Congruent Joy

How To Get Your Brain Undepressed

Does your brain ever get depressed sometimes? Or maybe you might have a friend who’s feeling depressed?

Here are some tips for getting undepressed.

So why do I say “get your brain undepressed”? Usually we say, “I’m depressed”, not “my brain is depressed”.

Well, our consciousness runs on top of our physical brain, which is made up of neurons communicating with neurotransmitters and so on.

Normally, our brain is responsive: for example, we feel bad when bad things happen and we feel good when good things happen.

Now, we can mean different things by “depressed”.

Someone might say, for example, “I’m so depressed, my beloved pet died”.

By which they mean sad and dejected, a normal and natural reaction to something bad having happened.

And our helpful response is to offer comfort, not to say “OK, let’s get your brain undepressed” ;-)

However, our brain can also get stuck on “bad”.

A state of depression.

We say “I’m depressed” as a useful shorthand for saying “My brain is depressed”.

It’s like saying, “I'm sorry I’m late, I broke down on the highway”, when what I mean is “My car broke down”, not that I broke down

And having a depressed brain isn’t the same as just being unhappy.

Of course, we often become unhappy when we’re depressed, and if we’re unhappy about something the stress of being unhappy can contribute to depression… so they often go together.

Yet it’s also entirely possible to be very unhappy without being depressed.

Imagine a baby who is unhappy: crying and waving their arms around and wailing at the top of their lungs.


This baby is unhappy, but not depressed.

A depressed brain lacks emotional vigor. Stuck on “bad”, in a state of emotional exhaustion, not feeling like anything is going to be an improvement.

Our brains evolved for living in hunter-gatherer tribes. An environment where, for example, they weren’t exposed regularly to caffeine, or where they didn’t get much exercise, or where they were constantly reacting to a hectic urban environment.

And maybe, you might perhaps be someone who likes hectic urban environments… but, still, it is possible for your brain to get tired (much like, say, how someone might like running but their body gets tired after they’ve been running for a while).

So here’s a checklist for you.

Many of these are obvious… yet the reason why we for example use a grocery list when going shopping is so that we don’t overlook anything. (There’s a terrific book by the way on the power of checklists by Atul Gawande, The Checklist Manifesto).

The Checklist

In the last seven days:

  • How has your sleep been? Are you waking up feeling rested?

  • How many hours of vigorous exercise (that is, exercise that got your heart rate up) did you do? How many hours of mild exercise?

  • How many hours have you been outside in the sunshine? Out in nature?

  • How much have you meditated, practiced breathing exercises, or taken a walk without distraction?

  • How much caffeine have you consumed? Alcohol? Drugs?

  • What’s your diet like? How much highly nutritious / raw vegan / vegan / vegetarian / sugary and high glycemic index / animal products / junk food have you been eating?

And, in general:

  • When’s the last time you hung out chatting with friends / had a nice cuddle session / got a massage / made out / had sex?

  • Are you in a situation (job, relationship, family, location) that you hate, or is causing you a lot of stress?

  • When’s the last time you got a mental checkup / tuneup by seeing a therapist?

  • When’s the last time you took a vacation? How long did it last?


Something to keep in mind is that it can be hard while depressed to do things.

Normally, I may have some problem, and I realize, “Aha, the solution is X”, and then I may have no trouble actually doing X if I’m feeling alert and energetic.

But it’s not uncommon when depressed to realize intellectually, “OK, to stop being depressed it would be a good idea for me to exercise an hour a day”… but then it can be tough to have the emotional energy to drag yourself off to go exercising.

An animal when injured or sick will want to hide in its burrow, and depression can trigger this same kind response… even though that’s not an effective response to depression.

Thus, you want to plan for this.

Put a structure in place that will, for example, get you to exercise daily, even when you don’t feel like it.

(While depressed you may well never feel like it ).

Since your motivation may be rather low at the moment, find help. You might, for example, ask a friend to come get you to go exercise, or to hire a personal trainer or coach.

Also, watch out for rationalizations.

Typically, often we’re have an emotional reaction first and then come up with an explanation for that emotional reaction.

(I don’t want to go to that party. Why? It’s too loud. OK, that may not be the entire reason, but it’s a good enough explanation to go on with).

But, when depressed, your emotional reaction may always be negative… so keep an eye out for when you may be coming up with rational explanations, rationalizations, for not doing things that you don’t want to do, when why you don’t want to do them is just because you’re depressed.

What to Do

So at this point you may have some hypotheses; maybe for example your brain is depressed because you haven’t been exercising much, or maybe because you’ve been drinking caffeine for a long time, or maybe because you’re in a stressful situation, or maybe because your diet is lousy.

Which do you tackle first?

All of them, that you can.

You don’t want to try one thing for a week, and then another for another week, and then another for yet another week… all while remaining depressed.

Get undepressed first.

After all, if you’re not sure if one particular thing might be contributing to your depression or not, you can always add it back to your life later, after you’re feeling good, and see if you start feeling miserable again

  • See a therapist. Check out A Step by Step Guide to Finding a Good Therapist and How to Get Therapy

  • Quit caffeine and other drugs. (Caffeine for example can cause adrenal fatigue, and also interfere with getting a good night’s rest).

  • Exercise for an hour a day. Vigorous exercise that gets your heart rate up, if you’re in shape for it, otherwise do an hour of mild exercise and gradually increase the intensity as you get in shape.

    (Note that while exercise is often helpful for depression, particularly cardio exercise, over exercising can be draining. So you may need to find a balance).

  • Eat a healthy diet.

  • If you’re in a stressful situation, see if you can leave or take a break.

  • Spend time in nature.

  • Meditate.

  • Spend time with friends.

  • Take a vacation.

  • If you’re in a dark or cloudy location and aren’t getting much sunlight, try a sun lamp.

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