Want to boost mood without drugs? To celebrate Depression Awareness Week we bring you the natural, proven ways to feel better without medication
Get into an energy loop
Feeling exhausted? Don’t beat yourself up. ‘Tiredness is a perfectly natural human feeling’, says Charlotte Watts, nutritionist and co-author of The De-Stress Diet (Hay House £9.09 from Amazon). ‘In fact, it’s normal to have highs and lows in mood and energy,’ she explains.
‘We start the day in a more active metabolic cycle which then starts to become relaxing, preparing for sleep around 4pm’. This natural energy loop is gradual and ruled by the release and production of hormones that govern sleepiness, wakefulness, mood and energy.
‘But when we repeatedly use false highs such as coffee and sugary treats as energy boosts – for example in response to that 4pm slump – our bodies release sharp, unnatural bursts of adrenaline and cortisol, stress hormones which our bodies use to create energy. This leads to a quick high and an hour or so later, a subsequent slump, so you feel worse than you did to begin with’. Over time, this depletes our stores of the hormones we need for energy, so when we need them, they’re not available.
‘You’re left on a vicious cycle which I call the Exhaustion Loop, a permanent roller coaster of highs and lows where the only way to carry on seems to be with more sugar and more coffee which in turn, is only making you exhausted again,’ explains Watts.
What to do: Get into an your energy loop with a diet rich in whole foods and low in sugar. For most of the season, Watts suggests choosing fresh foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins (sprouts, turkey and mash all qualify) and trying to lower your sugar intake. ‘This will keep your blood sugar stable and ensure you energy and mood is also kept in balance,’ advises Watts. ‘Of course, no one is asking you to skip pudding every night! Just follow an energy loop diet most of the time and your body will be able to cope with the indulgences the season has to offer.’
Makeover the not-so-natural highs
COFFEE ‘Have it after eating,’ advises Charlotte Watts. ‘Taken on an empty stomach, coffee depletes the adrenal glands and can make the instant ‘hit’ and subsequent ‘crash’ from coffee feel worse. Eat first and its absorption into your system will be slowed.’
CHOCOLATE ‘Make it worthwhile,’ says Watts. ‘Our serotonin levels are lowered by lack of sunlight at this time of year so we get prone to chocolate cravings, as this has a fleeting feel good effect after we eat it. Choose higher quality, smaller quantity treats as these are more satisfying. As with coffee, always have it after food, never on an empty stomach or you’ll get that same crash and burn effect (see above)’. We love Lindt 70 per cocoa (£1.56 from Sainsbury’s), impossible to binge on but highly satisfying!
Or try this: ‘Licorice is a great sweetie alternative,’ advises Watts. ‘It helps support the adrenals, which are the gland that release stress hormones that become depleted from too much sugar and caffeine. It’s great if you tend towards energy dips but want to keep away from chocolate’. We love Panda Licorice Bars (£2.45 from Holland and Barrett). ‘They’re sweetened with molasses which gives you a slower energy hit than refined sugar’, says Watts. Licorice tea drunk at 4pm can really help with sugar cravings as it’s naturally sweet and energising without any calories. We adore Pukka Licorice and Cinnamon Tea (£2.49 from vitalife)
Take a break every 90 minutes
Your body has its own 24-hour clock, what scientists call the ‘ultradian cycle’, says Dr Nerina Ramlakhan, a psychophysiologist at Capio Nightingale Hospital. ‘You might think you can keep working, shopping, cooking or cleaning for hours on end, but for this cycle to function at its peak, and for your energy stores to function at their best, you need to take a break every 90 minutes’.
So – how long have you got?
5 MINUTES Try 5555 Breathing: ‘I call this the 5555 because you take five breaths, five counts in, five counts out, five times a day – on waking, before meals and before bed,’ advises Dr Mark Hyman, author of The UltraMind Solution (Scribner £11.99). ‘You can’t energise without calming down regularly. Energy depletion often comes from chronic stress which depletes energy-giving vitamins, minerals and hormones from the body. This instantly resets the nervous system and creates a sense of calm.’
10 MINUTES Take a walk in the park: According to a study by Mind, the mental health charity, a single walk in the park improved tension and depression in 90 per cent of those surveyed. According to research, it takes just ten minutes for exercise to begin relieving tension and boosting mood.
20 MINUTES Get on your bike: Especially if you have trying guests coming. A 2009 study found that just twenty minutes of cycling – stationary or outside – could lead to a mood improvement that lasted for 12 hours. It seems exercise really is the gift that keep on giving…
Have the fry up
If you only do one thing to feel good this month, Charlotte Watts suggests having a protein breakfast. Protein in the morning helps the body produce amino acids that help promote the release of the feel good chemical serotonin into the brain. Having any kind of protein first thing also controls appetite for the rest of the day. ‘It also reduces the swings in energy that come from too much coffee or sugar’.
Try this: ‘A greasy fry-up isn’t ideal, but a healthier version such as smoked salmon, scrambled eggs and spinach cooked in a little olive oil is perfect,’ Watts advises. It could be eggs, but peanut butter or kippers on wholegrain toast are also protein breakfasts. If none of those appeal, give your cereal a protein boost by adding some chopped nuts and seeds.
Use acupressure to change your mental state
Research has found that acupuncture can stimulate the nervous system and help alleviate stress and promote relaxation. But we’re guessing you won’t have time to book a pampering session during this busy time. Acupressure is said to work in a similar way, says acupuncturist Lisa Sherman of the British Acupuncture Council who has given us the following tips.
So, how are you feeling?
TIRED Press on the ‘dantien’ point, located on the midline of the lower abdomen, three fingers width below the navel. Lie down, place the palms of both hands over this point, relax and breathe deeply.
FUZZY Press on the crown of the head. Place you left thumb of your left ear and your right thumb on your right ear. Move your fingertips toward the top of your head and feel for a hollow near the top of your head – the crown. Use a thumb, fingertip or knuckle to press for two to three minutes.
LOW Press on the‘third eye’ which is locatedin the midline of the forehead. Use a thumb, fingertip or knuckle to press for two to three minutes.
Get into aromatherapy
‘Smell affects us deeply and emotionally,’ says natural health expert and medic Dr Hyla Cass. ‘Think of the comfort you get from the smell of baking bread or pine scents most of us associate with Christmas.’ That’s because smells are carried directly to the limbic system, which acts like a kind of emotional switchboard for the brain, she explains. ‘Fragrances can reduce stress and depression, relax or invigorate you. Your can burn essential oils in a burner or mix them with a ‘carrier oil’ such as almond, and use as a massage or bath oil.’ Try these aromatherapy oil suggestions to help yourself feel better quickly – for:
RELAXATION Lavender, chamomile, sandalwood, marjoram
BETTER MOOD Rose, geranium, bergamot
CONCENTRATION Eucalyptus, lemon
ENERGY Eucalyptus, cinnamon, peppermint, clove, patchouli