by Erin Bates May 10, 2020
This is a guest post feature written by Yvonne Matthews. Yvonne is a holistic nutritionist, herbalist and wellness advisor based in Denver, CO. You can learn more about Yvonne’s work at Nutrition. Designed.
Lately, there’s been quite a bit of talk about anxiety and depression- and for good reason. Even before this pandemic, a 2017 study found over 71% of people who experienced depression also experienced anxiety, and these can be rooted from many various sources. Especially in our current situation, our social connections and expectations of the future have been disrupted, our anxiety (worry/fear about the future) and depression (a feeling of heaviness or sadness, can be centered around a past event) are heightened. The two can often come in a cycle, one feeling triggering the other, and so on. If you are feeling one or both of these for the first time, or more than before, you are not alone. The good news, is we can help take control with diet, better habits and more!
As a holistic nutritionist who works closely with therapists and mental health clients, my approach is help people feel better through a foundation of food, nutrients, herbs and lifestyle habits. I also get the question of why people are experiencing depression or anxiety. This is a great question, and in my professional opinion (and with a lot of studying of these conditions), it’s a combination of genetics, unaddressed trauma, stress, diet and lifestyle.
Focusing on the last three points, evidence-based research shows that diet and lifestyle have a huge impact on our mood and quality of mental health. Additionally, these factors can be more controlled by the individual, and can bring a sense of control back into their lives.
1. Stay hydrated and limit caffeine/alcohol – both caffeine and alcohol are addictive stimulants. The biggest reason to limit consumption is because they dehydrate our bodies (even mild dehydration can cause irritability), affect our blood sugar, metabolism and hormones (specifically cortisol and insulin) and ultimately disturb our sleep. Caffeine and alcohol keep us in the wired and tired loop. My advice is to keep it to 1 serving of each daily, and don’t forget to counteract it with extra water. Always aim for a minimum of 64 ounces daily, more if you sweat, have an active job or are at altitude!
2. Eat breakfast and don’t skip meals – Have you ever been hangry? Of course you have! You know what it feels like, you get irritable, annoyed, tired, in a dumb fight with your dog, you name it! What if I told you that was simply hypoglycemia, aka low blood sugar! Our blood sugar is a hugely important part of stable mental health and maintaining a good mood. Eating a balanced breakfast (meaning quality fats, protein and veggies) will help to keep that blood sugar stable from the start. Try aiming to eat breakfast within an hour of waking up!
3. Eat your greens – We all know greens are good for us. But they are also packed full of magnesium, a nutrient our body needs to support our daily stress. Up to 75% of American adults are deficient in magnesium, simply because it’s used in up to 300 chemical processes in our body daily and when we are stressed, we use more of it! You can supplement it, and you might need to do that too, but eating your greens is a great start, cheaper and provides more nutrients and value than just magnesium, bonus! Try adding something green to your meals, at least 2 meals daily!
4. Feed your gut-brain axis – This is in reference to the communication between our brain and our gut. Research has shown that up to 95% of our serotonin and 70% of our dopamine is made in our gut, not the brain! This directly translates to our mood. The key to keeping a happy, balance microbiome (more good bacteria than bad) is with probiotics (supplemental and/or fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, miso and more) and prebiotics (fiber, like greens, garlic, onions, artichokes, and really most vegetables). A great place to start is to aim for 1-2 different color veggies at every meal and a fermented food at least once daily!
5. Consume quality Fats – For decades, we’ve had an unfounded fear of dietary fat. Quality fat does not make you fat! Moreover, our brain is over 60% fat, and needs a lot of energy (calories/nutrients) to function. That means providing it with quality fats in avocados, nuts, seeds, coconuts, olives, sustainable cold-water fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines, are amazing for our mental health. Additionally, these fats also help keep our blood sugar stable and support healthy hormone, neurotransmitter production and so much more! Aim for 1-2 servings ( a serving is 1 tbsp oil , ¼ avocado or small handful of nuts) per meal.
These are some of my top nutrition tips, however there are so many other factors to help with anxiety and depression, including moving your body, getting outside for some vitamin D, spiritual and social connection, meditation, breathing exercise, journaling, therapy, self-care and stress reduction. You get the picture. Find what works best for you!
When it comes to mental health, and most conditions or disease in the body, there aren’t any magic pills or quick fixes. Depending on the severity of what you are experiencing, you might feel better more quickly than others. No matter what, remind yourself that you are perfectly imperfect. Be kind and gentle with yourself, treating yourself only like you would treat your best friend.
These tips can be helpful for those experiencing acute or chronic depression and/or anxiety. However, if you feel it’s more serious, or you’re feeling the need for more support, please seek out professional help from a therapist or doctor.