I hate feeling depressed! After all, feeling depressed will ruin a perfectly good day! I’ve learned to make “mood management” one of my personal priorities and I’m determined to prevent unnecessary depression (or even “feeling blue”) and its nasty consequences! Why let a bad mood hinder my life, my relationships, my productivity, and my service to others?
Think about it… When we are depressed, anxious, or just not “at our best”, every area of our life can suffer. We become distracted by negative thoughts. We become self-focused instead of focused on others in a loving way. We lack energy for productivity and contributing to others. Positive decision-making becomes difficult. And research says that susceptibility to ugly things like heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, autoimmune diseases, and unwanted weight gain increase significantly if we are depressed. Who has time for any of that?
Unfortunately, too many individuals are tempted to manage their depressed mood with unhealthy strategies. Examples in our culture include:
- Excessive alcohol (episodic binge drinking or ongoing excessive drinking)
- Drug abuse (prescription or street drugs)
- Behavior addictions, such as inappropriate sex, pornography, or gambling
- Food excesses and addictions, i.e. “comfort foods” or binge eating
These inappropriate and unhealthy approaches to improving one’s mood, either on occasion or habitually, and consciously or subconsciously, are all recipes for disaster and ultimately a worsening of depression due to the negative long-term consequences. Especially when genetic susceptibilities exist, one or more of these can be the “self help” approaches of choice.
I believe each of us must take responsibility for managing our mood, preferably at very early stages of symptoms, when we are simply not feeling our best and we know we can feel better. The more severe the symptoms, the more difficult it is to pull out of it, so being proactive early is wise.
Relational Health: The Foundation
Relationships, including spiritual and human relationships, impact our mood.
So, it is worth clearly stating the research-based finding that those who pursue a healthy spiritual relationship with God (through prayer and worship gatherings) report fewer mood disorders than those who are not actively pursuing God. And we also know that healthy relationships with other people are keys to a good mood. Stress with or from others will certainly trigger depression!
Loving God and others can go a long way in laying a foundation for peace and joy, which is sometimes, but not always, 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 promote a healthy mood and avoid depression. Here we go…
Strategy #1: Nourish your brain!
Your brain will malfunction if you don’t consume essential nutrition… guaranteed!
Over a decade ago, I struggled to feel great on a consistent basis, especially during the winter months. Then I discovered I had low vitamin D. Once I supplemented adequately, the struggle disappeared, even during the winter. I now know that keeping my blood levels of vitamin D optimal is a key to a great mood for me.
There is a growing list of essential brain nutrients that, if insufficient, increase the risk of depression. And it makes sense. Our brain’s ability to make “feel good” chemicals depends upon having the proper ingredients for the recipe. Miss one or more ingredients, and you won’t get the result you want. Research has accumulated in recent years to show 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 single 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 and avoidance of mood disorders, including depression:
- Vitamin B-12
- Vitamin B-6
- Vitamin D
- Folate (folic acid is not recommended)
- Omega 3 Oils
Deficiencies are difficult (probably impossible) to correct with food alone due to the low concentrations of these nutrients in current common American foods. Supplements are simple and assure adequate intake of all essential nutrients. Why not take the possibility of nutrient insufficiency out of the equation?
Our Essential Nutrient Package exists for this purpose. By adding Vitamin D at 4,000 IU per day (2 capsules) to our ENP Package, the above nutrients are covered. Now you know the core supplements in my personal daily nutrient plan… and just one of the many reasons I take them daily! (Obviously, this is our clinic’s solution to essential nutrient needs. Other professional quality options are available. Shop wisely and then consume regularly.)
Strategy #2: Fitness time for health of Body AND Brain.
Fitness activities are one of the best-kept secrets for mood management.
Personally, I run outside essentially every day… 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”. An addiction is generally referring to something that causes harm. So, in that sense, it is not a true addiction. It’s more of a healthy habit that I really value, protect, and pursue.
If you also embrace fitness activities, you likely have felt the tangible benefits on your mood. For me, the proof of benefit is partly based on my experience and partly based on research.
Research has shown that fitness activities, including aerobic activities like jogging, using 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 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 and expense! Fitness activities work very 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 consistently good mood is a key to a quality life. It isn’t always automatic however. In fact, if we let others or our environment control the destiny of our mood, we are doomed for depression. Take charge of your mood! 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.