Everyday Help for Anxiety and Depression
By Darra McMullen,
Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher
Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health disorders in the United States, especially among women. Each condition is worthy of its own article and will get one in the upcoming few weeks, but first, let’s begin our investigation of anxiety and depression by taking a look at some of the recent news pertaining to these two conditions. Then, in January, we’ll dive deeper into each condition with more in-depth information.
Recent News about Anxiety and Depression:
• There really are good reasons for adult coloring books; they are not just a fad. Among other benefits, coloring produces relaxing alpha brain waves, which can cut stress in half in 10 minutes, thereby relieving feelings of anxiety. The repetitive motion and fine motor control needed to color are thought to produce the calming alpha brain waves, according to British researchers.
• People prone to worrying and anxiety over worst-case scenarios should take notice of this next piece of good news. A new study published in the journal, Cognition and Emotion, shows that the vast majority of people are much more capable of handling failure than they imagine themselves to be. Study subjects were asked to predict how well they would respond to badly failing a test and were then given an exam that was secretly set up for everyone to fail. Even people who predicted they would suffer greatly from failing an exam faired much better emotionally than their predictions had indicated. Because failure is often much scarier in our imaginations than in reality, people, even emotionally fragile ones, are quite a bit more capable of handling set-backs than they believe themselves to be.
• Green tea, long known for its many health benefits, is now documented to assist with the fight against depression. Researchers at the Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan found that people who consumed two to three cups of green tea daily were about 40% less likely to report feeling depressed than those who drank one cup or less daily. The antioxidants in green tea are thought to reduce levels of cortisol, a stress hormone in the body associated with depression. Freshly brewed green tea has superior levels of antioxidants than bottled green tea; however, any green tea is better than none for providing increased antioxidants in the diet. The Japanese green tea study was featured in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
• An interesting finding about pro-biotic foods, such as yogurt, was published by an Irish researcher. Ted Dinan, MD, PhD, and a professor of psychiatry, concluded in a meta-analysis that pro-biotic foods helped relieve depression, chronic fatigue, and other mood disorders. “Good” bacteria in the gut are thought to help produce serotonin and other beneficial chemicals in the brain.
Researchers are still studying how much of various pro-biotic foods will be needed to provide an “effective dose” for mood disorder relief.
• Exercise has been shown by several studies to be “nature’s antidepressant”, relieving symptoms of depression by as much, or more than, medication for mild to moderate depression cases. Even sufferers of severe depression can gain some benefit from exercise; regular exercise can enable some patients with severe symptoms to reduce the amount of medication they take.
One Norwegian study that tracked 39,000 people for two years concluded that participants who reported doing moderate-to-high levels of activity for more than 30 minutes on a daily (or near daily) basis scored significantly lower on tests of anxiety and depression than did non-exercisers.
• Recently conducted research from Japan found that manicures stimulate acupressure points in the fingertips and nail beds that soothe the amygdala, the brain’s anxiety center; manicures can help induce calm for up to eight hours. Even when times are especially busy or rushed, try giving yourself a fingertip and nail bed massage to reduce feelings of anxiousness or nervousness. According to the Japanese research, levels of anxiety can be cut by 25% or more following fingertip massage.
• Think of saffron when looking for a natural helper to fight depression. Saffron is a spice derived from a small, blue crocus, and saffron has been used for centuries in traditional medicine as a potent antidepressant. Saffron’s “active ingredient” is crocetin, which appears to enhance blood flow to the brain.
The country of Iran has conducted research on saffron and found that 30 mg. per day of saffron powder (about one-tenth of a teaspoon) relieved mild-to-moderate depression symptoms as effectively as standard doses of certain antidepressant medications. This is intriguing, early research that bears further investigation. Talk to your doctor if you are interested in treating depression with saffron and never stop taking currently prescribed depression medication without a physician’s advice.
• Older women, please take note. A coffee habit may be helping you more than you know. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston examined health and lifestyle data on 50,739 women (average age 63) for more than 10 years. The study found that women who drank two to three cups of coffee per day were 15% less likely to develop clinical depression than those women who drank one or fewer cups daily. Decaffeinated coffee had no effect on depression, either positively or negatively. Caffeine is known to increase production of dopamine and other brain neurotransmitters that help regulate moods, and therefore, caffeine is theorized to be the active ingredient in coffee responsible for the protective benefits.
• Research conducted at the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society at Liverpool in the United Kingdom found that ruminating about traumatic life events were a leading cause of anxiety and depression. However, people surveyed in the study that reported dealing with their trauma in a constructive manner, such as by talking with loved ones about the trauma, were less likely to experience anxiety and depression.
• A study from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center points to a link between the color of night-light bulb emission and depression symptoms. Animals exposed to dim white or blue light at night were twice as likely to exhibit depressive symptoms as animals exposed to red or no light at all.
Study authors urge humans to use night-lights and clocks that emit dim red lights and avoid blue/green or white lights for two to three hours prior to bedtime.
• Don’t forget the importance of an “attitude of gratitude” and of the benefits of helping others. Both scientific study and anecdotal experience have shown us that thoughts of gratitude for the positive things in our lives and altruistic behaviors can brighten our moods and calm anxious nerves.
Gratitude and service to others are remarkable in their abilities to improve the mental states of the anxious or depressively afflicted, as well as to the improvement of the greater community.
• Finally, remember the compelling effects color in our environments can have on our moods. Certain colors have been shown in studies to help calm nervous emotions or to lighten dark moods.
Blues and pinks help to calm nervous or worried feelings, while greens, yellows, and oranges are considered uplifting colors that brighten low, depressive moods.
Hopefully, these news “briefs” will present readers with some constructive, everyday options for assisting themselves or loved ones in the fight against anxiety or depression disorders.
Please join us here shortly after the beginning of the upcoming year (second week of January) for a more detailed look at anxiety and depression.
Happy New Year!