How are you feeling? A little blue or a bit ‘meh’?
From the food you eat to the time you’re spending glued to Facebook, your daily habits could be contributing to a bleak outlook. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to lift your mood naturally. Check out these surprising sadness triggers and find out how to dodge them.
1. You’re shopping in the bakery aisle
Feeling low? It’s tempting to try to cheer yourself up with a doughnut or three. However, research has shown that people who eat a lot of baked goods – think cakes, biscuits and doughnuts – are more likely to develop depression.
A 2012 study from the University of Las Palmas in the Canary Isalnds monitored 9,000 people over a period of six months and found that those who ate commercial baked goods such as croissants and doughnuts, as well as fast food, had a 51 per cent greater chance of becoming depressed.
The explanation for this may be two-fold. First, foods high in fat have been shown to disrupt something called neurogenesis, the growth of new nerve cells in the brain. Second, hgih-fat, high-sugar foods may taste good, but they have been shown to stimulate the pleasure centre of the brain, and overstimulation of this area can result in a ‘come down’, leaving you feeling low.
What to do: Make an effort to limit your intake of commercial biscuits and cakes. Bake your own healthier treats using wholegrain flours and olive or coconut oil, and keep them for special occasions. Natural sweeteners such as xylitol or stevia have a less dramatic effect on blood sugar, which can help keep your mood more stable, too.
2. You’re living in a virtual world
Addicted to your smartphone? Always online? Whether you’re Tweeting, Facebook, emailing or texting spending long hours staring at a small glowing screen can be a real downer.
In a series of studies by Swedish researchers, young men and women detailed their computer and mobile phone use. Women who spent long hours in front of a computer screen or on their phones (up to 150 hours a week) reported more depression. Interestingly, men seemed to be unaffected. The scientists think it could be due to sleep deprivationm coupled with a lack of face-to-face communication.
If you leave your computer or your phone on as you sleep, you could be compounding the problem. A study from Ohio State University found that four weeks of sleeping in a low-level glow suppressed levels of the sleep hormone melatonin.
What to do: Remove your laptop from the bedroom, switch off your phone at night and invest in blackout blindsto keep your room dark.
3. You’re not eating your greens
We all know that fruit and vegetables are important to keep your digestion and wellbeing in tip-top shape, but research shows they’re also essential for a healthy mood.
A study from University College London, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2009, showed that people with the lowest consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables were most likely to become depressed. The study asked 3,486 male and female civil servants to fill in food questionnaires. Those whose diets lacked the requisite five-a-day were 58 per cent more likely to be disagnosed with depression.
The reason is that the high levels of antioxidants found in fresh produce are believed to help prevent free radical damage to cells, including those in the brain. The folate in broccoli, cabbage and spinach is especially protective. Magnesium, found in dark green leafy vegetables, helps maintain nerve and muscle function, which may also prevent symptoms of anxiety and improve your all-important sleep sessions.
What to do: Five-a-day is good, but seven or even nine-a-day is better. Steer your diet away from high-sugar fruit like mangoes, pineapple and grapes, and load up on dark green veggies and berries.
4. You’re working too hard
It’s good to love your job, right? Sure – as long as your switch off when you clock off.
Stress is incredibly taxing on the body, and it could damage your brain, too. A new study published in the journal Nature Medicine found that stress can block the formation of new nerve connections in your noggin, shrinking the prefrontal cortex and triggering an onslaught of depressive symptoms.
Stress also puts pressure on your adrenal glands, which pump out hormones including adrenaline and cortisol. Relentless stress could leave you lacking these hormones, making it difficult to respond to pressure and leaving you feeling tired and irritable.
What to do: Take a break! Book in some annual leave, take a weekend off and spend quality time with family and friends. You’ll be doing your health and mood a favour.
5. You’re living north of Birmingham
Hear us out on this one – this is not a south-centric PR promotion, but based on weather patterns for the UK.
We all know the UK doesn’t see a great deal of sunlight in the winter months, and if you live north of Birmingham, the sunlight may be restricted for as much as five months of the year. The result? You could find yourself suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as ‘winter depression’.
The reason sunlight is important for good mood is that it’s one of the main ways our body makes vitamin D – essential for a bright, balanced outlook. A US study published in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings followed 12,600 people between 2006 and 2010. Those found to be deficient in vitamin D were more likely to display depressive symptoms.
What to do: Nope, you don’t have to book a removal van. If you live far north, consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement between November and March. The rest of the UK can get away with supplementing with vitamin D between December and February. Eat plenty of oily fish, eggs and dairy to pu your levels of this vital vitamin. And make an effort to get outside as much as possible, as any sunlight, however weak, will help.
6. You’re always on a diet
Cutting the fat in your diet may be a standard weight-loss tactic, but it can also put you on the fast track to a bad mood.
What’s the link? Well, a lot of your brain’s power comes from fats – it’s estimated that grey matter contains around 50 per cent polyunsaturated fatty acuds (about 33 per cent of these are from omega-3s), and this all-important fuel is supplied by your diet.
Reams of research has focused on the role omega-3 fatty acids plays in brain development and function, and a study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry in 2010 found that omega-3 supplements can be effective in treating depression.
What to do: For a healthy dose of omega-3 brain fuel, aim to eat fresh or tinned salmon, mackerel and sardines three times a week or take a fish oil tablet containing 1,000mg EPA/DHA daily. If you’re a vegetarian, make an effeort to eat more nuts and seeds, linseed oil, tofu and omega-3 fortified eggs for your fix.