As I fell into bed after a very enjoyable celebration of New Year 2017 with some of my nearest and dearest, I read with despair that there had been another mass shooting with many lives lost. So the worries of 2016 have already infected 2017 and it’s not always easy to look on the bright side of life.
With that in mind, I ditched plans to write about how to make resolutions that stick, deciding it might be more helpful to share some nutrition and coaching ideas around how to stay upbeat when the world seems determined to drag you down.
Here are my suggestions:
- B vitamins are vital nutrients for every metabolic pathway, intricately involved in the manufacture and processing of the neurotransmitters that control our mood. With the exception of B12, we can’t store these water-soluble nutrients so a daily supply is essential. When supplies are low neurotransmitter production may take second place to other bodily functions, leaving you at increased risk of anxiety and depression. Grains are often cited as the best source of B vitamins but for those of use eating low carb it’s good to know that they also occur in abundance in all forms of meat, fish and seafood, eggs, nuts and vegetables. Green leaves are a great source of folic acid, and 2-3 portions a day can really boost your mood and energy levels.
- If B vitamins help keep the neurotransmitter conveyer belt running smoothly, protein provides the raw materials. Tyrosine and tryptophan are particularly important amino acids (building blocks of protein) for producing the feel-good chemicals that help us feel happy. Good sources are meat, fish and dairy, nuts, seeds, soya and avocado.
- One of the most interesting things I learned last year is that magnesium can reduce the impact of stress on your body by blocking the release of stress hormones – so if two people experience the same stressful situation the person with higher magnesium levels is likely to feel it less! Our dark green leafy friends are an important source of magnesium, and so are beans, nuts, seeds, fish and dark chocolate. Epsom salts baths and Magnesium body oil/butter can also boost cellular magnesium levels and, since most of us are deficient, it makes sense to use additional ways to get more into your body – after all, there’s only so much kale we can eat.
- When life seems stressful it’s easy to let alcohol levels creep up. Pouring a drink can be so useful to help you switch off and induce relaxation at the end of a busy day. Unfortunately alcohol greatly increases the excretion of precious minerals and B-vitamins too, often triggering low mood and depression all by itself (so no surprise that it can feel hard to be happy on New Year’s Day). It’s a shame that such a pleasurable short-term solution can make things worse in the long run but if you’re struggling with mood issues it’s worth paying attention. Notice how you feel the morning after drinking; if you can see a link between drinking more and feeling worse it might be better to cut back on your alcohol and find other ways to manage your stress – like meditation, walking or mindfulness. And if you do find it difficult to cut back on your drinking consider taking a high quality multi-vitamin with plenty of B vitamins to help support mood and immunity.
- It’s perhaps too obvious to point out that ‘The News’ is the source of a lot of unhappiness. I know many people feel a sense of obligation to keep up with current affairs, but I have a real problem with the relentlessly negativity. There is something fundamentally disempowering about regularly tuning in to distressing news that you feel practically powerless to influence – and powerlessness is a key factor in many forms of depression. I’m not suggesting you bury your head in the sand – but I do encourage you to recognise that the news machine is stuck in a very unhealthy negative rut that may be pulling you under. Try seeking out happy stories to balance the grim news: sites like Good News Network can help or, personally, I find The Daily Mash helps keep things in perspective.
- Linked to the above, I’ve noticed a tendency among people who are concerned about world events (myself included) to feel a bit guilty about their own relative good fortune. Sometimes, admitting you’re happy and healthy – or even just warm and dry – feels just a bit too smug when so many people are suffering the effects of war and displacement. But feeling guilty isn’t helpful to anyone – it’s much better to use some of your good fortune in a positive way to tip the balance. Research shows that people who volunteer tend to be happier.
- A lot of our unhappy thoughts are simply bad habits. If you watch yourself you’ll find that you repeat the same sad old slogans to yourself day in, day out: too poor, too busy, too fat, too ugly, too tired, too stupid… there’s really no end to the ways we can criticise ourselves and, in the process, paralyse ourselves. If this sounds like you, it’s time to recognise that your thoughts are not your reality. Most of the things we worry about will never happen. If you want to change that mindset you have to start noticing your negative patterns and deliberately choosing better ones. Two life-changing books that can help you become aware of this are:
- Research shows that people who sing in choirs are among the happiest people on the planet – probably because singing in a group creates a huge endorphin release. So, while group chant may not be your thing, finding ways to stimulate endorphins is an important part of boosting your mood. Other recognised ways to encourage endorphin release include walking, running, yoga, meditation, chocolate, music, acupuncture, chillies and sex: anything that makes your heart sing! Sometimes it’s as simple as getting a group of friends around the supper table, or watching an old episode of Fawlty Towers.
Of course there are hundreds of ways to deliberately and consciously boost our own happiness, just as there are ways to allow ourselves to wallow in fear and despair. I’ve shared some of my favourites but please feel free to share your own happiness tips below.
Meanwhile, I’d like to acknowledge that for many people, anxiety and depression are not so easily dismissed. If you struggle more than most, learning about your genetic methylation patterns can be a game changer. Please contact me to learn more about how nutrition can help.