From Maesk Counseling in Fort Lauderdale - Depression and Exercise

A great article from the NY Times on the connection between exercise and relief from depression:

How Exercise Might Keep Depression at Bay


Exercise may be an effective treatment for depression and might even help prevent us from becoming depressed in the first place, according to three timely new studies. The studies pool outcomes from past research involving more than a million men and women and, taken together, strongly suggest that regular exercise alters our bodies and brains in ways that make us resistant to despair.

Scientists have long questioned whether and how physical activity affects mental health. While we know that exercise alters the body, how physical activity affects moods and emotions is less well understood.

Past studies have sometimes muddied rather than clarified the body and mind connections. Some randomized controlled trials have found that exercise programs, often involving walking, ease symptoms in people with major depression.

But many of these studies have been relatively small in scale or had other scientific deficiencies. A major 2013 review of studies related to exercise and depression concluded that, based on the evidence then available, it was impossible to say whether exercise improved the condition. Other past reviews similarly have questioned whether the evidence was strong enough to say that exercise could stave off depression.

A group of global public-health researchers, however, suspected that newer studies and a more rigorous review of the statistical evidence might bolster the case for exercise as a treatment of and block against depression.

So for the new analyses, they first gathered all of the most recent and best-designed studies about depression and exercise.

Then, for perhaps the most innovative of the new studies, which was published last month in Preventive Medicine, they focused on whether exercise could help to prevent someone from developing depression.

The scientists knew that many past studies of that topic had relied on people providing reports about how much they had exercised. We human beings tend to be notoriously unreliable in our memories of past workouts, though.

So the researchers decided to use only past studies that had objectively measured participants’ aerobic fitness, which will rise or fall depending on whether and how much someone exercises. Participants’ mental health also had to have been determined with standard testing at the start and finish of the studies, and the follow-up time needed to have been at least a year and preferably longer.

Ultimately, the researchers found several large-scale past studies that met their criteria. Together, they contained data on more than 1,140,000 adult men and women.

Among these million-plus people, the links between fitness and mental health turned out to be considerable. When the researchers divided the group into thirds, based on how aerobically fit they were, those men and women with the lowest fitness were about 75 percent more likely to have been given diagnoses of depression than the people with the greatest fitness. The men and women in the middle third were almost 25 percent more likely to develop depression than those who were the most fit.

In a separate study (some of the scientists were involved in each of the reviews), researchers looked at whether exercise might be useful as a treatment for depression. In that analysis, which was published in June in the Journal of Psychiatric Research, they pooled data from 25 past studies in which people with clinically diagnosed depression began some type of exercise program. Each study had to include a control group that did not exercise and be otherwise methodologically sophisticated.

The pooled results persuasively showed that exercise, especially if it is moderately strenuous, such as brisk walking or jogging, and supervised, so that people complete the entire program, has a “large and significant effect” against depression, the authors wrote. People’s mental health tended to demonstrably improve if they were physically active.

The final review offers some hints about why. Published in February in Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, it took on the difficult issue of what happens within our bodies during and after exercise that might affect and improve our moods. The researchers analyzed 20 past studies in which scientists had obtained blood samples from people with major depression before and after they had exercised. The samples on the whole indicated that exercise significantly reduced various markers of inflammation and increased levels of a number of different hormones and other biochemicals that are thought to contribute to brain health.

But the researchers also caution that most of the physiological studies they reviewed were too small and short-term to allow for firm conclusions about how exercise might change the brain to help fight off gloom.

Still, the three reviews together make a sturdy case for exercise as a means to bolster mental as well as physical health, said Felipe Barreto Schuch, an exercise scientist at the Centro Universitário La Salle in Canoas, Brazil, who, with Brendon Stubbs, a professor at King’s College in London, was a primary author on all of the reviews.

Many more experiments are still needed to determine the ideal amounts and types of exercise that might help both to prevent and treat depression, Dr. Schuch said.

But he encouraged anyone feeling overwhelmed by recent events, or just by life, to go for a run or a bike ride. “The main message” of his and his colleagues’ reviews, he said, “is that people need to be active to improve their mental health.”

From Maesk Counseling in Fort Lauderdale - Exercise and Mental Health

This time of year in South Florida, many people find themselves a little blue, or even outright depressed.  From shorter days to the memories of holiday seasons past, it can be a tough time for many.  One solution:  workout!  This is a great article on the value of exercise during the holidays, written by fitness trainer Michael Shaw:

"Typically this time of year I tend to write about all the good things about the holidays and all the positive things we can all do with our families. I stand by all the advice I’ve given, but this year I want to discuss the elephant in the room: Holiday Depression. As much as many of us would like to shrug it off, the truth is that depression this time of year is very real.

There can be any number of triggers that bring it on: stress in spending money you don’t have; missing relatives who are no longer with us; spending time with people you don’t want to see; feeling hopeless; or a combination of these things. Folks who are suffering from clinical depression may feel an exacerbation of anxiety and sadness from a pre-existing condition, but others go through this illness during holiday time (Thanksgiving to New Year’s). Pictured with this article is Steven, one of the fitness models I manage, representing the frustration and sadness that holiday depression can bring on.

You all know my feelings about the importance of exercise and the role it can take in our mental and physical well-being. In the case of holiday sadness, combining the mental with the physical can make a huge difference. For example, in the morning take deep breaths and focus on either clearing your mind or on a memory that’s bound to make you smile. Taking deep breaths relieves stress and triggers relaxation.

The next thing is utilizing the outdoors. Taking a walk during the morning or the day will provide sunlight and cool air, the combination of which increases endorphins, allowing us to feel better and bring us a little happiness. Jogging or running will additionally help by increasing the heart rate, burning calories, and relieving additional stress.

Another important thing is doing exercises that require us to use our brain. For instance, doing multiple exercises in a circuit like squat and press, kettlebell swings, and barbell presses requires our brains to stay aware and in the moment. The act of using our brains can relieve stress and give us purpose. In context, if we compare doing exercises like those I mentioned to simply running on a treadmill, you can see how easily it would be for our minds to wander during the treadmill exercise, versus keeping our brains sharp during compound exercises.

Including active rest is also important. Active rest is typically light exercises that don’t directly involve specific muscle groups. In the general sense, vacuuming, cleaning the house, raking the lawn, doing construction around the house are all examples of active rest. In the holiday sense, this could be delivering meals to the homeless, spending the day walking and talking with someone who is all alone, or collecting canned goods for those in need.

Obtaining a sense of purpose and helping others are good ways to combat Holiday Depression. Another thing that can help is strength training. Doing light resistance training with dumbbells and body weight can improve our bodily strength as well as our mental strength.

Yoga is another exercise that helps depression.  Many of you know how I feel about Yoga. Its benefits can never be overstated. It protects the body from injury, increases flexibility and strength; and improves respiration, energy, and vitality. Yoga can also help with weight loss and keeping a good and balanced metabolism.

There really are a number of different ways for us to help ourselves and those we know who are suffering from holiday sadness. For anyone whose depression is more severe, assistance from your doctor, which may include taking specific prescriptions and working with a therapist or counselor, is the proper way to go. That doesn’t exclude exercise, as many doctors would still want you doing light to moderate exercise.

The holidays are a wonderful time of year. Imagine it without all the sales marketing, “It’s a Wonderful Life” type movies, and dozens of people you know talking about presents and shopping. Different right? Stripped down to just basics: being around people you love, sharing a meal, celebrating your religion in its purest sense, being happy to be alive and see a new year arrive, it can be beautiful. But the reality is that the trappings of what we know as the modern day holiday can be suffocating to a lot of people.

Having the courage to help ourselves or help someone else is probably one of the best spirits of the holidays that I love. In the words of Aristotle, “You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.”

I know the mere act of doing this article will make a difference in someone’s life. I believe that. I wish you all a wonderful and joyous holiday."

Twelve Practical Ways to Stop Stress - From Maesk Counseling in Fort Lauderdale

From our friends at fact hacker.com, here are some outstanding (and simple) ways to cope with stress.  Especially timely during the Holidays.

Have you ever heard of the word karoshi? Working for long periods under extreme stressful work conditions can lead to sudden death and the Japanese call this phenomenon karoshi. It literally means death from overwork mainly from heart attack and stroke due to stress.

We all know that stress kills and it needs to be managed and controlled. Left unaddressed it will bring you down, can cause depression, anxiety, disease and even karoshi, death. It is essential that we get a grip on our stress.  Below are 12 practical ways to stop stress:

  1. Express Your Happiness - Laugh hard and loud. If you don’t have a sense of humor, find someone else who does. Laughter releases endorphins (happy chemicals) from the body, and it helps boost your immune system.
  2. Take Control Over Your Time and Schedule - You will be much more able to deal with stress if you have a good handle on your schedules as they pertain to your job, relationships, and other activities. Much of this entails simplifying. And when you are mostly in control of your time, you are more inclined to stay focused and calm. Plan your time wisely.  Remember to leave room for unexpected events, both negative and positive. Be adaptable in rearranging your agenda. Get up 15 minutes early in the morning. Allow an extra 15 minutes to get to all appointments. Just building in a little extra time can do wonders for relieving the stress of rushing from one thing to the next.  Avoid procrastinating on important or urgent tasks. Whatever needs doing, do it immediately. Do the unpleasant tasks early, so that you won’t have to worry about them for the rest of the day. Also, keep a digital schedule. Don’t just rely on your memory.  Lastly, do your tasks one thing at a time at a time. Focus your attention on the present moment, whether it is the person talking to you or the job at hand. This helps you to avoid making errors – which lead to more tension and anxiety. Be patient in waiting. Anxiety caused by impatience can rise up your blood pressure. Say no to requests that you cannot accomplish. Delegate trivial tasks. You must remember that you don’t have to do it all yourself. Crack a job into separate tasks and assign them to people with the suitable skills.
  3. Work Out - Strive and get some habitual exercise such as brisk walking or interval training or whatever appeals to you. Regardless of what you do, exercise considerably reduces the stress factor. Work out also improves sleep and gives you time to think and focus on other things. It also promotes the release of natural soothing chemicals in your body. Just be sure to avoid excessive exercise, however, as this may have an adverse effect and might cause more stress.
  4. Take Slow Deep Breaths - Take time throughout your ay to calm down your muscles and breathe deeply and slowly. Do it several times. Follow your breath as it flows in and out. Do not try to have power over it. This is a good way to relax in the midst of any activity. This practice allows you to find a breathing pattern that is natural and relaxing to you. You can even make a sighing sound as you exhale, and feel tension dissolve.
  5. Food Makes All the Difference - Try not to skip meals and be sure you are eating the most nutrient-dense and healthy foods possible. Avoid packaged foods, caffeine, alcohol, sugar and grains. These types of foods cause major stress on the body without providing nourishment. Getting proper nutrition through your food is essential. For example, researchers have found that even small deficiencies of thiamin, a B-complex vitamin, can cause anxiety symptoms. Pantothenic acid, another B-complex vitamin, is critical during times of stress.
  6. Live Optimistically - Count your blessings, particularly when everything seems to go wrong. Try not to exaggerate the complexity of your problems. Every problem has a solution. All you need to do is deal with it. Learning to be happy and to enjoy life is a blessing. Live one day at a time.
  7. Put Off Problems Earlier Than They Occur - This takes some preparation. If you are going to another city for an valuable meeting, carry your presentation materials and dress suit on board the plane. Acquire gas for the car before the tank is unfilled. Get usual oil changes and checkups. Keep food ready anytime at your house so you can fix a fast meal without going to the store. Keep food, supplements, and toiletries on hand so you never have to feel tensed when they run out.
  8. Allow Yourself to Enjoy Life - Grant yourself some physical pleasure and enjoyment to help your stress slip away. Indulge yourself to a professional massage, or trade massages with a loved one. Be sure to give yourself consent every now and then to enjoy a movie, watch a concert or sports event, listen to music, sit quietly or read a book. Take pleasure in a soothing cup of chamomile herb tea. (Chamomile has long been used to relieve nervous tension.)
  9. Create Goals - If you don’t know where you’re going any road will take you there. It is important to set goals for yourself. Research shows that people are more likely to make progress and get ahead when they lay out specific goals.  Time management experts highlight the importance of writing down your important goals. Break big projects down into a series of small steps that you can work on every day. Want to change jobs? Contact one prospective employer today. Is writing a book your dream? Commit to writing one page a day. Inch by inch, slowly but surely, you will get to your ultimate destination.  Knowing that you are striving toward your dreams relieves frustrations that mount when you feel stuck in a situation that seem to have no direction.  Likewise, be flexible with your goals and adjust them as life changes.
  10. Recharge Your Spirit Daily - Schedule private time alone every day for at least 15 minutes. You deserve it and you need it. Turn off the telephone and enjoy a quiet time. A shower or bath is great. So is sitting and meditating. You may want to spend a few minutes writing your feelings out in a journal. It can help you find a new viewpoint in life and relieve internal conflicts.
  11. Get Sufficient Sleep - Settle on how much sleep you require for best possible performance. Lack of sleep worsens the body’s responses to stress and lowers the immune system. We simply cannot function properly without adequate sleep. It is key to physical and emotional health. Aim for at least 7 – 9 hours per night.
  12. You Don’t Have to Do It All - Always remember that you don’t have to attain all the money, fame, and success in the world. Today’s society has too much of a focus to build up as many accomplishments as we can. It leaves it impossible for us to balance our personal life, family life and work life. There is only a certain amount of time each day and a limited amount of what you can get done. You don’t have to do it all. Choose what you need and want to do and be done with the rest.

From Maesk Group Counseling in Fort Lauderdale - Things Happy People Do

This is a great article from The Power of Happy:

11 Things That Genuinely Happy People Do

Have you ever wondered what makes genuinely happy people happy? It’s not that their lives are less stressful or that they have more money or friends. No those do not have a bearing on happiness. There are several things, however, that really happy people do and 11 of them are listed below. These habits, ways of being and rituals are keys to what makes happy people happy.

1.  They Rest

Happy people cultivate rest. They know when it is time to take a break and slow down. They are great at getting things done, but it is only because they are well-rested. Incorporating rest and relaxation as a mandatory part of the lives of truly happy people. They take the necessary time to rejuvenate.

2. They Think

Happy people use their brains. They know this is one of their biggest assets. Happy people know that thinking is important to making good decisions and having fruitful relationships. They think through what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. Likewise, happy people consciously think about choosing happiness, what that means to them and how to do create true joy in their lives.

3. They Turn Off Their Devices

Happy people love technology just as much as the rest of us, but they are not addicted to it. They know when it is time to set down their phones, tablets and laptops. They make the effort to engage with the people around them face-to-face and without distraction. Similarly, they also take time to soak up the world around them, not just through technology, but with their actual senses in the present moment.

4. They Move

Happy people know that our bodies were made to move and they move their bodies. The human body needs to move to maintain health. Likewise, it helps people to feel good and happy when we move regularly. From walking to stretching to high intensity interval training to yoga – if you want to feel happier, start moving your body. See also Spark by John J. Ratey for more information about how moving improves mood.

5. They Do Things They Love to Do

An essential component to being happy is taking time to create time to engage in doing the things you enjoy. Happy people know that it is crucial to make the time to do the things they love and then they do it, happily and without guilt. To figure out how to do more of the things you enjoy, read Take the Leap by Heather McCloskey Beck.

6. They Eat Well

Do you ever see truly happy people downing junk food or fast food? No, you don’t. You just don’t. Truly happy people are also health people fueling their bodies with nourishment. Science is now linking mood to food with sugar being a major culprit in depression and anxiety. Happy people take care of their bodies. It’s not to say they don’t indulge occasionally, but for the most part, eating well is important to them and contributes to their happiness.

7. They are Deeply Grateful

This is one of the most common characteristics amongst the happiest of people – they are deeply grateful. Happy people recognize what they have. They also see the silver lining in all situations, no matter how grim. Further, they express their gratitude openly. They are thankful for the things they have, the people in their lives and their experiences.

A great way to get started on cultivating more gratitude is to keep a journal and write down a few things each day that you are grateful for. At first it might seem trivial or even difficult for you, but over time, it becomes part of who you are.

8. They Plan

Happy people love the present moment, but they also plan ahead so that they are prepared in life situations. They are good with their money too. This keeps their stress lower and allows them to enjoy the present moment without the worry that so many people feel on a constant basis. Happy people have a flexible plan in place all the time.

9. They Read Stuff

Happy people are learners and are known to read things that develop them as humans, increase their skills or that simply inspire them. Whether it is fiction or non, happy people are quite often also readers. They like to constantly learn, better themselves and be entertained through reading.

10. They Play

Happy people know that play is a huge part of happiness. Play is defined by Brene Brown as time spent without a purpose. It is just being. Goofing off and fooling around. Tied down to nothing and with no expectations, happy people incorporate regular play into their lives.

11. They Purposefully Choose Happiness

Not all experiences in life are happy ones. Likewise, people are not just automatically happy. It takes effort and one of the most common traits among really happy people is that they purposefully choose happiness. They make the most out of all experiences and choose to find joy in all points of the journey. If this is new to you, try this – just tell yourself you’re going to choose to be happy. Try it out for even just a day and you will see the difference it can make.

From Maesk Group Counseling in Fort Lauderdale - Untreated Depression

Untreated Depression is a Threat to your Mental and Physical Health

Depression creates chaos in the entire body by throwing the stress response system out of alignment. The risk of heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and cancer are all raised as normal immune function is disturbed by anxiety, stress and /or depression. Difficult relationships, parenting and work issues all contribute to this situation. 

This post contains my“prescription” for becoming (and staying) healthy.  Here’s what we should all be doing for a healthy, happy lifestyle:

  • Get a yearly physical exam.  Depression and anxiety can be related to thyroid and other issues;
  • Exercise: it relieves stress, raises endorphin levels. It’s even better if you get outside in natural light to exercise;
  • Journaling: research shows it increases hopefulness, releases stress, and calms the brain;
  • Regular Sleep: essential to mood stability and a healthy immune system;
  • A good social or family support system increases longevity and raises immune system function; and
  • Professional Therapy: coming for a session BEFORE symptoms are out of hand and regular follow-ups. 

Now maybe you are thinking, well, if I could MAKE myself do all of these things, I’d be fine! What you may not realize is that a mental health provider is trained, licensed and qualified to be a resource to help you do these things. A therapist can be your encourager, your supporter, and your guide in prioritizing and planning your best, healthiest life. 

Therapy helps uncover the roadblocks to your success that exist outside of your awareness. These roadblocks include childhood messages, both told to you and modeled by your parents, and negative experiences that impact your habits to this day. Together we can gently uncover and examine these self-defeating beliefs without shame or judgment. When “the truth sets you free,” you are then able to move forward and achieve new levels of well being.

Maesk Group Counseling is here to help.  Call 954-353-4680 to take that first step.