Tough times are inevitable, and it’s totally ok to feel down from time to time. But when the down times outweigh the good times, they can zap any motivation for self care. It can become a downward spiral, and no fun at all. So what lifestyle changes can we make when we are feeling down to reverse the spiral and improve our mood?
1. Be kind to yourself
This is by far the most important change you can make - the internal self talk. Don’t beat yourself up. Become a nurturer, not a punisher. Make sure you reframe everything you do to come from a place of love not loath. You exercise to nourish, not punish. You are understanding if you have slip ups, and you just keep going.
Isn’t it interesting that in nearly all the research on recovering from depression, exercise is one of the top three recommendations to patients. Any exercise is good exercise and 1-7 times per week is great! We cannot underestimate the power of our hormones to shift our mood, and exercise is one of the fastest circuit breakers and mood shifters. To turbo charge this, pick a scenic location, such as a park, beach or room with a view. Use exercise as a time to do some moving meditation with a 3-5 word mantra. Listen to podcasts, uplifting music, or simply observe your thoughts in a kind manner. Always finish with a bit of a bang (a 45sec ramp up of intensity), followed by a relaxing stretch.
3. A Healthier Diet
A healthy diet is relative, so instead of focussing on what instagram says to eat, just focus on improving your diet a little. Start with the worst aspect of your diet (late night snacker, take out addict, sugar monster). Pick that one area and focus on that. Once you’ve got that under control move on to the next. For feel good hormones make sure your diet is rich in:
Omega 3s: Important for brain function, including mood regulation. Best sources are: oily fish, walnuts, seeds (hemp, chia, flax) olive oil, seaweed, and edamame.
Amino Acids: Neurotransmitters, the messengers in the brain, are made of amino acids. Neurotransmitters play an essential role in mental health, so include amino-acid-rich foods in your diet. Best sources are: Meat, dairy, pumpkin, kidney beans, avocado, banana, and blueberries.
Getting more sunlight ticks a few boxes. Firstly it may get you out of the house exercising and/or socialising which all have positive links to mood. Sunlight however also may trigger an increase in your serotonin (feel good) hormones. Researchers are still determining why this is the case (is it chicken or egg? Does sun makes you feel better or does feeling better gets you outdoors more?). The other benefit of sunlight is the synthesis of Vitamin D through your skin. There are many Vitamin D receptors in the parts of the brain that are linked with depression leading researchers to believe they are linked. Researchers have also found that a significantly higher proportion of depressed people have low vitamin D levels (although correlation does not mean causation). Either way, aim for around 5 minutes of face and arm exposure per day in summer and 20 minutes in winter.
Feeling depressed can lead to socially isolating behaviour, yet in many cases talking about or writing down your feelings can really help us work through them. Psychotherapy, group therapy and retreats are just some of the methods recommended, along with journaling. By taking the abstract thoughts and feelings and running them through the intellectual filter of our brain can go a long way in helping process these emotions.
6. Sleep (but not too much)
We all know that sleep is good for us. Infact people suffering insomnia are ten times more likely to suffer clinical depression compared with people who get the recommended 7-10 hours per night. But when it comes to boosting your mood, too much sleep can have a negative impact. Sticking to 7-10 hours and going to bed and waking up at a similar time are healthy sleep habits to adopt. Also try a hot shower or bath before bed (the body falls asleep better on a falling temperature), minimise screens, stimulating foods/drinks/activities, and create a ritual (such as reading, meditating, having a glass of milk) as these all trigger the body to release our sleepy hormones.
Amelia Phillips is a nutritionist, exercise scientist and online health coach who has helped thousands live a healthier life through optimised nutrition and targeted supplementation.