So how are you? I mean – how are you feeling? Stressed? Constantly tired? A little achey perhaps. As I write this now it’s Monday morning, and though we’ve finally entered March with Spring just round the corner, nobody seems to have told the weather. On days like today, it’s hard to feel particularly chipper.
What follows are five bullet proof layers partly inspired by my friend Agent Sparkles who created a 13 point beat-the-blues survival guide after a difficult period in her life struggling with depression. You can find her list, unedited and in its entirety, here – for now however, here are five items that really work for me, and should provide you with some much needed defence against the blues.
Bullet Proof Layer 1 – Put Your Pants On!
Every morning, before 9am, and regardless of what day of the week it is and whether you have any plans – get out of bed.
Get up, have a shower, get dressed, put on decent clothes. Do your make up, do your hair, shave your legs – or whatever your personal equivalent may be. This sends a strong message to your psyche that you’re ready to face the day.
This is doubly important for people who work from home.
Bullet Proof Layer 2 – Eat Properly
After millions of years of shovelling food into our mouths it seems like we’re only just beginning to realise that the old saying “you are what you eat” is actually true. Every single cell, every hair, every flake of dandruff, every tear, every bead of sweat, every inch of skin, muscle and bone, all of it was constructed by your body from something you (or your mother) ate.
This includes your brain.
If you have a habit of eating rubbish on a daily basis you’ll end up with a brain that’s not as able to cope with the stresses or strains of everyday life. That melon-sized lump of grey matter in your skull really is less efficient if it’s been constructed out of crisps, burgers and chocolate bars!
Fortunately this is very easy to fix. Whilst cultivating a ‘better diet’ (i.e. lots of fresh fruit and vegetables whilst avoiding processed foods wherever possible) is just good sense, there are specific foods that are good for your brain.
Omega 3 fatty acids, for instance, directly affect your brain’s ability to cope with stress, depression, concentration and memory. Study after study has shown that an increase of Omega 3 in your diet can make a huge, measurable difference to how you feel.
So where can you get your Omega 3? Flax seeds and walnuts are a good source, though you’ve got to eat a lot to notice a difference (crush them up beforehand to reduce the chances of them passing straight through you). A better source is oily fish (such as mackerel and salmon) because the fish has actually done much of the work, converting the fats into a form ready for your body to digest.
If you haven’t got the time to start grilling fish once or twice a week there’s always supplements. It’s worth mentioning that there’s research to suggest that you absorb far more Omega 3 from food than from supplements, but from personal experience I’ve found supplements to be an acceptable alternative – but remember, they’re supplements, not meal alternatives. Nothing beats a balanced diet of three proper meals a day with plenty of fruit and veg.
Almost everyone who came back to me with their list of External Forces sited tiredness or sleep deprivation as a cause of unhappiness. Which isn’t surprising really. It’s a rare person who can keep a positive upbeat attitude when they’re walking around like a zombie.
So – go to bed at a reasonable hour, and go to sleep. This means if you’re aiming to get up at 8am you probably need to be lying down, ready to sleep, by eleven.
If you’re struggling with insomnia then an excellent book on the subject (written by a sleep doctor) is “Tired But Wired: How to Overcome Sleep Problems ” by Nerina Ramlakhan (ISBN-13: 978-0285638778)
Bullet Proof Layer 4 – Daylight
First, the basics. Having got up in the morning (bullet proof layer 1) – open the curtains. A lack of sunshine can really drag you down. But do you know why?
All living organisms have an internal biological clock (of sorts) called a circadian rhythm. This internal process regulates a number of bodily functions and for most people their ‘rhythm’ is approximately a twenty four hour cycle. Approximately.
And there’s the rub. Your cycle is only approximately the same length as a normal day. If it’s a little on the short or long side (which it easily could be) it’s possible for your circadian rhythm to become out of sync with your lifestyle, the effect of which is to leave you feeling like you’re suffering from permanent jet-lag (because essentially that’s exactly what jet-lag is). It’s not uncommon to experience insomnia, acute tiredness, lethargy, anxiety, even depression.
Fortunately your body has a ‘reset button’. If when you wake enough light reaches your eyes (or specifically a group of cells called ganglions) your circadian rhythm is reset.
Notice the if in that sentence. If you spend your days asleep, and your nights sitting in front of the TV or computer, your rhythm might actually fail to reset itself. For some people, one too many winter days has the same effect, and before you know it you feel as if you’re stumbling through life with a head full of porridge, boxing with one hand tied behind your back.
That’s not a good state to be in if you also have to deal with your evil boss, your interfering mother-in-law, that angry idiot from next door, or whoever it is that has the ability to press all your buttons – and if you’re not getting enough daylight those buttons are fully exposed and there for the pressing (commonly referred to as SAD (Seasonal Affected Disorder). SAD can be reversed, without drugs, pretty much overnight. My personal therapy of choice is a ‘light box’ to take the place of sunshine).
Bullet Proof Layer 5 – Trust that ‘Things Will Get Better’
In the words of my favourite quote: