Anxiety and depression seem to be more and more prevalent in today’s society. It’s probably likely that you know someone who is dealing with it, or maybe are dealing with it yourself. Antidepressant drugs, which are based on the theory that these disorders are due to a chemical imbalance, represent a $10 billion dollar market in the U.S. alone. While there are multiple contributing factors, new research is proving that depression may be a symptom of chronic inflammation. This means that a combination of diet and lifestyle changes can improve your mood drastically. With this in mind, here is what you can do if you are suffering from anxiety or depression.
- Start with food. Start with the basics and make sure you’re getting adequate amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals, and water. Try to get each from real, whole food sources including meat, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds. Work with a practitioner to uncover any nutrient gaps or deficiencies so you can further personalize your nutrient-dense diet.
- Avoid inflammatory foods. This includes industrialized oils such as canola, vegetable, soybean, and corn oil. Eliminate sugar, omega-6 fats, refined grains, chemicals, and preservatives that are common in packaged and prepared foods. These inflammatory foods can hide in dressings, chips, “gluten free” and “low fat” products, yogurts, bars and powders, frozen foods, processed meats, and so on. Cook from scratch as much as possible and keep meals simple with protein, fat, and carbohydrates from real food.
- Get quality sleep. Poor sleep is significantly associated with anxiety and depression. Create an evening routine that is free of blue lights from electronics like TVs, phones, and iPads. Avoid sugary snacks right before bed to prevent waking up in the middle of the night. Keep a cool, dark room free of electronics to ensure quality, deep sleep.
- Exercise better. If you exercise already, you know the feeling that comes along with a good workout. It’s an instant mood booster and also helps to improve brain function. Avoid overtraining, which can have negative effects. Aim for 30 minutes of leisure activity a day (such as walking) and weight training to build muscle a few times a week.
- Get proper light exposure. Try to get natural light first thing in the morning. Not enough natural light and too much artificial light can impact your mood. Get outside during the day as much as possible and minimize light exposure after the sun goes down, including the lights on electronics.
- Support your gut. It is being widely recognized that gut health has a huge impact on overall health. An unhealthy gut can contribute to a wide range of chronic health disorders such as autoimmune conditions, allergies, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, depression and mood swings. Neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine are produced within the gut. Consume probiotic rich foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, kefir, and fermented vegetables to increase healthy flora while also eating prebiotic rich foods. This includes fruits, vegetables, and starchy tubers. Work with a practitioner to address any underlying gut infections or other gut issues.
- Manage (and interpreting) your stressors. Use meditation, yoga, and journaling daily to retrain your brain to respond appropriately to stress. Try deep breaths throughout the day to get into a parasympathetic, relaxed state as much as possible. Use meditation apps like Headspace if you have a hard time remembering to practice these techniques. Adaptogenic herbs can also be helpful for allowing the body to adapt to stress and regulate hormones.
- Make time for play. Prioritize time to do things you enjoy like dancing, singing, cooking, playing an instrument, running around with the kids, or reading a book. Unstructured play time can reduce depression and anxiety.
- Avoid toxins. Chemicals in cleaning and cosmetic products, heavy metals, mold and bacteria, and other environmental toxins can disrupt our cognitive function. Switch to toxin-free cleaning products and body care products that are safe. What you put on your skin is just as important as what you’re putting in your body. Check your home for mold exposure if you suspect it is an issue.
Have you tried implementing an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle? Have you considered the link between inflammation, food, and lifestyle contributing to mood disorders? Let me know.