Hidden Mood Killers and How to Stop Them

Amanda Page | Feb 13th 2013

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We all experience “down” days where we don’t feel like our usual selves. Research has shown that the brain chemical serotonin is the usual culprit behind our ‘ups and downs.’ Depending on the frequency and severity of low moods, serotonin reuptake inhibitors, (SSRIs) such as Zoloft and Prozac, may be prescribed to increase serotonin levels in the brain. But what about the hidden things that get you down? Here are some fairly common mood killers and how to conquer them.

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The culprit: stress

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Nothing wreaks havoc on our mental health quite like stress, and sadly it’s difficult to avoid. Every day we encounter stressful situations – financial concerns, car trouble, and work challenges are just a few.  Over time, stress can trigger quite a range of physical and mental maladies, including depression, anxiety, irritability, and sleep disorders.

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The fix: meditation

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Meditation has proven to be effective for stress reduction, relaxation, and productivity.  Additionally, it helps manage depression, blood pressure, and the risk of heart disease.  A recent study revealed that practicing mindfulness meditation may even reduce stress-induced inflammation – a primary component in many inflammatory conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

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The culprit: dehydration

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Dehydration is an often-overlooked cause of a low mood.  Dehydration can lead to headaches, lack of focus, fatigue, and feeling down.   Dehydration causes the brain to shrink away from the skull, leading to pain in the outer brain. Common cases are hangovers, which are related to dehydration, or the feeling of exhaustion after a long workout.

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The fix: water

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While the myth of needing eight glasses of water a day has been debunked, research does suggest that maintaining healthy hydration is key for optimal brain performance.   A good way to monitor your hydration is to eyeball the color of your urine.  If it’s darker than a nearly clear color, you need to drink more water.

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The culprit: vitamin D

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Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to several mood disorders, including premenstrual syndrome, seasonal affective disorder, non-specified mood disorder, and major depressive disorders.  Along with moodiness, vitamin D deficiency can cause muscle pain, bone weakness, inhibited immune response, low energy and sleep problems.

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The fix: sunshine

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While vitamin D can be found in foods such as cod oil, salmon, canned sardines, milk, margarine, eggs, and Swiss cheese, these foods are usually not consumed in high enough quantities to make them an adequate source.  Sunlight is the major provider of our vitamin D requirement.  Just ten to fifteen minutes of sunscreen-free sunlight a day allows your body to obtain enough vitamin D.

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The culprit: hypothyroidism

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An underactive thyroid could be sabotaging your mood.  The thyroid is a tiny gland located at the base of your neck that controls your metabolism.  If the gland is underperforming, causing metabolic functions to slow, you may feel fatigued or depressed, and you could even gain weight.  If left untreated, hypothyroidism can cause severe complications, including fluid around the heart and increased risk of coronary artery disease and stroke.

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The fix: blood test

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A routine blood test can confirm an underactive thyroid, which can be treated with synthetic hormones to bring function back to a normal speed.  Treatment is generally very effective, causing symptoms to disappear within a few weeks.

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The culprit: boredom

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That frustrated feeling that there is nothing to do can really feed feelings of loneliness and depression.  Boredom causes us to feel disconnected from the positive things with which we typically identify.  Temporary boredom can make you feel unproductive and lacking in self-worth, but long bouts of boredom brought on by something such as a lagging career or broken relationship can severely drain your emotional health.

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The fix: revive

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Boredom can have the interesting effect of causing you to sink further-and-further into inactivity with a decreasing drive to become active.  You need to force yourself to rev up your energy and get moving.  Find new ways to engage yourself – take a class, go dancing, join a club, learn a language.  Challenging your brain in new ways will help break a boredom rut and get you feeling good about yourself.

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The culprit: fatigue

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You are likely aware that adequate sleep is necessary for optimal cognitive and physical performance, but sleep also has a strong effect on our mood.  Sleep and mental health tend to influence and reinforce each other.  Anxiety and depression can cause sleep disorders like insomnia, which in turn can cause mental health disorders, such as  anxiety and depression.  A hidden culprit of depression and fatigue is sleep apnea.

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The fix: sleep

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If you struggle with sleep apnea make sure your weight is under control, quit smoking, and try sleeping with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device to allow easier breathing throughout the night. Drinking a soothing herbal tea like chamomile can also help you relax for an easier time falling to sleep.