Saturday, May 2, 2009

Where do moods come from?

I've been pondering what to write, or how to write it, for a while now on one of those difficult subjects. Depression. Apparently it is not unusual for men to react very emotionally when they are abandoned by their mate, and I've known women to suffer from depression as well.

One theory as to why men in a terminated relationship pout was that it was safer for the prehistoric man who found "his" lover chumming with a Neanderthal to just mope around the cave; rather than go out on the savannah less than fully alert and get stomped by a mastodon or tusked by a sabertooth.

There was a good National Geographic article on Valentine's Day a couple of years back that discussed the mix of brain chemicals that are responsible for the initial heady, lusty, infatuation phase of head-over-heels kind of love as well as the long-haul, bonding, commitment and dedication kind of love.

The same way seeing a lover approach unleashes a wave of pleasurable brain chemistry, facing their permanent departure causes a reaction not at all unlike an addict's painful weaning. Nobody wants to feel abandoned.

What is moping around the cave like? One friend of mine who went through it said, "It saps the joy out of life."

Years ago, when I was presented with a divorce ultimatum after about a decade of marriage, it caught me by surprise and I couldn't sleep or eat. I just kept trying to think my way out of the dilemma, and I felt very trapped because I wasn't able to solve this Sudoku.

I phoned a friend and cried a bit. I called up the phone number that I had been given at work and they made an appointment for me to speak with a counselor. I recall well my first meeting. I sank into his couch, tired from days of little to no sleep and he asked, "What's up?"

I looked at my feet and mumbled, "I've taken denial to a whole new level."

He busted out laughing, and I smiled. Things started getting better from that point, but it was a long haul and I know there are others who are making this journey, so I'll share a few things I've learned on the way. If they help you, great. If not, you'll know about them and may be able to offer a helping hand to someone you care about.

First of all, and this surprised me, it is a medical doctor who helps people who are depressed. They have a quiz with something like 20 or 40 questions. I guess happy people tend to answer questions one way, and sad people answer them another way. It is all a matter of perspective. One of those "half full" or "half empty" kind of things

The doctor may determine that there is a chemical imbalance (think of it as not enough vitamin C causing scurvy ... the makeup of our body is dependent on the interaction of many substances), and if there is an imbalance they may offer a prescription. There are a lot of different prescriptions, and they do slightly different things, so one may be better than another for any given individual. One person who holds opinions I regard highly said getting a prescription for depression is like treating the symptom, and it might be better to treat the cause. I'll just say that if the symptoms are too far progressed, sometimes it can be hard to start addressing the cause; so, whatever works for you is what you should try.

Here's the good news. The human brain is regrowing connections throughout our entire lives, and by exercising the brain we can grow new connections and create new opportunities. If you want to be good at math, do math every day. If you want to be good at relationships, go find a friend, family member, or counselor and work on it. The technical term, I think, is talk therapy. Or, read a book or watch an educational video or DVD.

It is certainly better than bottling it up inside. That causes ulcers and decreases immune system function, which in turn leads to more illness, which can make one even more depressed. The upward or downward motions are both self-reinforcing, so try to set yourself in motion in the direction you wish to go.

There are many ways to create or boost a positive mood. Many of us have tried to cheer up a friend, coworker or family member. Use the same strategy to cheer yourself up. Some things work for about everyone, others may be specific to an individual but I'm going to list a bunch of things that I have learned about that may work for you and your friends ... and the more of these you can string together, the happier you will be.

* Exercise. Perhaps it is to prevent fatigue and the pain of aching muscles, but the body releases natural painkillers and mood enhancers into your system during exercise. It also boosts the immune system. And, if it gives you some ripped abs that's gonna be a plus as well.

* Sleep. Did you ever see a child get cranky when it was past bedtime? It is no different for an adult.

* Sunshine. Sunlight causes chemical reactions in our body, and good ones at that. We may not be plants, but sunshine is needed to stay healthy and happy. Go out for an early morning walk and start the day off right.

* Scents. Perfume, cologne, incense, a clean cat litter box, don't leave dead fish in the living room, there are all sorts of levels to which one can take this idea. Maybe the scent of an evergreen at Christmas was a special thing, or baking chocolate chip cookies, or cinnamon sprinkled on food. I once heard that if you want to sell your house, just bake an apple pie an hour before the prospective buyers come through. Hey, if it can sell a house, it must be influencing moods, right?

* Food. I don't just mean chocolate, though the chemicals reactions of chocolate on the brain are legendary. I mean things you might not normally associate with healthy brain activity and a positive mindset: olives, avocado, salmon or mackerel, yogurt, cheese, poultry, eggs, bananas, peanuts. There are scientific and medical explanations for all of these, but I won't start drawing diagrams here ... I just wanted to let you know these foods have some positive benefits.

* Sex and drugs and rock and roll. Well, two out of three, anyway. No alcohol, it just messes up whatever you've got going on naturally. Sex boosts mood, and hugs are a prolonged mood-enhancer. Human contact is a good thing. Also, surely there's some music you can imagine will put a smile on your face. Maybe Dixieland Jazz, or a John Phillip Sousa march, or the William Tell Overture, or that theme song from Hawaii Five-O. Whatever. A favorite Beatles tune, or some New Age music with lots of wind chimes, or the sound of a splashing brook in the forest. Find something you like, and get away from the sirens and traffic noise.

* Help others, accomplish a small task, clean up your room. Any of these things can be a good thing. Volunteer a few hours at a local charity or event. You might just meet some fun people, or put a smile on someone else's face. What goes 'round comes 'round. If the house is a mess and it seems overwhelming, don't beat yourself up over it, but set a reasonable, small goal ... like, "I'll wash that one window I like to sit beside." Then take a moment to sit down and enjoy the view!


Anonymous said...

What a depressing subject. I totally agree that talking helps, but sometimes it's difficult to find someone willing to listen....

Cynthia said...

Dear heart, I love your honest approach to life. It is wonderful to know you and a joy to share hours and days in this amazing world.