Banishing the blues


  • Health
  • Sunday, 13 Jul 2003

EVEN when we’re aware of our mood triggers and avoid the ones we can, funks happen. So what are some of the best ways to banish the blues?  

Get busy 

“Getting absorbed shuts off mood,” says clinical psychologist Marin Seligman, author the best-selling Learned Optimism, and his most recent book, Authentic Happiness, (Free Press 2000). Being in flow in some creative project, being at one with your work, losing yourself in a good book, being intimate with someone you love or immersing yourself in a tennis game or yoga class are all great ways to block the blues.  

Fight back with calcium 

Recent studies have proven that taking calcium every day is good for moods. A study at St Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in New York City found that women who took 1,200mg of calcium daily reported a 48% decrease in PMS symptoms after three months and a 45% drop in mood swings, compared to the control group.  

Other studies have shown that taking 50mg of vitamin B6 every day is also a good mood lifter, but don’t take more than that, warns Nanette Santoro, MD, a professor of reproductive medicine and endocrinology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Centre in New York City. Too much can be toxic.  

Light up your life 

For those sensitive to light changes, or who have what experts call seasonal affect disorder (SAD), a little daylight, particularly morning light, goes a long way to lifting low spirits. “Light has a measurable affect on serotonin levels in the brain,” says John F. Greden, MD, chairman of the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan. If you live in a place that has short days and long dark nights, consider investing in a light box. Sitting in one for as little as 30 to 40 minutes a day can really brighten your spirits.  

Get a check-up 

When a woman comes to clinical psychologist Stephanie Ross complaining that she doesn’t feel like herself anymore, the first thing checked is her thyroid. A hormone produced by the thyroid gland, thyroid governs metabolism and many bodily functions, and affects how we feel. Too little thyroid and a woman feels sluggish and low; too much and she feels tense and anxious.  

Approximately 5% of women have low thyroid. After age 35, all women should be screened with a simple blood test every three to five years, says Santoro. For women who need them, simply taking thyroid supplements daily can feel like getting a new set of spark plugs.  

Get moving 

Study after study reinforces what we all know: Exercise makes you feel better. Researchers know that exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, a feel-good chemical. New research has revealed links between exercise and the increase of the brain’s neurotrophins, says Greden.  

An active substance in the brain, neurotrophins – literally brain food – are something we all need an adequate supply of. Without them, neurons in the brain starve and start to shrivel. Scientists know that stress, alcohol, depression and pain reduce them, but exercise and antidepressants boost them.  

Scientists are looking for other neurotrophin boosters, but for now daily exercise looks like your best bet.  

Watch the clock 

Everyone has a basic rest and activity cycle, which professionals refer to as BRAC. Mess with it, and you’re bound to encounter your grumbly side, says Seligman. Most people have a high mood around noon and again around 8pm, and feel low around 4pm and again at 2am to 4am. If you’re feeling sad or anxious all of a sudden, look at the clock. It may only be an afternoon slump. Knowing that, you can ride it out, take a short nap or take a walk to break the low point.  

BRAC disruptions also explain why poor sleep patterns and jet lag make people irritable. A good night’s sleep is good mood insurance. And if you’re the type who doesn’t adjust well to new time zones, don’t sign on for a job that requires a lot of travelling.  

Check your medications 

Some medications, particularly those that lower blood pressure, or steroids, can dampen your mood, says Greden. Talk to your doctor if that’s happening. Also avoid over-the-counter sleep and diet medications.  

Watch what you drink 

People who are prone to mood swings need to be careful not to consume too much alcohol or caffeine. The first is a depressant, the second a stimulant. Coming off too much of either can wreak havoc in mood-sensitive people, says Greden.  

Keep your marriage healthy 

A good marriage is incredibly protective for women, says Ross. Take time to keep it healthy through regular nights out together and uninterrupted times to talk about the week’s stresses.  

Go out with friends 

Putting yourself with other people gets you out of your own head, says Ross. So call a friend and schedule lunch. Even better, go volunteer to help people who need you.  

Get some perspective 

When Ross recently found herself bent out of shape over a home repair that wasn’t going well, she asked herself: What’s the worst thing that could happen? “When I played it out and put it in perspective, I stopped letting it bother me. It wasn’t going to ruin my day unless I let it.” – LAT-WP 

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