By Corrie Pikul
Turns out that a lot of the things we do when we're blue often end up making us feel worse.
They get busy with their lover...or their battery-operated BFF.
The rationale: "At least this will make my body feel good."
The mistake: For some people, intense sexual pleasure (solo or partnered) leads to an emotional letdown that can last for up to six hours. These "post-coital blues" aren't totally understood, but psychiatrist Richard Friedman at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York speculates that the amygdala, the "emotional" brain region that's inactive during orgasm, strongly rebounds afterward -- triggering sadness or crankiness.
What to try: While Friedman has treated this condition with antidepressants (known to curb the orgasmic high -- which in this case isn't such a bad thing), you might just stick to hugging and kissing. This type of physical contact prompts the release of oxytocin, which can increase positive feelings like trust, generosity and closeness...otherwise known as "love." (Clinical trials are exploring the role of oxytocin in treating clinical depression.)
They eat all the colors of the rainbow -- that is, a neon rainbow from a 1970s psychedelic poster.
The rationale: "Look, I just feel like some nacho-cheese powder, okay? And maybe some Nerds."
The mistake: We understand that desperate times call for sweet-and-salty measures, so we're not going to get on you about how bad processed foods are for your body. But they're also not that great for your mental state, either. Multiple studies have linked processed foods with depression, including one in which participants who ate the most trans fats had up to a 48 percent increased risk of depression. In a follow-up study, researchers found that the more junk food you consume, the more likely you are to feel glum. And still other research has explored how eating foods with lots of added sugar (hello, Ho-Hos) upsets the balance of brain chemicals, further disrupting our mood.
What to try: The body needs nutrients to make neurotransmitters that make you feel happy. Not in the mood for fish or kale (some of the best mood foods out there)? Compromise, with dark chocolate and oranges.
They tune out while tuning in.
The rationale: "My brain is too tired to think."
The mistake: It's one thing to make time for the show you've been dying to watch, and entirely different to collapse on the couch and mindlessly sit through so many episodes of Wheel of Fortune that you'd swear you've seen Vanna wear the same dress twice. University of Maryland sociologists found that this kind of vegging out in front of the tube can have a negative effect on an already crummy mood. They concluded that passive television watching may initially provide an escape for those who are feeling unhappy—but hours and hours later, it leads to dissatisfaction.
What to try: People in the study who described themselves as "very happy" spent significantly more time relaxing in ways that felt like an accomplishment, participating in religious activities, reading and socializing. If you can't muster the mental energy to finish the novel you're reading, invite a friend over to watch Homeland together (or, ahem, Super Soul Sunday).
They experiment with herbs on the sly.
The rationale: "I've heard that kava and St. John's wort are natural antidepressants."
The mistake: Some research supports kava's ability to reduce anxiety, and in other studies, St. John's wort has been more effective than placebos at treating depression. However, both of these alternative remedies can have severe side effects as well as life-threatening interactions with other substances (like alcohol, sleeping pills and medicinal herbs). In the same way that there are suicide warnings on the labels of some antidepressants, the literature on St. John's wort cautions that it can worsen certain conditions of severe depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Kava has been linked to liver damage in some people.
What to try: Never try alternative remedies without first consulting with at least one doctor.
They expect their antidepressant to make them feel 100 percent...right away.
The rationale: "My cousin says they've really helped."
The mistake: One in four women in their 40s and 50s now takes an antidepressant. But many new patients don't realize that SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) can take from four to six weeks to bring significant relief. When taking any prescription drug, about 60 to 70 percent of people will feel some positive effect, says David Hellerstein, MD, professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University Medical Center (great odds, unless you're in the other 30 to 40 percent). In one study of nearly 3,000 patients taking the antidepressant citalopram (Celexa), only about one-third said their depressive symptoms were entirely gone after 14 weeks.
What to try: If you feel only a little better, your doctor might increase your dosage or add another type of med, Hellerstein says. After about 12 weeks with no response, your doc may suggest a different pill (one major study showed that switching to a different SSRI can help one in four people). To help patients in finding a more effective match, the National Institute of Mental Health is funding a $19 million study to search for biomarkers (patterns of brain activity, genes, proteins in the blood, etc.) that will identify who will respond to sertraline (Zoloft), reports the Wall Street Journal (a second stage of the study will analyze responses to a different antidepressant). To learn more about this study (and others) go to depression-nyc.org.