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Archive for the ‘mood’ Category

Here it is short and sweet: If you eat fast food to any significant extent (you know who you are!), your risk of becoming depressed in the future increases (if you aren’t already depressed). If depression is a problem in your life, you should seriously consider reviewing your diet, eliminating any fast food you find and increasing your consumption of whole and fresh foods.

This is the major finding of yet another study on the relationship between diet and mood (depression in particular) – and here is a summary of the study, written for medial professionals: Junk Food Linked to Depression.

Here are the key points I see in this summary:

  • Using a “…prospective cohort design [which] affords the potential for investigating cause-effect relationships,” researchers followed a group of almost 9000 people over time, to look at the relationship between depression and consumption of “fast food” – quick take-out food, and commercial bakery items. At the beginning of the study, none “…of the participants had been diagnosed with depression or had taken antidepressants before the start of the study.”
  • ” Fast food consumption was defined as total consumption of hamburgers, pizza, and hot dogs/sausages. Commercial baked goods consumption was defined as total consumption of croissants, doughnuts, and muffins.”
  • A positive dose-response effect was found: The more food of this sort consumed, the greater the risk of becoming depressed in the future.
  • Consistent consumption of these foods produced an almost 40% increase in the chance of becoming depressed in the future.
  • “…the researchers note that even small quantities of fast food were linked to a significantly higher risk for depression.”
And from the article, here are some excellent summary statements:
  • “…the intake of this type of food should be controlled because of its implications on both health (obesity, cardiovascular disease) and mental well-being.”
  • “Limiting trans fatty acids content in several foods, avoiding the consumption of fast food and bakery, and increasing the consumption of other products such as vegetables, legumes, and fruits should be a primary goal for clinicians and public health makers…”
  • “…it is prudent for clinicians to assess and address the dietary as well as exercise habits of their patients, in addition to pharmacological and other established treatments.”

These findings are congruent with a number of previously published studies which document similar or related causal effects between diet and mood:

Trans-Fats Linked to Increased Depression Risk [2011.01.28] – “Consumption of trans-unsaturated fatty acids (TFAs or trans-fats) has been linked to a significantly increased risk for depression. On the other hand, olive oil, monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs), and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) appear to have a protective effect and lower depression risk…”

More Evidence Confirms Diet’s Link to Mental Health [2011.10.14] – “…new studies from Australian investigators show that diet quality can have a significant effect on mental health outcomes and may potentially have a role in preventing and treating such common illnesses as depression and anxiety.” “…better diet quality was associated with better mental health in adolescents cross-sectionally and over time.” “…these findings suggest it may be possible to prevent teenage depression by ensuring adolescent diets are sufficiently nutritious, and improving diet quality may help treat depressive symptoms in this population.”

Clear Link Between Mood and Food [2012.03.20] – “New research shows there is a strong link between higher levels of nutrient intake and better mental health, thereby adding to the growing body of evidence demonstrating the critical role of diet in mood disorders.” A broad range of nutrients were monitored in the reviewed small-sample study of a clinical population (i.e., all individuals were adults living in the community and had been diagnosed with mood disorders), and consumption of all nutrients correlated positively with scores on the Global Assessment of Functioning scale very commonly used in psychiatric assessment.

Improvements in one’s diet are appropriately considered a significant preventive or treatment response with mood disorders – especially depression. Overall cost is likely to be less than that for other modes of response, and such action is ideal for self-management of mood. I do this myself (along with purposeful strenuous exercise – also validated by research as a highly appropriate response to risk or presence of mood disorders), as I want my mental function to be optimal at all times. I strongly urge others to consider doing it as well. It’s a smart move.

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All of us struggle with our sense of reality. Sometimes we cannot quite “see” what’s really happening. Other times we don’t question what we see so much as our ability to respond well to it.

In any case, a little thought clearly leads to the fact that our sense of our reality – encompassing both ourselves and what is around us – is something distinct from the reality itself. Unfortunately, it’s just not always easy to get a good sense of what’s really happening.

Consider for a moment, if this line of thought is a little murky for you, that all of science is simply an effort to address this problem – to get a better sense in our minds of what’s really happening “out there”. Science is hard work, which leads me to conclude that the problem it addresses is often not easily resolved.

I find that my own personal sense of reality and myself is subject to many distortions. Rarely do these mental errors help me live better, feel better, or like myself more, in the long run. In fact, such mental errors can often lead to short-term disaster!

In a recent email to a client, I addressed this issue, asking what they needed to remember about themselves and their situation in order to limit such mental distortions as much as possible.  I then offered the following ideas which I personally have found it very useful to remember.

  • I care about the people in my life, and this is good for me and them.
  • I can interact with them in ways that add value to their lives and mine.
  • Direct control of my feelings is not possible (because feelings are an automatic brain response), but indirect control, through attending my physical health, my thoughts, and where I choose to direct my attention, is actually easy, and usually has a powerful effect.
  • There are many aspects of my present situation which are evidence of great good fortune in my life. I am foolish to allow my attention to dwell too long on misfortunes which come my way, unless it is to learn something useful to carry forward in my life.
  • Investing a small amount of time in experiencing and expressing gratitude for what I have can lead to immediate substantial gains in the quality of my state of mind.
  • Progress in any area of my life is almost always possible, if I’m willing to accept the fact of my having limited power and knowledge. It can be difficult to be a mere human being, with all the limitations inherent in this status, but acceptance of my limitations can free me to work at reducing them, through patient, focused effort.
  • Good mental health is strikingly like good physical health: it usually doesn’t just happen, but rather results from intelligent, directed, repeated efforts. Children usually see and react; adults see, then plan, then act. They get better results. It’s better to be an adult.

To get these statements, I just asked myself what is true about my situation in life, and what I need to remember, given these descriptive truths, in order to function well. The set of “reminders” above are the result. They are not a final set, to be sure, but I note that just reading them improves my state of mind.

So…the question NOW is simply…what do YOU need to remember, about yourself and your life, to function well? I’ll predict that time spent with this question will be rewarding for you. I’d be interested to know what you discover…

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I just had an email exchange with a junior at a local college. Stress is a particular concern with this individual, and they’ve had both major challenges and major successes with stress in recent months. Today, they’re telling me that they are feeling “…a bit under the weather”. My response:

Yeah, used to happen to me a lot, too, in college. Why? Stress, pure and simple. It’s a high stress environment, which is one reason why you’ll be SO happy to be finished with it, eventually! Stress impacts our immune system negatively. Folks in college, where they’re exposed to all known pathogens in the universe (!), must be especially wary of this effect. Sooner or later it’ll “take ya down.”

While working one’s way through the college obstacle course, its wise to take the following recommendations as seriously as you can. I trust their effectiveness highly:

  • At any time need to lower your stress level, do a large sigh, in which you release as much muscle tension as possible. At the end of the sigh, sit in a little mental “quiet spot” for a few moments, being as still as possible internally. Practice not-doing for a few moments. Then return SLOWLY to the task at hand. Focus and move on. Repeat often, as this will train you brain to “settle down” more reflexively.
  • Sleep is the great healer. It “…knits up the raveled sleeve of care” – that’s how Shakespeare puts it. So, sleep MORE than you think you need. It’s putting money in the bank. Nap as often as you feel the need, and AT LEAST ONCE DAILY, preferably for 90 minutes. New research just out reports that people who do this LEARN MORE, recall more, etc., etc. A great payoff for something that also has distinct intrinsic rewards. I try to do this at least once daily. Lately, I’m getting up to 9.5 hours of sleep daily. I feel WAY better. Think I’m on to something? Care to try it yourself???
  • Exercise is the great normalizer, and second only to sleep (and proper eating) as a source of stress relief. By exercise I mean either aerobic (walking briskly or running or swimming, etc.) or resistance (weight room work or equivalent) exercise. Both give you simple tasks to do (“simple” is good), and an opportunity for a mental break. Probably more importantly, both cause fatigue in the large muscles of your body. Fatigued muscles relax, and relaxed muscles actually cause negative feelings in the brain to shut down. That’s stress relief of the most fundamental sort. But wait – there’s more: real exercise induces good, deep, healthy sleep. In college, when I started exercising right after finals, I stopped getting sick (which, until then, was highly likely).
  • Mind your mind: Remember your successes. You have many. You’ll have more. They’re what you’re working for. To get them, you MUST have some failures as well. Welcome then. They teach you what does NOT work – essential knowledge, and what you cannot (yet) do. If you’re not failing some of the time, you’re playing it safe or being lazy. So, work to accumulate those necessary failures, and the successes will come as sure as tomorrow’s sunrise.

For years, my own recipe for recovery or self-rescue from periods of intense stress has been very simple and quite fool-proof: eat, exercise, sleep. It simply always works.

Worth a try, eh?

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Here we go again. “The holidays…” We’ve been down this road before, haven’t we?

Maybe, just maybe, this time. we could dance rather than run. How about it? Interested?

OK, then let’s consider what a dancer must do:

  • They must know the steps of the dance, in advance, at least to some degree. Pure improvisation is only for the very skilled!
  • They must not lose their balance. This requires that they have a decent sense of where they are, at all times. Self-awareness will keep them on their feet.
  • They need to be able to feel the natural rhythm of the music to which they are dancing.
  • They need to be able to navigate on the dance floor, in the midst of other dancers, possibly some musicians, and the architecture and furniture of the room in which they are dancing.

So, translating that, I come up with this:

  • A little planning for the days ahead seems wise. We should sketch out the steps. We would do well to do only a little that is unfamiliar, else we’ll probably not have much fun, and won’t do all that well. This isn’t a rehearsal, but rather a performance.
  • In the midst of all the rush, we need not to lose ourselves. So, do a little “check-in”: Are we feeling sufficiently in-balance? Reasonably optimistic? Reasonably rested? (They’re often related.)
  • We need to stay in touch with the larger things around us – the people we live with, the people we care about, priorities we have which are larger than the concerns of the season. It’s about awareness and balance and grace.
  • Life is often about adequate management of details, as a team. Consider making a few lists, and checking in frequently with people you’re “traveling” with. See any obstacles coming at you? Are you making best use of your potential for adaptive response to challenge, and of the people who can help you with this adaptive response?

All in all, it should be fun – and hopefully also entertaining, thought provoking, nourishing, and gratifying. But start with the fun. Lots of people don’t even get that far.

Plan with humility. Talk with others. Sleep. Eat sustaining food. Exercise. Relax with awareness. Avoid over-reaching. Be grateful for what you already have.

Enjoy the dance.

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The commonness of depression makes it big business, and a real concern to a great many people. Under-emphasized is the fact that some of the best responses to depression are often available to just about anyone – responses which are research validated, cost little or nothing, and can be put in action right away. NOT implementing these responses can be costly in many ways.

In part two of my consideration of the question of personal responses to depression, I outline a small set of steps to take, leading to one’s taking direct action to address one’s depression. Maybe you don’t need to look at this list right now. Maybe someone you know does. And then, there’s always tomorrow – yours and theirs. Be prepared.

Because of their validity and proven effectiveness, I recommend these steps. You can read about all this here:

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As I write this, we’re fast approaching the climax of summer, which I consider to be the harvest days of August. Wild berries in our region are starting to suggest the possibility of berry pies later this year. We’re having more sun than rain – which we have often in the far northwest USA, and the air is balmy and delicious.

But…I seem to be dealing a lot these days with depression. Several of my clients are currently wrestling with it. For some it’s an old adversary. For others it wasn’t a concern a few months ago, but certainly is now, apparently due to some critical life changes (life will do that to you, sooner or later).

Depression is a complex subject, and part of a group of disorders which are themselves complex. About these concerns, there is some basic information and perspectives which I think is particularly important for my clients, and others, to have. Beyond this, an individual struggling with depression has available to them some distinct personal responses which are likely to improve or even resolve their situation, and details about these responses needs to be readily available.

I have written a document which addresses the “basic information and perspectives” part of this subject, and it’s now available in my professional website Library. It offers some fascinating information about this common malady. I hope you will read it:

I will soon have ready a discussion of the personal responses to depressed mood which we all can use. You may be surprized at how much you can do for yourself – and that’s the point!

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