Body Blog: Don’t Worry, (Here’s How to) Be Happy

It’s that time of year during which my peers and I are go crazy trying to prepare for upcoming midterms, lab practicals, 10-page essays, and other ultra stressful, all-nighter inclining assignments.  Although I am not pre-med, almost everyone in my classes is (it’s the sad reality of being a nutrition major) and their academic stress and competitiveness can be contagious if one is not careful. And it doesn’t help that I attend Cornell University, a school known for it’s abnormally high levels of competitiveness amongst students, depression and suicide.

With school pressures up the wazoo paired with the changing of the seasons, it’s understandable that my peers and I might not be as happy as we could be.  So, the fact that my school is so demanding and does have such a high rate of suicide brings me to the topic of this article: how to obtain a whopping dose of happiness the natural way.

1)   Light in the morning and darkness in the evening is just the best for saying sayonara to the blues. Make sure to get some rays of sunshiny goodness in the morning (as close to dawn as possible) to prevent depression and to treat depression if you’ve got it.  It is now known that light therapy is wondrous for treating all types of mood disorders, not just Seasonal Affective Disorder.  A 2005 metanalysis (a study which combines the results of multiple independent studies) of bright light therapy for depression found that “bright light treatments are efficacious, with effects equivalent to those in most antidepressant pharmacotherapy trials.”  Woot! That means bright morning light works just as well as antidepressant medications, but with no side effects!

On the same note, don’t go all Edward Cullen on yourself  (sorry Twilight haters) and not get any sleep.  Staying up late or pulling an all-nighter is pretty much equivalent to just asking moodiness to come find you.   Not only this, but studies show that staying up late makes you more inclined to eat late at night, thus increasing the odds of gaining weight, thus making you more inclined to dislike the way you look, thus making you more likely to become unhappy.

2)   Socialize, socialize, socialize. Being around friends is so important for well-being (and maybe even your GPA!).  If you are feeling extra stressed, put down that textbook and take a coffee break with a friend.  You will be surprised how good it feels to have a therapeutic venting session with your girls (or guys) and you will be able to get back to studying in a good mood, which can improve concentration and might just increase your test score.

3)   Eat foods that are naturally bright and colorful. For your brain to adapt and respond to stress, you need to fuel it with foods high in antioxidants, like the always awesome vegetables and fruits.  Without enough antioxidants, our brains literally become “toxic or rancid.”  Ewwww. I am not kidding.  Our brains are made up of fat and lipid peroxidation is a chemical reaction that occurs as fats become rancid.  Free radicals are highly reactive particles that accumulate in the cells of our brain and when that happens, byproducts of peroxidation build up and our brains really do begin to decay.  These byproducts have been linked to depression, heart disease, asthma, Alzheimer’s and more. So, arm yourself with antioxidants and fight those free radical bitches.

4)   Move those limbs. Run. Walk. Climb a tree.  Put on some music and dance around your room in your underwear a la Cameron Diaz in Charlie’s Angels (a personal favorite). Just move. It is simply not healthy to study for hours on end in a chair.  When you exercise, your body releases feel good endorphins, which are opiate-like substances, secreted by the brain.  They have the same painkilling mechanism as morphine, so they can produce a sense of euphoria when the endorphins bind with the brain’s receptor sites.  Better yet, exercise with a friend and get a double dose of happiness.

5)  Ingest some fatty-acids.  Scientific research overwhelmingly supports the notion that fatty acid balance plays a role in mental well-being.  Scientists who study diet and its relationship to depression have consistently found that patients with mood disorders have reduced levels of omega-3 fatty acids.   Omega-3 fats are found in fish, but fish on the market can be highly polluted. Take a DHA supplement or purified fish oil to get a clean, non-polluted helping of those omega-3s.

6)   Put things in perspective! This one might be the most important thing you can do.  When you are old and your hair is a lovely shade of gray (gasp!), are you going to give a Twinkie what your score was on a silly little biology exam? Or even the GPA you graduated college with? I don’t know about you, but my answer to this question is hell no.  While I am an advocate of trying your hardest, don’t freak if your best isn’t the score you had hoped for.  And don’t judge yourself, attempt to analyze your overall intelligence level or compare your test scores to classmates. Just work hard, do your best, and say C’est la vie to that exam.

7)   If all else fails, just Google pictures of cute puppies and kittens. Works every time.

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One Month Challenge: Gone Meatless, Week 4
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