Monday, October 22, 2012

Good Mood Basics

How are you sleeping? How are you eating? Do you exercise?

When I am concerned about a client's anxiety or depression, these are some of the first things I want to know. If you are not sleeping or eating well, it can make your mood problems much worse. Exercise is a wonderful, natural mood stabilizer.

Sleep is a huge issue for most people in modern life. A number of studies show we still need as much sleep as our great grandparents did in 1900, but we get much less. We also sleep less than people did in 1950.

Many teens are especially short of sleep. Teens have major changes going on in their bodies, and need more sleep than adults. It doesn't help their moods when teens are overtired. Many teens are up past midnight on school nights, and then have a very difficult time getting up for school in the morning. Many teens send and receive text messages late into the night.

Sleep researchers recommend we gear down our brains in the last hour or two before bedtime. There are physiological challenges that we get from the impact of computers and television in the pre-bedtime hours. The light from each of these technologies can activate our brains, and make it harder to fall asleep.

Experts suggest that we downshift in the last hour before bed by doing something quiet, like reading, talking with someone, or listening to music. A relaxing shower or bath could also set the stage for a peaceful entry to sleep. Lowering the light intensity in the room during the winding down time period can also help ease sleep.

Good sleep hygiene also includes keeping your bedtime and waking time as consistent as possible, 7 days a week. Big variations in either time frame can mess up your sleep cycle. Getting into a good sleep pattern will help your mood. If you have trouble staying asleep, don't lie in bed tossing and turning. If you can't get to sleep after 20 minutes or so, get up, change rooms, and do something quiet, like reading until you feel sleepy. Go back to your bedroom when you are tired. We want to associate the bedroom will peaceful sleep. This is why it's best not to study or keep a home office in your bedroom.

What about stabilizing your mood with good nutrition? Many people skip breakfast, and begin their day with nothing in their stomachs. Other people skip meals. We do best with something nutritious every 3-4 hours. If you have a busy day planned, pack up some portable healthy snacks and take them with you to work or school. You can also stash some snacks in your car trunk.

Many teens eat no breakfast, and then skip lunch at school. If your teen has a tendency to do this, you may want to take them grocery shopping with you to pick out healthy, portable options. You may also want to make the 3:00 or 4:00 time frame the main meal of their day, as it is when many teens are at their hungriest.

If you are not sure what you should be eating, or what number of calories you should be eating, even one session with a good registered dietician can be extremely informative and helpful. My favorite dietician is able to help you make a grocery list of snack and meal items that fit your lifestyle, and are easy. Eating well can help reduce anxiety and depression symptoms.

Limiting your intake of alcohol and caffeine is also key to stabilizing your mood. Alcohol is a depressant, which can make depression worse and complicate any medication you may be taking. Caffeine is a stimulant which can make an already anxious person more anxious, and interfere with your sleep cycle. Limiting sugary foods will also help you get off the mood roller coaster!

For my patients that are anxious or depressed, I also want to make sure that they are exercising if their doctor has given them clearance to do so. It's amazing what a 30 minute walk a day can do to increase endorphins, and give people a needed mood boost. It can also help you sleep better.

Feeling bad? Start with the basics of sleep, eating well and exercising regularly. They are simple ideas, but they each have a huge impact on how you are dealing with your emotions, relationships, and life challenges. If you need more help, consult a good therapist who does cognitive therapy to reduce depression and/or anxiety symptoms.



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