Whether it’s a result of work problems, money troubles, relationship issues, or a difficulty that’s uniquely your own, we all succumb to times that disrupt our mood. According to the National Institute on Mental Health (NIMH), one in every seven adults around the world experience some sort of mood disorder each year. That translates to about one billion people globally. The top mood disorder? Anxiety. (14)
Anxiety and other mood disorders can be caused by numerous factors, such as family history, major life stressors or traumatic events, some prescription medications such as opioids, or certain medical conditions such as cancer or cardiovascular disease. (41) (34) Common symptoms of mood disorders include:
- Changes in appetite
- Deep sadness
- Difficulty making decisions
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Poor concentration
- Sleep problems (47)
If you suffer from these or other persistent symptoms, it’s wise to consult with your healthcare provider. If you have suicidal thoughts or are thinking about harming yourself or others, seek medical attention immediately.
Simple changes to your diet and your daily lifestyle habits are excellent places to start when it comes to improving your mood. Your integrative healthcare practitioner may also recommend certain dietary supplements that have been shown to help improve mood.
Continue reading to learn more about mood-boosting foods, lifestyle practices, and supplements.
Diet and mood: how food affects your mood
What you eat can have a significant impact on your mood. A growing number of studies link a diet filled with ultra-processed and high sugar foods with an increased risk of anxiety and depression. (1)(16)(25)(32) A diet that focuses on whole or minimally-processed foods, on the other hand, has been shown to support better mental health. (8)(29)
Although a healthy diet can provide overall benefits, certain foods have been found to increase mood-boosting serotonin. (53) Others may provide omega-3 fatty acids or vitamin B12, which have been found to benefit those with depression or other mood disorders. (36)(40) The following foods have been found to be particularly helpful:
- Beans (20)(26)
- Berries (15)
- Dark chocolate (37)(43)
- Fatty cold-water fish like salmon (13)(52)
- Nuts and seeds (9)
- Oatmeal (33)
Keep in mind that meal size, timing, and frequency can also affect your blood sugar levels and mood. Speak to your integrative healthcare practitioner for more information on meal planning and tips to incorporate mood-boosting foods into your diet.
Natural mood boosters
In addition to diet, your daily habits can also elevate your mood. Below, we highlight four lifestyle habits that can be incorporated into your day to help boost your mood.
There’s no denying that exercise is an important part of maintaining a healthy body, but it can also enhance your emotional well-being. Data shows that regular physical activity reduces the probability of developing depression. (12)(45) While research has focused primarily on the benefits of aerobic exercises, such as walking, running, spinning, yoga, or swimming, studies also show that anaerobic exercise such as weight lifting can help relieve stress, anxiety, and feelings of depression. (17)(38)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise each week. (19) That breaks down to just 30 minutes per day, five days per week. Try to include both aerobic and anaerobic exercise into your workouts each week.
Download a handout on physical activity guidelines for various age groups.
Did you know?
Research suggests that people living with chronic stress are more likely to develop anxiety or major depressive disorder, (23) and women are at more risk than men for chronic stress, anxiety, and depression. (2)(11)(28)
Laughter may truly be the best medicine. Researchers from Wayne State University report that laughter decreases stress hormones such as cortisol and epinephrine, while also activating the brain’s reward system. (42) Another study of 39 university students found that humor was at least as effective as exercise for improving mood and reducing anxiety. (46) Add some humor to your day by watching a funny movie, swapping jokes with friends, or looking around your neighborhood for humorous events. You can even follow your favorite comedian on YouTube.
Mindfulness and meditation
Meditation has long been recognized as an effective way to improve symptoms of stress and anxiety by reducing cortisol levels. (48) Clinical trials show that even brief meditation sessions can enhance mood and improve the ability to process emotions. (4)(51) To get started, try using one of the many meditation apps available to download.
Journaling is an excellent way to express your feelings and transfer some of your busy thoughts to pen and paper. It’s also a good vehicle for positive self-talk. Studies have found that daily journaling helps mitigate distressing thoughts and aids in changing the way you perceive stressful events. (44)(49)
Research demonstrates that L-theanine and a number of medicinal herbs, including ashwagandha, rhodiola, passionflower, and saffron, may provide beneficial effects on mood.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera)
Ashwagandha is an adaptogenic herb historically used in Ayurvedic medicine to enhance well-being, support restful sleep, and reduce anxiety. In one double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 60 people with a history of chronic stress, those taking ashwagandha experienced a significant drop in stress and cortisol levels compared to those taking a placebo. (27)
Ashwagandha can also improve anxiety, according to a study review conducted at SUNY Upstate Medical University. One of the studies evaluated in the review found that people taking ashwagandha experienced a 56.5% reduction in their anxiety compared to just 30.5% in those undergoing psychotherapy. Another study included in the review showed a 44% decrease in perceived stress in those taking ashwagandha compared to just 5.5% in those taking a placebo. (39)
This amino acid, which is contained in the leaves of green tea, has been found to effectively relieve stress, enhance relaxation, and lower blood pressure. During one clinical trial, 12 participants were given either L-theanine, a placebo, or nothing before doing a mental arithmetic task. Those who took the L-theanine had a lower heart rate and a reduction in salivary immunoglobulin A (s-IgA), indicating a lower stress response. (24) In another randomized, placebo-controlled study of 34 people, those who took L-theanine an hour before a multitasking challenge felt considerably less stressed than those who took a placebo. (50)
Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata)
Used for centuries because of its calming and sedative properties, modern studies support the use of passionflower for addressing anxiety and insomnia. A randomized, placebo-controlled study published in the journal Anesthesia and Analgesia found that patients who took passionflower 90 minutes before surgery experienced less anxiety than those taking a placebo. (31)
During another clinical trial, Australian scientists evaluated the effects of passionflower tea on a group of 41 volunteers suffering from insomnia. At the end of the study, those sipping the passionflower tea experienced significantly better sleep quality than those in the placebo group. (35)
Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea)
Numerous human clinical studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of rhodiola in reducing fatigue, while improving mood, attention, and cognitive function, particularly during times of stress. One recent clinical trial found that a daily dose of rhodiola reduced anxiety, irritability, tension, and a lack of joy in participants experiencing burnout. (21)
In an earlier study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research, 101 volunteers with chronic stress were given supplemental rhodiola twice per day for four weeks. All the subjects experienced an improvement in symptoms of stress in as little as three days following rhodiola intake. (7) Another study examined the effectiveness of SHR-5, a standardized rhodiola extract, in alleviating mild to moderate depression when compared to a placebo. Results of the study concluded that 340 or 680 mg of SHR-5 per day over six weeks was effective in reducing symptoms of depression, emotional instability, insomnia, and somatization. (5)
Did you know?
Along with its mood-elevating benefits, rhodiola can also improve your exercise performance by reducing your perceived exertion during physical activity. (6)
Saffron (Crocus sativus)
Derived from the Crocus sativus flower, saffron may improve symptoms of anxiety and mild to moderate depression by increasing dopamine levels, preserving the amino acid gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), and reducing cortisol.
A meta-analysis of eight clinical trials found that saffron outperformed placebos and worked as effectively as the prescription drug fluoxetine to treat depression. (22) Another meta-analysis of 23 studies reported that saffron was more effective than a placebo in treating symptoms of both anxiety and depression. The researchers noted that saffron also improved the effectiveness of antidepressant medications. (30)
St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
An analysis of 35 clinical trials involving nearly 7,000 participants found that St. John’s wort reduced the symptoms of mild to moderate depression better than a placebo. St. John’s wort intake was also associated with fewer side effects than prescription medications used to treat the condition. (3)
Studies suggest that this flowering plant may actually be just as effective as some antidepressant medications. In one six-week randomized, controlled, double-blind study of 251 people suffering from depression, researchers found that St. John’s wort reduced depression by 56.6%, compared to just 44.8% among those taking a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). (47) Another study of 241 people who were assigned to take either St. John’s wort or an antidepressant reported that 68.6% of those taking the medicinal herb and 70.4% of those in the antidepressant group responded to treatment. (10)
The bottom line
A healthy diet, lifestyle, and supplement regimen has been shown to help support a healthy mood. However, if you find that chronic anxiety or depression interferes with your daily life, speak to your healthcare professional about additional treatment options to restore calm and help foster a happier, healthier mood.
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