We all have them; those times in your life when things aren’t working out for you. Days when life is draining and it’s difficult to get out of bed in the morning. You may have work-related stress, be suffering from a lack of sleep, grieving a lost loved one, or maybe winter is really affecting you. Whatever the case may be, there are many things you can do that may improve your mood.
Medication is necessary in many cases and can literally save lives. Still, many complementary therapies can improve the efficacy of medication. For others, the low mood or anxiety may not be at a level to warrant use of medication, yet it may still be very uncomfortable. Whatever the case, here are a few general tricks that may provide some relief or even lighten up your day:
- Consume plenty fruit and vegetables: Vitamins and nutrients found in fruits and vegetables are essential for not only our physical well-being, but for our mental health as well.
- Protein: Protein-deficiency can result in a low mood, as it is required for the synthesis of many important neurotransmitters (brain chemical messengers) including dopamine.
- Avoid inflammatory foods: Sugar, processed food, red meat, and refined grains are examples of food that can trigger inflammation in your body and have been shown to contribute to a low mood (1). Some people even find their mood is sensitive to the nightshade family, which include potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplant.
- Eat up your healthy fats: Your brain has some of the highest levels of lipids (fats) of any organ in your body. These lipids are essential for proper nerve conduction and brain function. A diet high in healthy omega-3 fats (fish, nuts and seeds) has been shown to prevent some mood disorders like depression (2).
Studies have consistently shown the mood benefits of exercise. Physical activity is known to release endorphins, those “feel good” chemical messengers that not only reduce our perception of pain, but are also known to produce a positive feeling that some call “euphoric” or “the runner’s high”. Regular exercise may even be comparable to antidepressants in some individuals (3) and has also been shown to alleviate anxiety (4).
3. Routine Blood Test
There are many possible causes or contributing factors in low mood and/or anxiety, some of which can be detected in very routine blood work from your family doctor. Iron deficiency, megaloblastic anemia (usually caused by low vitamin B12) and thyroid dysfunction can all have a significant effect on mood and are commonly tested for.
Most of us know sleep deprivation has a significant effect on our mood. A late night or two in a row can make some people sad, angry, stressed, or irritable. However, our mental health also has a large effect on our ability to sleep. Anxiety increases our levels of arousal, making it less likely for us to relax and drift off into slumber. It’s important to have healthy sleep habits, which ideally includes going to bed at the same time, planning for at least 8 hours of sleep, having a dark and quite bedroom, and not watching TV or looking at any screens at least 1 hour before bedtime. Consider a warm bath before bed, some calming herbs or supplements, or a cotton ball with a few drops of lavender in your pillowcase.
Acupuncture has amazing potential when it comes to calming down our sympathetic and supporting our parasympathetic nervous system (decreasing the “fight or flight” and increasing the “rest and digest” nervous system). Numerous studies supporting acupuncture in mood disorders exist and the NADA protocol (a treatment of 5 needles in the ear) is now commonly used in various detox centers and hospitals for substance abuse and mood disorders, including the Toronto East General Hospital, the Toronto Western Hospital, the Oshawa Lakeridge Health Centre, York Regional Addictions Services, and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Toronto (where they give upwards of 125 treatments per week).
I am especially grateful for acupuncture as many don’t have the means, energy, or time to incorporate many of the naturopathic treatments into their daily life. Although acupuncture on its own may not be as effective, the relief it provides as a sole therapy still amazes me every day.
There are a number of herbs that can make wonderful, calming teas. My favorites include:
- Lemon Balm: nervine and mild antidepressant. Can also help an upset stomach and has antiviral properties. Plus, it tastes great.
- Oat straw: very soothing, gentle nervine and antidepressant. Has been used in the past for drug addiction.
- Passionflower: powerful anxiolytic (can decrease anxiety), although not always the tastiest of herbs.
- Wild Lettuce: a powerful sedative (reduces irritability or excitement) and hypnotic (can induce sleep). However, some of the naturopathic elders say that it can cause low motivation, so take with caution. I quite enjoy the taste, however it is a little “grassy”.
- Chamomile: nervine (calms down your nerves) and great for digestion.
- Skullcap: commonly used in insomnia, this herb is a nervine, anxiolytic, and can lower blood pressure.
Tinctures and capsules tend to have a stronger effect than teas and should be therefore be taken with more caution. St John’s Wort is also worth mentioning as it has received a lot of attention as a treatment comparable to SSRI intervention for mild to moderate depression. However, extra care must be taken with this herb, as it has a large potential for herb-drug interactions (including interactions with birth control). It is extremely important to consult with a health practitioner before using most herbs, especially if you have an existing health condition or are taking any medication (this includes birth control and over-the-counter medication like pain killers). While many herbs are very safe, there is also a great deal of herbs with the potential to do harm.
Let’s start with the basics:
- Vitamin D: So important to our mood, and we don’t get enough sun exposure due to long days indoors and living in the northern hemisphere. Vitamin D is especially important during these dark winter months. I prefer the vitamin D drops that come in a fatty liquid, as it is a fat-soluble vitamin (hormone actually, but that’s another topic).
- Fish oil: As mentioned before, our brain requires a great deal of lipids (“fats”) to function. Although its ability to relieve depression is arguable, it has been shown to lower anxiety (5), and your heart will thank you.
- Vitamin B12 and Folic Acid: A deficiency in either of these can cause symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. Vitamin B12 levels above deficiency may still not be ideal, and some individuals find they can even feel an improvement in energy after a B12 shot if their B12 levels are considered normal.
There are so many other supplements I use for anxiety, but keep in mind that as with herbs, it is very important to consult with a health practitioner before starting a supplement regimen. There are many potential supplement-drug interactions.
It’s normal to have ups and downs in life, and sometimes our low or anxious moods pass and make way for better times. However these uncomfortable times may be an opportunity to work through some of your issues. Friends and family are important when it comes to support, but a therapist offers a unique perspective on your situation. Similarly to finding a Naturopathic Doctor (ND), it’s so very important you find someone who you feel comfortable with. You’re unlikely to get many of the potential benefits of therapy if you dislike the therapist sitting across from you. Many therapists and ND’s offer complementary 15-minute consultations to test the client-practitioner fit. Feel free to click here to book a free meeting with Dr. Stephanie Cordes, ND.
9. Stress Management
Our perceived level of stress has an incredible influence on our mental health: some days the simplest task or smallest aggravation can just send us over the edge. Take the time to breath and feel grounded several times throughout the day. Make time for yourself. This may look very different from one person to another, but here are a few suggestions:
- Consider taking up meditation or yoga.
- Breathing exercises: one of my favorites is “four-square breathing”. Google it.
- Grounding exercise: a friend of mine recently told me about the 54321 game, a great little trick for anxiety, stress, mood, or even cravings. Click here for a brief description.
- Take the time to engage in your hobbies – How about taking up knitting? Or learning a new instrument?
- Acupuncture – oddly enough, there’s nothing more relaxing than a nap with needles in!
- A warm bath with candle-light (and caution of course)
- A night in with a good book
- Regularly taking the time to go out into nature, also referred to as “Forest bathing”. Studies have found it can lower stress and blood pressure (6).
10. Social Support
Our friends and family are often so important to our mental health and wellbeing. Try to surround yourself with people that make you feel better and be intentional about the type of people you spend your time with. Reach out to people who you trust, whether it be a friend, family member, coworker, mentor, doctor, or therapist. By doing so you are giving somebody the opportunity to help out.
If your mood ever becomes unbearable, please don’t wait to seek professional help. There’s a wide range of available therapies for mood that are worth trying. Life can get easier.
Finally, I know it’s so much harder than it sounds, but try to accept yourself with the love and forgiveness you would extend to others.
Stephanie Cordes has a private Naturopathic Medicine practice in Guelph at Absolute Health Science, and can also be found at Guelph Community Acupuncture on a regular basis providing affordable and effective needling (or what we like to call “poking”). Passionate about health education and increasing accessibility of complementary healthcare, Stephanie has a special interest in mental health, pain, and digestive complaints. For more information see http://www.drcordes.com/dr-stephanie-cordes-nd/
PLEASE NOTE: ALL MATERIAL AND INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS POST IS FOR EDUCATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY AND DOES NOT MEAN TO REPLACE OR AUGMENT ANY ADVICE OR CONSULTATION PROVIDED BY A LICENSED HEALTH CARE PRACTITIONER OR PHYSICIAN.
- Dwyer, Marge (November 7, 2013). Inflammatory dietary pattern linked to depression among women. Harvard School of Public Health. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/features/inflammatory-dietary-pattern-linked-to-depression-among-women/
- Bourre, J. (2005). Dietary omega-3 Fatty acids and psychiatry: mood, behavior, stress, depression, dementia and aging. The Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging, 9(1), 31-8.
- Blumenthal, J., Babyak, M., Doraiswamy, P., Watkins, L., Hoffman, B., Barbour, K., … & Sherwood, A. (2007). Exercise and pharmacotherapy in the treatment of major depressive disorder. Psychosomatic Medicine, 69(7), 587-96.
- Smits, J., Berry, A., Rosenfield, D., Powers, M., Behar, E., & Otto, M. (2008). Reducing anxiety sensitivity with exercise. Depression and Anxiety, 25(8), 689-99.
- Kiecolt-Glaser, J., Belury, M., Andridge, R., Malarkey, W., & Glaser, R. (2011). Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: a randomized controlled trial. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 25(8), 1725-34.
- Li, Q., Morimoto, K., Nakadai, A., Inagaki, H., Katsumata, M., Shimizu, T., … & Kawada, T. (2007). Forest bathing enhances human natural killer activity and expression of anti-cancer proteins. International Journal of Immunopathology and Pharmacology, 20(2), 3-8.