Your Mood Matters: A guide to keeping on top of your mental health during the global pandemic.
If this article finds you lacking energy, motivation and with a low mood, you’re not alone. It has been reported that up to 10% of Australian’s are currently experiencing similar feelings; and up to a third of us have faced high levels of worry and anxiety due to the current pandemic.
This is hardly surprising, given these unprecedented times, and is completely normal. If you find, however, that you are starting to feel flat and lethargic more often than not, it might be time to make some changes.
With restrictions currently in place you may be feeling limited by all the things you can’t do; however, below are some suggestions that can be put in place no matter the situation. Setting simple goals and making small changes can often be all we need to gain a fresh perspective and an improved mindset.
- Eat better, feel better
Research suggests that those who consistently eat good quantities of healthy, unprocessed foods are less likely to experience low moods. This is due to many factors, including:
- Increased vitamin and mineral consumption. Improving nutrient intake literally fuels the body to create more energy, as well as to feed the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine.
- Lowering inflammation. Inflammation does not just refer to physical stiffness or pain. We are now learning that inflammation within the brain is directly associated with impacts on mood and, potentially, depression.
- Improved diversity of the microbiome. The landscape of the gut and its associated bacterial colonies are crucial to all aspects of health, including our brains and moods.
Whole, unprocessed foods are those that come without plastic packaging. Think fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, lentils, wholegrains and meat. Try to avoid heavily processed carbohydrates and trans-saturated fatty acids such as those found in ‘white’ foods (sugar, flour etc), and packaged snack foods like chips, cakes and lollies.
- Go to the Mediterranean (in spirit that is!)
While travel to the white-washed walls of the Greek islands might seem to be a lifetime away, there’s no stopping us from adopting the plant-based Mediterranean diet. This model of eating has been associated with lower incidences of anxiety, depression and psychological distress, as well as improved cardiovascular health. It includes:
- Increased consumption of seasonal fruits and vegetables.
- Wholegrains over refined grains (i.e. no ‘white’ foods which are subject to high levels of processing and stripped of key nutrients such as fibre and B vitamins).
- Use of healthy fats. Olive oil is a key component of the Mediterranean diet both in cooking and as a condiment. Other healthy fats include those found in avocados, as well as the ‘essential fatty acids’ which are found in foods like fish, walnuts, flaxseeds and chia seeds.
- Limited intake of red meat. Red meat tends to be higher in saturated fat and has also been shown to be inflammatory to the body. Substitute red meat for fish or seafood, chicken, or vegetarian protein sources such as legumes and lentils.
- Balance Blood Sugar
Unstable blood sugar levels over the course of the day can leave us feeling ‘hangry’, jittery, and lacking energy. All of which could be mistaken for low mood, anxiety, and a lack of motivation. To ensure that low blood sugar is not the cause of your low mood, be sure to include a steady supply of protein and fibre in your meals and snacks over the course of the day. These nutrients encourage stability in blood sugar levels and subsequent energy release.
Great snack ideas might include raw veggie sticks with hummus, cut up fruit with nut butter, raw nuts and seeds, or hard-boiled eggs.
- Reduce or Avoid Stimulants
For those experiencing anxiety, limiting or avoiding dietary stimulants (including caffeine and alcohol), can be especially beneficial. The use of stimulants contributes to an already heightened and overactive nervous system, impairing rest, sleep and basic functioning. The loss of sleep over time can also contribute to depression. Research has also shown that the severity of depression can increase with higher daily levels of caffeine intake.
Aerobic exercise such as running or walking for at least 30 minutes, three times a week has been shown to improve symptoms in people diagnosed with depression. Exercise reduces the negative effects of stress on the brain, increases neurotransmitter production to support a healthy mood, and improves sleep quality.
Current Australian guidelines for optimum health recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. It is also recommended to start slowly to avoid injury and pain. You can do this by setting small, achievable goals that can be built upon on over time.
- Consider a proven supplement
A study conducted on 123 individuals with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) found that the combination of turmeric and saffron significantly improved symptoms of depression and anxiety. Since this study, several smaller studies have also confirmed these findings.
Magnesium and B vitamins are also nutrients that have been shown to support a healthy stress response, improving resistance to psychological stressors and facilitating the production of key neurotransmitters within the brain.
If you are interested in finding out more about using herbal and nutritional supplements for mood support, please contact the Peninsula Herbal Dispensary on (03) 5977 0117.
- Improve Your Sleep
Good sleep is critical for good mental health. Sleeping allows our brain to rest, repair and process information; while poor sleep has been linked to higher rates of low mood, depression, and anxiety.
Unfortunately, sleep can also be notoriously difficult to improve. Starting with ‘sleep hygiene’ however, can go a long way toward getting higher quality sleep and improving both mental and physical health.
Start by checking off this list and see how many of these tips you can follow:
- Aim to go to bed at the same time every night and rise at the same time each morning.
- Avoid caffeine 4-6 hours prior to sleep; even more if you know you are sensitive to its effects.
- Try not to eat too late or drink too much fluid close to bedtime. This helps to avoid indigestion, as well as multiple trips to the bathroom overnight.
- Keep the bedroom free of electronics. If you must use your mobile phone as an alarm, keep it strictly set to flight mode while you are in bed – no late-night scrolling or checking emails!
- Read, meditate, or write in a journal for five to 15 minutes prior to sleep.
- Do a ‘bedroom check’ – Is your bed comfortable? Are your pyjamas and bedding comfortable? Is your bedroom the right temperature and suitably darkened?
- Find your ‘Spirituality’
The word spirituality can be polarising for some people; however, it need only refer to the overall intention and aim to feel connected to the universe or ‘something bigger’. This might be through mindfulness, yoga, practising daily gratitude, looking for meaning in your life, journaling, structured religion, meditation, or helping others.
Physical symptoms of stress can be also be reduced through relaxation exercises, including activities that involve progressive muscle relaxation and breathing control. Some great apps that provide access to guided meditation include:
- Headspace – https://www.headspace.com/
- Smiling Mind – https://www.smilingmind.com.au/
- My Life – https://my.life/
- Calm – https://www.calm.com/
- Insight Timer – https://insighttimer.com/
- This Way Up – https://covid19.thiswayup.org.au/
If low mood feels like it is getting on top of you, don’t wait to reach out. In these unprecedented times it’s fairly likely that those around you may be struggling too. As humans, we have an innate need to feel connected to others, just as a child feels connected to their parent. This tells us that we are cared for and heard, comforted in times of need. When we lose those connections, we can feel lonely, sad and afraid.
Having a chat (over the phone or on Zoom/Skype if you’re in lock down) can be a great way to gain support and understanding. Where possible, organise to meet with a friend for an appropriately socially distanced walk or a kick of the footy.
- Seek Professional Help
Beyond Blue – If you feel particularly isolated, or like your friends and family will not understand and can’t help, it doesn’t mean you’re on your own. Beyond Blue is a fantastic resource which provides a host of trusted information and support to those struggling with low mood and depression. You can call them on 1300 224 636 or you can choose to chat online with someone between the hours of 3pm and midnight by visiting their website: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
Psychologist – Seeking counselling can be very beneficial for some individuals experiencing low mood. The psychologist may offer you some strategies in managing worrying and negative thoughts and can help you to understand your feelings more clearly. You don’t necessarily need a referral from a GP to see a psychologist, however, you can request a Mental Health Treatment Plan from your GP to claim rebates through Medicare. Private health insurance with extras cover may also cover some of the cost of the consultations.
Natural Healthcare Practitioner – Natural healthcare practitioners are also a powerful resource to assist in assessing for possible nutrient deficiencies as well as providing herbal and nutritional support to reduce feelings of anxiety and/or depression.
For further information or to book a consultation with Laura or Kimberley contact the clinic on 5977 0117 or visit the website peninsulaherbaldispensary.com.au to book online.
This article is intended to be informational only and represents the opinion of the author. It is not intended to be used as medical advice and does not take the place of advice from a qualified health care practitioner in a clinical setting. Please check with your healthcare practitioner before embarking upon any of the treatments discussed.