While on the surface, addressing mood and mental health challenges may seem to be in the realm of psycho-therapists and prescription drugs, always dealing with the mind, far removed from the physical body, in fact, nutrition, attitude, and lifestyle can do a lot to support a positive mood and good mental health.
The following advice is not for true psychiatric cases, but rather for mild anxiety or depression, and other occasional or mild challenges. The suggestions herein do not constitute medical opinion and you should always seek the advice of your practitioner.
Mood and mental health are very complex issues existing on the physical, spiritual and mental levels, and the below ideas are really just a very basic starting point to addressing them for yourself.
Recently some very interesting research has come out showing how inflammation in the body causes inflammation in the brain and can lead to depression in some people. Therefore, part of the recommendations you’ll read below is how to address inflammation to relieve depression.
Other important research into brain health has looked at the gut-brain axis (or having your second brain in your gut) and how having a healthy balance of microflora (good bacteria) actually support mood and brain health, so we’ll look at that, too.
Blood sugar swings can lead to alternating anxiety and depression, while excessive sugar may overtime decrease brain function, memory, mental stability, and possibly lead to dementia.
In addition to addressing the pathways to a healthy brain mentioned above, we’ll cover a few other key tenets that you can start with when you want to improve your own mood and mental health; all of these are separated into 3 categories: diet, herbs and supplements, and lifestyle.
“Let food be thy medicine, and medicine by thy food.” ~ Hippocrates
Nutrition has an incredible ability to nourish not only the body, but here, more importantly the mind. Sometimes it’s not what we add but what we remove. So to start with…
- Gluten – Can increase anxiety, causes inflammation, changes the balance of microflora, leads to leaky gut, can alter blood sugar regulation, and more.
- Sugar – Sends you on a blood sugar roller coaster which can cause alternating anxiety and depression, and is very inflammatory.
- High glycemic carbohydrates – Anything else that might rapidly affect your blood sugar (gluten-free baked goods, high sugar fruits, juice, fruit concentrates, etc even if it doesn’t contain gluten or sugar) as these will have the same effect on blood sugar and inflammation as gluten and other sweeteners.
- Coffee – Coffee can increase anxiousness and nervousness.
- Alcohol – Alcohol can increase anxiety as well as depression.
- Fat – Eat more choice fats, which support the neural connections and are necessary for many brain and body processes. Coconut oil is probably the best choice because its high in medium chain triglycerides–aim for 3 tablespoons of coconut oil per day, or to bowel tolerance. Others good fats include olive oil that has not been heated (eg used as a salad dressing), avocado oil, and macadamia nut oil.
- Organ meats – Organ meats, particularly from pastured or grass-fed animals, are the most nutrient dense foods we have, containing essential vitamins and minerals that can be difficult to get otherwise in our diet.
- Nuts – For anxiety, Chinese medicine recommends 10g of peach kernel, 15g of pistachios, and 15g of walnuts ground into a powder and taken with food.
- Tea – Tea contains antioxidants and is anti-inflammatory; it also provides a slight boost in mental clarity and energy.
Supplements and Herbs
Supplements can help with essential nutrients and reduce inflammation, particularly if you’re not willing to eat organ meat or fatty fish.
- Vitamin D – D is critical to immunity and brain health. It also helps reduce inflammation.
- Fish Oil – A high quality Omega-3 supplement will help to reduce inflammation. Choosing something like fermented cod liver oil will get you the anti-inflammatory benefits as well as Vit A, D, and K which many people are deficient in (and could possibly explain the rise in mental health issues).
- Probiotic – A probiotic can help to restore healthy balance of gut bacteria, which seems to have an effect on the brain. Check out Prescript-Assist or Garden of Life Primal Defense.
- Turmeric – Turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory and may be the easiest way to reduce inflammation, including that associated with depression. You can get it as a whole root, as a spice, or a supplement.
- Multivitamin & mineral complex – Taking a multivitamin-mineral complex will help to ensure you’re getting the right vitamins and minerals your brain needs to function properly, and to enable you to thrive. Deficiency in some of these may in fact be the cause of mild depression or anxiety.
Oftentimes how we live our life and what we think about can bring on anxiety or depression, therefore having good habits and follow good practices should be fundamental for anyone who suffers from mood or mental health issues.
- Sleep – Sleep an adequate amount, but not excessively may be the very first thing on this list someone should tackle. Aim for 7-9 consistent hours each night, getting into bed before 11pm. Sleep is absolutely fundamental to good mental health and a deficiency will increase anxiety.
- Meditate – Meditation can have a profound affect on brain health, leading to a better mood and more positive outlook on life. It can also better help manage thought patterns that can lead to anxiety. As an add-on to meditation, seek to develop present moment awareness. It is said, depression is excessive focus on the past, while anxiety is worries about the future. Therefore, by improving your present moment awareness, you can more fully appreciate and live in the moment you’re in now: notice sights, smells, sounds, sensations on your skin, feelings in your body, and begin to find gratitude for just being alive.
- Don’t smoke or use stimulants or mood-altering substances.
- Begin a mind-body-breath practice – Consider taking up yoga, Qi-Gong, or Taichi to help develop the connection between mind, body, and breath, which can foster present moment awareness, reduce stress, and improve understanding of your own feelings.
- Gratitude Journal – Writing down three things each day that you’re grateful for can relieve depression and help you to appreciate your life and your blessings more
Any or all of these are excellent places to start to improve mood and mental health, but if I had to choose just one, it’d be with sleep, followed by getting your nutrition dialed in.
So much of what ails us can be fixed with some really good sleep, some high quality allergen-free nutrition, and lots of laughter and deep connection.
Reaching out to people in your life who support you, love you, and lift you up when you’re down can help so many mental health issues. Find those people, give them a hug, and thank them. Repeat daily for optimal results.