Low mood and depression is sometimes described as having a portable black cloud following you around. Many sufferers report feeling sad, low, tearful or hopeless. Other common symptoms include lack of energy, difficulties concentrating and feeling unsociable. The current lock-down restrictions combined with dark winter days and uncertainty about the future has unsurprising taking its toll on many people’s mental health. Below are 7 suggestions for ways to lift your mood:
What we eat can have a big impact on our mood. Whilst when we are feeling low many people crave comforting carbohydrates, ensuring you are getting sufficient protein is much more beneficial. Amino acids (which make up proteins) are the building blocks for feel-good neurotransmitters in the brain. Whilst carbohydrates make us feel good initially, sugary foods and refined carbohydrates can become addictive and be precipitated by a crash in blood sugars and a corresponding crash in energy and mood.
Therefore, opting for lower glycaemic index (GI) complex carbohydrates such as oats, wholegrain rice and quinoa, rather than sugary/refined carbs such as white bread, pasta, cakes and sweets is recommended. A Mediterranean style diet, rich in colourful fruit, vegetables and anti-inflammatory omega 3 from oily fish appears to be particularly beneficial for those suffering with low mood.
Reduced exposure to daylight over the winter months is thought to play a crucial role in the winter blues, as it disrupts our circadian rhythms and reduces serotonin production. If you particularly struggle with getting up in the dark mornings, using a daylight alarm-clock (which gradually wakes the user up by emulating sunrise) can make getting out of bed far less painful, and they can also be used as a daylight lamp at other times of the day. Making sure you get outdoors each day, even for 15 minutes on your lunch break, ensuring your work area is light and airy and sitting near windows may also help.
Our gut bacteria (the microbiome) helps to regulate the production of numerous neurotransmitters and the signals that are sent from the gut to the brain via the vagus nerve. The gut is increasingly being seen as the second brain, so it’s perhaps unsurprising that studies are showing promising results in mood disorders from interventions designed to improve gut microbial balance. The live bacteria supplement Bio-Kult Advanced Multi-Strain Formulation 60 capsules £17.40 – was recently used in a study at The University of Oxford on low mood. The paper is still to be published; however, the trial was covered in a recent BBC documentary – The Truth About Improving Your Mental Health.
This was a double-blind placebo controlled trial in 70 people who were experiencing low mood, half were given placebo and the other half were given Bio-Kult. They were taking 2 capsules twice a day for a month. The participants reported their mood via a Patient Health Questionnaire for Depression (PHQ-9 Questionnaire), additionally cortisol levels were tested through salivary analysis. The result from the documentary showed a 20% improvement in mood for those in the placebo group versus a 50% improvement in mood in those taking Bio-Kult. The supplement group also reported a 50% improvement in their concentration. While there were no effects on cortisol levels in the placebo group, the Bio-Kult group saw a decrease in cortisol levels in their saliva, which suggests lower stress levels.
Tryptophan is the pre-cursor to serotonin (our happy hormone). As an essential amino acid, the body cannot create it and we must obtain it from the food we eat. However, only around 3% of dietary tryptophan is utilised for serotonin production (and this may be reduced even further in times of stress). Ensuring you have good sources of tryptophan in the diet, such as turkey, beef, bananas, beans, cottage cheese, nuts and seeds is therefore important. Interestingly, research also suggests that the composition of our gut bacteria can affect the metabolism of tryptophan, increasing the pool available for conversion to serotonin in the brain. Another reason to look after your gut health!
A common observation in those who suffer with certain types of low mood, for example SAD, is disrupted circadian rhythms (which dictates our sleep and waking cycle). If you need an excessive amount of sleep just to function properly, yet still often feel tired, this could be an indication that your body clock is out of sync. Following a set routine, where you wake, eat, exercise and go to bed at the same times every day may help. As will limiting your exposure to artificial light and electronic devices.
Sometimes it feels like there is a lot of pressure to put on a brave face and push on with our hectic daily lives regardless of how we are feeling. Whilst getting out of the house, exercising and seeing friends can have great therapeutic benefits, it may not be what you need all the time. It’s important to listen to what your body is telling you.
Traditionally the winter months are a time when things slow down, when we naturally become more inward focused and reflective. If you feel slightly less energy and zest for life this could be viewed as an example of how you are still connected to nature and able to follow the natural patterns of the seasons. If you need to curl up with a good book or film, have a long bath or take it easy at the weekend, allow yourself to do so without guilt.
Feeling low, anxious, stressed or depressed is much more common than you think (especially in the current climate), and there is no need to go through it alone. If you’re feeling low, talk to a close friend or family member and explain how you’re feeling. Just having someone listen may help get you through a particularly difficult day. Many also find cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and other talking therapies beneficial, so speak to your GP if you would like additional support.
Hannah Braye is a Nutritional Therapist at Bio-Kult