Laughing and crying, you know it's the same release. Joni Mitchell

Laughing and crying, you know it's the same release. Joni Mitchell

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Beat the Blues: 10 Ways to Happy

Insomnia smileyImage via WikipediaPeople with fibromyalgia are susceptible to mood disorders, like depression and anxiety, and I'm no exception. I've been dealing with sleep disturbances and anxiety for the last few weeks. I've been waking up every night between 4:30 and 5:30 am. As soon as I realize I'm awake, I get a flush of anxiety and I can't get back to sleep. I've been working with my therapist to figure out the source of my anxiety, which pops up in my dreams and makes it difficult to sleep. Or it could be too much T3 (thyroid hormone) that I'm taking for Thyroid Hormone Resistance Syndrome, so I'm stepping down the T3 to see if my symptoms abate.

Anyway, given my current state of mind, I was intrigued when I saw a link called 10 Ways to Have a Happier Life. Dr. Andrew Weil, Founder and Director of The Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine, wrote a book called Spontaneous Happiness about ways that can help people achieve and maintain happy lives. He says that "happy" does not mean "endless bliss" but "a state of contentment and serenity" from which someone can still have emotional highs and lows, but be able to easily return to a pleasant state of mind. I found it very interesting that I was already practicing all of the first five points in part one and most of the last five in part two.
The anti-inflammatory food pyramid

The first five suggestions include:  
  • exercise
  • anti-inflammatory diet
  • fish oil and vitamin D
  • anti-depression supplements
  • breathing exercises
All are great methods for anyone with fibromyalgia. Exercise is key, especially low impact exercises like water aerobics and walking. Dr. Weil says, "For treatment of depression and anxiety disorders, activities of moderate intensity, like brisk walking, are more successful than very vigorous activity." Systemic inflammation is a problem in FM, so following an anti-inflammatory diet is helpful. My doctor told me to avoid dairy and gluten, which are both inflammatory. Dr. Weil provides an anti-inflammatory food pyramid. Of course, fish oil helps with inflammation and most people are deficient in Vitamin D, so that helps, too. I use SAM-e, a naturally-occurring molecule found throughout the body, as an anti-depression supplement. SAM-e really helps elevate mood. I could feel a difference almost immediately once I started using it. According to Dr. Weil "the usual dosage is 400 to 1,600 milligrams a day, taken on an empty stomach.  Take lower doses (under 800 milligrams) once a day, a half hour before the morning meal; split higher doses, taking the second a half hour before lunch." Also, breathing exercises are key to calming down the revved up autonomic nervous system found in FM patients. We're always in the "flight or fight" mode, even when there is no danger present. Breathing exercises, such as alternate nostril breathing, help keep us calm.

The last five suggestions include: 
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
  • laughter
  • limiting media exposure
  • forgiveness
  • practicing gratitude
Dr. Don Goldenburg, a specialist in fibromyalgia, highly recommended CBT as a way of dealing with the various symptoms of FM. CBT is based on the concept that our thoughts affect how we feel. Personally, I have been working to transform negative thought patterns into positive thoughts and affirmations to help me feel better, and it works to a certain extent. We all know that laughter is the best medicine! Dr. Weil suggests laughter yoga which combines "Unconditional Laughter with Yogic Breathing." That includes both laughter and breathing exercises. As for limiting media exposure, I stopped watching the news long ago. I would get too depressed and upset and decided it just wasn't worth it. I don't have a smart phone and I'm pretty bad about checking Facebook, too. Dr. Weil suggests replacing virtual media time with face to face interactions with other human beings. Forgiveness can be a difficult process and something that I'm working on in my life. Dr. Weil says forgiveness can be cultivated and cites The Stanford Forgiveness Project. Practicing gratitude can also be cultivated. I used to keep a gratitude journal, writing down 5 things I was grateful for each day, but I've fallen out of the practice. Maybe it's time to start it up again:
  • I'm grateful that I feel much better than I did six months ago
  • I'm grateful that my son will be coming home from college for Thanksgiving
  • I'm grateful that the power is on and I can type up this post
  • I'm grateful to be writing the holiday gift guide for my local paper
  • I'm grateful that no one was hurt in the fender bender I had in a parking lot

What are you grateful for?

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