Need a little pick-me-up? I imagine we all could use one in this weather. Thankfully, it looks like the sun is finally making an appearance.
Unfortunately, many people struggle with more than just the rainy day blahs. Depression effects over 18.8 million Americans and is most common in woman age 25-44. The cause can be physiological, emotional and/or environmental. Psychotherapy and at times, medication, is most helpful for moderate to severe cases of depression. However, for milder cases and as an adjunct to therapy in more severe cases, diet and lifestyle changes are very effective. These same strategies also help prevent depression in those at risk.
Here are a few tips to boost your mood:
1. Eat every few hours. Eating regularly throughout the day helps keep blood sugar levels stable. Ideally, you want to combine a long- and short-term energy source (i.e. a carbohydrate and a protein or fat) at each meal or snack.
2. Include plenty of omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Fatty fish like salmon and mackeral is the best source of omega-3. Research shows that eating more omega-3’s helps improve mood. Andrew Stoll, a doctor and researcher at McLean has found that high doses of omega-3 fatty acids improve symptoms of bipolar disorder and depression. Read more about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids here.
3. Limit caffeine. Like sugar, caffeine increases blood sugar, sending your body on a roller coaster of highs and lows. It also increases anxiety resulting in lower energy and mood in the long run. Small amounts of caffeine (i.e. up to 16oz of coffee) actually improve mood but larger quantities wreck havoc on our nervous system.
4. Increase the nutrient-density of your diet. Choosing a variety of foods including plenty of green, leafy vegetables, colorful fruits and whole grains helps ensure your body has all the nutrients it needs to function well. Low levels of B vitamins found in grains, beans, vegetables and animal protein (B12) are linked to depression.
5. Exercise regularly. Exercise helps improve energy, regulate blood sugar levels and boost mood. Even 20-30 minutes a day of low impact exercise will work wonders.
6. Get some sun. Studies show that inadequate levels of vitamin D which is synthesized in the skin through sun exposure, leads to depression. Alternately, in winter months, you may want to take a vitamin D3 (active from) supplement. See our post from earlier this year on vitamin D for more on this important nutrient.
7. Relax. Stress is linked to depression. Find ways to unwind and relieve stress throughout the day. Even taking just a few moments to connect to your breath will help. Yoga and meditation are excellent ways to release tension as well.
8. Limit alcohol. Alcohol is a depressant and as such, leads to depression. It also disrupts sleep which is a mood zapper.
9. Connect with others. Taking time to spend with family and close friends helps reduce the isolation that often leads to depression. It’s also a great way to vent about those issues that wear heavy on the mind.
10. For mild depression you may want to consider some natural, over-the-counter supplements. 5-HTP, St. John’s wort and SAMe have been shown to improve symptoms of depression in some. Talk to your doctor or health professional about the appropriate doses and effectiveness. For more information on supplements and other complimentary approaches to the treatment of depression, visit the National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine – Depression.