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Feeling down? Try these five natural mood boosters

October 11, 2021

Feeling down in the dumps. Gloomy. Bummed out. Down in the mouth. Out of sorts. 

We sure do have lots of expressions for feeling sad. Maybe that’s because everybody gets the blues now and then. It’s normal and completely understandable. 

Even if we’re generally happy people and are very content with our lives, sadness can sometimes creep in. The loss of a friend or pet, a missed opportunity, a regret, a frustration with life, Seasonal Affective Disorder — sometimes, it’s nothing at all — may knock us a little sideways emotionally.

Fortunately, human beings tend to be very resilient. Often, we can right our own ship by employing a few natural mood boosters.

A quick word about depression

There’s a difference between occasionally feeling blue and experiencing depression. Depression tends to linger, while sadness often lifts as we heal from our emotional pain. Sadness also lightens when we do something that makes us happy. Sadness is a normal part of growing  older; depression is not.

It may help you to understand the symptoms of depression, especially if you’re an older adult:

  • Problems with memory or personality changes
  • Physical aches or pain
  • Fatigue, loss of appetite, sleep problems
  • Wanting to stay at home instead of socializing or trying something new
  • Suicidal feelings, especially if you’re an older man

If you’re struggling with these symptoms, talk with your doctor or mental health professional as quickly as you can.

If you don’t think you’re depressed but you’re still feeling a lingering sadness, perhaps you’ll want to try a few  lifestyle changes to boost your mood. As with anything, before you add new foods to your diet, make changes to your exercise routine, or begin taking any new medications — even over-the-counter medications — seek out medical advice from your health care professional first.

Five natural mood boosters

Food

Let’s start with the connection between moods and foods. Often adjusting your diet is sometimes the easiest place to begin, because “fixing the food first” can lead to quicker results and is much more pleasurable than taking a regimen of pills. 

Harvard Health Publishing released a paper about the relatively new field of nutritional psychiatry, which looks at how the foods we eat affect how we feel. The paper discussed a recent study showing that eating a healthy, balanced diet such as the Mediterranean diet and avoiding inflammation-producing foods may protect against depression. Another study outlined an Antidepressant Food Scale, which lists 12 antidepressant nutrients related to the prevention and treatment of depression.

Need a bit more convincing that food and mood are intertwined? Researchers recently compared traditional diets, like the Mediterranean diet and the Japanese diet, against the Western diet. Those studies showed the risk of depression is 35% lower in people who eat traditional diets. 

Traditional diets are high in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains, fish and seafood; contain only modest amounts of lean meats and dairy; and are void of processed and refined foods and sugars. Western diets are usually highly processed foods that include refined sugars, fat and red meat.

Incorporate these mood-boosting foods into your diet:

  • Fatty fish. Fatty fish like salmon and albacore tuna are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may lower your risk of depression. Omega-3 fatty acids also appear to play key roles in how well your brain functions, like cell signaling.
  • Nuts and seeds. Pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds, along with tree nuts like almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts, pine nuts and pistachios, are high in plant-based proteins, healthy fats and fiber. They also provide tryptophan, an amino acid that produces serotonin, a known mood booster.
  • Beans and lentils. Beans and lentils are also high in plant-based fiber and protein. They’re an excellent source of B vitamins, which get credit for improving mood by increasing levels of serotonin and dopamine. 
  • Oats. Oats like oatmeal, granola and muesli are great sources of fiber. Fiber helps slow the digestion of carbs and allows a gradual release of sugar into the bloodstream, keeping energy levels stable.
  • Berries. Any berry, from the strawberry to the blueberry to the raspberry, is rich with antioxidants, which manage inflammation. Berries are also high in phenolic compounds, and diets rich in phenolic compounds are associated with a 39% lower risk of depression.
  • Dark leafy greens. Greens like kale, Swiss chard, spinach, romaine and turnip greens are high in antioxidants; some are also high in omega-3 fatty acids, the same ones found in fatty fish. One study showed that eating about two extra servings of green leafy veggies a day reduced the risk of Type 2 diabetes by 14%. Other studies show a possible connection between eating greens and increased immune function.

Exercise

Working out releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters that can enhance your sense of well-being. Exercise also helps reduce feelings of anxiety, stress and depression. Exercising with others not only strengthens our bodies; it also strengthens our social connections: Both staying active and maintaining friendships have been proven essential to healthier aging. 

Though researchers aren’t exactly sure why, some recent studies show people who exercise outside report a higher level of vitality, enthusiasm, pleasure and self-esteem, and less tension, depression and fatigue. Even a simple walk while surrounded by nature can produce these feelings.

Also, people who exercise outside say they’re more likely to exercise again than people who exercise indoors. So instead of hopping on a treadmill or elliptical bike, go for a walk on a nature trail or take your bicycle to a paved path in your neighborhood park. You’ll find more emotional and physical benefits waiting for you than doing it indoors. Speaking of the benefits of getting outside, consider the power of the sun.

Sunshine

Sunlight provides our bodies with Vitamin D, which we can’t make naturally. Your mood can improve with around 15 to 30 minutes of sunlight exposure a day. Some studies have shown Vitamin D can protect us from depression but also osteoporosis, cancer and heart attacks.

Vitamin D can also ease the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is depression associated with late autumn and winter and thought to be prompted by lack of sunlight and shorter days. 

Natural oral remedies

There are other natural mood boosters you may consider. However, before starting any oral medication, you should know many natural remedies aren’t approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and are therefore not tested for safety and effectiveness. You should seek medical advice from your doctor before beginning any of these natural remedies.

Fish oil. We mentioned the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, but if you’re not a fish fan, you can still get these fatty acids in your diet with fish oil. Liquid fish oils are highly concentrated so they may give you higher doses of omega-3 than eating fish. However, talk with your doctor before starting fish oil because it can increase the chance of bleeding.

St. John’s wort. This herb has been used for centuries to treat anxiety and low mood. Though some studies are mixed about its efficacy, other studies suggest it works better than placebo for reducing the symptoms of mild depression.

Saffron. This spice is loaded with antioxidant compounds and has been shown to increase levels of the mood-boosting serotonin in the brain. While it’s unknown exactly how this process works, it’s thought that saffron keeps serotonin in the brain longer by inhibiting serotonin reuptake.

Multivitamins. Folate, B and D vitamins, calcium and magnesium are all considered superb mood boosters. Talk with your doctor about which daily multivitamin they recommend for you.

Human connection

Researchers have spent decades looking at the link between strong social ties and reduced risk of depression. And it’s true that those who have strong social connections have lower levels of anxiety and depression. However, as we age, we tend to lose our social ties with neighbors, friends and family. Isolation is associated with cognitive decline and declines in physical health.

One of the ways older adults can strengthen their social connections is by choosing to live in Episcopal SeniorLife Communities. Whether you’re looking for independent living, assisted living, memory care or skilled nursing, you’ll find our commitment to providing an environment that allows you to get the most out of every day.

Contact us today to start what could become a life-changing conversation. Living at Episcoal SeniorLife Communities could be the true mood booster you’ve been looking for.

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