Nearly seven percent of adults in the US are suffering from severe, clinical depression at any given time. Fifteen percent of us will endure paralyzing depression at some point in our lives. And 18 percent of us have an anxiety disorder at any given time. These figures don’t include those of us who simply feel blue or unmotivated or mildly unenthusiastic about life. Major depression is more serious than that, more long-lasting (persists at least two weeks), and more likely to lead to suicide.
One thing about depression, whether mild or severe, is that it tends to color the day from the moment you wake. If you’re depressed, you’ll find yourself dragging out of bed in the morning, dreading the day ahead. Your day is already colored by depression before you walk out your door. It’s sort of like building a house on top of a cracked foundation, or making a soup using a tainted broth. Everything added later is tainted, because the base isn’t solid. Plus, it’s a huge health risk to start your day in a funk.
As noted by the researchers, 5 "The data will provide a resource of unprecedented scale and depth for studying typical and atypical development." These preliminary findings, based on the brain scans of 4,500 9- to 10-year-olds, reveal children who use electronic devices for seven hours or more each day have premature thinning of the brain cortex, the outer brain layer that processes information from the five physical senses (taste, touch, sight, smell and sound).
As Jon Barron points out in his book,
Instead of starting your day in despair, here are simple things you can do that might help to lift your mood.
- Get Up Earlier. Research just completed by the University of Colorado in Boulder and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston found that women who are early risers have a lower incidence of depression than their peers. The study followed 32,000 nurses who were not depressed at the outset, for two years. After controlling for sleep duration, sleep quality, work shifts, exposure to light, weight, exercise and so forth, the researchers concluded that those who went to bed early and got up early had up to 27-percent lower chance of developing depression than the night owls.
While tucking in earlier alone might not obliterate the blues, it may give you a bit of a boost. Experts point out that your preference for early versus late rising, or “chronotype,” may be driven by genetics, but it can also be influenced by things such as exposure to natural light, diet, and exercise.
- Start with Water. If you’re one of those people who sleepwalks to the coffee machine and downs a cup or so before you can function, you might benefit by drinking water first instead. Water gives your kidneys, liver, and digestive system a flush to help get rid of toxins that accumulated overnight, and if you’re dehydrated, drinking water will take care of that. Experts say warm lemon water is the best for getting the job done.
Coffee, on the other hand, acts as a diuretic, dehydrating you even more. Plus, coffee stimulates the digestive system to produce hydrochloric acid, particularly when consumed on an empty stomach, and that can deplete the system’s ability to produce adequate amounts of hydrochloric acid later on when you eat food, which can cause digestive problems and mineral deficiencies.
But most importantly, according to author Julia Ross, who wrote The Mood Cure, drinking coffee first thing leads to underproduction of serotonin, which regulates mood. That’s because coffee is an appetite suppressant and may lead to skipping or delaying breakfast, which will likely interfere with serotonin production. Ms. Ross suggests waiting until after breakfast for that first Cup of Joe.
- Use Neuroscience to Set Your Brain Right. We’ve written before about the fact that the brain has a negativity bias . In other words, it holds onto bad experiences and tends to discard good ones, as reflected in the fact that 62 percent of the words describing emotion in the English language have negative associations, while only 32 percent are positive. When you’re already depressed, that negativity bias becomes even more pronounced. You feed your mind a steady diet of negative stories, and those stories keep building in your psyche, and the bias is so strong that simply telling yourself to cheer up is useless.
Fortunately, neuroscience has discovered that we can create new, more positive neuropathways in the brain by learning how to focus on the positive. The key is to spend enough time dwelling on the positive for your brain to “digest” it, which means you need to spend a minimum of 12 seconds “drinking in” each positive experience you go through. Otherwise, the brain simply tosses the positive experience and reverts to the negative state. It helps to start each day with a deliberate program to dwell on the positive, whether you create a gratitude journal or simply list happy memories from the previous day.
One great tool to get you started on this path is a book called Just One Thing by Rick Hanson , who also wrote Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. The book offers one technique a day for an entire year to help you recolor your psyche in more upbeat shades. Hanson also sends out free techniques weekly if you sign up on his website.
- Ban Technology. We recently wrote that at least 25 percent of US adults check their cell phones within a minute of waking up and 80 percent check the phone within 15 minutes. As we mentioned in that article, “There’s plenty of evidence that too much device time leads to depression and brain changes” as well as to “stress-related conditions such as hypertension, thyroid disease, heart failure, and coronary artery disease.” Instead of reaching for the phone or the laptop, do your brain rewiring exercises and see how the day goes after that.
- Do Your Exercise. There are arguments for fitting in your exercise later in the day, but those who do it first thing reap rich benefits. For one thing, research shows that those who exercise early in the day are more likely to institute a regular workout regimen and tend to be more consistent. And, as we’ve written before , “morning workouts have psychological advantages since exercising boosts mood-elevating hormones and endorphins to start your day, and the effects last for hours. As Dr. Cedric Bryant of the American Council of Exercise says, ‘Morning workouts result in better energy levels throughout the day and give you more mental alertness and sharpness…Plus, morning workouts can help you sleep better at night. A 2011 study at Appalachian State University found that participants who exercised at 7 a.m. reduced daytime blood pressure by 10 percent and evening blood pressure by 25 percent. They also slept longer and better compared to those who exercised at other times of day.’” Plus, morning exercisers had better results in the weight loss department compared to those who exercised later.
- Feed Your Spirit. This is not the same thing as setting your brain right with positive programming. Feeding your spirit means underlining your connection to beauty, goodness, and if you’re so-inclined, to purpose in the universe. You might accomplish this by meditating, by listening to inspiring music, or even by praying.
Get Enough Sleep. The importance of getting enough quality sleep can not be overstated. It may be just as important as diet and exercise, if not more. Poor sleep can drive insulin resistance, throw your appetite hormones out of whack and reduce your physical and mental performance. What's more, it is one of the strongest individual risk factors for future weight gain and obesity. One study showed that short sleep was linked to 89% increased risk of obesity in children, and 55% in adults.
There are many other things you can do first thing in the morning to promote well-being, and if you’re really depressed, it makes sense to also get counseling and take helpful supplements. But even if you only institute one of these six practices, you’ll likely see positive results sooner than otherwise. That said, the more of them that you make part of your life, the more positive the results you’re likely to experience.