While you’ve heard that eating a healthy, balanced diet is good for your physical health, it can also benefit your mental health. Researchers in Australia studied the link between diet and mental health and found lower rates of depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder among those who consumed a traditional diet of meat and vegetables than among people who followed a modern Western diet heavy with processed and fast foods or even a health-food diet of tofu and salads. In addition to cutting back on processed foods and junk food, certain foods provide mental health benefits including:
- Omega 3 fatty acids: Omega 3 fatty acids play an important role in brain function. When consumed, serotonin is released in the brain and helps to reduce mood swings and depression symptoms. They can be found in seafood, such as salmon, as well as flaxseed and walnuts.
- Tryptophan: Tryptophan produces serotonin which is often low in those with depression. Tryptophan can be found in red meat, dairy products, soy, and turkey.
- Vitamin B6: Individuals with depression often have low levels of Vitamin B6, which can be found in grains such as cereals, brown rice, and breads. Chicken, corn, eggs, legumes, nuts, peas, and sunflower seeds are also rich in B vitamins.
- Green Tea: Green Tea is an incredibly rich source of antioxidants and contains an amino acid, theanine, that has been shown to provide an anti-stress relaxation benefit.
Physical activity is increasingly recognized as an effective tool to treat depression and anxiety, according to a recent study by the University of Toronto. Moderate exercise can prevent episodes of depression in the long term and also keep anxiety and depression from reoccurring. Thirty minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week can significantly improve depression and anxiety symptoms. But psychologists studying how exercise relieves depression and anxiety suggest that exercising for as little as 10 minutes can deliver several hours of relief. Benefits of regular exercise include:
- Stress Reduction: Exercise slows down the release of stress-related hormones.
- Self Esteem Boost: Doing something good for yourself, like exercise, makes you feel better about yourself.
- Improved Sleep: Daily exercise can improve sleep quality and exercising consistently can provide improvements in sleep over time.
Just as exercise can improve your mood and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, so can sleep. Evidence suggests that people with insomnia have a ten-fold risk of developing depression compared to those that sleep well. Depressed individuals may suffer from a range of insomnia symptoms including difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, and daytime sleepiness. Here are some tips for getting a good night’s sleep.
- Set a regular bedtime. Go to bed at the same time every night. Choose a time when you normally feel tired, so that you don’t toss and turn. Try not to break this routine on weekends when it may be tempting to stay up late.
- Wake up at the same time every day. If you’re getting enough sleep, you should wake up naturally without an alarm. If you need an alarm clock to wake up on time, you may need to set an earlier bedtime. As with your bedtime, try to maintain your regular wake-time even on weekends.
- Create a comfortable atmosphere. You want to make sure your room is conducive to sleeping. Often, this means cool, dark and quiet. Consider using shades, ear plugs or a noise machine to help you sleep. Also, research suggests that screen time or other media use before bedtime can interrupt sleep.
Symptoms of depression and anxiety often occur during times of stress. Taking steps to reduce stress in your life and maintain a healthy lifestyle can improve your symptoms and keep them from reoccurring. It’s also important to remember that depression and mood disorders are not the same for everyone. Understanding how to make small adjustments in your life to positively impact your depression can help you cope. Talk with your doctor or therapist about how nutrition, exercise, and sleep fit in with your treatment plan.
Exercise for Mood and Anxiety, Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being, by Michael W. Otto, PhD, and Jasper A.J. Smits, PhD (Oxford University Press, 2011)