Healthy food, sleep, exercise, and stress reduction can be as important as medication or therapy when it comes to improving depression and anxiety. The following lifestyle changes can make a big difference in the way you feel.
While it is normal to feel anxious or down from time to time, sometimes depression and or anxiety can seriously impact your life. The following tips are designed to help everyone maintain a healthy mood, and can be used in addition to seeing a therapist, psychiatrist, or your doctor for more serious mood disorders. If you’re not sure if you need to see a doctor or therapist click here. Always seek medical care right away if you feel you might harm yourself or others.
Good nutrition is essential for a positive mood. It’s important to eat a diet that contains as many nutrients as possible while eliminating as many toxins as possible. The best way to do this is to eat plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts, and seeds while limiting toxic mood foods like sweetened drinks, fried foods, and processed junk foods.
Healthy fats boost mood. A diet too low in fat can make you feel more depressed. Eating fatty fish like wild salmon twice a week can help boost mood. If you don’t eat fish, eat flax or chia seeds or walnuts daily by adding them to foods you already eat.
Eating moderate portions of whole grains in place of processed foods can help stabilize blood sugar and improve mood. Eating lots of refined carbs like pasta, processed bread, cereals and granola bars, sweets and sweet drinks can cause your blood sugar to rise and fall dramatically and make your mood unstable.
The B vitamins, calcium, vitamin D, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, and tryptophan are natural nutrients that are necessary for a healthy mood. Here are some foods containing these nutrients.
Selected Nutrients Essential for Mental Health and their Food Sources
Vitamin B6: Beans, nuts, lentils, eggs, meats, fish whole grains, and fortified breads and cereals
Folate: Beans and other legumes, citrus fruit, wheat bran, and other whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables
Vitamin D: Fish, fish oils, oysters, mushrooms, fortified foods such as cow milk, soy milk, rice milk, and some cereals
Calcium: Milk, yogurt, buttermilk, cheese, calcium-fortified orange juice or plant milks, green leafy vegetables (broccoli, collards, kale, mustard greens, turnip greens, and bok choy or cabbage), canned salmon and sardines canned with their soft bones, shellfish, almonds, Brazil nuts, some beans
Zinc: Beef, pork, lamb, oysters; dark meat of poultry, peanuts, peanut butter, nuts, and legumes (beans and lentils), fortified cereals
Essential fatty acids (omega-3 fatty acids): Fish (tuna, salmon, sardines) fish oil, flax seeds, flax oil, canola oil, walnuts, walnut oil, dark green leafy vegetables
Tryptophan: Turkey, chicken, fish, milk, cheese, eggs, soy, tofu, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, tree nuts, peanuts, peanut butter
Exercise is an important factor in elevating mood. Because sunlight elevates mood it’s best if exercise is done in natural daylight. Studies show that just 10 minutes of vigorous exercise a day can significantly elevate mood. 20 minutes or more delivers even more benefits. It is better to exercise daily, even if you only have ten minutes to work out than it is to exercise for longer periods only a couple times a week. Adding a short brisk daily walk to what you already do is ideal. Do more exercise on days you have time. Your energy will improve once you start exercising regularly.
Insomnia (Trouble sleeping) is a common symptom of depression and anxiety. Depressed and anxious people can have trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep. Sleep deprivation can make depression and anxiety worse. Many teenagers don’t get enough sleep. (Teens and young adults need 9 to 9.5 hours a night!) Here are some natural ways to improve your sleep:
- Remove the TV, cell phones and computer from your bedroom
- Avoid looking at a screen (TV, tablet, computer or phone) at least an hour before you want to sleep. If screens absolutely can’t be avoided, be sure to use the night mode on your device to limit your exposure to wakeful blue light.
- Keep the bedroom dark, quiet and cool at night.
- Use the bed only for sleep, not for doing homework, reading, watching TV etc.
- Try not to sleep during the day. If you do, limit naps to 20 minutes. (set an alarm) Don’t nap after 3 pm. Avoiding naps can be very hard for high school and college students but it is very important.
- Take a hot bath or shower one hour before going to bed.
- Read positive or inspiring books or affirmations (on paper, not screen)
- Get a brief back, foot, or hand rub from a trusted friend or family member or do it yourself using a foam roller.
- Write in a journal before bed. Leave unpleasant thoughts on the paper rather than in your head.
- Ask your doctor before taking any medications or supplements, even natural ones, for sleep.
- Try a sleep hypnosis recording at bedtime to help you drift off to sleep.
Meditation and Yoga
Meditation and yoga can improve symptoms of depression by making you feel less stressed. Meditation is the nonjudgmental awareness of your moment to moment sensations and feelings. It can be learned and practiced by anyone anywhere. Walking meditation is particularly good for those who are depressed or anxious. To learn more about meditation go to http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/meditation
Massage, whether professional or by a trusted friend or family member, can improve mood if done regularly. Professional massage may be too expensive for many people. Ask your insurance company if it is a covered benefit. Studies suggest that massage (even a hand massage) done 5 times a week can have a significant impact on mood.
Try these tips before trying any supplements. Consult your doctor or a therapist if they do not help enough or if depression or anxiety is preventing you from doing things you want or need to do.