It’s a well established fact that the holidays, along with joy and good cheer, can also bring on depression. The stresses of the season, high expectations and running ourselves ragged can be a veritable mine field for those of us who suffer from clinical depression or occasional situational bouts.
With the holidays behind us, let’s look at ways to combat the “blues” in the new year.
For starters, during the holidays we become more aware of those less fortunate. A holiday season never goes by without someone commenting, “It’s a shame that everyone doesn’t keep this giving spirit through the year.”
This year, why don’t you? How?
Whatever your interests, there’s an organization right in your backyard that needs some kind of help. While you are helping others, you’ll find the joy of keeping the holiday spirit alive— for those you help and for yourself.
- You’ll focus on substantive issues. Volunteering helps you discover what’s really important. That can lower your stress by helping you let go of the trivial things in your life.
- You’ll connect to the outside world. A sense of purpose in the world brings inner peace, even when you’re alone or facing hardship of your own.
- You’ll make new relationships. Sharing can bring new people into your life.
- You’ll be healthier. Scientific research seems to show that positive social interactions boost the body’s ability to heal itself, reducing blood pressure and chasing away anxiety.
- You’ll live longer. A University of Michigan study showed those who volunteered a modest 40 hours a year—less than one hour a week—had the lowest death rate.
Zinc Happy Thoughts
New research suggests the mineral zinc may help reduce hostility and depression. Japanese researchers recruited 30 young women and had half the group increased their zinc intake by 7 mg. After 10 weeks, the women were evaluated by a double-blind psychological test to determine aspects of mood. The results: The zinc group registered a 10 percent drop in their depression score and a 30 percent drop in their hostility score, compared to the beginning of the study.
Many studies show that people who exercise regularly benefit with a positive boost in mood and lower rates of depression. When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins can trigger a positive feeling in the body. For example, the feeling that follows a run or workout is often described as euphoric. That feeling, known as a “runner’s high,” can be accompanied by a positive and energizing outlook on life.
Ninety percent of formerly depressed seniors no longer met the clinical criteria for depression after a 12-week exercise regimen, one study found.
Sunshine State Medicine
We live in sunny Florida. Let’s take advantage of that fact. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to depression. Vitamin D is the “sunshine” vitamin! Sun exposure to the skin makes thousands of units of vitamin D in a relatively short period of time.
While there should be a limit to sun exposure to avoid burning, some studies show that as little as 10 to 15 minutes of sunshine a day can provide 10,000 international units of the vitamin. This may vary slightly depending on skin pigmentation. But this simple act could literally brighten one’s mood, in addition to other health benefits.
People with SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) experience depression during the winter months with the lack of sunlight. Experts believe that sunlight causes changes in a tiny structure in the brain called the hypothalamus. For some people, these changes upset the brain chemistry and cause depression.
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Creating New Habits
Let’s not set ourselves up for failure by calling our goals for the new year, resolutions. Instead we will simply make some changes.
Taking things away isn’t fun. None of us likes feeling deprived. Our brains respond much better to positive reinforcement than to deprivation. In this case, maybe it’s finding a healthier dessert or taking a walk around the block before you start your evening routine. Remember, new choices are an opportunity to develop new brain highways and will spark your breakthrough.
Your brain is capable of major transformations. Habits once formed can be broken in the same way-by repeating actions of a different sort. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen. It’s commonly accepted that it takes about 21 days to develop a new habit. Depending on the behavior you’re trying to change, it may take longer.
While lasting change can be challenging, it is possible!
As you choose to take on new activities, you develop new highways that will also stay with you for the rest of your life.