11 Food & Lifestyle Choices to Reduce Symptoms of Depression

Mental health problems like anxiety and depression are devastating. 

Lowering the quality of life.

If you’ve ever suffered from a severe mental health crisis, like burnout, bipolar, mania or severe depression.

You’ll know that the stigma around mental health is very real.

People just don’t know what to do with you. When all you need is some support, often people get scared and turn a blind eye.

I don’t think that they’re being mean. 

They simply don’t know how to cope with behavioural issues. 

It’s important therefore to take matters into your own hands.

Finding natural ways to boost mental health can begin the climb to wellbeing. 

Interestingly, people commonly reach for junk food as comfort when depressed. 

In fact, it’s a double-edged sword, people reach for junk food when depressed and junk food leads to depression. 

This can become worse if mood-altering medication is taken. 

The good news is that there are many steps that you can take to alter your mood. For example, people who are obese can be more prone to depression. Therefore focusing on obtaining a healthy weight can be a step in the right direction.

In this article, we’ll discuss the current status quo on mental health conditions, how they’re on the rise and steps that you can take to naturally begin to regain control of your life. 

Post-disaster Mental Illness

Anxiety and depression are on the rise. In England alone, a quarter of all people will experience a mental health condition in any given year. That statistic was pre-pandemic, back in 2009. Some people are more vulnerable than others and the ongoing lockdowns haven’t helped. 

According to one research paper: “characteristics or experiences of individuals before, during, and after a disaster may influence mental health outcomes and interact to produce psychopathology.” Since our (latest disaster) the pandemic, we’ve seen an alarming increase in demand for mental health services. Many experts expect a 20% increase in demand for mental health crisis care in the coming months. So clearly there’s lots to be done in this area of health. 

The Effects of the Pandemic on Mental Health

I’ve spoken to serval top executives, who are suffering from the pandemic. Why? Because they’re frustrated at how they cannot get out and network like they used to. Demonstrating that it’s not just those with a low socioeconomic status that are at risk.  However, it’s young people and women who are most at risk of suffering from mental health conditions due to the lockdowns. Some of the reasons for this are:

  • Social Isolation
  • Job and Financial Loss
  • Housing insecurity & quality
  • Loss of coping mechanisms
  • Lack of exercise, with closed gyms etc…

Why Do We Crave Junk Food & Social Media When Sad?

The neurotransmitter serotonin is needed for mood regulation. Carbs provide instant serotonin production. Reaching out for sugary treats like ice cream, cake or fizzy juice are all symptoms of low serotonin. Craving junk food is our natural reaction to a disruption in serotonin. That’s why eating junk food feels good. In addition, there are many companies dedicated to boosting mood with food, so that you get addicted. Although junk food and soda offer a short-term fix, much like caffeine and alcohol, in the longer term they trigger anxiety. 

Dopamine is another substance that can play a role in mood. Reduced dopamine levels can contribute to depression. Explaining why we reach for quick fixes that boost dopamine levels. Using a smartphone can boost dopamine levels. In fact, Chamath Palihapitiya, former Vice President of User Growth at Facebook, states “the short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops that we have created are destroying how society works.”

9 Foods You Could Eat When Craving Junk Food

If you crave junk food, it’s a good idea to reach for alternative food sources that are better for your health. Junk food raises your risk of developing depression. Here are nine foods that you can eat instead of junk food:

  • Hummus dip with carrots
  • Fruits, especially berries and melons
  • Dates
  • Trail mix
  • Miso soup with seaweed
  • Popcorn
  • Banana (n)ice cream
  • Nut butter
  • Snack bar

Food & Lifestyle Choices to Reduce Symptoms of Depression

While there is no quick fix when it comes to depression, there are several steps that you can take to begin to feel better. 

6 Diet & Nutrition Tips for Depression

Nutrition can have a massive impact on our life experience. Ensuring that your diet is filled with the following mood-boosting nutrients will help you on your path to recovery:

  • Selenium – beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains. 
  • Vitamin D – low levels of vitamin D have been linked to anxiety and depression. Ensuring enough sunlight and/or taking a vitamin D supplement is a good option. 
  • B Vitamins – play an important role in mood and brain functioning. Legumes, nuts, many fruits, and dark green vegetables have folate (a form of vitamin B)
  • Healthy Proteins – legumes, tempeh, pumpkin seeds, quinoa and lentils.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Flaxseed, seaweed, algae, leafy vegetables and walnuts
  • Antioxidant Rich Foods – foods with high levels of antioxidants prevent cell damage, especially in the brain. Eat antioxidant-rich foods like broccoli, grapefruit, bell peppers, nuts, seeds cantaloupe melon, sweet potatoes and berries.

5 Healthy Lifestyle Choices to Beat Depression

We’re 360o beings, therefore all of the aspects of living a healthy lifestyle play a part in painting the picture of a healthy, happy life. Each choice feeds into the next. For example, getting enough daily exercise can boost the quality of sleep, in turn boosting mood. Here are five healthy lifestyle choices that you should be focusing on to beat depression. 

  • Quality sleep – Many people who’re suffering from depression self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. This can disrupt sleep, mood and motivation. Sleep should be given high priority. Both the amount of sleep plus the quality matters. 
  • Exercise – most forms of moderate exercise are great for depression. Boosting mood by producing endorphins. It’s important however to choose an exercise that you enjoy. Some good ideas are yoga, dance, gardening, walking, tennis, biking or walking.
  • Weight – excess weight can contribute to metabolic conditions and depression. Therefore taking steps to eat a healthy diet and exercise daily, will be brilliant at boosting your mood, while shedding a few pounds.
  • Drugs & Alcohol – Drugs and alcohol are common coping mechanisms for those suffering from depression. One-third of people with major depression have an alcohol problem. This causes a vicious cycle where substance abuse can intensify feelings of sadness, loneliness and hopelessness. 
  • Time in Nature – studies have shown that spending time in nature can help with mild to moderate depression. Nature also recharges our batteries as we spend time away from technology and restore our natural balance. 

The Bottom Line

We are holistic beings and an imbalance in any area of life can have a knock-on effect on our mental health. Easy access to junk food is an issue, as it’s connected to depression and anxiety. Most importantly it offers temporary relief, as can drugs and alcohol. This relief is followed by worsened symptoms, further perpetuating the cycle. Making a big change in life is hard, it won’t feel good or natural at first. But in time, healthy choices mount up and can boost all areas of life, not just mood.