Depressed people may hold onto their sadness, claims study

It can be incredibly difficult to step out of the shadow of depression

It can be incredibly difficult to step out of the shadow of depression

People who suffer depression may end up holding onto their sadness rather than following ways to decrease it, according to an academic study.

Researchers from the Hebrew University wanted to find out the direction in which depressed people attempted to regulate their emotions, making the assumption that people with depression would take steps to reduce their sadness. However, in a series of experiments, they discovered that the opposite was true.

Depressed people would look at happy images as much as non-depressed people would. But when shown sad images, the depressed study participants chose to view the sad images again more than non-depressed people did. The same was with choice of music: depressed people were more likely to listen to sad music (62% of depressed people compared with 24% of non-depressed participants chose to listen to the sad music clip). In the third experiment, people were given a cognitive tool to reappraise their emotional response to a stimulus – and again the depressed people increased their sadness by choosing to use reappraisal to increase their emotional reactions to sad images.

Study author Yael Millgram said: “We were surprised that depressed participants made such choices although they were aware of how these types of music would make them feel… Contrary to what we might expect, depressed people sometimes choose to behave in a manner that increases rather than decreases their sadness. This is important because it suggests that depressed individuals may sometimes be unsuccessful in decreasing their sadness in daily life because, in some sense, they hold on to it.”

The next step for the researchers is to discover why and how that is.

Savour positive emotions to boost wellbeing

Appreciating the breathtaking moments of life can help build positivity

Appreciating the breathtaking moments of life, and savouring the emotions associated with them, can help build positivity and boost wellbeing

“Concentrate [yourself] upon the moments of a life that is itself but a moment.” This quote from Oscar Wilde’s novel The Picture of Dorian Gray could have been taken from a modern manual on mindfulness, or an article on positive psychology. It also sums up new research that encourages us to savour the emotions associated with special moments to enhance feelings of wellbeing.

The university study reveals that the it’s not just the response we have to something beautiful or breathtaking or moving, but the ability to keep hold of positive emotions – to savour them – that can boost wellbeing. And the research looked at people who can and people who can’t savour the moments of life, and who are perhaps more inclined to feel depressed.

“It’s important to consider not just how much emotion you experience, but also how long these emotions persist,” said researcher Aaron Heller, University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate and assistant professor of psychology at the University of Miami. He added: “We’re looking at how one person can savour a great deal from that beautiful sunset or a memorable meal, but how another person who might be susceptible to depression can’t savour that sunset and those positive emotions subside quickly.”

The study looked at how the effect of a positive emotion on neural pathways in the brain, even if it lasts for a few seconds. The research found it could “predict the persistence of a person’s positive emotion minutes and hours later… [leading to] a growing understanding of how mental disorders such as depression might be manifested in the brain”.

The study explored sending frequent prompts sent to people via their smartphones, to help embed positive emotions more regularly and efficiently. The researchers also suggested that meditation, and showing kindness and compassion to others, could impact on an individual’s ability to savour the moments – and the positive emotions – of life.

Only the lonely? Five strategies to help tackle social isolation

Life is so short. Share your heart and spend time with people who count. (pic courtesy of

Life is so short. Share your heart and spend time with people who count. (pic courtesy of

Ever had that moment when you’re in a group of people you don’t particularly connect with, and you’ve never felt more alone? Find yourself retreating to your bedroom more and more, so you can avoid social situations and be on our own? Or just prefer your own company to other people’s?

These scenarios can happen to anyone. Yet while planning some ‘me’ time in your diary can help you build resilience and feel emotionally robust, it’s when these tendencies for ‘alone time’ overshadow the impetus to socialise that issues can emerge. Increasing feelings of isolation when surrounded by friends or acquaintances – or a bigger preference to be on your own, to the exclusion of other people – can lead to bigger problems down the line. Even health problems, according to a recent study. Loneliness can be a bigger killer than obesity or smoking 20 a day. And don’t believe that feelings of social isolation are just for the elderly, either.

Research from Brigham Young University highlights the health worries for people who are lonely or socially isolated – and that means anyone of any age, size, culture or disposition. The obvious but often seemingly unachievable antidote to loneliness is to reach out to to others. Lead study author Julianne Holt-Lunstad says: “We need to start taking our social relationships more seriously.”

But how to reach out socially when you feel unable or unwilling to do so? Here are my five tips for starting to combat loneliness: (more…)

Feeling down? Sit upright to avoid a slump in mood

If body posture affects your mood, then slumping can make you feel down. (pic courtesy of Master isolated images/

If body posture affects your mood, then slumping can make you feel down. (pic courtesy of Master isolated images/

If you’re feeling low, chances are your body posture will mirror your mood. You may slump or slouch, as your body slackens and gives up the fight. Yet, new research has found that this also works the other way round: our body posture can have an effect on our emotions. If you slump, you’re more likely to keep hold of negative thoughts.

In tests, the researchers asked 30 depressed people to sit either in a slumped (depressed) or upright (non-depressed) posture while imagining themselves in a scene in front of them, where positive and negative words flashed on a computer screen. They found that upright patients were able to recall a balance of positive and negative words, whereas the slumped patients showed “recall biased towards more negative words”.

They concluded that posture has more of an impact on mood than previously believed. The body can influence the mind and how we feel about ourselves.

The researchers said: “Training patients in mindful body awareness might be useful because it fosters an intuitive understanding of the interplay of bodily and emotional processes.” In other words, becoming more conscious of the mind-body connection might mean you could catch yourself before you fall into a slump. Becoming aware of your posture could therefore be a quick boost to your mood.

Can you ‘do an Oprah’ and let go of claustrophobic clutter?

davanti clutter“Knowing what you need is more than knowing what you want,” says Oprah Winfrey in an article about clearing her clutter. Big words, big aim – but not making anyone immune to the anxiety that goes with clearing out the clutter of our lives that can keep us stuck.

Even Oprah admits to feeling some anxiety – and wanting to buy back some of her stuff – when dealing with the emotional impact of saying goodbye to some of her most prized possessions. Ultimately, her instincts were that “instead of feeling walled in by stuff, [she] want[ed] to feel surrounded by calm”.

Having a vision for a cleared space is admirable. Many of us want to feel less ‘walled in’ by our clutter, but there can be so much invested in the objects we hold dear – especially if those objects belonged to someone who is no longer in our lives.

Oprah’s point is that our stuff doesn’t have to own us, but it can be so hard to let go. Who’s to say when it’s time to let go of a particular object?

Experience of letting go shows that you more you’re able to release to the world, the more the world is able to release to you. Hold onto the objects that you’ve paid a fortune for, but you have no further need of, and work out what you will get in return. Release objects to people who really need them, instead of hoarding them yourself, surely has to be the opportunity we’ve been given: to bestow on others the gifts that we have been given ourselves.

In Oprah’s words – assuming we’re not wanting for our basic needs – then “less actually is so much more”.

Keep enjoying life to the full if you want to live longer, says report

The mobility of older people is linked to their wellbeing. (pic:

The mobility of older people is linked to their wellbeing. (pic:

Walking briskly into older age is a key sign of vitality and wellbeing in the over-60s, and improves the odds for living longer. That’s the key finding of a study published by the Canadian Medical Association that researched enjoyment of life and declining physical function among 3,199 men and women aged 60-plus.

Researchers found that people who enjoy life to the full and feel happier are likely to be healthier, fitter and more active. Happier people also walk at a faster pace when they get older compared with people who are unhappy or depressed. Pensioners who felt good about life had fewer problems getting out of bed and getting ready in the mornings. Unhappy people, however, were 80% more likely to have problems with their daily functions, and were twice as likely to suffer from serious illnesses and impaired mobility.

So, putting a spring in your step could lead to a healthier, happier, longer life.

Pick a one-word theme for a New Year’s resolution you really can keep

A list of resolutions can be daunting and unachievable. Why not pick a more manageable 'theme of the year' instead? (pic:

A list of resolutions can be daunting and unachievable. Why not pick a more manageable ‘theme of the year’ instead? (pic:

I believe less is more when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. There’s nothing more demoralising than making a 10-strong list on 1st January promising yourself ways you’re going to be a better person, only to find that seven have already slipped out of possibility a week later. The fizz of optimism can disappear faster from your list than a warm glass of last night’s Champagne, and you may give yourself a hard time for ‘failing’.

In fact, fear of failing is one of the two main reasons why people don’t make resolutions. (The other reason is that they don’t believe in them, according to an Australian study). And people fail to stick at them because other things get in the way, they lose focus, or the resolution wasn’t that important in the first place.

A more achievable way of making positive change in your life is to have a goal that is realistic. One way of doing that, I’ve found, is to pick a theme for the year.  (more…)

Mental health is key determinant of happiness, says global report

World Happiness Report 2013Mental illness has more effect on misery levels across the globe than physical illness, income or unemployment. That’s according to the World Happiness Report 2013 from the UN’s General Assembly, which concludes that there is a relationship between the scale of mental illness and the levels of national happiness.

About 10% of the world’s population suffers from depression or anxiety, and these disorders account for a fifth of all disability – putting pressure on productivity and the economy. However, the report adds that governments are not prioritising mental health, or putting their money where their misery is, as only a third of people who need treatment are receiving it. And it calls on schools and workplaces to be more mental-health conscious.

It says: “Good, cost-effective treatments exist for depression, anxiety disorders and psychosis, and the happiness of the world would be greatly increased if they were more widely available.”

Interestingly, the report details factors from childhood that impact on life satisfaction as an adult. Number one is the child’s emotional development, followed by behaviour and intellectual development. The most important family influence is the mother’s emotional health.

The happiest country in the report is Denmark, followed by Norway, Switzerland, Holland and Sweden. The US comes in at 17th, and the UK is 22nd in the list. Factors the UN takes into consideration when assessing happiness are: “real GDP per capita, healthy life expectancy, having someone to count on, perceived freedom to make life choices, freedom from corruption, and generosity”.

The report concludes that subjective wellbeing has a huge influence on communities and the economy. “People who are emotionally happier, who have more satisfying lives, and who live in happier communities, are more likely both now and later to be healthy, productive, and socially connected. These benefits in turn flow more broadly to their families, workplaces, and communities, to the advantage of all.”

Volunteering boosts mental health and helps you live longer

Doing good for others is also doing good for yourself. (

Volunteering has more of a feelgood factor than initially believed: people who volunteer report lower levels of depression and higher levels of life satisfaction. They’re even more likely to live longer, too. That was a key finding in a study carried out at the University of Exeter.

The review found a “20% reduction in mortality rates” among those who volunteer compared with those who don’t. Anecdotally, volunteers have said they feel benefits to their self-esteem and wellbeing by offering a helping hand. The study backs this up with scientific evidence. However, it also warns that too much volunteering can have the opposite effect, and people can begin to feel burdened.

Dr Suzanne Richards, who led the study, said: “Our systematic review shows that volunteering is associated with improvements in mental health, but more work is needed to establish whether volunteering is actually the cause. It is still unclear whether biological and cultural factors and social resources that are often associated with better health and survival are also associated with a willingness to volunteer in the first place.”

Volunteering rates are 22.5% in Europe, 27% in the US and 36% in Australia.

Can gardening boost your mood?

anima gardening

Keen gardeners who enjoy spending time with their rakes, plants and mowers feel they are happier, have more purpose and are less depressed than people who are not at all green-fingered.

A survey for Gardeners’ World magazine found that 90% of gardeners say that gardening boosts their mood. Eight out of 10 people who love gardening say they are satisfied with their lives, compared with two-thirds (67%) of people who classify themselves as non-gardeners.

Gardeners’ World editor Lucy Hall said: “Our research means we can definitely say gardening makes you happy. Part of it comes from nurturing something, but it also brings a natural optimism that no matter how bad the weather, there’s always next year.”

It’s not just gardening that lifts the spirits. Anything that takes people into the outdoors seems to boost the mood. The survey of 1,500 people also found that 78% of walkers and 75% of people who go fishing are also satisfied with their lives.