The First Things You Do in the Morning Can Fight Depression

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Just as they will the common cold, a majority of people will experience depression at some point in their lifetimes. While depression is uncomfortable, there are some things that people can do in the morning to reduce symptoms.

Soak Yourself in Sunlight

Sunlight exposure is a great way to start one’s day.

Not only can sunlight improve one’s mood, but it can also help with one’s cognitive functioning. In addition, natural sunlight has been shown to reduce morning levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

For depression, sunlight exposure has been used as a form of “lifestyle medicine” or “nature-assisted therapy” that has been shown to enhance mood and reduce depressive symptoms.

While researchers are further studying the mechanisms behind the therapeutic effects of sunlight, current research shows that the immune system may be the mediator, as demonstrated by reduced inflammatory biomarkers following sunlight exposure.

Eat a Nutrient-Dense Breakfast

It may be tempting to reach for convenient options, but taking the time to have a nutrient-dense breakfast can set you up to have a great day.

What foods do we need when we feel depressed? Foods that have been demonstrated to be helpful in staving off depression include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and olive oil. Moderate consumption of fish is a good idea, too. These foods are all staples of the well-studied Mediterranean diet.

You may be asking, “What would a depression-fighting breakfast look like?”

Try some slices of smoked salmon with low-fat cheese, some cantaloupe, and Brazil nuts. Instead of coffee, opt for tea or cacao, which contain flavonoids that not only improve mood but also reduce blood pressure and diabetes risk. This meal idea provides you with a balance of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, and flavonoids.

Avoid junk foods such as candies, chips, and soda. These provide simple carbohydrates and high fats that negatively affect one’s mood. Nutrient-dense foods are absorbed more slowly and offer complex nutrients that support bodily functions, whereas processed foods contain high calories and are of low nutritional value.

Most importantly, individuals with depression should avoid alcohol.

While culturally coveted as an easy fix around the world, alcohol functions as a depressant. Consuming alcohol can cause individuals with depression to experience increased sadness. If you would like a more exciting beverage, try a “mocktail” that includes your favorite fruit and vegetable juices, along with spices that will nurture your brain.

Get Lightly or Moderately Physical (Outside!)

You don’t have to do CrossFit to reap the benefits of exercise. Some of the effective methods of exercise include walking, hiking, swimming, biking, gentle weight training, and mobility work.

Exercise has been long proven to improve not only physical health, but also mental. Aerobic exercise has been shown to increase volume in the hippocampus, the brain’s memory center. Other benefits of exercise include increased blood flow, improved cognitive functioning, academic performance, and psychosocial functioning.

When we exercise, we release endorphins—the biochemicals responsible for a “runner’s high.” The increased blood flow that results from exercise also circulates important biochemicals such as BDNF, which is needed for brain development and optimal cognitive functioning.

Want to reap some added benefits of exercise? Do your workout outside to get some sunlight.

‘Bathe’ in a Forest or Park

We don’t mean with soap and water. Shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing,” is a practice of submerging oneself in nature while disconnecting from technology and other stressors.

When mindfully spending time in nature, studies show that you are also lowering your blood pressure and cortisol levels. In short, this means that spending time in nature reduces one’s stress, which can alleviate one’s experience of depression.

If you have a backyard or are in a clean outdoor space, you may want to incorporate earthing. Otherwise known as grounding, earthing has been demonstrated to improve mood, reduce blood viscosity, and reduce pain.

Take time to connect with nature in the morning. If you can, try walking barefoot if you are sure that the ground you are walking on is clean and safe for you to do so.

Read Something You Enjoy

Reading offers tremendous benefits, such as stimulating one’s creativity and imagination, building one’s vocabulary, and helping one to decompress. In fact, reading aloud (pdf) has been demonstrated to be an effective method for stress reduction.

How can reading help with depression? Reading improves connectivity between different brain regions, especially those for language and memory.

People living with depression may experience cognitive challenges, such as impaired learning and memory. This can cause individuals with depression to feel frustrated and experience obstacles in everyday life, which can worsen depressive symptoms.

By doing activities or therapies that target these cognitive abilities, one can help strengthen the neural pathways responsible for these skills and reduce depression’s impact on them.

In the morning, put away your phone and opt for a book, magazine, or article that you enjoy. Your brain will thank you.

Follow a Sleep Routine

While this is something you do the night before, it will help you in the morning. A sleep routine includes having regular practices before bed, such as avoiding blue light for an hour before going to bed at a set time, and waking up at a consistent time.

What is most important is waking up to the sun. Without sunlight, our brains are not able to stay on the 24-hour clock, which can cause sleep-wake disorders. During the winter months when daylight is scarce, our body’s cycle lengthens.

When people experience disruption in their circadian rhythms, or their sleep and wake cycles, problems can arise. These disruptions can cause someone to feel tired, need caffeine, crave sugar, and become irritable. By maintaining a regular sleep schedule and waking with the sun, one can avoid further complications of depression and feel restored during the day.

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