Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving May Decrease Your Depression
It's true! And I'm not talking about the dopamine levels in turkey. In the last few years the new science of "positive psychology" has repeatedly shown that, "People who practice gratitude are more optimistic, report fewer physical symptoms of illness and pain, and lower levels of chronic stress and depression," as one researcher summarizes.

Sounds great, doesn't it? But note that you need to "practice" gratitude -- and that means writing it down. Aha! The key seems to be that we'll feel gratitude's positive effects not by thinking or even speaking about things for which we are thankful, but that these things must be written down.

The Thanksgiving season is the perfect time to start writing a daily list of three things for which you are grateful. They may be huge or tiny. I find it most helpful to write these as three sentences, "I, Beth, and grateful for...." You don't need to make a lengthy list or write for 20 minutes on any of these, although we sometimes do this in my classes. Just write down three things that make you feel thankful inside. To me, that feeling -- even if I can hold it for only a few seconds -- is incompatible with depression. So take three minutes and do it... now! A peaceful and joyful Thanksgiving to you all. --Beth

1) I, Beth, am grateful that I at last became a mom this year.
2) I, Beth, am grateful that it's raining out right now -- we need the water, and it smells fresh.
3) I, Beth, am grateful that I know that I'll have food available for dinner.

Monday, November 10, 2008

TO WRITE: Coffee, anyone?
If you are living with a mood disorder, I'm betting you have a special relationship with caffeine. Depressed? You may down coffee, tea and colas all day long trying to get an energy boost. Bipolar? You may need to avoid the stuff like the plague to keep it from nudging you up into hypomania or mania. And what about the large numbers of us who just can't sleep reliably, or who sleep too much, or who feel sedated by meds? Chances are you have thought deliberately about your caffeine intake. I've certainly pondered mine over my third cup of java.

I've always assumed that caffeine helps me stay more alert and focused, especially when I haven't had all the sleep I need. But a new study of coffee's effects says: NO! A new study in the Nov. 3, 2008 Human Psychopharmacology journal tested people taking caffeine or a placebo, both when they were rested and when they were sleep deprived. While some brainwaves did look different, they concluded: "The findings do not support the use of caffeine as a means for enhancing human function or as an antidote to the negative effects of sleep loss."

Are the effects of caffeine different in those of us with a mood disorder? We don't know. And that placebo effect resulting from our common assumption that it helps or hurts may play a role too. But it's worth considering all the evidence.

Play with this. . .
Write continuously for 20 minutes about your sleep patterns and your alertness and how you cope with any sleep or alertness problems. Have you found practical solutions? Share them! This is a big factor in improving and maintaining our health.