Boost your mood in the workplace

By Peta Bee

Financial struggles are the latest worry for a generation that is already over-burdened with stress. Long working hours, relationship problems and a lack of time to relax are all contributing to a rise in mood problems and depression.

One in five people now suffers a mental health problem at some point in their lives says Mind, a British mental-health charity. But for those with mild to moderate depression, often brought on by work-related issues, there is much that can be done to alleviate the blues and prevent them getting worse. “Getting outside, being active and talking are just some measures that can be really beneficial,” says Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of Mind. Here we review the evidence:


Daylight and weather

Now is the perfect weather to get outside. Warm, but not hot, weather has a positive impact on mental health according to researchers at the University of Michigan. Dr Paul Keller, a social psychologist, found the optimal temperature for mood was about 72 degrees with mood decreasing if temperatures became significantly higher or lower. “For pleasant weather to improve mood you need to spend at least 30 minutes outside,” Keller says. “It really does offer a way to re-set your mindset.”

A lack of daylight is thought to be the main cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD). The condition is thought to be linked to the way light triggers messages to the part of the brain called the hypothalamus that controls sleep, appetite and mood.



“There is evidence that regular exercise is beneficial for people with depression,” says Farmer. “Any exercise helps and people should do whatever makes them feel good.” Physical activity need not be too strenuous to achieve results. A study by University of Texas researchers asked subjects with clinical depression either to rest or walk at a gentle pace on a treadmill for half an hour. When their mood was tested later, both groups showed improvements, but the walkers had significantly more positive feelings of well-being and energy. Last year, Dr Astrid Bjornbekk of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden showed that exercise, stimulates the production of new brain cells and, in doing so, has a similar effect to antidepressant drugs.


Talking and laughing

Laughter has a powerful effect on depression and researchers recently showed that even anticipating a laugh can lower detrimental stress hormones and boost mood. Dr Lee Berk, a researcher in physical therapy, at Loma Linda University in California has shown that levels of beta-endorphins, the family of chemicals that alleviate depression, rose by 27 per cent when subjects were asked to watch a comedy video. Levels of three stress hormones – cortisol, epinephrine and dopac – which also affect mood and anxiety were reduced by up to 70 per cent. “Findings lead us to believe that by seeking out positive experiences that make us laugh we can do a lot with out physiology to stay well,” Berk says. It is the theory on which an approach called ‘laughter yoga’ is based. Laughing releases feel-good hormones called endorphins into the body. While there is no evidence that it works, people claim the activity has helped. Talking therapies are also proven to be effective. One study showed that cognitive behaviour therapy was as effective as drugs in preventing depression.



A study by Dr Klaus Linde from the Centre for Complementary Medicine in Munich suggests that a supplement of St John’s Wort is as effective as drugs like Prozac for mild to moderate depression. In a review of 29 studies on the plant, Linde showed that it was not only effective for many of the 5,489 patients with depression, but that it had fewer side effects than conventional drugs. “Using a St John’s Wort extract may be justified, but products in the market vary considerably,” Linde warned.

Other supplements might also help to alleviate the blues. Earlier this year, a report in the Archives of General Psychiatry journal showed that increasing vitamin D intake could protect against depression.



A lack of sleep will almost certainly leave you feeling tired, groggy and grumpy. But, over time, those feelings can escalate into depression. Young adults who took part in research at the Zurich University Psychiatric Hospital in Switzerland displayed far greater symptoms of depression if they suffered from insomnia. Up to 50 per cent of the subjects who experienced sleeplessness lasting two weeks or longer during their early twenties were more likely to get a depressive episode later in life. “We used to think that insomnia was most often just a symptom of depression,” says Dr Daniel Buysse of the University of Pittsburgh. “But a growing body of evidence suggests it may actually precede depression.”

Business week

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