If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or are just feeling stressed or overwhelmed, there are several things you can do to help improve your mood and overall wellbeing. Some helpful hints are outlined below.
1. Eat a healthy diet
The importance of diet for mental wellbeing is under-appreciated. What we eat can significantly affect mood-regulating hormones and neurotransmitters. Some of the reasons for this include the following:
- We need adequate stores of essential nutrients to produce and process mood-influencing hormones and neurotransmitters. Some essential nutrients include B-vitamins, iron, folic acid, magnesium, amino acids and omega-3 fats.
- Eating a diet high in sugar, additives and unhealthy fats increase inflammation and free radical damage in the body. However, eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, lean protein, fibre, and omega-3 fats decreases inflammation and antioxidant defences. It has been confirmed that people with depression, anxiety or other mental health problems have higher levels of inflammation and free radical damage (called oxidative stress) which affects neurotransmitter levels and brain health.
- Skipping meals or eating foods high in refined sugar creates blood sugar imbalances. Imbalances in our blood sugar can alter stress hormones, negatively impact on cellular production of energy, and increase inflammation.
2. Get some exercise
Physical exercise is important for both physical and mental health. In fact, several studies have shown that physical exercise can be as effective as antidepressants for the treatment of depression. Exercise reduces inflammation, increases neurotransmitters and other mood-related hormones, and helps us to move our focus away from stressors in our life.
3. Learn to relax
Engaging in relaxing activities reduces stress hormones in our body and helps to slow our racing thoughts. This is particularly important for people who are feeling stressed or anxious.
Relaxation can consist of a whole range of activities. It can include formal relaxation exercises such as meditation, slow breathing, or progressive muscle relaxation. It can also include ‘informal’ relaxation exercises. This is basically anything that you find soothing or calming. It varies from one person to the next. Examples include reading, listening to music, gardening, walking along the beach, watching TV, etc.
4. Learn to move your focus
When we focus excessively on our problems it becomes very draining. Interestingly, it doesn’t really matter if the problem is real or imaginal the effects are the same on the body. It increases stress hormones and negatively affects our mood. Focusing on our problems also has the effect of ‘feeding’ our worries. The more attention you give to the problem, the worse you feel…. The worse you feel, the more you focus on your problem… and the cycle goes on.
While spending some time focusing on your problem can help find a solution, excessive focus (called rumination) is not helpful. Is spending 5 hours a day on money problems going to help you fix the problem? Could the same be achieved with 30 minutes of focus a day? The same applies to any problem; work, school, relationships, and health. Excessive attention on the problem only drains the body, increases stress hormones and reduces the time available to engage in more pleasurable pursuits.
While moving focus is easier said than done, we all have the ability. We just need the following:
- Activities or interests that can engage our attention. It is very difficult to re-focus when you are lying in your bedroom, away from possible pleasures in life.
- Conscious willingness, and active attempts to redirect our focus. We have to ‘catch’ ourselves when our mind moves to the problem again. We all have the ability to think about our thinking. ‘Check in’ regularly to see what your mind is focusing on. Use your feelings as a guide. If you are feeling stressed or down, you are probably focusing on the problem again. Catch yourself and redirect your focus.
- Practice! Moving your focus is a skill that requires practice. Don’t expect to change things immediately. Remember that if every day you spend 5 minutes less thinking about a problem, this will add up to 150 minutes in a month’s time. That is 2 ½ hours a day thinking less about your problem, which means you have more time to focus on more positive/productive areas in your life. The effects of this on your mood will be huge!
5. Take natural nutrients to help improve your mood
There are several nutrients and herbs that can help improve your mood. Some of these include the following:
- Saffron. The spice saffron can effectively improve mood and treat depressive symptoms. It has been shown to be as effective as antidepressants for the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression.
- Fish oil. Omega-3 fats from fish (and seeds) can improve mood. Taking this regularly is a good option for many people.
- B-complex. A high-quality B-complex can help reduce stress levels and assist in the production of mood-boosting neurotransmitters.
- Theanine. This is an amino acid from green tea and can reduce stress levels, improve sleep and slow a racing mind. Taking it in supplement form is best as you would have to drink a lot of green tea to ingest the amounts necessary for relaxation.
- Rhodiola rosea. This herb can help reduce stress levels and feelings of ‘burnout.’ If your energy is low, you are suffering from a condition known as adrenal fatigue, or you are feeling stressed, then rhodiola may help.
- Other supplements that may be helpful include St John’s Wort, magnesium, and S-adenosyl methionine (SAMe).
By taking these steps you should notice positive improvements in your mood and overall wellbeing. If you are still struggling, then seek support from a mental health professional such as a psychologist.
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