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Dossier: Strong mind

Ways to brighten your mood

Did you get out the wrong side of the bed and things don’t look set to improve any time soon? There are simple things you can do to trick your brain into thinking that today isn’t such a bad day after all. Want to give it a try?

Text: Nicole Krättli; photo: Sanitas

Sometimes you wake up and just know that today is not going to be your day. It’s one of those days when you spill tea on your freshly-washed blouse, you can’t seem to do anything right at work, and your partner has forgotten to buy toilet roll – or at least you presume he’s going to forget to do it, and just thinking about it makes you crazy. The good news is that there are ways to pull yourself out of these low moods even on the very worst days.

When you laugh, the body releases endorphins while also reducing stress hormones. As you take in more oxygen, you also breathe more deeply, thus expanding the lungs. This means your body can absorb more oxygen, which helps regulate your blood pressure and metabolism. But what if you don’t feel like laughing? Then you just have to fake it until this usually gives way to real laughter. It’s known as laughter therapy and was invented in the late 1970s by journalist Norman Cousins. Later, Madan Kataria, a medical doctor from Mumbai, India, linked Cousins’ findings with traditional yoga, giving rise to laughter yoga. Kataria says, “We don’t laugh because we’re happy – we’re happy because we laugh!”.

What many people have long suspected to be true has now actually been scientifically proven: cat videos make you happy. Researchers at Indiana University in American showed cat videos to 7,000 study participants. The result: after watching the cat videos, the participants felt happier and more optimistic. And it doesn’t have to be cats. That’s what a British team found out by putting together a 30-minute video of cute animals like puppies, baby gorillas, ducklings and Australian quokkas. Watching these cute bundles of feather and fur also reduced blood pressure and pulse rates.

Friedrich Nietzsche once said: “Without music, life would be a mistake.” And he’s not wrong. Do you know the feeling when you hear the rhythm of a song and can’t help but start dancing? That’s the power of music. In 2013, a team at a university in Sweden conducted a study with over 100 girls suffering from depression, stress, exhaustion and headaches. During the study, just over half of the teenagers took part in a 75-minute dance course twice a week. And after eight months of dance training, the dance group rated their own health better than the girls in the comparison group. The results of the study show that regular dance training can help prevent and treat low moods and depression.

The weather is bad, your boss is annoying you, the children haven’t tidied their rooms again, you should really be doing your tax return – all in all, you feel like you’re caught in a never-ending cycle of irritation. In no time at all, you only seem to be focusing on the negatives. That’s why it’s all the more important to make yourself think about the good things in life. And there are lots of them. For example, the nice warm bed that you wake up in every morning, the tasty yoghurt you had for breakfast, the kind text message you received from a friend, praise from a colleague, the wonderful smell of summer rain. Take time every day to write down things that you are grateful for.

The good news is that chocolate can make you happy. The bad news: it’s just a temporary fix. Fortunately, there are countless other foods that can lift our spirits. Vitamin B3, B6, spices, omega-3 fatty acids, folic acid and potassium can all help improve our mood. Above all, however, the amino acid tryptophan can boost serotonin production, i.e. the body’s own happiness hormone. Tryptophan is found, for example, in various types of cheese such as Parmesan, Emmental and Edam, but also in soya beans, peanuts, cashews, cep mushrooms, lentils, eggs and apricots. The heat of chilli and ginger can stimulate the nerves in the mouth, thus releasing endorphins in the brain.

It’s not only eating that can make you happy – exercise can, too! At least it does when you’re able to banish your inner couch potato and get in the zone where happiness hormones are released. Dopamine helps us to be more alert, concentrated and focused. It boosts our performance and helps us to enjoy sport. The more you train, the more dopamine is released. Shortly after exercising, the level of the feel-good hormone serotonin increases. If you train regularly, the concentration of dopamine and serotonin increases permanently, which means that you are happier and more focused even when you’re sitting on the sofa watching videos of cats. Doing sport also reduces the amount of cortisol in the blood in the long term, which makes you more resistant to stress. So...have we given you enough reasons to get your training gear on?