Although we still don’t know all that we’d like to, science has come a long way in understanding what depression looks like in your brain.
It’s now known that what you do in your life every day, because of neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change both physical form and function based on your behaviors, emotions, and thoughts, rewires your brain. Your brain can slip into and stay in a downward spiral of depression, anxiety, and stress, which you may unknowingly reinforce with your lifestyle. When you’re stuck here, just getting out of bed in the morning can be challenging.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a single pill or practice that cures depression or makes your brain calm and happy. However, we have learned that having a happy brain can be supported by your habits. There are simple things you can do help your brain become more positive, resilient, and motivated to get up and get going in the morning – even in the midst of depression.
Stimulate your vagus nerve
The Vagus Nerve is the brain’s method of controlling the parasympathetic nervous system, the rest and digest system. It connects your brain to your gut, heart, liver, pancreas, gallbladder, kidney, ureter, spleen, lungs, female sex organs, neck (pharynx, larynx, and esophagus), ears and tongue. No other nerve in your body has such a broad and far-reaching effects. In the brain, the vagus nerve helps regulate anxiety and depression.
The American Journal of Psychiatry conducted five-year in-depth research on vagus nerve stimulation as a treatment for depression. The study found nerve stimulation to be an effective therapy You can stimulate your vagus nerve yourself in many ways. One of the simplest ways is to take a cold shower first thing in the morning. If the idea does not appeal to you (like me), you can turn the shower cold at the end or just splash your face with cold water to start the day.
Start the day with a mindful cup of tea or coffee
Most people simply rush right into the day with their faces buried in their phones, eager to see notifications and get here or there by a certain time to start checking things off the to-do list. As you may know all too well, this approach to life only adds to stress and inefficiency, which can ultimately lead to depression.
Many sources tell us that checking our phones first thing when getting up is a bad idea for your mental health. Doing so can hijack your morning. It gives you a menu of things for you to attend to instead of starting your day with conscious intent. You may automatically go into react mode or experience FOMO (fear of missing out). There goes any healthy morning routine you had planned and your mood.
Pooja Makhija, a renowned nutritionist, states clearly that coffee should be your last pick in the morning. She advises that you start the day with a freshly squeezed juice, a cup of tea, or a glass of water. For many, avoiding or limiting caffeine can effectively help reduce anxiety and stress.
For many of you, however, starting your morning without coffee is unfathomable. )Me included!) Coffee has many health benefits – for your brain and body. It also gives you a shot of dopamine, which helps elevate mood, and the caffeine can boost energy levels. Whatever you choose to drink, do so mindfully. You can find more on how to do that here.
Get some furry love
One of the first things a mental health professional might advise a person with depression is to seek the companionship of a dog or cat. There are countless stories about how furry friends aided people in recovering from depression. Even bunnies, birds, or reptiles can help.
A pet provides comfort, companionship, and a routine – a reason to get out of bed. They need food and water every day. Dogs have to be let outside often and walked, which gives you the benefit of physical activity. Cages need to be cleaned. Pets give us a sense of purpose and provide social interaction.
Just stroking your pet or even someone else’s can increase oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine in your brain. Several studies show that having a pet can reduce depression, encourage healthier habits, and increase feelings of connectedness. One Japanese study showed that playing with a dog with which you have a bond, who is likely to make eye contact with you, increases oxytocin levels.
Spend some time in meditation
Many mental health experts emphasize the importance of finding some quiet introspective, nurturing time on a daily basis. One way to do that is through meditation.
It has been proven that meditation has amazing benefits – both for physical and mental well-being. Studies have shown that people who meditate have fewer stress hormones and lower blood pressure compared to those that don’t. Meditation can calm a busy mind and slow down your brainwaves. It can help you get in touch with your unconscious mind which can result in better decision-making. A meditation session can give you a calmer, more centered start to your day and help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
Don’t think you have time to meditate? Any time spent meditating is better than none. A ten-minute guided meditation just after you wake up can be just the thing to get you out of bed and point your mind in a more positive direction. There are many guided meditations online and phone applications to help you get started. After a while, you may even decide you want to add an evening session to aid in unwinding at the end of the day.
Ask for help from a friend or family member
Getting support from a friend or family member can give your morning an added boost. Choose someone you trust from your closest circle to lend a hand to help keep you motivated to get up, get out of bed, and get through the day. Arrange for them to call or text you in the morning. Set up a meetup for a walk, a coffee, or lunch. Give yourself a sense of purpose and reason to get up.
Emotions are contagious. People who are peaceful, positive, or motivated help you to feel similarly. I’ll bet you can think of a special person who makes you feel as if you can do anything and the possibilities are endless whenever you talk to them. On the other hand, there are those people who are negative, reactive, or low energy which rubs off on you as well. You’ll want to spend time with someone who lifts you up and encourages you.
If you are the person helping a depressed friend, here are some other suggestions on how you can help.
Move your body
Moving your body is one of the best things you can do for your brain and mental health. Movement increases blood flow to the brain which, in turn, elevates oxygen levels. Exercise promotes neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, the production of new neurons and the connections between neurons, which has been proven to reduce depression and anxiety.
If you feel up to it, you might want to go for a morning run. Running has been shown to benefit your brain and decrease depression. If you’re not a runner, even moderate walking has proven to ease depression. You can also do a few yoga poses in a class or on your own. Yoga increases GABA in your brain which helps reduce anxiety and depression. You can even turn on some tunes and dance around. The point is to get up and get moving.
…and get a good night’s sleep the night before
Poor sleep is one of the most common symptoms of depression, contributes to developing the condition, and perpetuates it. Sleep troubles can lead to depression and depression can lead to sleep troubles. Poor sleep not only means the actual quantity of hours you spend snoozing each night but the quality of that sleep as well. You can learn more about the link between depression and sleep here.