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Relieve the Depression and Anxiety of Civilization

Depression is a disease of civilization and the result of a prolonged stress response, says Stephen Ilardi and Sara Burrows in the Fall 2018 issue of Pathways to Family Wellness.

We can mitigate our depressive and anxious symptoms by living a more “uncivilized” life, or at least by infusing our life with a style of living closer to our ancient forebears.

Our forebears lived much closer to the land. Their lives were slower-paced and more cyclically attuned to the Earth. With electric lights, overnight transportation, and modern technology of all kinds, we can ignore the cycles of Nature and force our bodies to perform. We can stay up as late as we like, eat strawberries in winter, and work, work, work, all day and all year long.

When we get tired and overwhelmed, we rarely rest the body, mind, and soul.

Mental health benefits come from taking time to rest, recover, and live closer to the earth. We can’t always do that, but when we can, it’s important that we do.

The elements of uncivilized, pre-industrial living that create mental health

    1. Exercise

      This is not a push for working out, which can be stressful for the body, but rather for more natural movement. Purposeful, feel-good movement like chores, walking, and dancing. Pathways author Sara Burrows quotes Ilardi who says, “Walking for 30 minutes, three times a week, has better effects on depression than Zoloft.”

    2. Omega 3 Fatty Acids

      These come from eating fish, seafood, flax, walnuts, or supplements.

    3. Sunlight

      Outdoor activity each day is outstanding to get your natural dose of Vitamin D. Go on a walk, tend the garden, even sit out and wave at neighbors. Basking in a sunny window will do in a pinch, or in the heart of Winter.

    4. Healthy Sleep

      Follow the Sun’s cycle as much as possible. Go to sleep early and spend your evening hours winding down. Keep artificial light to a minimum after dark, avoiding screens as much as possible. Consider filters or a blue light reduction app for your screens. The blue light from screens is especially bad for sleep hormones.

    5. Anti-Ruminative Activity

      Adding more anti-ruminative activity into your life will alleviate some of the strain of depression and anxiety. Find something you enjoy that doesn’t require you to think. Less thinking means less judging. Canoeing, drumming, running, walking, singing, dancing, light reading, ect. Find what works for you.

    6. Social Connection

      If you don’t have many people in your life to care about, find some. Volunteer, talk to your neighbors, call family and friends more often, invite people over or meet them out. Look for ways to connect.

Here’s to a slower, more positive, connected, and healthy 2019!


Lauren is a childbirth educator (Birth Boot Camp) and the author of the Breech Baby Handbook. She owns Better Birth Graphics, a shop full of practical, intuitive birth media for professionals. Her work has been published in Mothering, Holistic Parenting Magazine, Birth Issues, True Birth, Mama Birth, and elsewhere. She lives in Maryland with her family of five.