I want to first of all preface this by saying that I do not think that every case of anxiety, low mood or depression can be magically cured through diet and supplementation. Whilst I really want to go into detail on numerous things that help with any underlying imbalance or nutritional deficiency that could be the reason behind a excitatory neurotransmitter dominance or a slack serotonin production, that by no way means that I consider mental health to be one sided or an easily fixable problem.
Yes, sometimes taking a vitamin D supplement can make the world of difference, but for some, mental health can it’s a much longer road of finding what works and what doesn’t work for you.
What I’m trying to do here is present to you, as simply as I can, the adjustments and changes that one can make to give your body a fighting chance when it comes to your mental health. When there is an underlying hormonal imbalance, a nutrient deficiency or issue within the gut, anxiety views you as an easier target. Therefore, healing and managing that root cause can be a really useful, worthwhile place to start.
The 9-to-9 Rule
Have you ever stayed off Instagram for an entire day and come the evening realised that you’re in a bloody good mood? We might not even know it in the moment, but our phones are stressful AF. I find the 9-to-9 rule super helpful: no phone from 9PM to 9AM. No, nope, Nada. Put it on airplane mode or better yet, outside the bedroom. This way you’re not going to bed with the outside world on your mind OR waking up to it.
Food First, Then Supplement
Yes, sometimes we do need a little help in the form of supplementation, but lets always address diet first. Balance your blood sugar first - your plate should be full of non-starchy vegetables, sufficient healthy FAT, quality protein and a slow releasing form of carbs (not too much, not too little). Soak your grains, cut back on the sugar for the love of god (yes, even the healthy kind) and consider some animal protein if you’re really, really struggling on a plant-based diet. Eggs are a superfood as their yolks contain SO many amazing nutrients that can help with mood – SO many of your b vitamins for a start, vitamin d and zinc. Greens are essential for liver health, ensuring you’re getting rid of that influx of hormones you may have accumulated from birth control or during a certain phase of your cycle- which if out of balance, can lead to emotions running high.
Under the supervision of a naturopath or health professional (please don’t go chucking these back willy-nilly) there are a number of wonderful herbal supplements that can support the nervous system for you to explore. These include l-theanine, 5-HTP, GABA, Passionflower and Motherwort. I am also a huge fan of adaptogens for long-term adrenal support too. CBD oil is all the range for anxiety right now – but make sure you opt for high potency and do your research, as lot of brands really love to dilute. Magnesium is another one of my favourites and makes the WORLD of difference for those panicky days.
Mineral and Vitamin Deficiencies
When coming off hormonal birth control and with today’s mineral depleted soil that our food is grown in, we often see these deficiencies happening in women. B6 is THE vital link between glutamate and GABA (our calming neurotransmitter). Vitamin D is another one we hear so often is linked to low energy and mood. Deficiencies in vitamin D are common, yet if we over supplement – can lead to a further deficiency of magnesium – a mineral essential for our parasympathetics – so get your bloods done first!
An AWFUL lot of serotonin is made in the gut and houses receptors. Therefore happiness is just as much about the GIT as it is the mind. Poor diets, hormonal birth control and stress wreak havoc on our gut health as well as damaging the lining, making absorption that little bit more complex (linking into the point above – you can eat all the healthy food in the world, but its what you absorb that matters the most!) Opt for a HIGH QUALITY probiotic, stay away from antibiotics unless completely essential, grab fermented foods, bone broth, collagen try digestive enzymes and bitter greens and work on your adrenals (more on this in a bit) as there is a deeper connection between the two than you may think.
When everything else is ruled out – anxiety and low mood can be linked to a sluggish or even overactive thyroid. Its more common than you think – and other symptoms include fatigue, hair loss, unexplained weight gain or loss. You can check this with an endocrinologist or GP and can be addressed through adrenal support, careful liver detoxification and managing blood sugar. I also recommend a food grown thyroid support supplement here too – Wild Nutrition are great for this.
Years of anxiety, panic disorder and generally being a type A chronic worrier have left my adrenals tired AF. Everyday I have to work to sooth them and make sure that they know they don’t have to work QUITE so hard to save my life (your adrenals are little pyramids in your kidneys where your cortisol and adrenaline are made, along with a few sex hormones – mostly androgens). HENCE why stress is so strongly linked to hormonal imbalances and makes symptoms 100 times worse. SUPPORT your adrenals by ensuring you are HYDRATED all the time (dehydration = stress). Consume adequate protein, FAT and greens. Consider an adrenal support supplement – I like the one from Pure Encapsulations and CONSUME carbohydrates!!! Keto and IF is a NO for adrenal burn out. Please don’t do it.
For the Love of God, Get Rid of Coffee
I don’t even need to expand on this one. If you have anxiety, cut the coffee. End of. Cacao and very dark chocolate can also affect some if you’re super sensitive to caffeine.
I’m not very good at this – I tend to opt for relief when things get too much instead of scheduling time to ensure things DON’T get too much. MAKE self care a priority – put it in your diary and do it every day. Have a bath (hydrotherapy is incredibly powerful), mediate TWICE a day in a way which works for you. There are so many different methods, and this could also mean that you just go for a walk without headphones in or any distractions. Journal, practice gratitude, call a friend etc. I listen to classic FM on repeat, watch bake off reruns and listen to Harry Potter audio books - that’s my self care. Try acupuncture, YOGA, reiki, diffuse essential oils, get blue blocking glasses, an acupressure mat– whatever works for you – do it and do it daily.