Can We Fight Depression By Going Old-School?

For a while now, I’ve understood that we weren’t really evolved for our modern world.

Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t want to go back to living in mud huts and gather fruits and nuts as a way to make a living. I just understand that in the course of human evolution, our modern world is but a blip. We haven’t had time to evolve to consume the kind of food we consume while lacking the need to move much, if any.

However, earlier this week I came across an article that argued depression, of all things, was a disease of civilization. It also suggested some interesting ways to deal with it.

Now, I’ve dealt with my own depression demons before. Hell, I still do on a regular basis, so I’m sharing this as much for my benefit as anyone else’s, but I also know I’m not the only one who could benefit from this.

The article itself is a couple of years old.

However, in it, it argues that depression is something we don’t see in more primitive societies. It’s really just something you find in more developed cultures like ours.

I haven’t read the book that delves more deeply into the science, but I did see the six steps the book’s author, Stephen Ildari, suggests.

Though he’s not entirely opposed to medication, Ildari says we can throw all the drugs in the world at the depression epidemic, and it won’t make a dent.

Anti depressant use has gone up 300 percent in the last 20 years, but the rate of depression has continued to increase. One in nine Americans over age 12 is currently taking an antidepressant, and one in five have been on them at some point.

The answer, Ildari says, is a change in lifestyle. He says the results of his six step program have exceeded his wildest dreams:

1. Exercise
2. Omega 3 Fatty Acids
3. Sunlight
4. Healthy Sleep
5. Anti-ruminative activity
6. Social connection

Ildari emphasizes the importance of exercise and social connection, as they are two of the hardest parts of the program for modern Americans.

Now, here’s what’s interesting to me. You see, pretty much all of these are already known to help combat depression. Even the Omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to help fight it off.


The effects of exercise on depression have been long established. I’m not even going to bother linking to anything showing it. Yes, it really is that established.

Further, even if you ignore the biological components of how exercise affects depression and the central nervous system as a whole, exercise can also counter any feelings of self-doubt in yourself. After all, watching yourself improve week after week, to see yourself go from only squatting 70 lbs to easily doing 250 after a few months is a serious boost to the self-esteem.

Success breed success, and exercise is a great way to start the process. We can almost schedule successes through exercise, allowing someone to create a foundation for further self-improvement.


There’s a reason people become more depressed in the winter, when the days are shorter. The sun is an important aspect of human life. We get Vitamin D from it.

I’m not going to go into why it’s important. You already know that the reason we call overcast skies “gloomy” is because that’s the feeling it evokes in humans.

We need sunlight.

Which kind of sucks for me because I actually like gloomy weather, but it is what it is and despite this fact about me, even I start to feel depressed when deprived of sunlight for long enough.

The upside to this is that if you train outside, you’re getting sunlight. 

You can also get this through yard work, taking a walk, or a thousand other ways.

Healthy Sleep

Well, it’s sleep. There are a million reasons people need a good night’s sleep and I’m not going to delve into them. Not really.

Just chalk this up to one more.

Anti-ruminative activity

This was one that interested me a great deal. Mostly because it’s not something that gets thrown around much when talking about depression.

For the record, rumination is defined as “a deep or considered thought about something.”

If you’ve been depressed before, you may well remember that the last thing you needed to do was start thinking deeply. When you’re in that state of mind, your brain can go into dark, terrifying places.

Anti-ruminative activities, though, are activities that require so much of your focus that you can’t have deep thoughts that go to dark places. They demand too much of your attention.

You know how you might be feeling bad and a friend suggests you go do something to “take your mind off of it?” Well, it’s kind of like that, though I find that what friends think will take my mind off of stuff rarely do. That’s the principle, though.

Things like artistic pursuits work really well, as do any somewhat involved task.

What you don’t want is something you can do on auto-pilot. If you’re able to ponder things other than what you’re doing, you probably not doing an anti-ruminative activity.

Oddly, while this sounds the exact opposite of meditation, it looks like it fights depression in a similar way.

While meditation requires you to clear everything out of your mind, including any depressive thoughts, anti-ruminative activities just kick those thoughts out of there. Both basically require depressive thoughts to be gone, they just do it in very different ways.

Social Connection

Humans are tribal creatures. While we like to pretend we’ve evolved beyond that, we haven’t. Take a look around and you’ll see plenty of examples of tribal behavior, from in-jokes amongst a group of friends to the fans of sports teams.

Because of that tribal nature, though, we’re not solitary creatures. Not even me, who has considered describing himself as a professional hermit. I need contact with other humans.

If I do, then so do you.

Think about it for a moment. When you think of the saddest people you know, the most depressive people you know, do they have a ton of friends? Do they have much in the way of social connections with others? Probably not.

Even those of us who do have friends, however, tend to become more depressed when we can’t connect with those friends for whatever reason. When everyone is busy and we crave social interaction, it can send us into a depressive state.

By connecting with people, though, we tend to hold these thoughts at bay. 

Again, we’re tribal creatures. We need our tribe, even if it’s a tribe by choice.

Of course, while these are presented as all you need to do for depression, I’m not ready to tell anyone to put all their eggs in that basket. We have more intensive therapy options and medications for a reason.

However, I am confident in suggesting that anyone suffering from depression should try to follow those six steps and try to self-manage it that way in addition to other treatment options.

If you’re not pursuing other options and want to try this before seeking treatment, I don’t see that as a problem. However, I will say that if you feel suicidal or homicidal, do not screw around  Seek help immediately! Don’t play around with this. Please.

In the meantime, though, maybe these can help. I know I plan on incorporating more of this into my own life.

Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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