Note: This article was originally published in May 2015. Due to the interest, it has recently been updated and reposted. The opinions expressed by Dr. Tague are not meant as medical advice. Please see your physician for personal recommendations.
I hate feeling depressed! After all, feeling down can ruin a perfectly good day! “Mood management” is one of my personal priorities, preventing unnecessary depression (or even “feeling blue”) and its nasty consequences! After all, why let a bad mood hinder life, relationships, productivity, and our contribution to others?
Think about it… When we are depressed or even not “at our best”, every area of life can suffer. We have negative thoughts. We become self-focused instead of focused on loving others. We lack energy for productivity. Positive decisions become difficult. Depression increases susceptibility to ugly things like heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and unwanted weight gain increase. Who has time for any of that?
Unfortunately, too many individuals are tempted to manage their depressed mood with unhealthy strategies, such as:
- Isolation and avoidance of people and activities
- Food excesses and addictions, i.e. “comfort foods” or binge eating
- Behavior addictions, such as gambling, shopping, or pornography
- Alcohol excesses (binge drinking or chronic excessive drinking)
- Drug abuse (prescription or street drugs)
These unhealthy approaches to improving one’s mood, including comfort foods with its unwanted weight gain, are recipes for disaster due to the negative long-term consequences.
I believe we should proactively manage our mood, even if we are simply not feeling our best. The more severe the symptoms, the more difficult it is to pull out of it, so acting early is wise. How can we manage our mood?
First, Build a Foundation of Relational Health
Relationships, including spiritual and human relationships, impact our mood.
Research shows that those who pursue a healthy spiritual relationship with God (through prayer and worship gatherings) report fewer mood disorders. We also know that healthy relationships with people are a key to a good mood. Stress from others will certainly trigger depression!
Loving God and others (resolving any conflicts quickly) can go a long way in supporting peace and joy, which can be protective from depression. These traditional values have stood the test of time as strategies to support health of body and soul.
Beyond the foundation of our personal relationships, I believe there are 3 simple strategies that everyone can use to “battle the blues”. Here we go…
Strategy #1: Nourish your brain!
Your brain will malfunction if you don’t consume essential nutrients… guaranteed!
Over a decade ago, I struggled to feel great on a consistent basis, especially during the winter months. I dreaded every fall because I knew winter was coming! Then I discovered I had low vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin”. Once I supplemented properly, the struggle disappeared, even during the winter. I now know that keeping blood levels of vitamin D optimal is a key to a great mood.
Our brain’s ability to make “feel good” chemicals depends upon having the proper ingredients for the recipe. Leave out an ingredient, and you won’t get the result you want. Research has accumulated showing that missing one or more of the brain’s essential nutrients is a recipe for depression rather than joy!
It is SO easy to get all of these nutrients that there is no reason to let malnutrition of essential nutrients be a factor in depression. Yet insufficient intake is all too common. For years, every patient coming to me with depression was vitamin D deficient on their lab work. I believe getting proper nutrients (vitamin D is just one of many) is an obvious “step 1” as a strategy for a healthy mood.
Here is a partial list of research-based nutrients that impact mood, mental energy, and sense of well-being. There is solid evidence for each of these for the support of a healthy mood:
- Vitamin B-12
- Vitamin B-6
- Vitamin D
- Folate, as calcium folinate and other natural sources (Note: The synthetic “folic acid” in generic multivitamins is no longer recommended due to cancer risks)
- Omega 3 Oils
Nutrient deficiencies are difficult (sometimes impossible) to correct with food alone, due to the low concentrations of these nutrients in common American foods. Supplements are simple and assure adequate intake of all essential nutrients. If you struggle with depression, why note take the possibility of nutrient deficiency out of the equation?
Our Essential Nutrient Package (ENP) exists for this purpose. By adding Vitamin D at 4,000 IU per day to our ENP Package, the above nutrients are covered. (Obviously, this is our clinic’s solution to essential nutrient needs. Other professional quality options are available. Shop wisely and then consume regularly. Note: Iron is not included in the ENP package since it should be supplemented only if a blood test is performed first.)
Strategy #2: Fitness time for health of Body AND Brain.
Fitness activities are one of the best-kept secrets for mood management.
I run outside essentially every day for 20-25 minutes… Well, it’s more of a jog if I’m honest, but I’m out there moving. It’s part of my morning routine, as it has been for over 2 decades. I like to think of it as a “healthy addiction”.
If you are active, you likely have felt the improvement on your mood. Research has shown that fitness activities, including jogging, a treadmill, brisk walking, or bike riding, and anaerobic activities like strength training with weights give mood benefits. The keys are to be consistent and persistent. I recommend at least 5 days per week (7 is better) and 20-30 minutes per session for those that are struggling with their mood.
“Fitness time” at even 30 minutes 3 days per week has been shown to be as effective as commonly prescribed anti-depressants, but without the side effects! Fitness activities work well, within days or weeks, for most people to manage their depression!!!
Strategy #3: Sleep!
Sleep insufficiency is a sure way to aggravate depression!
Ever feel irritable late in the evening when it is past your normal bedtime? For those that are chronically short on sleep, that feeling can become the usual state of affairs. Sleep gives your brain a chance to “reset” itself and normalize the feel good chemicals that we all enjoy when we are getting our rest and feeling our best.
7-8 hours is ideal for most adults, youth need more. Unless you have a good reason to do otherwise, schedule yourself for 7 ½ hours of sleep each night, with consistent times of getting to bed and waking up.
If you struggle with sleep, Melatonin is a natural sleep aid that I recommend as a first approach instead of medications. Our small 1 mg tablets are designed for flexible dosing. ½ tablet is adequate for some people, others need up to 3 tablets (3 mg). However, using the minimum effective dose, and taking it 1-2 hours before bedtime is preferred to optimize sleep, morning alertness, and maximum mood.
Then, each morning, after a good night’s sleep, consider a mood-elevating cup of coffee and your fitness time to start your day off right!
Maintaining a good mood is a key to a quality life. It isn’t always automatic. If we let others or our environment determine our mood, we are doomed for depression. Take charge! Invest in brain health (and a great mood) through excellent nutrition, stimulating fitness, proper sleep, and the nurturing of all your key relationships!
And remember, Optimum Health is ALWAYS worth the effort.
For Optimum Health,
Rick Tague, M.D., M.