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Natural ways to boost your mood

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Chronic stress, anxiety and depression are toxic for health, says Dr Leigh Erin Connealy. Here’s how to free your mind naturally

We live in troubling times, and people around the world are shaken up. In the past few years, we have experienced a global pandemic, the unfolding and continuation of the Russo-Ukrainian war, and countless natural disasters and accidents that have claimed the lives of tens of thousands of individuals. We are bombarded 24/7 with news reports of dismal, scary and uncertain events, and stress is at an all-time high. In our own homes, we often face a barrage of anxiety-inducing events, from marriage problems and financial woes to job losses and diagnoses of serious illnesses. It’s a lot to digest, and it is affecting us mentally.

In 2019, the World Health Organization reported that globally, one in every eight people was living with a mental disorder. That’s more than 970 million individuals coping with anxiety and depressive disorders!1 (Note, this statistic is from 2019, before the global pandemic, and numbers are likely much higher now.)

We are a stressed-out, anxiety-riddled mess, and we need help. Most people know our mental health affects every other aspect of our health. But many don’t realize just how significant a role these mental health disorders play in serious disease.

The cancer connection

Stress, anxiety and depression are toxic, and we have linked these chronic mental health concerns to nearly every one of the patients we treat at the Cancer Center for Healing. So, what’s the connection?

Things go awry whenever the body’s balance is disrupted, whether by injury, illness, chronic stress or emotional trauma. The body thrives in a balanced—or homeostatic—environment, and constant stressors and a chronic toll on mental health can disrupt the equilibrium.

I often tell my patients that cancer is an uncontrollable growth of cells in the body that have gone wild due to being overstressed and overwhelmed. And every single cell has the capacity to become a cancer cell in a stressful or abnormal condition. This is why you must seek help for any mental health burden as soon as possible.

Natural mood boosters

Chronic stress affects all aspects of your health and has been linked to a multitude of other concerns (see “Conditions linked to chronic stress” below). The good news is there are plenty of safe, natural and effective methods for boosting mood, easing anxiety and stress, and preventing cancer and other chronic conditions.

Prioritize self-care

The US National Institute of Mental Health points out that mental health is an umbrella term that covers emotional, psychological and social well-being.2 It is essential to support and nurture each of these areas to obtain optimal health and quality of life. Prioritizing self-care improves both your physical and mental well-being, and there are several steps you can take—starting today—that can have a lasting impact.

  1. Get moving to get well. Exercise is a key component of self-care. Even though you may not feel like getting up and out to do it, we all know physical activity is good for the mind and body. Aim for at least 30 minutes of mild to moderate exercise daily, and bonus points if you can do it outside in the sunshine and fresh air.
  2. Clean up your diet. Focus on clean, nutrient-dense real food options such as leafy green vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and nuts and seeds. Kick processed foods and sugar to the curb. Doing so will improve your mental health considerably and have a positive effect on your physical health as well. (For more on diet, see “Eat yourself happy” below.)
  3. Ensure proper hydration. Did you know dehydration can trigger anxiety and depression and negatively affect mental health? Staying adequately hydrated is a self-care must. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, limit caffeinated beverages (especially later in the afternoon) to avoid sleep issues, and limit or avoid sugary drinks. Good alternatives include unsweetened herbal or green teas and sparkling water.
  4. Sleep, sleep and more sleep. It’s impossible to practice proper self-care if you’re exhausted. Do your best to get the recommended minimum of seven hours of sleep per night. Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. Achieve total or near-total darkness with blackout curtains, do not watch TV or use cell phones or computers an hour before bed to eliminate blue light exposure, and try a sound machine if you find white noise soothing.
  5. Learn to say no. Taking on too much and overscheduling our lives can lead to mental exhaustion and burnout. Make a list each morning: What must be done? What can wait until later? Prioritize what is necessary and important to you, and just say no to everything else.
  6. Do a relaxing activity. This may look different for everyone, but there are plenty of options. Take a nightly hot bath. Journal your thoughts at the end of the day or first thing in the morning. Meditate. Take a walk outside or try a yoga or tai chi class. Read a book or knit. Whatever brings you peace and joy, do it regularly.
  7. Focus on the positive and practice gratitude. Have a PMA, a positive mental attitude. Remind yourself daily of the many blessings in your life, and remember to be thankful for those blessings. If you find yourself dwelling on the negative, challenge yourself to counteract that thought with something positive.
  8. Stay connected to family and friends. Humans are social creatures by nature, and connecting with our friends, family and loved ones is key when it comes to self-care and a positive mental attitude. Often, a conversation with another person can offer the perfect dose of emotional support.

Eat yourself happy

Mild to moderate depression can be greatly affected by the types of food we put into our bodies. We regularly recommend a modified keto diet to all our patients (regardless of health status) because eating this way cuts out the processed junk and focuses on real, high-quality food. Furthermore, diet positively affects all aspects of health, including mental health.

In a meta-analysis of 21 studies from 10 different countries, the role diet plays in depression was clearly defined. It found that the risk of depression fell with higher intakes of fruit, vegetables, whole grain, fish, olive oil, low-fat dairy and antioxidants but rose with greater consumption of red meat, processed meat, refined grains, sweets, high-fat dairy, butter, potatoes and high-fat gravy.3

This research underscores the importance of food as medicine and is a clear-cut example of how eating a nutrient-packed, healthful diet can positively affect mental well-being.

Supplement for success

Several nutritional supplements have also been shown to ease depression and anxiety symptoms. They are available online and in most health food stores or can be ordered through our clinic (perfectlyhealthy.com). Here are a handful of them.

Note: Some of these supplements are contraindicated with pregnancy or with other supplements and medications. Please discuss these possible interactions with your physician before taking any supplement. 

SAMe. S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), known as ademetionine in Europe, is a naturally occurring chemical in the body derived from the amino acid methionine. Abnormal SAMe levels in the body have been linked to liver disease and depression. In the 1950s, researchers began to study whether supplemental SAMe may benefit these conditions.

In a review of SAMe published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, researchers examined data from 115 clinical trials and 17 preclinical studies. They found SAMe worked well both alone and with other therapies to ease major depressive disorder.4

SAMe has been approved as a prescription drug for depression in several countries, such as Italy, Spain, Russia and Germany. And it has been widely utilized in other parts of Europe and the United States for decades.

Suggested dosage: start with 200 mg/day, then increase as required to 200 mg three times a day

St John’s wort. St John’s wort is an herbal remedy that has been used for centuries to treat various health concerns, including depression. In a landmark study published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment in 2016, researchers compared St John’s wort to commonly prescribed and dangerous selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) for treating depression (more on this shortly).

Their findings were remarkable. The authors analyzed 3,126 depression patients and found St John’s wort was just as effective for mild to moderate depression as SSRIs, but with far fewer adverse events and withdrawal symptoms. It’s also much more affordable.5

Suggested dosage: 250 mg three times a day

Amino acids. Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters in the brain that dictates mood, digestion, appetite, behavior and a host of other bodily functions. Low serotonin levels negatively affect mood and other areas of mental health, and several natural compounds—namely amino acids—can address this issue.

Increasing blood levels of the amino acid L-tryptophan can subsequently increase serotonin levels. An amino acid called 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), also a precursor of serotonin, appears to cross the blood-brain barrier more effectively than L-tryptophan and can also boost serotonin levels.

Other neurotransmitters involved in regulating mood include norepinephrine and dopamine. Two more amino acids, L-tyrosine and phenylalanine, kick-start the production of dopamine and norepinephrine. Yet another critical amino acid, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), acts as a calming neurotransmitter in the brain and works to combat anxiety and stress symptoms.

Amino acids are available in standalone and combination formulas. (Our patients have done well with Tranquility Formula, available from perfectlyhealthy.com.) Discuss with your doctor which amino acids may work best for you to address your specific symptoms and needs.

Suggested dosage: Tranquility Formula once a day, increasing to twice a day as required

Holistic therapies

Multiple therapies for stress, anxiety and depression exist—many of which you can do from the comfort of your own home.

Meditation. Meditation is one of the most effective stress-reducing and centering therapies out there. Not only does it take place in a calm, quiet environment but it also teaches you how to control your thoughts, feelings and mind.

The mind-body connection is often overlooked in conventional medicine; however, incorporating this healing practice into your everyday routine can boost mood and ease symptoms of anxiety and depression. Several instructional videos and guided meditations are available online or through subscription-based apps such as Headspace, Calm and Healthy Mind.

Aromatherapy. Essential oils and aromatherapy have been used medicinally worldwide for nearly 6,000 years. Much more than a pleasant scent, aromatherapy has been used to treat anxiety, depression and stress, among many other conditions.

Some researchers hypothesize that aromatherapy works by causing the smell receptors in the nose to communicate with the parts of the brain that store emotions and memories. Others believe the aromas promote well-being by interacting with the hormones that influence body chemicals, such as neurotransmitters.

Either way, immersing your senses in stress-reducing scents like frankincense, lavender, rose, orange, bergamot, sandalwood, chamomile and lemon is worth a shot.

EVOX. EVOX is a revolutionary therapy that helps to reduce stress and anxiety using Perception Reframing. When a person speaks, the energy in their voice corresponds to how they feel about certain topics. The EVOX records voice energy, plots it on a Perception Index graph and determines which frequency signatures would work optimally to reduce a patient’s unique stressors.

These signatures are transferred to a hand cradle and transmitted to the patient as they listen to relaxing music and concentrate on the specific topic at hand. EVOX therapy is a remarkable tool that “remaps the brain” and combats stress and anxiety. It is so effective and beneficial that we recommend EVOX to every new patient who comes to the Cancer Center for Healing.

Massage. Massages not only feel great but are also an excellent de-stressor. Touch is soothing, and massage therapy stimulates lymph flow throughout the body, which helps to balance hormones and the immune system and promote relaxation. If you can’t afford a professional massage, enlist the help of a partner, loved one or friend. Even trading a back rub or shoulder massage can help take the edge off a stressful day or situation.

Counseling or talk therapy. Talking to someone is imperative if you are dealing with any mental health concerns. Whether that person is a trusted friend, family member, spiritual advisor, physician or counselor, opening up and getting things off your chest can help ease symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression and open the door for further intervention and help if warranted. Talk therapy is a great way to forge an essential human connection, especially in trying times.

Get the right help

Getting a handle on mental health and reclaiming balance in your life is essential for optimal well-being. If you need assistance reducing stress, depression or anxiety, consider seeking an integrative physician who will offer a complete mind-body approach and help guide you on your journey back to health. To find a practitioner in your area, visit ifm.org or acam.org. If you’d like to come see us at the Cancer Center for Healing, call 949-680-1880 to learn more about your treatment options.

Conditions linked to chronic stress

Per the Mayo Clinic, untreated, long-term stress can lead to any of the following conditions:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Digestive problems
  • Headaches
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure and stroke
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight gain
  • Memory and concentration impairment

When to seek professional help

Occasional bouts of sadness or loneliness or feeling down in the dumps now and then is entirely normal. But if any of the following symptoms persist for more than two weeks, please consider reaching out for help:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feelings of excessive low self-worth or guilt
  • Hopelessness about the future
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Thoughts about dying
  • Interrupted sleep
  • Drastic changes in appetite or weight
  • Fatigue and chronic low energy

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please reach out for help.

In the UK, call the 24-hour Samaritans suicide helpline at 116 123, or get help from the Shout Crisis Text Line by texting SHOUT to 85258.

In the US, call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 in the US. This free, confidential resource provides emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

SSRI side effects

Conventional medicine has a Band-Aid answer for depression: the antidepressant drug class selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs, which include fluoxetine (Prozac), citalopram (Celexa), sertraline (Zoloft), paroxetine (Seroxat) and escitalopram (Cipralex), have seen a major uptick since their introduction in the 1980s.

These prescription medications are riddled with severe, even deadly, side effects. Their laundry list of potential problems includes the following:

  • Agitation and anxiousness
  • Gastrointestinal issues (constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, nausea
  • Weight loss and weight gain
  • Dizziness
  • Blurred vision
  • Insomnia
  • Drowsiness or extreme fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive sweating
  • Loss of libido
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Bruising easily
  • Movement issues (shaking or stiffness)
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Suicidal thoughts and tendencies

These drugs’ potentially deadly side effects were so apparent that in 2004, the FDA issued a “black box warning” for all SSRIs, noting they increased the risk of suicidal thinking, feeling and behavior in children, adolescents and young adults.

The bottom line is these drugs are dangerous. I implore you to work with your doctor to wean off these medications and explore safe, natural solutions for depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns.

 

 

References
Main text 
  1. WHO, “Mental Disorders,” June 8, 2022, who.int
  2. NIMH, “Caring for Your Mental Health,” December 2022, nimh.nih.gov
  3. Psychiatr Res, 2017; 253: 373–82
  4. J Clin Psychiatry, 2017; 78(6): e656–67
  5. Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat, 2016; 12: 1715–23
Conditions linked to chronic stress  Mayo Clinic, “Chronic Stress Puts Your Health at Risk,” Aug 1, 2023, mayoclinic.org SSRI side effects NHS Inform, “Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs),” Feb 23, 2023, nhsinform.scot OCT23
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