It's time to escape those pesky blues!
I vividly remember being one of those teenagers who frequently woke up in the morning wanting to crawl right back into bed. On those mornings I just felt "off" somehow. When I'd tell my parents that I wasn't feeling well, they'd suggest I just take shower at least and see how I felt after that. Most of the time, when I finished my shower and began getting ready for the day, I'd actually feel better. I always thought it was just the sensation of the hot water loosening me up, but there is new research out of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm on how to deal with depression that suggests the reason I felt better had more to do to with the fact that I got up and physically moved versus any magic worked by the hot water.
The scientists in Stockholm know what my parents and grandparents did; movement makes you feel better. They also know that depression brought on by stress often decreases with exercise, but what they didn't know until now was why. But with a help of some stressed out mice (sorry, mice) researchers have identified a specific enzyme, PGC-1alpha1, that promotes a physiological process that breaks down kynurenine. (Translation: kynurenine is a substance that accumulates in the bloodstream as a result of stress. It causes inflammation in the brain which is believed to lead to depression. And yes, the scientists validated the data from the mice with a group of adult human volunteers so this info isn't just valid for vermin.)
So, why should you care? Well, because winter is headed our way and with it, decreased physical activity coupled with an increase in sadness and depression. As if stress in our ordinary daily lives wasn't enough. Compounded with that extra angst and worry that comes from major life change and trauma: divorce, moving, marriage, prolonged illness, job loss, sex troubles, or even just navigating the ups and downs of the holiday season.
To stave off depression ... you have to get physical!
Now, before you get even more stressed out trying to figure out how to fit getting increased activity into your already over-scheduled life, take a deep breath (it's good for you) and know that you can keep the moving and grooving simple and still see significant benefits. All you need to do is add pleasurable or neutral activities that naturally fit into your day. For example, when you start to feel the ennui of too many hours sitting at your desk, get up and take a walk to the staff lounge (or corner cafe) for a cup of herbal tea. Even this short walk can shift your mood and expand your horizons beyond your keyboard, helping you to remember that there's more that matters in life than that tedious report you're working on.
Don't have time to walk all the way to the staff lounge (or, if your work from home, your own kitchen)? Just stand up right there at your desk, take a deep breath and stretch a little. Don't want to stand up? (Wow, you're just trying to make this difficult now, aren't you?) Fine, then simply push your chair back from your desk and stretch your legs and arms straight out in front of you and rotate your feet and hands. Stretching does wonderful things for your blood flow; by simply stretching even a little bit you ferry a fresh dose of oxygen to your cramped muscles and your brain (which is always a good thing when you're trying to think).
Need a few other ideas? Here are some more easy ways to implement movement into your day to help you stave off the doldrums of depression:
- Instead of waiting in the carpool line, park your car and walk to the door to greet your child after school. It's a refreshing block or two from here, there, and back again and this change of pace makes it a whole lot easier to give each other a big hug hello.
- Let someone else have the closest parking spot at the store and take the second closest so you get a few extra steps in your day, giving you a few extra seconds to enjoy the beautiful sound of the birds singing or the view of the sky (or to just smile at someone).
- Take a spontaneous dance break. Nothing will put a smile on your face faster than practicing your disco moves. I dare you to try this and not feel instantly better.
- Stand up instead of sitting down to take your next conference call. Believe it or not, standing burns a lot more calories than sitting because it requires you to use more muscles. (Of course, if you're wearing killer heels you'll probably want to kick them off first.) Feeling really ambitious? Perhaps you could even pace around a little while standing.
- Add a stretch in the next time you yawn. This is one of my personal favorites because I get so scrunched up in my body working at my desk all day.
- Take a lap (or more) around the coffee table the next time you get up from the couch to grab a snack during a commercial break of your favorite TV show. You'll have the rest of the family laughing with you as you do your laps and you might even feel a little less guilty about eating that second sliver of chocolate cake.
- The next time you need to use a public bathroom, take the stall that's furthest from the door. Besides getting in the few extra steps, you'll also have more privacy—well, as much as you can get in a public bathroom.
The point? Movement doesn't have to mean going to the gym; it can be really simple. The key is to just incorporate more physical movement into your daily life. Of course, once you start feeling less stressed/depressed from being up and about more, don't be surprised if that enhanced "feel good" buzz motivates you to move and groove even more.
Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce coach and advisor helping people who are considering divorce make a smart decision about staying or leaving their marriage. You can join her anonymous newsletter group for free advice or email her at Karen@functionaldivorce.com for a free consultation. Don’t let the worry about divorce ruin your life, help is available as soon as you’re ready.