By Stephanie Wills
Feel like you always wake up on the wrong side of the bed? Grumpy. Alone. Lost.
About to snap like a frayed bungee cord? Or how about you just don’t care anymore? Tears fall at a moment’s notice? Your mood swings between fear, anger and anxiety like a wrecking ball tearing down a house? Any of these describe you? Well, you may just want to read on…
Depression is a real thing that many of us struggle with. It takes time, counseling, effort and a lot of support to make it through. However, simply stop for a moment and ask yourself if there could be any other reason for your unhappiness besides environmental, emotional or physical trauma that you could be experiencing? Have you perhaps neglected your health to the point that it could be making you feel so miserable right now? Or more specifically, ask yourself if you could have put something in your mouth that could have set off this emotional rollercoaster?
Now, you may think that I finally lost the plot! Surely it’s crazy to even suggest that something I may have eaten could have such an enormous impact on my mental state? Well, I’m here to tell you that optimal physical health may just be one of the most crucial factors to helping you achieve happiness! This includes taking care of your body with superior nutrition (what you put in your mouth) along with regular exercise, nutritional supplementation and relaxation practices. Sound too simple? Well how about you try these 3 easy steps and let me know:
1. Eat happy foods
And no, these are not the lovely sugary foods that give you that ‘instant joy,’ like ice cream, cakes and sweets. The reason you feel so good is because this refined molecule temporally boosts blood sugar levels which then actively alters brain chemistry. But like any drug, the effect wears off and another sugar-hit is required to keep the happiness going. Not good! Caffeine and other stimulant-like substances also have a similar effect so it’d be good to avoid these as well (sorry!)
The happy foods I am talking about are natural, whole foods (YAY). Foods that are nutrient-rich, full of enzymes, as raw, organic and unprocessed as possible. Foods that support your body and promote healthy brain function (putting you in a good mood). Eating plenty of these foods leads to long-term happiness rather than a short-lived ‘high’. Specific examples include:
- Serotonin (your happy hormone) can be boosted by eating foods like turkey, fish, eggs, cottage cheese, bananas, avocadoes, brown rice, figs, legumes, nuts, carrots, beetroot, fennel and rolled oats.
- Dopamine (responsible for alertness, excitement and feelings of pleasure) can be boosted by eating shellfish, miso, lima beans, tahini, apples and artichokes
- Noradrenaline (responsible for appetite control, energy and motivation) can be boosted by eating lean beef, fish, green vegetables, avocado, blue-green algae, whole grains, pineapple and almonds.
2. Take happy supplements
- Omega 3 fish oils. This would be the supplement that I would start with simply because Omega 3 is essential to help maintain healthy nerve and brain cell function. Countless studies have shown that a daily dose of high quality fish oil (high in EPA and DHA) can help increase serotonin production and activity, improve mood, enhance concentration, memory and attention as well as improve general brain health.
- Adaptogens essentially help the body adapt or ‘cope’ during times of stress or trauma (they are your natural replacements for caffeine and sugar!) As a whole, adaptogens help to improve energy, restore vitality, support the adrenal glands, and enhance immune and nervous system function. Examples include ginseng, ashwagandha, rhodiola, cordyceps mushroom etc.
- Gaba – (gamma amino butyric acid) is both an amino acid and a neurotransmitter. It is responsible for generating feelings of calmness and relaxation. Lack of this nutrient results in restlessness and anxiety.
- 5-HTP – (5-hydroxytryptophan) is an amino-acid that is converted into serotonin. Serotonin makes us feel relaxed and optimistic and also improves our ability to concentrate. Low levels of this happy hormone (as I like to call it) causes depression, irritability, insomnia, feelings of negativity, and poor focus.
- SAMe – is a natural substance made in the body by a reaction between methionine (an amino acid) and another compound called adenosyntriphosphate (ATP) Supplementation with this nutrient helps to boost mood and reduce depression due to its ability to enhance dopamine, serotonin and other neurotransmitter production in the brain.
3. Do happy things
This may seem extremely basic, but if you think about it how many of us actually do something that we love every single day?
- Start by scheduling time just to laugh, meet with friends, watch a comedy, or google funny YouTube videos. Seriously, laughter is a powerful way to instantly generate large amounts of positive brain chemistry. This in turn helps to reduce or eliminate symptoms of depression.
- Next, write down a list of all the things you love to do. This may include golf, running, playing with your kids, dancing crazily around the living room, being creative, lying on the grass, swimming in the sea, cooking, reading, singing, writing… am I getting you excited? Even setting aside 10mins to do something that you love every day will make a huge difference!
- Relax and breathe. Join a yoga or pilates class, pray, take a few minutes to sit back and just let your mind wander. Take 10 really long and really slow deep breaths, stretch, focus on being still and peaceful. When you relax you replenish your body’s supply of “feel-good” neurotransmitters. This in turn helps you to achieve a healthier mental state.
- Exercise to produce endorphins. Not only do these feel-good neurotransmitters induce feelings of euphoria and well-being; they’re natural painkillers and antidepressants as well. Regular exercise such as running, brisk-walking, dancing, playing sports etc all boost endorphin levels in the body.
- Be grateful. It has a profound effect on your own happiness if you become more aware of reasons to be thankful and to ‘count your blessings’. We all have so much to be thankful for!
Being happy and sustaining an even emotional state unfortunately doesn’t happen overnight. It takes discipline and practice. If you choose to take care of your body; eat, take and do the right things then you can make a huge difference to your mental wellbeing. You can be happy… naturally.