Whether it’s a particularly bad month or a chronic, diagnosed mental health disorder, our emotional state and overall mood overshadows our day, for better or for worse. Many mood and mental health disorders such as anxiety or depression are often treated with prescription medication. However, there are some natural remedies that can help beat depression and improve your mood. Neurotherapist and author Dr. Mike Dow, Psy.D, Ph.D., has 7 easy strategies for improving your mood and beating depression naturally.
Many of us struggle with feeling depressed or anxious at some points in our lives. Anxiety and depression are often treated with medications, which come with unpleasant side effects and potential for addiction or overdose. Luckily there’s good news! Recent studies have shown that natural alternatives are both as effective in treating mood and depression as medicines, without all the side effects. In addition, some natural alternatives can work alongside existing treatments for those with mental illnesses that do require medication.
Natural alternatives to prescription drugs have become increasingly important in recent years. It could be that you’re pregnant or worried about becoming dependent on prescription drugs. Or, you just may prefer a natural alternative to expensive prescriptions. Either way, there are many reasons to consider alternative remedies to improve your overall mood and mental health naturally. Mother Nature has given us a long list of mood boosters, and if we’re smart we’ll take advantage of them!
Here are 7 natural ways to boost your mood naturally and beat depression naturally (As always, talk to your doctor to make sure any natural treatment is safe for you).
1. Take a high-EPA, low-DHA omega-3 supplement.
EPA and DHA are two main types of fatty acids, but they each serve different purposes. EPA is your “feel better” omega-3 and it competes for space with DHA, your “think better” omega-3.
Most omega-3 supplements have about the same amount of both, but that won’t improve your mood as powerfully as a high-EPA formula. In fact, an August 2011 study concluded that omega-3 supplements that are higher in EPA are as effective as prescription antidepressants in treating major depressive disorder. Meanwhile, another study looked at stressed out medical students and determined that the same EPA supplement reduced anxiety by 20 percent.
When looking for a supplement, find one with a ratio of 7 to 1 of EPA to DHA. In the depression study, the daily dose contained around 1,000 mg of EPA and about 150 mg of DHA. For the anxiety study, it was double that amount: approximately 2,000 mg of EPA and around 300 mg of DHA per dose.
Omega-3 supplements are safe for most people, but check with your doctor before taking any supplement. Fish oil can have a blood-thinning effect and might not be right for people with bleeding concerns, or those who are taking a blood thinner, antiplatelet drugs or ginkgo.
2. Light box therapy.
While light boxes have traditionally been used for people with seasonal affective disorder, they’ve been shown to beat depression naturally by helping with mood dips, anytime of year. Past studies have shown that exposure to bright, artificial light can boost serotonin levels, which can improve your mood naturally. In one well-designed, randomized trial, light boxes were shown to be just about as powerful as prescription antidepressants. As an added bonus, light boxes normalize your melatonin production, which promotes more restful sleep and is also a mood enhancer, according to a January 2011 study.
Look for a light box that has at least 7,500 lux of full-spectrum light, which is necessary to deliver the power and type of light that will really help you improve your mood. Enjoy the light in the morning for 20 to 60 minutes. Note: If you’re bipolar, avoid light boxes exposure as it can actually trigger manic episodes.
3. Practice yogic breathing.
Yogic breathing, also called pranayama, is nearly as effective as prescription antidepressants in beating depression naturally. Best of all, it’s free! In fact, it’s so effective that researchers in a landmark study called it an alternative “first line treatment” for acute mental illness. Other studies have found that breath practice can reduce stress hormone levels after just a single session. Yogic breathing even works in the most serious cases of drained brains. One study found that electroconvulsive therapy (ECT)—one of the “heaviest hitters” in treating severe mental illness—was only slightly more effective than pranayama for treating patients who had to be hospitalized as a result of a mood disorder.
One of the easiest yogic breathing practices is called “diaphragmatic breathing,” which engages your diaphragm at the base of your lungs and the abdominal muscles to empty the lungs powerfully. While it may seem difficult at first, it will become easier over time as the muscle strengthens. Beginners should try breathing lying down with a pillow under their head and under their knees. Eventually, work your way up to using the same technique while sitting in a chair or standing.
With one hand on your upper chest and the other hand below your rib cage, over your belly, inhale through your nose and breathe into the belly so it moves out toward your lower hand. Keep the hand on your chest still. Exhale through your mouth, contracting your abdominal muscles to force all of the air out. The hand on the belly should move downward toward your body as your lungs empty completely. Repeat the process with slow and steady breaths in and out. Aim to practice breathing for several minutes, a few times a day. As you get stronger, you can try an advanced version by practicing as you lie down with a heavy book over your stomach. The added weight will help further strengthen your muscles.
Breathing can also be a tool to check your mood throughout the day. If you begin to feel stress as you go through the day, check in with your breath by placing one hand on your chest and the other on your belly and see which hand is moving. If it’s the one on your chest, it means your sympathetic nervous system—your stress response—is taking over. Take the opportunity to use the diaphragmatic breathing to gently correct this.
Breathing is as natural of a process as it gets, and one of the most powerful anxiety fighters we have if it’s done correctly.
4. Drink turmeric.
An April 2014 study found turmeric—an ancient healing spice that’s the main ingredient in curry—was as effective as prescription antidepressants in treating depression. This natural remedy can improve your mood and beat depression naturally if taken regularly.
Try a turmeric wellness shot daily! Combine half a teaspoon of turmeric and black pepper with an ounce of cold water. For an extra eye-opening boost, toss these two ingredients in a blender with fresh lemon juice, cayenne pepper and maybe a hint of ginger.
5. Eat foods with folate.
Folate, known as vitamin B9, plays such a large role in mood regulation that it’s now available by prescription for depression. Folate is the B vitamin that helps your brain convert the dietary amino acid tryptophan into the chemical 5-HTP. That’s then converted into calming, feel-good serotonin. Knowing all this, it’s no wonder that low folate has been tied to poor moods. In addition to helping you overcome depression, folate supports healthy adrenal function, which helps us cope with stress.
Instead of taking a pill for folate, you can also get your fix by simply eating foods that are chock full of it, like a wide variety of vegetables and beans. You may have heard of folic acid, the synthetic form of folate that’s used in fortified products like cereals and other grains. The problem with relying on that, however, is that most Americans eat far too many carbohydrates, which can drain your brain and cause blood sugar spikes. The naturally-occurring folate found in vegetables is more effective and better for you than synthetic folic acid. What to add to your shopping list to ensure you’re getting enough? Try spinach, Brussels sprouts, kale, romaine, mushrooms, asparagus, bananas, melons, lemons, Swiss chard, broccoli, lentils, black beans, kidney beans and black-eyed peas. Foods that naturally make our mood better? Pass the tray, please.
6. Sip on saffron.
Studies have found this red spice to be as effective as prescription antidepressants in treating mild depression. It certainly can’t hurt if you’re seeking a way to naturally improve your mood.
Try a saffron latte! Warm one cup of your favorite milk, and stir in half a teaspoon of cinnamon and five threads of saffron. Enjoy its warmth and flavor as you wind down for the evening.
7. Workout for 10 minutes.
A November 2015 study found that people who were physically fit released a whopping 42 percent less cortisol throughout the day than those who are not. Less cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone, translates to overall less stress, a better mood and more energy.
Lack of time is one of the most common reasons for not exercising regularly, but one method, sprint interval training (SIT), provides the same benefits in just 10 minutes as traditional interval training workouts do in 50 minutes. In fact, an April 2016 study showed that sedentary people who did sprint interval training three times a week for 12 weeks showed improvements in cardiovascular and metabolic health similar to those who did traditional interval training.
The SIT format includes a two-minute warm up to start and a three-minutes cool down at the end. The middle of the workout include repeating a 20-seconds “all out” sprint, followed by two minutes of light activity.
In total, the sprint interval training only includes one minute of intense work—those three 20-second bursts within the short, 10-minute workout. The research from this study also proves how tiny bursts of exertion throughout the day, such as taking the stairs or briskly walking from a parking spot far from the store entrance, can have an actual effect on your overall health.
Try some or all of these natural remedies for beating depression naturally. You might be surprised at how much better you feel, naturally!
Read more short and long term treatments for brain fog, brain drain and improve your brain health in Dr. Dow’s new book, Heal Your Brained Drain, available on Amazon here.
Want to read more?
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.