Do you feel like you’re constantly on a stress-induced rollercoaster? How do your fluctuating moods rule your days? Do you feel blue more often than you feel joy? If so, you’re not alone. One in 24 Americans suffer from dysthymia, or low-level, chronic depression. Fortunately, making small changes in your food, fitness, and friendships can significantly increase your overall happiness and lift your mood.
Dietary changes can make the most dramatic impact on your mood, so let’s focus there first. This may seem obvious, but the data is striking: A 2012 study in the journal Public Health Nutrition revealed that people who ate junk food were 51 percent more likely to show signs of depression—and the more junk food the study participants ate, the more likely they were to be depressed.
Here are the most basic guidelines for modifying your diet to regulate your mood:
- Limit refined carbohydrates and processed food.
- Seek energy—not stimulation.
- Eat consistently throughout the day; don’t skip meals!
- Incorporate soluble fiber and protein.
- Consume foods high in essential nutrients (as described in the list below).
What Should You Eat?
The following foods lift your mood in two ways: First, they deliver key nutrients that support brain chemistry to reduce the risk of depression and improve sleep quality. Second, they provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that help build energy and your capacity to cope from your body’s deepest levels (your cell’s metabolic pathways).
Rather than going for a quick burst of energy from a sugar or caffeine fix that results in a crash, make these feel-good foods a part of your happiness routine!
- Salmon — Chock-full of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, University of Maryland Medical Center researchers suggest that these nutrients can lift your mood, alleviate mild depression, and improve memory.
- Dark Leafy Greens — These shine because they are high in folic acid, a nutrient known to alleviate depression and reduce fatigue. In addition, dark leafy greens are packed with magnesium. (Low magnesium levels can contribute to low levels of serotonin, a hormone that aids sleep and stabilizes your mood.)
- Walnuts — Much like salmon and greens, walnuts are rich in antioxidants, serotonin-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, and magnesium, making them beneficial for your mental health.
- Eggs — Eggs are high in protein, Vitamin D and B12. They are rich in choline, a nutrient that supports the nervous system, which improves mood and helps produce neurotransmitters.
- Turkey and Chicken — Turkey and chicken contain tryptophan, an amino acid that helps in serotonin production. They also contain the amino acid tyrosine, a building block for dopamine and norepinephrine, brain chemicals that help even out your mood.
- Foods Rich in Vitamin C — Vitamin C deficiency is often associated with low energy, depressed mood, and irritability. Citrus fruits, such as oranges and grapefruit, provide an instant burst of vitamin C, but also plentiful in red peppers, broccoli, strawberries, and Brussels sprouts.
- Green Tea — An antioxidant powerhouse, green tea also fights depression. It contains high levels of theanine, an amino acid that helps regulate your stress response.
- Dark Chocolate — The polyphenols in cocoa (dark chocolate) can make you feel more calm and content! Dark chocolate also stimulates the production of endorphins (feel-good chemicals) as well as serotonin (which acts as an anti-depressant).
Moving your body factors into the mood equation. Antidepressants have got nothing on exercise! Studies show getting active for 30 minutes a day, six days a week can alleviate chronic sadness as effectively as antidepressants.
Exercise decreases stress hormones such as cortisol and increases endorphins. Released through exercise, endorphins boost your mood naturally. Exercise also releases adrenaline, serotonin, and dopamine; these chemicals work together to make you feel good.
Additional studies show getting active outside delivers even more profound results. A small ‘dose’ of nature every day will further enhance your mood, self-esteem, and mental health. Activities that deliver the best benefits include walking, cycling, gardening, fishing, boating, horseback riding, and farming.
Finally, you’ll want to take a look at your social network. Could it use strengthening? Several studies have proven the link between having close friends and living longer. Specifically, the landmark Framingham Heart Study points to the idea that happiness is contagious amongst friends and relatives! Surrounding yourself with positive people can have a ripple effect that spreads throughout your entire community. By keeping yourself nourished with relationships that feed you as opposed to those that are toxic and stress you out, you can lift your mood for the long haul.