole food, unprocessed diet. Specifically, the Mediterranean Diet and the The New Nordic Diet, which feature fish, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, have an anti-inflammatory effect, and therefore reduce feelings of depression.
3. Virtual Reality and Computer-Based Therapy
No, virtual reality is not a way to escape life’s problems. When used to treat depression, it allows healthcare practitioners to individualize the simulated environment to each client’s needs. For instance, if an individual tends to feel depressed after checking Facebook, virtual reality can put him or her in that situation and so that he or she can reframe negative thoughts.
Virtual Reality therapy is also used to expose people with phobias to their fears so that they can overcome them. It can also help people overcome PTSD.
Neurofeedback is a computer-based depression treatment that tracks real-time brain waves via an EEG so that the user can identify which thoughts lead to increased Beta (or anxiety) waves. The goal is to learn how to increase the Alpha, Delta, and Theta (relaxation) waves.
4. Add Phone Apps to Fight Depression
A counselor cannot follow around a person with depression, reminding them to stay positive. But there are many apps that can do this! Let’s look at two:
Pacifica is a psychologist-designed app that encourages the regular use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy techniques, mindfulness meditation, relaxation, and mood tracking.
Spire is a mindfulness and activity tracker that can be hooked to the waistline and used to track physiological stress symptoms, like increased respirations, shallow breathing, and fast heartbeat. By using this app to identify times of stress, a person can become more aware of situations that cause anxiety and depression and learn to work through those feelings. As an added bonus, the activity tracker may serve as motivation to exercise more, which also reduces symptoms of anxiety and depression.
5. Acclimate with Light Therapy
Sometimes a change in seasons can cause depression. Seasonal Affective Disorder (called SAD for short) especially affects people who live in parts of the word that receive only a few hours of light per day during certain seasons. It can also help people who work the night shift and have trouble going to sleep during the day. A lack of sunlight exposure decreases levels of Vitamin D, leading to depression.
But ReTimer Light Therapy Glasses reset the body’s natural rhythm though 30 minutes of exposure to green-blue (relaxation) light. These glasses combat insomnia and other symptoms of bodily imbalance, which contribute to depression.
6. Stimulation Therapy
Perhaps the most controversial technologies used to treat depression today are grouped in the “stimulation therapy” section. These therapies use electrical or magnetic brain and nervous system stimulation to change the current bodily patterns that contribute to feelings of depression.
Binaural audio stimulation is a non-invasive therapy that uses sound waves to change the frequency of cellular vibration. This calms the nervous system.
Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES) stimulates the brain with electric current. A specific type is the Fisher Wallace Stimulator.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation is similar to CES, but it uses magnetic pulses to stimulate the brain.
Vagus Nerve Stimulation is often done with a tens unit, which can activate the vagus nerve. This nerve wanders throughout most of the body and controls the relaxation response.
Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) is the riskiest and most invasive stimulation therapy. Practitioners implant electrodes deep in the brain to alter its patterns of functioning. There have been severe, unpleasant side effects caused by this therapy.
The good news is that researchers and healthcare professionals take depression seriously; no longer is it thought of as “the blues.” Researchers have pioneered many cutting-edge methods to address the root cause of depression. Although technology may cause feelings of loneliness and depression, the power of technology can be harnessed to reduce these feelings as well.