Saturday, December 9, 2017

Life With Chronic Conditions: Keep the December Blahs at Bay

Low serotonin levels in the brain increase risk of depression. December seems to be the “perfect storm”-the least sunlight of the year and our over compensation for it by eating and drinking all sorts of simple carbs, spending hours sitting inside and using the cold as an excuse not to go out and exercise – well who has time between the shopping and parties? In short, the December blahs, have begun to descend along with serotonin levels. 

Interestingly, I started writing this post and a Christmas package arrived from my brother. On the accompanying card, John, who is a doctor of the most scientific sort, said he was including a book by a neurosurgeon he had come in contact with regarding a patient with Parkinson’s Disease.

The book “Into the Magic Shop,” was authored by Dr. James Doty, whom I had heard on the podcast “On Being.” I relate this because it’s an insightful book that arrived at the perfect time, reminding me that it can be truly a magical time of  year. In fact, among the “things to consider” sections below are some exercises from the book.
 The good news is that there are things you can do to change that, and in turn, improve other aspects of your life.

One of my favorite comments about how to cope with the holidays, comes from the comedian Patton Oswalt, whose wife died unexpectedly a few years ago, Go see an early matinee and sip coffee from the only sandwich place open on the block. Pretend you’re the survivor of a weird plague that’s wiped out the population yet still leaves TV stations broadcasting, fast food joints cooking you delicious food and empty buses crawling up abandoned streets. When you look at a holiday spent alone at the right angle, it becomes a sun-lit film noir wonderland... People’s loneliness isn’t alleviated by tit-for-tat joy. That’s too easy. It’s other people being alive and present which spawns true joy, and makes the dead air particles shimmer and vibrate and warm the world. So go out and invade, in any way you can. If you have kids, make them part of your crew, let them join your mission. Be alive and aware and in motion on the Lonely Planet. It won’t stay lonely for long.

Things to consider & Try
• Increasing serotonin naturally: On going research shows that increasing serotonin in the brain decreases feelings of depression. There are a number of ways to do this without drugs including: exercise, sunlight, massage, and thinking happy thoughts. Check out Boosting Your Serotonin Activity. Be aware that before taking vitamins, which is often recommended to increase serotonin, check with your medical provider.

Ruth’s Tricks: Mindfulness Exercises-These are from the book Into the Magic Shop mentioned above.

Get moving: Not surprising a clear link has been established between lack of physical activity and depression. You don’t have to be a gym rat to enjoy the benefits of getting plenty of exercise. Build it into your life. Check out Take a Stand to Better Health.

Get outside and enjoy nature. Take a walk, sit in the park, ride a bike, feed the birds

Get plenty of sleep.

Cut back on sugar and simple carbs: Given that the “eating season” has already started, this can be a bit of a challenge but there are lots of ways to do this, such as drinking seltzer with a twist of lime instead of having an alcoholic beverage or soda.  Out of site out of mind-don’t have a sugar bowl, syrup, honey or other sweeteners sitting out where you will be tempted to use them. Reduce the amount of sugar you use-instead of two packets of sugar for coffee, use one. Eat half a cookie instead of a whole one. Substitute the simple carbs pastries, pretzels, and pasta, with more complex ones such as sweet potatoes, apples, blueberries, carrots, and garbanzo beans. Brain serotonin levels can also be raised by eating foods rich in L-tryptophan, such as chicken, turkey, salmon, beef, nut butter, eggs, and green peas.

Cut back on social media. Have face-to-face conversations. Power down too much texting, messaging, and scrolling through Facebook adds to anxiety and depression.

Declare Your Holiday Bill of Rights. You deserve to honor the holidays in a way that works best for you—and to take care of yourself in the process. Use this bill of rights to give yourself permission to make the holidays what you need them to be. Share it with loved ones so they can help support you.

Straighten Up hunching had a negative impact on mood vs. walking with back straight, chin up, and shoulders back put liveliness in steps and overall mood

Eliminate negative people from your life, or if you can’t eliminate them, reduce the amount of time you interact with them.

• Take a break: Hundreds of different ways are included at the Take a Break Pinterest site.

Try Hygge: Pronounced “hue-gah,” the Danish (the Danes are considered the happiest people in the world) term “hygge” means creating a nice, warm atmosphere and enjoying the good things in life with people you most enjoy. It is an absence of anything annoying or emotionally overwhelming and the presence of comforting, gentle and soothing things. Originating in Norway, where it meant well being, the high season of hygge is Christmas. Candles, mulled wine, fire places, blankets and scarves make this long and cold winter season bearable and for many, quite enjoyable. 

Be nice to someone if for no other reason it will give you a boost. Same goes for volunteering

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