Our lives are more stressful than ever these days and as a result, the person who never experiences periods of anxiety or depression is very rare. While some cases of anxiety or depression can be serious and debilitating, for most of us our mood problems interfere with our enjoyment of our lives and our relationships, but they don’t prevent us from going about our daily lives and doing the things we really have to do.
The good news is that there are many ways to improve your mood! Our thoughts have a tremendous affect not only on how we feel emotionally, but also on levels of neurotransmitters in our brains and stress hormones produced in our bodies. This is why positive thoughts tend to generate calm and happy feelings while negative thoughts tend to generate fearful, angry, resentful or sad feelings. Simple exercises like noticing your negative thoughts and putting a more positive spin on them can change your brain chemistry and change the way you feel. Counseling can be very helpful for people with anxiety and depression because they learn new ways of thinking. You might also consider picking up the book “Feeling Good” by David Burns, MD for some great insights and exercises to help change your habitual thought patterns.
Good nutrition, an adequate amount of quality sleep, and regular exercise are also vital for a healthy brain and a good mood. Follow a whole foods based diet that is rich in vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats (raw nuts, nut butters, avocado, olive oil, fatty fish) and protein. Keeping your blood sugar balanced by avoiding processed foods, sugar, and caffeine and eating a high fiber diet that contains healthy fats and proteins will help to keep your mood and your energy level stable.
Certain supplements can also be helpful. If you have problems with anxiety or depression, consider taking a high quality fish oil supplement, a multivitamin, and a calcium-magnesium supplement. Most of us are deficient in both the essential fats found in fish oils and in magnesium, and deficiencies of both of these are associated with mood problems. You might also consider a vitamin D supplement, especially during the winter months.
Do your best to sleep about 8 hours each night (or more if you need it). Establish a regular bedtime routine and a regular wake time, which helps your nervous system balance its rhythm and helps to balance your mood. If you have problems with seasonal depression, be sure to expose yourself to sunshine in the morning or consider getting a light box if it’s too dark outside. Getting about 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week will also help to balance your mood. Walking is a great mood enhancing exercise and recent research indicates that it leisure walking lowers stress hormones. You don’t even need a gym membership!
Learning to manage your stress is also important. Most people I see don’t have a strategy in place to help them discharge their stress or calm their nervous systems down. Things that are helpful for some people are regular exercise, yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, visualization, social groups, gardening, writing, or even just 15 minutes of alone time to unwind. Whatever you choose to do, add a stress management practice to your daily routine and you will find your mood improving.
If you make changes to your diet and your lifestyle and you still feel anxious or depressed, or if you just can’t get motivated to make the changes you need to make, there are herbs, homeopathic medicines, flower essences, and amino acid supplements that can give you additional support. Herbs like St. John’s Wort, Lemon Balm, and Rhodiola can be helpful. Amino acids provide the building blocks for the neurotransmitters in your brain and for some people, supplementing specific amino acids helps to improve their mood. Homeopathic medicines and flower essences require a knowledgeable practitioner for best results; however, for anxiety you might consider trying Bach Flower Rescue Remedy. Acupuncture and massage therapy can also help calm and balance the nervous system so consider giving one of these a try if they interest you.
Most people can benefit from the approaches described above. However, if you ever find that you are having difficulty taking care of your basic needs or you ever have thoughts of hurting yourself or someone else, seek professional help immediately. If you need support to improve your mood, please get it. You deserve to feel good and enjoy the richness of your life!