Written by: Bonnie Feldman, DDS, MBA, Anna Simon, Ellen M. Martin
Depressed mood is a common symptom of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases. Even healthy people may feel fluctuations in mood from factors such as hormones, life events, fatigue, and even the foods you eat. We want you to feel like your best self, so we researched how food, movement, and other lifestyle factors can contribute to affecting your mood. Here are our best tips to naturally improve your mood:
Reach out to loved ones
Spending time with people you care about can instantly brighten your day. It’s okay to ask for help or talk about your feelings— your friends and family can be a great source of advice and empathy or at least sympathetic listeners. Be careful who you reach out to; most of us have draining or toxic people in our lives as well. Avoid dealing with them when you are already down or anxious. Even better than talk, physical touch has been shown to improve your mood and health, so make sure you give your loved ones a hug. Read about the science of touch here.
Get enough sleep
It’s so easy to let the stress of work, family, and home bumping against the limitations of your condition turn into sleepless nights and sleep-deprived days. Make sleep a top priority–let your family know you need enough sleep, schedule your 7-9 hour slot, follow best sleep hygiene practices, darken your bedroom, dim your screen an hour before sleep time, make your bed and bedroom a peaceful refuge.
Spend time in nature
- Simply being in nature can lift your mood. This study showed that natural environments increase mood and self-esteem, reduce mental fatigue, alleviate stress, and more.¹
- Take a walk to a nearby park and soak in the sunlight and greenery surrounding you, head to the beach to listen to the soothing sound of the ocean, find a babbling creek or waterfall, or take a hike and listen to the birds chirping in the trees.
- Take up gardening, even in a small way. Seeing your efforts rewarded with beauty is a source of renewable delight.
- Pay attention to the rhythms of nature: observe the changing of the seasons, the apparent movement of the sun, the phases of the moon. Star-gazing is a great activity for insomnia because it gets you out of bed and cooled down without too much light that may wake you up further. Plus, the stars and planets offer an expanded perspective beyond your everyday routine.
- See movement below–taking a walk is an easy way to step up activity and mood.
Listen to happy music
- Have you ever listened to sad music when you’re feeling down just to wallow in your own sadness? Well, to make yourself feel happier, this study suggests that listening to positive music with the intention to become happier can improve your mood.²
- Use music to prompt you to dance or as background to your exercise or other activities.
- Learn to sing, an activity that engages your mind and body, harnesses conscious breathing, and that you can use to accompany otherwise dull tasks.
Break your routine
I’ve always found that when I do the same routine every day and the days begin to blend together, making a conscious effort to do something new makes a huge difference. Talk to a friend you haven’t seen in a while, go see a movie, try a new restaurant, or even take a different route to work. Adding in little activities like these make each day a little more memorable. Be mindful of what’s around you–it’s easy to focus on your feelings or problems and forget to smell the roses that are all around you.
Choose positive activities for fun
Choose hobbies or activities that boost your mood. Maybe binge-watching Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones isn’t such a good idea? Read a comforting book or one that takes the characters on a positive journey, even if there are sad or tragic aspects along the way. Think about how your choices of books and movies reflect and affect your mood. Plan outings within your limitations; maybe a matinee play or opera is easier than going out at night. Dress up and meet friends for coffee, a meal, or cocktails.
Meditate, pray or worship
If you are a believer, religion has been a source of human solace for millennia. Regular participation in prayer and ritual can soothe and offer much-needed perspective. If you are not a believer, you can still use the tools developed for spiritual practices, such as meditation and reciting mantras, to take you out of yourself and improve your perspective.
Smiling tricks your brain into thinking you’re happy, thus making you actually feel happier. Even just smiling or laughing at nothing in particular can boost your mood. Seek out humor: even funny cat videos have their uses!
Avoid inflammatory foods
Inflammatory foods increase inflammation in the body, tend to exacerbate disease symptoms, and can lead to reduced mood. These foods include processed meats, sodas and sugary beverages, salty snacks, packaged sweets, and refined carbohydrates.
Eat anti-inflammatory foods
On the other hand, anti-inflammatory foods help to reduce inflammation in the body and may reduce symptoms, including depressed mood; these are therefore the foods you should focus on including in your diet. Luckily, there are many anti-inflammatory foods, including turmeric, ginger, green leafy vegetables, berries, flax and chia seeds, walnuts and almonds, olive oil, and salmon. Overall, eating lots of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and healthy fats contributes to a healthy diet and a healthy mind!
The gut microbiome is linked to mental health via the gut-brain axis, meaning what you eat can significantly affect not just your mood, but also your overall mental health.³
- Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to lessen symptoms of depression and anxiety. Fish including salmon and sardines, as well as chia seeds and walnuts, are good sources of this nutritious compound.
- Leafy greens are another vital food for keeping your mood up. Greens contain folate, which, in deficit, is associated with depression.
- There is also a link between Vitamin D deficiency and depression, so eating foods such as salmon, cheese, and eggs may help improve your mood.
- And yes— chocolate can boost your mood. Compounds in cocoa have been shown to boost endorphins and leave you feeling a little happier. We recommend eating dark chocolate to minimize your sugar intake.
Check out our guide to food therapy to learn more about nutrition and how to experiment with food as therapy.
Finally, don’t let your dietary guidelines become so rigid that eating stops being fun. Within the constraints of your condition, find occasional treats to break the routine and brighten life up. Maybe it’s a piece of gluten-free birthday cake, or berries and cream, or chocolate-covered almonds, or a glass of wine, but find the treats that you can tolerate and build them into your week.
Get some morning exercise
It is commonly known that exercise leads to improved mood by increasing levels of serotonin and endorphins. Start your day off on the right foot: go for a walk, do some yoga, or stretch (which can be more beneficial than you think). Exercising in the morning also jump-starts your metabolism and increases blood flow and circulation. Morning exercise also gives you a golden opportunity to get morning light, which has been shown repeatedly to improve mood and sleep.
Find exercises that make you feel happiest
Tai Chi & Qi Gong are movements that are supposed to elevate mood and wellbeing, as well as combat stress and anxiety. If you feel stressed, try breathing exercises or meditation to relax your system. Yoga is often used to reduce depression and anxiety, as it can tame the body’s stress response. The Feldenkrais method integrates mind & body using movement and is shown to elevate mood. There are so many different ways to move your body, but it is important to find the right therapy cocktail for your body. Our guide to movement therapy can help you on this journey.
We hope these tips help you improve your mood and feel ready to conquer the day. What do you do to fight depressed moods? Let us know in the comments!
- Keniger, Lucy et al. “What are the Benefits of Interacting with Nature?” Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 2013, 10(3), 913-935; https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph10030913
- Yuna L. Ferguson & Kennon M. Sheldon (2013) Trying to be happier really can work: Two experimental studies, The Journal of Positive Psychology, 8:1, 23-33, DOI: 10.1080/17439760.2012.747000
- Deans, Emily. “Microbiome and mental health in the modern environment” J Physiol Anthropol. 2017; 36: 1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4940716/