A clear morning sky, a newborn baby’s eyes ... “blues” like these won’t ever get you down. Not so the blue-tinged moods that most of us get hit with from time to time. Now there’s surprising new evidence that little things you do every day have the power to keep you from getting stuck down in the dumps, and let you take control of your emotional and physical health.
Some straightforward moves may help you leave your not-feeling-it, don’t-want-to-talk-about-it, think-I-might-just-go-back-to-sleep (or grab a big plate of fries!) moodiness. We’re talking about strategies such as overriding negative thoughts, skipping the “blue plate” special at your local drive-thru and shutting the bedroom shades tonight. They’re important, because avoiding even mild or temporary depression does more than improve your outlook; it helps you sidestep added risks for fatal heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and premature cell-aging.
One Big Alert: Chronic, relentless depression, whether severe or mild, calls for extra steps to ease the lousy feelings. So if for two weeks or more you have trouble concentrating and your zest for life’s gone missing, have trouble sleeping or sleep too much, lose or gain weight, don’t try to manage your moods on your own. Talk to a doctor about getting therapy and medical treatment. Clinical depression is a physical ailment, not a matter of attitude. As with any illness, the smart move is to get the best care possible.
That said, everyone can benefit from info on how to use their own powers of self-persuasion and self-motivation to banish (or at least ease) the blues.
Trigger: Down thinking. Thoughts that circle around helplessness, hopelessness, purposelessness, worthlessness, powerlessness, loneliness, emptiness and/or meaninglessness keep you in the blue zone.
Solution: Focus on gratitude and meaning. A daily gratitude journal, stopping to say thank you (or writing a thank-you note) and connecting with the most meaningful forces in your life can remind you of all the good stuff when the going gets tough.
Trigger: Inflammation. Bodywide inflammation isn’t just bad for your arteries. There’s more and more evidence that inflammation can fuel brain changes that affect mood. (Inflammation can bum you out a little or may play a major role in chronic depression.) In fact, inflammation may explain the link between depression’s low moods and major-league health issues such as heart disease.
Solution: More plant-based meals, less junk food. A steady diet of burgers, fries and sugary baked goods laced with salt boosts depression risk by 51 percent. Perhaps because these foods fuel inflammation. Fight back by piling your plate with inflammation-cooling fruits, veggies and the good fats found in nuts (walnuts and macadamia nuts especially), olive oil and fish (salmon and trout).
Trigger: Bad Sleep. Sleep apnea (gasping for breath while you sleep) boosts your risk for poor-quality sleep, which can trigger high blood pressure, diabetes and depression. So does bringing the glare of a TV, computer monitor and iPad — or the shine from a street light — into the bedroom.
Solution: Upgrade to first-class sleep. Close the shades, turn off all screens (sex decreases 50 percent with TV or computer in the bedroom) and wear an eye mask. If you’re tired despite a full night in bed or if your partner says you snore loudly and gasp while sleeping, ask your doctor about getting evaluated for sleep disorders.
Trigger: Stress. A little stress? No problem? Regular, negative stress? Big problemo. By raising levels of high anxiety hormones and slashing levels of feel-good brain chemicals, chronic tension paves the blues boulevard to chronic depression.
Solution: Bust a few yoga moves! Just one session raises levels of the depression-fighting brain chemical GABA (that’s gamma-aminobutyric acid for you science geeks) by a whopping 27 percent. Not into finding your inner OM? Take a walk. Just 30 minutes with or without your dog, spouse or kids busts stress, boosts your mood and can even slim your hips. There’s a bonus anyone could love!
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. For information go to www.RealAge.com.