We Americans are just about the most depressed people on the planet. Who can blame us, with all the hot showers, clean water, and delicious, cheap food around every corner we have to live with…wait a minute…why are we the second most depressed nation? Something is very amiss.
With 19% prevalence for depression, you would think that our lives would be congruous to those long-faced children on the Feed The Children commercials, but life has never been easier for us. Technology is at our fingertips and hospitals are armed with every type of medical marvel we can think of (and even a few we thought could never exist outside of a sci-fi film). Studies are showing that the answer to happiness may lie in each of us. Do we set ourselves up for failure with how we think and behave? Is happiness simply a point of mind over matter?
It seems that is indeed the case. There are three major factors that affect our state of happiness:
EXERCISE/DIET. By now this point has been made by dietitians and magazines alike. Exercise releases endorphins and other mood-related chemicals that give us a natural high, and the right foods have a proven bio-chemical effect on how we think and feel. For all that has been said already, I will point out that there are very few things we can take serious pride in. A good workout is one of them. There are also additional psychological benefits such as increased confidence in addition to a healthier love life.
MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL BALANCE. By not addressing what upsets us, we are holding our anger inward, the negative effects of which we have all experienced (it’s called being an adolescent). Obsessive thinking– of which anger can be an element, as well as jealousy– causes production of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. High levels of these hormones has been linked to depression. Likewise, stressing over being the “best” causes similar reactions, so you perfectionists out there need to take a good old-fashioned chill pill.
All of these factors play a role in how depression is developed, and most can be avoided. If you are a nurse, odds are shaving off a few hours a week is not an option; however, for those of us who can, take the time to mentally recuperate. Staying cooped up inside the office staring at a computer screen keeps the part of our our attention span, known as “directed” attention, active. Prolonged “directed” attention can lead to stress and even lack of sleep. Step away from the technology and go for a walk.
Better yet, enjoy a nice drink on the patio of your favorite restaurant. Just keep in mind that alcohol depresses the nervous system and causes restless sleeping, so you may want to stop at one or two.
Perhaps the most important factor in our quest for happiness is something we’ve all heard our parents tell us before: “worry about yourself”. Constantly comparing ourselves, our jobs, our incomes, our body weight, etc. to other people only creates unhappiness in ourselves.
** Bonus tip 4: ACTION. It is very easy to look at the things above and find valid excuses, but nothing is done without action. Negative thoughts make for a negative outcome. Get up and get active about the things in your life that are causing you stress. You will find that it is not as difficult or as scary as you might think.