Welcome to short and dark days, endless to-do lists and spirit numbing traffic. If the hubbub of the holidays leaves you more stressed than merry, you’re not alone. A survey by the National Women’s Health Resource Center revealed that almost two-thirds of the respondents experience holiday depression. Still, these feelings are hardly seasonal; stress and fatigue can strike on any given day. If your depression is ongoing and significantly interferes with your work or relationships, you may need clinical treatment, so talk to your doctor about options. But if the occasional bad day (or week) is taking too much of an emotional toll, these natural
mood boosters may be the best gift you can give yourself—and your loved ones—this season.
One good way to lift a blue mood is to get involved in your community, and the holidays offer plenty of opportunity. In a study of more than 2,500 people published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, researchers found that volunteer work enhanced six aspects of personal wellbeing:
happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control, physical health and depression relief.
Volunteering at places like soup kitchens and homeless shelters is a good way to offer your support and caring to people who truly need it and, in return, deepen your own sense of self-worth. “These activities help you embrace the feeling of sharing and giving that is supposed to be at the heart of the holiday season,” says clinical psychologist Raymond Crowel, Psy.D., Chief of Behavioral Health & Crisis Services in Montgomery County, Maryland. Better yet,
make volunteering a year-round priority. “You’ll feel good about sharing something of yourself with others,” says Crowel. “And that in and of itself can be uplifting.”
Follow your nose
Aromatherapy practitioners use essential oils to enhance body and spirit. The best part? You’ll experience the benefits immediately, says aromatherapist Kelly Holland Azzaro, past president of the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy and co-owner of Ashi Therapy holistic healing center in Banner Elk, N.C., and founder and president of the Holistic Animal Association. “When you inhale a scent, the properties of an essential oil go beyond the blood-brain barrier, helping to produce an effect on your mood.”
Try citrus oils first, says Azzaro. “These are a reminder of warm climates with lots of sunshine, so they’re definitely a picker-upper.” Azzaro’s choice is confirmed by science: A small nonrandomized study published in the journal Neuroimmunomodulation found that depressed subjects who were exposed to citrus aromas needed fewer antidepressants to feel better than those who weren’t exposed.
Azzaro’s list of feel-good aromas includes:
+Orange (citrus reticulata)
+Lemon (citrus lemon)
+Tangerine (citrus reticulata var blanco)
+Clary sage (salvia sclarea)
+Geranium (pelargonium graveolens)
+Ylang-ylang (cananga odorata)
+Peppermint (mentha piperita)
+Exotic rose oils
In addition to simply inhaling a scent, you can incorporate an aroma into body or foot baths.
(For a relaxing bath, add 5 to 10 drops of lavender essential oil to the tub after the water has run.) Or try compresses or massage.
“By adding essential oils to massage oil, you can achieve a state of relaxation while experiencing the healing properties of aromatherapy,” says Azzaro. Talk to your doctor if you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, breastfeeding, epileptic or have any specific health concerns.
Detoxify your diet
According to the ancient health practice of Ayurveda, depression may be related to ama, or toxins in the system. Ayurveda teaches that every food has its own taste (rasa), a heating or cooling effect (virya) and a post-digestive effect (vipaka). Combining two or more foods with incompatible rasa, virya and vipaka can impair digestion.
“Staying up late, eating excessively and combining foods improperly can all lead to an accumulation of ama,” says Ed Danaher, a practitioner and department manager with the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, N.M.
Acceptable combinations include grains with vegetables, meat with grains and vegetables, and eggs with vegetables. Fruit should be eaten by itself; Ayurveda holds that mixing fruits with other foods may produce a sourness in the stomach. Also, avoid eating raw and cooked foods at the same time, as well as fresh foods and leftovers.
Danaher suggests that the following combinations may also need to be avoided:
Beans with cheese, eggs, fish, milk, meat or yogurt Grains with fruit Eggs with cheese
Melons with any other food Milk with bananas or meat Yogurt with fruit, cheese, eggs, fish, meat or milk In addition to balancing your diet, Danaher also recommends the herb triphala to cleanse the colon and help to balance the three doshas that govern mental and physical health: vata (movement), pitta (metabolism) and Kapha (flesh and bones). “Triphala will help eliminate toxins and balance the doshas, thereby creating a lightness in the body and mind and promoting clarity of perception—all of which are helpful in offsetting depression,” he says. Mix half a teaspoon of powder in 8 ounces of hot water, or take two to three tablets with water. Triphala should be taken in the morning or before bed, one hour before or after eating.
Express your creativity
Exposure to the arts can be especially beneficial if you’re feeling down. Painting, dancing, singing or just listening to music strongly affects parts of the brain that handle emotional responses, such as the amygdala and hypothalamus, says Barbara Reuer, Ph.D., founder and
CEO of MusicWorx of California in San Diego, and past president of the National Association of Music Therapists. Music also may lower anxiety-related chemicals in the
brain, including epinephrine. Start by listening to music that matches your present mood, and gradually work up to more energetic and hopeful tunes, she suggests. “If we’re anxious, the music might typically be more unsettling (sad, anxious, depressed, angry), then move to soothing music (quiet, peaceful) and then energetic music (hopeful, playful, happy). We can use music to exercise our emotions to mood states more healthy for our bodies,” Reuer says.
Dance and movement have their own encouraging effects, says Christina Devereaux, Ph.D., L.C.A.T., a registered dance/movement therapist and assistant professor and director of clinical training in the dance/movement therapy program at Antioch University New England in Keene, N.H. “When you’re engaged in positive movement experiences, the brain secretes higher levels of serotonin, which is a mood regulator,” she says.
To dance away a mild funk, try some moves on your own. “Music that can stimulate and increase movement includes waltzes with a strong downbeat, Irish music and music with a strong percussive quality,” says Devereaux.
For personal benefits, she advises taking a dance class or seeking out a movement-based group led by a trained dance/movement therapist.
To alleviate mild depression, Dana Ullman, M.P.H., co-author of Everybody’s Guide to Homeopathic Medicines (Tarcher), suggests two of the many possible homeopathic
remedies. Pick the one that best fits your emotional profile.
Pulsatilla “This is a medicine for people who are very emotional and seek consolation,” says
Ullman. “It’s for people who can and will cry easily, and it’s the type of crying that almost begs another person to hug them.”
Ignata amara This is a more appropriate remedy for those who show wide mood swings, are more acutely depressed and tend to withdraw when feeling down, often experiencing silent grief until later exploding in tears and hyper-emotions. “They’ll frequently sigh during a crying episode or while talking,” says Ullman. Look for homeopathic medicines that are in the 6C, 12C or 30C potency. Self-treatment is fine for mild depression; for a more serious condition, seek a practitioner’s help.
EXPOSURE TO THE ARTS CAN BE BENEFICIAL IF YOU’RE BLUE. SIMPLY LISTENING TO MUSIC AFFECTS PARTS OF THE BRAIN THAT HANDLE EMOTIONAL RESPONSES.
Get to the (needle) point
From an Eastern perspective, depression results from an obstruction of qi (pronounced “chee”), the animating force that flows through the body. Such obstructions cause a kind of friction and heat that ultimately deplete your vitality and strength. The result?
Irritability, anxiety and nervousness. As the condition worsens, the heat transforms to cold, and you begin to feel easily chilled, dull and lifeless. “In the psyche, this congestion of qi causes emotional pain,” says Harriet Beinfield, L.Ac., an acupuncturist at Chinese Medicine Works in San Francisco. Acupuncture is seen as a way to reestablish the movement of qi. From a Western viewpoint, acupuncture is thought to stimulate nerves at the insertion points. “This releases endorphins, which cause a feeling of well-being,” Beinfield says. Plus, research has found that acupuncture eases symptoms of depression and decreases the need for medication. “It produces a chemical state that makes
you feel good,” says Beinfield.
Hit the gym
No matter how crowded your schedule gets, don’t neglect your workouts. “Regular exercise helps keep mood elevated,” says Elson Haas, M.D., director of the Preventive Medical
Center of Marin in Northern Californiaand author of Staying Healthy With the Seasons.
A study published in Comprehensive Psychiatry found that running was as effective as psychotherapy at relieving depression. Such mind-boosting effects may be due to an increased release of endorphins. Additionally, exposure to sunlight is especially helpful during
the winter, when the body produces more melatonin, a hormone that may cause symptoms of depression. And if you’re wondering whether cardio or weightlifting is better when it comes
to beating the blues, a report in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found them equally effective. So, alternate your workouts to enjoy continued benefits, keep yourself
interested and get naturally happy.
All Fitness ____ Naturally Happy___ By Tom Weede