Seven Instant Mood Boosters
Feeling blue? There's plenty you can do without a prescription
Some 3 million Americans have a mild form of depression called dysthymia. Recent research suggests that they may benefit more from lifestyle changes than from medication. So, too, will the vast majority of folks who suffer occasional doldrums. The best remedies for mild sadness? Happy actions, not happy pills.
Set your body in motion. Getting active for 30 minutes a day five days a week can alleviate chronic sadness as effectively as antidepressants, according to a 2005 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Even 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.
Know thyself. When you're down in the dumps, your first impulse might be to reach for a candy bar or a cold beer rather than your sneakers. But you're likely to feel even more drained, and probably guilty, later. When you recognize "tense tiredness," advises Thayer, think about what truly makes you feel better over the long haul.
Take a breathing break. For 10 minutes, focus on the flow moving in and out of your lungs. The idea is to reduce your breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressureand tension. 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.
Wake up without an alarm. Without enough sleepmost adults need seven to eight hourseven Pollyannas 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; more than half the women polled said they had felt unhappy, sad, or depressed in the previous month. Maintain a regular sleep schedule, and try to make evenings as relaxing as possiblefree of caffeine, work-related E-mail, and heavy-duty workouts.
Eat fish oil. Fatty fish like tuna, mackerel, salmon, and herring are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which some studies suggest may protect against depression. Aim for several servings a week of omega-3-rich fish, and look for omega-3-fortified foods, including some brands of eggs, margarine, and yogurt. Fish oil supplements can also boost your intake of the good fat.
Turn on the tunes. In his research, Thayer has found that listening to music is the second-most-effective wayafter exerciseto lift a bad mood. The kind of music? "We don't have a definitive answer," he says, "but I'd guess it would be songs with energizing, toe-tapping beats."
Talk it out. Having a strong network of family and friends to lean on can be crucial to processing anguished feelings. You might also benefit from talking to a professional. A form of psychotherapy called cognitive behavioral therapy teaches you to change thinking patterns that make you feel blue and to start seeking the avenues to joy.