Effective ways to help manage depression and anxiety
Winter is coming, and with it, shorter days and less sunshine. It is not uncommon to experience a “winter slump” in mood due to reduced sunlight exposure, and with it, the reduction in the “feel good” neurotransmitters, serotonin and dopamine, that occur naturally through sunlight exposure. For some, symptoms of depression, such as changes in sleep, appetite, or motivation, or anxiety, such as feeling irritable, on edge, or restless, can also be more common this time of year. These five science-backed techniques not only can help you feel better in the moment, but can also be part of a treatment strategy in effectively lessening and managing depression and anxiety in the longer term.
Whether a yoga class or brisk walk, find a way to move your body for 20 minutes a day increases “feel good” neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine and serotonin. If done consistently, just 20 minutes a day of aerobic exercise can literally gradually change your cellular biology leading to enhanced mood, mental alertness, improved sleep and metabolism, and reduced risk of everything from cancer to dementia.
2. COLD EXPOSURE.
Want literally a 90 second way to boost immunity, increase alertness and mood, and reduce depression and anxiety? Short, controlled bursts of exposure to cold water at the end or beginning of a shower, of if you’re feeling brave, a five minute soak in a bath tub or Colorado Rocky Mountain alpine lake, has been found to be as effective as an hour of exercise in increasing dopamine, as well as boosting immunity, increasing metabolism, and promoting regulated sleep.
Even in living in Colorado, a state with an average 300 days of sunshine, it can be more difficult to experience consistent sunlight exposure during the winter months as the sun oftentimes has not even risen when driving to work and may have set prior to one’s drive home. Increasing light exposure through taking lunch breaks outside or through an LED therapy light, such as those available on Amazon, can increase dopamine and serotonin levels increasing alertness, mood, and reducing depression and anxiety.
4. FEEL THE UNWANTED FEELING AND OBSERVE IT PASS.
Whether driving home in rush hour or your boss giving you a last minute project, feeling unwanted emotions are a part of life. When unwanted emotions, such as disappointment, frustration, or loneliness occur, observe the feeling without judgment. Identify where your body is holding the unwanted emotion, and observe it like a cloud passing in the sky. A non-judgmental, observing approach can help keep you from getting swept away by unwanted emotions or make the situation worse by heaping guilt or judgment on yourself. It is human tendency to attempt to distract yourself or numb unwanted emotions. These approaches only tend to make the unwanted feeling worse.
5. A MINDFULNESS PRACTICE: BEAR HUG AND TAP.
Cross your arms in a bear hug where the palms of your hands each touch your opposite shoulder like you’re about to go down a waterslide. Next, gently alternate tapping your right hand on your left shoulder and then your left hand on your right shoulder with your arms crossed against your chest. While tapping, simply observe what sensations you currently notice in your mind and body. This technique is called a butterfly hug, a science-backed calming practice that incorporates the effectiveness of mindfulness with bilateral stimulation. Bilateral stimulation references activation of both sides of the brain through body movements which mimics the neural processing that occurs during REM sleep. Techniques that integrate bilateral stimulation are found to expedite the processing and integration of distressing body sensations, such as anxiety, more rapidly than more passive mindfulness techniques that do not directly incorporate body movement through bilateral stimulation.