Photograph by Bartholomew Cooke
Right now, the only people feeling upbeat are the consultants hired to do layoffs. But before you reach for the high-powered happy pills, try these natural mood-boosters.
The Fix: Fish and Nuts
The Sell: These protein-rich foods are sources of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, which protect your brain and prevent mood swings. Plus, nuts and fish contain magnesium, which soothes the nervous system, according to Dr. Edward Murach of New York Natural Medicine. Those carbs you scarf down when you're stressed have the opposite effect.
The Plan: One handful of raw nuts or seeds a day and two servings of fish a week, preferably cold-water varieties like salmon, mackerel, and halibut, which have the lowest mercury levels
The Alternative: Though it's better to go straight to the source, if you can't bring yourself to swap steak for sea bass, you can swallow a daily fish-oil capsule (2,000–3,000 mg) and a magnesium supplement (400–600 mg).
The Fix: Jogging
The Sell: During aerobic exercise, your pituitary gland releases endorphins that work like opiates, providing a pick-me-up while dulling your brain's pain receptors. According to Dr. Paul Anderson of Bastyr University's School of Naturopathic Medicine in Seattle, the more intense the activity, the more endorphins get released—so lace up the running shoes.
The Plan: 30 minutes a day, three to five days a week
The Alternative: Yoga may offer mental clarity, but the key here is breaking a sweat.
If your joints can't handle running, hit the elliptical, bike, or rowing machine.
The Fix: Vitamin B Complex
The Sell: "The brain uses a lot of B vitamins—especially B6 and B12—for the synthesis of neuro-transmitters like serotonin and dopamine. And those are critical mood chemicals," says Gigi Chow, a doctor of naturo-pathic medicine in Manhattan. Filling your plate with whole grains, bananas, eggs, and leafy greens is important, but to get the right mix, professionals suggest popping a B-complex pill, too.
The Plan: Two high-potency B-complex vitamins—containing B6, B12, and folic acid—a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon
The Alternative: If you're getting enough B and still feeling blue, you could be short on vitamin D, which is also crucial to neurological health. See a doctor about a test and take a daily supplement if need be.
The Fix: Talk Therapy
The Sell: A 2005 University of Pennsylvania study found that cognitive-behavioral therapy—basically, talking about your issues, focusing on the positive, and setting goals—was as effective as Paxil in treating depression. And you don't have to become a therapy lifer: Patients who flapped their jaws relapsed less often than those who only took meds.
The Plan: One session every two weeks. If your company doesn't have a mental-health plan, look for group sessions at Meetup.com.
The Alternative: A pen and paper. "When you write about your thoughts and feelings, your mood tends to improve," says Elizabeth Maynard Schaefer, the author of Writing Through the Darkness. If you'd rather not keep a journal on your nightstand, a laptop will do just fine.
Q: When should you see a doctor for depression?
A: While it makes sense to give self-help a try, it's important to look out for signs of a serious problem. According to Dr. Michelle Riba of the University of Michigan's Department of Psychiatry, red flags include difficulty concentrating, trouble sleeping, low energy, extreme weight loss or gain, suicidal thoughts, withdrawal from friends, and lack of interest in exercise. If you experience any of these symptoms for more than a couple of weeks, you should call for backup. Riba suggests consulting your primary-care physician first. If you don't have one, United Way can offer a referral.