By Nicole Catanese, Refinery29
Feeling the late-winter blues? It's tough to stay chipper when the skies are gray and spring feels like it couldn't possibly come any slower - but despite the fact that seasonal sadness is relatively common, it's important to pay attention to any persistent feelings of malaise. "[When experiencing depressive thoughts], first, you have to ask yourself if you are experiencing true clinical depression, or whether your feelings more fleeting, like with a bad mood," says Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
"When it comes to ordinary stress, it's all about how you think about it," says Witbourne. Clinical depression, on the other hand, is recognizable by a lack of rhyme or reason to your sadness. In these cases, there's usually something off in one's brain chemistry: "When someone is clinically depressed, serotonin drops - the chemical that keeps our mood elevated," she says. "While you could go see a doc and ask for anti-depressant like Prozac or Zoloft, if it's more of an isolated case, it's actually possible to change your brain chemistry with your thoughts." Here are few ways to think positive when you're having a horrible, no-good, very bad day - try these out to brighten your mood and put a pep in your step for the rest of the winter.
Be Pretty In Pink
In the early '90s, researchers looked at the effect of peppy rose shades on violent, incarcerated prisoners when painted on their cell walls. The study showed that it could calm aggressive and anxiety-filled prisoners. When surrounded by such a warm yet calming shade, the inmates couldn't be worked up even if they tried to be. The study authors believe that the hue causes heart muscles to relax and makes you feel more tranquil (temporarily, of course). Although the study wasn't about depression per se, it does show that colors can have a marked effect on mood. Hate fuchsia? No biggie. "Any vibrant color is a great way brighten your mood," says Whitbourne. So why not try to incorporate happy hues into your life? Swipe on on a vibrant gloss or lipstick, or paint your nails your favorite bight shade, and a good mood could be right at your fingertips. Literally.
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Hit The Treadmill
If you're not feeling so hot (as in winter blahs, not mutant flu), science proves that working up a sweat can flood your brain with endorphins, the chemicals in the brain responsible for making you feel like a million. A Penn State study showed that even if you aren't a religious gymgoer, if you suddenly book a bike at Flywheel first thing in the morning (or plan to do your fave workout), you can feel happier - and more productive - for the rest of that day. What's even more interesting: If you've been down in the dumps and are feeling less than motivated to sweat it out, you're the one that's going to get the biggest happy high - and it'll kick in within the first twenty minutes of your workout. "Exercise is known to reduce depressive feelings," says Whitbourne. "Although you will experience marked brain changes within the first 20 minutes of your workout, I recommend sticking with it for at least 30 minutes to maintain the endorphin high, which will also improve your mood."
Some studies show that omega-3 fatty acids (which are found in fish such as salmon, shrimp, summer flounder, and tuna) can help lower depression-like feelings. One study found that consuming a fish-rich diet twice a week resulted in a lower risk of depression and suicide, while another demonstrated that those diagnosed with bipolar disorder who ate an omega-3 concentrated diet had a more even-keeled mood naturally after just four months. "Sushi is certainly one way to get the benefits of mood-boosting fish, but it's not necessary to eat raw fish to get this effect," says Whitbourne. "Plus, eating more fish can help improve your mental and physical health, too, which could make you feel better overall in the long run." Take note: The fattier kinds of fish tend to have more mood-boosting omega-3s (hence salmon's reputation as a superfood). Hate fish? Pop a fish oil supplement daily instead; it'll have a similar effect.
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Live Like An Icelander
Think you need to be on a tropical island for everything to be all right? Maybe not. A 2006 study showed that Iceland might actually have some of the happiest people in the world. Close social connections, plus a strong arts and culture scene, may explain why many Icelanders remain content in the face of volcanic eruptions, sub-arctic temperatures, and days with as few as four hours of daylight. (Adorable horses and geothermal spas probably don't hurt, either.) So, while long winter days may indeed trigger seasonal affective disorder, Icelanders prove that you can beat it.
Make Use Of That To-Do List
While being laid-back and following the 'don't worry, be happy' mindset may seem like the way to go, experts say that having goals and reaching them could really be the secret to feeling fulfilled. So, redo that closet that looks like it's going to explode, finally take that German language class you've been talking about forever, or tackle whatever woulda-coulda-shoulda thing you haven't gotten around to yet. "Being more goal-oriented and more conscientious is absolutely a way to become less depressed," says Whitbourne. And don't make that checklist super-simple either-it's more effective to push your limits. Research shows that ambition, not low expectations, are deemed more valuable, and therefore can make you feel more satisfied with your life (and hence, in a better mood). Starting to feel better about life already? Get to it, girl!
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By Nicole Catanese, Refinery29