I’ve got a question for you: Are you in the mood?
Your response is probably something along the lines of, “Uh, not really, doc, I’m sitting in front of my computer with my pajamas on.”
Despite the fact that my question typically means one very specific thing to most folks, I’m not asking you that. I’m asking if you’re in the mood to work? The mood to play? The mood to walk down the street and introduce yourself to the new neighbors? The mood to play hide-and-seek with your kids? Are you in the mood to live?
Why do I ask? Because the truth is that many people would answer an emphatic “No way.” Mood issues, though often considered to be so-called soft medical issues, are very real ones. Many people suffer not only from major clinical depression, but a good number suffer from seasonal blues or general swings of sadness (some controlled by hormones, some controlled by situations, some controlled by other chemical processes in the body).
And that’s a very real problem. Mood problems are related to weight issues, sleep problems and fatigue, and depression can do some harm to your immune system and increase your risk for cardiac problems. Hardly soft issues, I’d say.
While depression can be a complex issue that needs medical attention, there are several things you can do to help elevate your spirits. Here are three of my suggestions:
Get Your Sweat On
If you haven’t exercised in a while, the thought of slipping into a pair of tight pants and a sports bra might seem depressing in itself. Exercise, however, has been shown to be more effective than many antidepressants in reducing major depression. And it has the same kind of effect on less serious mood issues, too. Part of that may be attributed to the endorphin effect of exercise; we may also feel a sense of purpose and accomplishment that comes with completing an exercise program.
A simple walk will do, but doing something that really elevates your heart rate and gets your sweat flowing will have a major payoff when you’re finished. Sometimes, action has to come before motivation, and depressed folks need to act to prime their motivational engine.
Find a Guide
Guided imagery isn’t the screen of your car’s GPS. It’s actually a way of making you feel better. The technique has been shown to improve the ability to cope with depression, improve mood, and decrease stress. How do you do it? Go to a quiet place (the bathroom often works well, since privacy is usually respected there).
Start by relaxing and breathing deeply, then visualize yourself in different scenarios. Some variations include visualizing yourself in a pleasant place (the beach), fighting disease (seeing your good immune cells fighting off bad germs), or practicing for a big performance (doing well in your job).
Fix Your Diet
It’s one of the most vicious circles there is: You feel sad, you reach for chips. You reach for chips, you feel sad. Food, in many ways, really is medicine. And if you can break that cycle of reaching for sugary carbs, mashed carbs, fried carbs, and all-adjective junk foods, then you’ve got a fighting chance to improve your mood in natural ways. Lots of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats can help. Top it off with a small piece of dark chocolate.