Feeling Sad? Seven Instant Mood Boosters
A TV commercial for a popular antidepressant describes this common scenario: "You know when you feel the weight of sadness. You may feel exhausted, hopeless, and anxious. Whatever you do, you feel lonely and don't enjoy the things you once loved." The implication: If you fit the description, seek the drug. Indeed, it's possible that you're medically depressed. Or—not mentioned in the commercial—you might just have a case of the blues. (Taking our depression self-test might help you tease them apart.)
Some 3 million Americans have a mild form of depression called dysthymia. And recent research suggests that they may benefit more from lifestyle changes than from medication. So, too, will the vast majority of folks who have occasional doldrums. The best remedies for mild sadness? Happy actions, not happy pills.
1. Set your body in motion. Getting active for 30 minutes a day, six days a week can alleviate chronic sadness as well as antidepressants, according to a 2005 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Even a more modest regimen might provide a quick pick-me-up and neutralize a bad day. A brisk, 15-minute walk "can improve your mood and increase your energy for up to two hours," says Robert Thayer, a professor of psychology at California State University and author of Calm Energy: How People Regulate Mood With Food and Exercise.
2. Know thyself. As beneficial as exercise is, it's often the last thing you want to do when you're down in the dumps. You might feel like reaching for a candy bar or a cold beer rather than your sneakers. While food or alcohol can provide a temporary lift, you're likely to feel even more drained later, says Thayer. When you recognize what Thayer calls "tense tiredness," force yourself to get a real, lasting mood boost. Think back to how you felt after your last power walk, and use that memory as a motivation to get moving.
3. Take a breathing break. For 10 minutes, focus on the flow moving in and out of your lungs. Doing so, says Thayer, will help initiate a "relaxation response," which lowers breathing rate, heart rate, and blood pressure, thus reducing tension. To achieve this response, sit in a comfortable position and pick a meaningful word or phrase, like "love" or "peace on Earth." Close your eyes, relax your muscles, and breathe slowly and naturally. Each time you exhale, repeat your focus word or phrase. Meditation and yoga are also great ways to get this response.
4. Wake up without an alarm. Without enough sleep—most adults need seven to eight hours—even a Pollyanna type will feel cranky. What's more, prolonged sleep deprivation can actually lead to depression. Yet about 60 percent of American women say they get a good night's sleep only a few nights per week, according to a March 2007 poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation. Not surprisingly, more than half the women polled said they had felt unhappy, sad, or depressed in the previous month, and one third reported feeling hopeless about the future. Maintaining a regular sleep schedule will help you sleep through the night and wake up in the morning without an alarm, which is a good sign you've met your sleep quota. Also, try to make evenings as relaxing as possible—free of caffeine, work-related E-mail, and heavy-duty workouts.