At least 69 percent of women with depression don't feel particularly sad; their symptoms are mostly physical. Here are your body's signs that it needs some TLC - and the get-happy strategies that can erase the blues.
Look for these suspicious symptoms
According to University of Washington researchers, struggling with two or more of these symptoms is a tip-off that you could be struggling with depression and not even know it:
- Persistent fatigue or sluggishness
- Vague aches and pains that never seem to go away
- Frequent cravings for sweets or starches -- even when you’re full
- Difficulty controlling your eating
- Fuzzy or unfocused thinking Anxiety or trouble coping with day-to-day stresses
- Afternoon drowsiness, even if you’re getting enough sleep at night
- Frequent bouts of irritability, tension or anger
- Trouble finding the energy or ambition to tackle daily to-dos
- Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
Take your multi with breakfast
Taking a basic multi containing folic acid and vitamin D helps your brain produce antidepressant hormones like serotonin and oxytocin, triggering a 30 percent improvement in moods in as little as two weeks. For best results, take your multi with breakfast. According to University of Texas researchers, morning is when your ability to absorb nutrients peaks - so taking your folic acid and vitamin D in the a.m. can cut your risk of depression by as much as half.
Go for a midday walk
Almost 96 percent of our lives are spent indoors. “Yet, hands-down, the most effective way to increase your production of mood-boosting serotonin is to combine sunlight with motion,” says Marie-Annette Brown, Ph.D., author of When Your Body Gets The Blues. “It’s such a powerful combo, it improves people’s outlook for five hours straight.” The good news: Just 20 minutes of leisurely outdoor activity - like sweeping the porch or going for an easy walk - can help tamp down your symptoms in as little as one week, say researchers at Washington’s Georgetown University.
Adjust the lights
There’s a direct nerve connection between your eyes and the biological clock buried in your brain. And research at New York’s Columbia University shows that keeping your environment in sync with that clock - so you’re surrounded by light during the day, and dimness in the evening - doubles the effectiveness of any mood-boosting program. To do: Keep your home and workplace cheery and bright during the day by using high-wattage light bulbs and opening the curtains. Then, dim the lights and switch off your computer and other light-emitting electronics one hour before bedtime. Be friendlier to your brain.
Enjoy 1/2 an avocado daily, and you’ll cut your risk of depression (and your symptoms, if you’ve already got it) by 25 percent or more, UCLA researchers say. The reason: These tasty gems are loaded with monounsaturated fats - nutrients that prod your brain to make the blues-busting hormone dopamine. Some tasty options: Use guacamole as a veggie dip, add avocado slices to burgers and sandwiches, toss cubes into salads, or puree and mix into soups, stews and chili recipes.
Hit the dance floor
In a recent Swedish study, it only took nine weeks of dancing to cut subjects’ depression scores by 67 percent - an improvement that’s tough to match even with antidepressant meds! “Dancing’s combination of exercise and rhythmic motions prompts your brain to produce a larger, steadier supply of mood-steadying hormones,” explains Brown. For best results, dance for 30 minutes, four times weekly. Time to sign up for that salsa class?
Ask for massages
Getting a couple of 20 minute massages each week can trigger a 30 percent increase in your brain’s production of feel-good hormones called endorphins, cutting your aches and pains and other physical symptoms by 25 percent, according to University of Miami studies. Regular massages shift brain wave activity from the right side, which churns out negative emotions, to the left side, which handles positive feelings, the study authors say.
Bake a potato
Enjoy one when life’s dragging you down, and you’ll feel calmer and less easily rattled in as little as 30 minutes, say researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Turns out this vegie boosts brain levels of tryptophan - a key building block of the antidepressant hormone serotonin - as much as 54 percent. Tired of taters? Any low-fat, high-starch treat will do the trick, so try a cup of unbuttered popcorn, a few crackers or a bowl of your favorite cereal.
Belt out a few tunes
Women who weave music into their daily lives -- by spending 10 to 15 minutes daily singing along to their favorite songs --- recover up to 55 percent faster from the blues, plus they cut their risk of relapses in half, say Stanford University researchers. Singing kick-starts your brain’s production of calming, mood-boosting alpha brain waves, the study authors say.
Nibble dark chocolate
This creamy, rich treat is packed with a high-powered antidepressant that can shore up a draggy mood, plus chase away tiredness and other physical symptoms, in as little as 20 minutes. The study-proven dose: One ounce of dark chocolate daily (eight ounces of hot cocoa can also do the trick).
Join a club
In a recent British study, 72 percent of depressed women who started spending time each week hanging out in a group (by signing up for a church function, book club, bowling league or yoga class, for example), felt significantly cheerier and healthier within one month. And, they only needed one hour of fun group-time each week to get these results.
Clean a little less
Just relaxing your standards of cleanliness can make your serotonin production creep up in as little as one week, suggest Emory University studies. The researchers’ best guess: Lowering your standards allows you to spend more time relaxing and unwinding, and that dials down your production of cortisol, which is a stress hormone that sabotages brain function and saps your ability to produce antidepressant hormones.
Call a fun friend
Women who connect with a fun, upbeat friend for 10 minutes twice weekly are just half as likely to be hit with the blues, say UCLA researchers. Already struggling with depression? The research suggests that chatting with a friend can ease symptoms in as little as three weeks. Combining friendship and laughter prods your brain to produce mood-steady hormones such as endorphins and dopamine. Regularly exchanging funny e-mails or Facebook postings work too.
Try a new bedtime
Compared to early risers, night owls are four times more likely to be slammed with depression, say Brazilian researchers. “Staying up late - and missing out on morning sunshine by sleeping in - disrupts your biological clock, and that sabotages your brain’s ability to make, and use, antidepressant hormones,” explains Michael Smolensky, Ph.D., author of The Body Clock Guide to Better Health. Climb under the covers by 11 pm, and your symptoms could start to ease in as little as one week. The most surprising news from their study? The night owls went to bed around midnight - only one hour later than the early risers.