We all want to be happy. Unfortunately for us, happiness seems to be more elusive now than ever before. If you suffer from low moods, you’re not alone – we’re now ten times more likely to have anxiety and depression than we were only a generation ago, and one in five Americans takes a prescription drug to treat a mental health condition.
But don’t worry – you CAN improve your happiness, energy and motivation levels!
Oftentimes when we try to improve our happiness, we turn to changing our circumstances, our mental outlook or our spirituality. After all, that’s what we’re being told to do – the New York Times, for example, says the formula for happiness is “genes, events and values.” And these components are all important.
But there are other factors that we should pay more attention to – your health and how well you take care of yourself! Here are five ways to make sure your body is getting what it needs for optimal brain biochemistry:
1. Keep your blood sugar stable. Unstable or high blood sugar levels (dysglycemia or hyperglycemia), have been linked to many diseases including diabetes and heart disease, and they’re also common in people who suffer from depression or low mood. Your blood sugar levels are disrupted by sugar, stress and stimulants. Avoid all three.
Keep you levels under control by eating moderate portions of whole foods a few times throughout the day – lots of whole vegetables and fruits, gluten free whole grains, organic and sustainable meat and fish, and healthy fats like nuts, olives, extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil and avocados. Whole fruit with the fiber included will NOT wreak havok on your blood sugar. What will is fruit juice, dried fruit, and processed foods like white bread, bars and granola.
2. Be nutrient sufficient – About a third of the nutrients you eat are used by the brain. If your brain isn’t getting what it needs, it just doesn’t work as well. Essential fatty acids especially are necessary for the body to both make serotonin and to receive serotonin signals from one neuron to another. Try adding wild salmon, avocado, flax and pumpkin seeds and walnuts into your diet. You can also add a good quality omega-3 supplement (take as directed on the bottle).
You also need adequate levels of B vitamins, folic acid, zinc, chromium and magnesium. B complex should be taken in the morning since it can boost energy, and magnesium should be taken before bed since it can help with sleep and relaxation.
3. Keep allergies in check – Food allergies can affect your mood in a not so nice way. Listen to your body and avoid things you don’t respond well to. If you want to be tested for allergies, a nutritionist can give you a blood test. You can also try an elimination diet to identify what you’re allergic to.
Everyone is different, but many, many people are sensitive to wheat (gluten) and dairy. These foods contain exorphins, chemicals that can block endorphins. On top of that, the protein in each of these foods (gluten and casein) is difficult to digest, taking a toll on your digestive system.
4. Get your amino acids – Stress can upset the balance of essential neurotransmitters like serotonin, adrenalin and nonadrenalin, which affects mood and motivation levels. Amino acids (the building blocks of protein) help manufacture these neurotransmitters, and can be found in foods including oats, quinoa, meat, fish, and eggs. We need to include protein in our diet, but sometimes supplementation is also needed to sufficiently elevate your mood.
If you want to try supplementing with amino acids, you can start with a gram each of phenylalanine and tyrosine in the morning (have the tyrosine on an empty stomach), and 100 mg of 5-HTP twice a day. I personally take all three of these supplements and they’ve helped me immensely!
Note – If you are on anti depressants, talk to your doctor before supplementing with amino acids, since the amino acids can affect serotonin levels. Always consult your doctor before stopping prescription medication.
5. Work it out – We all know about this one, and that’s because it’s so well documented that it works. In The Cortisol Connection, Shawn Talbott tells us, “Exercise (thirty minutes per day, three to four days a week, for four months) can be as effective as prescription antidepressants in relieving symptoms of anxiety and depression.”
Exercise helps reduce your cortisol levels (increased by stress), and increase serotonin (decreased by stress) and produces endorphins. Exercise a little more on the intense side, such as weight lifting, will burn off more stress, but don’t overdo it or you’ll be putting even more stress on your body. I try to get in a more intense bootcamp type class a couple of times a week and then power walk, jog or play tennis ideally most of the other days. Whatever you like to do is wonderful as long as you’re doing it.
If you have any questions on implementing any of these tips please reach out to me or leave a comment below. Sustained happiness is attainable and you can get there!
For more information, see Patrick Holford’s Optimum Nutrition for the Mind.