In our modern fast-paced world, we are dealing with an epidemic of depression, anxiety and chronic stress. But integrative medicine can offer a lot in terms of holistic approaches that can naturally help you improve your mood – here are 10 simple strategies:
1. Eat a balanced diet. Can diet really help mood? Yes! In fact there was a clinical trial showing that a special diet over 12 weeks greatly reduced depression. This was very similar to The Paleovedic Diet, which I recommend, and basically includes vegetables, fruits, whole grains, poultry and fish, plenty of nuts, and olive oil. It also minimizes sweets, refined cereals, processed meats, and sweetened beverages. Eating right for your body type is even better and that’s where Ayurveda can help customize a diet for each person.
2. Get moving. You don’t need to go to the gym every day but exercise helps release endorphins which are your feel-good hormones and even 20 minutes of walking a day can be beneficial. Even better would be doing some weights or resistance training a few times a week. Exercise is one of the most powerful antidepressants.
3. Sunlight. Light is very important for our circadian rhythms and our body clock. In winter months many people suffer from depression because of lack of sunlight exposure and even get treatment for this with a lightbox. Also sunlight helps your body make vitamin D which is actually a hormone, not a vitamin, that plays a critical role in healthy mood.
4. Get more sleep. Chronic sleep deprivation is the norm for most of us. Sleep plays a vital role in resting our brain and allowing our hormones and neurotransmitters to be balanced; this in turn plays a key role in improving the way that we are feeling.
5. Get connected. We are social animals but there’s an epidemic of isolation and loneliness going on right now. Get out and meet people and strengthen the relationships in your life. Don’t rely just on social media – use it to connect with people off-line and in person. Having a sense of community and connection is vital for feeling good.
6. For anxiety consider L-Theanine. What is L-Theanine? It is an amino acid that is not common in the diet. It is found mostly in different types of tea — especially green tea. It is a relaxing agent but does not cause drowsiness or sedation. L-Theanine is known to cross the blood brain barrier and have effects in the brain. While present in a low level in green tea, L Theanine needs to be taken in a much higher dose to be an effective treatment for anxiety. Typically it’s taken in a dosage of 200 mg once or twice daily after food.
7. For anxiety consider curcumin. Actually turmeric in the supplement form, curcumin, has been shown to be beneficial for anxiety in a few research studies and works quite quickly, working within 30 days typically. While using the whole spice as turmeric powder has a lot of health benefits, reducing anxiety quickly is not one of them. This is because curcumin is only about 3% by weight of turmeric. So if you want to use curcumin for anxiety you really need to take curcumin in a capsule form, around 500 mg a day.
8. For depression consider St. John’s wort. St. John’s wort has been shown to be quite powerful and effective and in fact comparable in efficacy to many antidepressants; however, it is an herb that has a lot of drug interactions. For example, it can affect the function of birth control pills, immunosuppressants, blood thinners, etc. If you are not taking any medications, then it is a reasonable therapy for depression to try. Remember that it can take up to 4 to 6 weeks to have its full effect.
9. For depression consider fish oil. In cases of depression, there is evidence to support taking fish oil as a supplement to help uplift mood. If you are really struggling with depression, aim for at least 2000 mg daily of the active ingredients of fish oil. The two active components are EPA and DHA. Together these should add up to 2000 mg per day.
10. For chronic stress or burnout consider Ashwaganda, one of the most powerful Ayurvedic herbs. It is contraindicated in any cases of high thyroid. On the contrary if you have low thyroid then it can actually help your thyroid function. But for chronic stress, ashwagandha helps regulate your hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis, known as the HPA axis, which is usually disrupted by ongoing or long-term stress. The herb helps lower abnormally high cortisol levels and thus helps counteract the effects of high cortisol like fatigue and weight gain.
Of course incorporating mind-body techniques like meditation, pranayama or breathing exercises, and yoga can be immensely helpful as well. To learn more about naturally resolving depression, anxiety, or chronic stress, as well as the Ayurvedic perspective on improving mood, please check out my online course presenting a holistic approach to these issues.