You may compare yourself unfavorably to your friend, roommate, cousin, or neighbor, who always seems to be on time, well-groomed, and on track to meet her goals. We all have those “blah” days—but why do they happen, and what can we do about them? Below are 7 scientific reasons why you may be feeling out of sorts.
1. Final Thoughts
The reasons for a down mood are often multifaceted and can be difficult to determine. If you feel depressed for two weeks or more, seek a medical consult to rule out or treat underlying biological factors. Consider consulting a mental health professional for help in managing stress and expectations, negotiating life changes, or dealing with the emotional aftereffects of past traumas and dysfunctional families. If you can’t afford therapy, antidepressants may still help to change the underlying biology. Exercising outdoors can provide both sunlight and mood elevation. Develop a toolkit of stress-reducing activities, such as regular exercise, yoga or meditation, watching funny movies, playing team sports, doing something creative or novel, and hanging out with and/or confiding in understanding friends
Our human brains are wired to be part of a social group, and we experience loneliness as chronically stressful and depressing. Unfortunately, some of us have toxic or neglectful families that don’t provide support or presence when we need it. Similarly, we may feel that our friends are moving on—finding romantic relationships or having kids, for instance—and leaving us behind. Research using fMRI brain scans shows that even minor social rejection lights up the same areas of our brains as physical pain. Feeling left out, rejected, or excluded makes us sad; it can also lead to rumination about our faults, further darkening our moods. We become scared of further rejection and isolate ourselves, perpetuating the negative cycle. While there may not be an immediate cure for loneliness, it helps to get out in the world and pursue your natural interests, which can lead to expanding your social network. Staying in touch with old friends or family and deliberately seeking opportunities to connect may help as well.
3. The Weather
Less sunshine during the winter months can give us the blues, and this effect is more pronounced for some people than others. Researchers Keller and colleagues studied hundreds of people and found that during the spring, moods improved; participants also reported more outdoor activities. We may also be more cognitively flexible and able to think creatively about solving our problems in the spring, compared to winter. A subgroup of people suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, a condition in which the winter blues turn into full-blown depression along with associated changes in sleep, appetite, and motivation. Sufferers are more likely to be women. Exposure to outdoor sunlight also provides us with vitamin D, a substance with clear links to depressed mood.
4. Vitamin D
Most people in the US have insufficient or deficient levels of Vitamin D. The reasons are not clear, but could be related to nutrition and insufficient sun exposure. People with dark skin are more vulnerable to vitamin D deficiency, due to a decreased ability to process vitamin D from sunlight. Vitamin D deficiency has been statistically linked to depression. In a large Dutch study by Hoogendijk and colleagues (2008) of over 1,200 persons aged 65 and older, levels of vitamin D were 14 percent lower in persons with minor or major depressive disorder when compared to those not showing depressed mood.
Hormones are substances produced by the endocrine glands that influence many bodily functions, including growth and development, mood, sexual function, and metabolism. Levels of certain hormones, such as those produced by the thyroid gland, can be factors in depression. In addition, some symptoms of depression are associated with thyroid conditions. Hormones fluctuate during the menstrual cycle and may create vulnerability to sad or depressed moods in the premenstrual period, as well as during perimenopause, and menopause. There are individual differences in how much our moods are vulnerable to the effects of hormones. If you are more vulnerable, you may want to consult a physician to see if medications are needed to help regulate your hormones. You could also try alternative medicine treatments, such as acupuncture, to reduce hormone-related mood imbalance.
Our moods are not only a function of what happens to us, but also of how we view the events in our lives and the meanings we assign to them. There are stages in most of our lives in which we seem to be working hard and doing all the right things, but don’t see many external rewards coming our way. We may not be paid what we feel we are worth or be able to afford as nice a house, car, or vacation as our friends. We may struggle to find the right partner, while our friends or siblings seem to have no problem finding love. We may have to work longer and harder than our friends to get the same grade on a test or earn a living. We may experience a difficult breakup or loss. Life naturally isn’t fair; periods of struggle, suffering, and loss are inevitable. If we expect fair or special treatment all the time or expect things never to change, we are bound to be disappointed. So if you’re feeling sad because of recent events, remind yourself that hard times are part of life and will pass. You can also try to deliberately broaden your view and focus on the good parts of your life or the experiences you are proud of.
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