You happier than ever!
Perhaps I will never be as happy as I was at 2 years old, but there are many things that we can do to make our lives happier and relieve us from the occasional lows. It is unfortunate that in the U.S., we have the second highest lifetime rate of depression. As a naturopathic doctor, I’ve included techniques that should help when we are feeling down or help us maintain a sense of wellbeing. Serious depression on the other hand may require professional help. Also depression might be a sign of an underlying chronic condition like hypothyroidism or anemia requiring higher force naturopathic intervention.
Need a mood lift? It's time to dance, run, walk, bike, swim, and hike. Exercise causes our body to release feel good chemicals called endorphins which boost our sense of wellbeing while suppressing stress and anxiety hormones. In one 6 month study, regular aerobic exercise was shown to be as effective as antidepressants. There was also a reduction in depression relapse. Bonus no side-effects! In addition, a Japanese study showed that workers who exercised regularly had fewer depressive symptoms and better workplace social adaptation than their non- exercising coworkers. After completing a 4 week daily walking program, the non-exercising coworkers improved their depressive moods and social adaptation. So next time work is getting you down skip the coffee pot and go for a walk.
More Fruits and Veggies
Adding more fruits and veggies is one way to make us feel happier according to a New Zealand study. On days when participants ate more fruits and vegetables, they reported feeling calmer, happier and more energetic. The effects are actually long lasting as they continued the following day. In order to notice a positive change you must have at least 7-8 servings per day.
Quieting the Mind
Mindfulness-based relaxation techniques such as yoga, tai chi, and meditation can help us adjust our "emotional set-point" towards more positive moods rather than depression and anxiety. We might find that we might not feel happy or calm immediately but over time we will feel more content and emotionally stable. These practices have the power to actually change brain functioning. In one study, after a couple months of consistent meditation practice participants had increased activity of the left frontal part of the brain associated with lower anxiety and positive moods. Don't have enough time or not ready to hit the cushion? Try one of these one-minute meditations.
There is a lot of truth behind "stop to smell the roses." Plants contain powerful aromatic compounds called essential oils. When inhaled, they stimulate multiple regions of the brain including the limbic or emotional center giving a feeling of well being. In one study, postpartum women who inhaled a mixture of rose and lavender essential oils for 15 minutes twice a week for four weeks reported lower depression and anxiety in comparison to the control group. Other mood elevating oils include jasmine, rose geranium, bergamot, ylang ylang, sandlewood and my favorite neroli. You can add a couple of drops to your bath, a diffuser, or body oil. I especially like using the essential oil blends by New York City based Essence of Vali when I need a lift.