We are reading so much this past 18 months about the rise in depression rates due to the Covid pandemic. Even more disturbing is that the group most impacted is the 18-25 year old age group, which has a 41% surge in depression and anxiety. In my opinion, we are in a mental health crisis. There is only so much we can do to control external factors, such as high schools being closed, sports being cancelled, jobs becoming remote, college campuses sending students home, and the scary reality that you can still contract Covid at any moment–regardless of whether you have vaccinated. However, our diet and lifestyle strongly impact our mental health and mood which are two things we CAN control.
The state of your gut affects and impacts your mind–in other words, how you feel and behave is based on what you eat. The mind and gut keep in touch through the vagus nerve, which sends chemicals back and forth in your bloodstream. This “Gut-Brain Axis” explains how what you eat so powerfully impacts how you feel emotionally. For example, certain foods like blueberries and dark chocolate cause your brain to release serotonin (the “happy hormone”), so you feel happy after eating them. Likewise, certain foods can make you feel sad, anxious, and moody.
So what foods should you avoid in order to feel your happiest and most balanced? Here are the biggest offenders to your mood and emotional wellness.
- SUGAR: After eating a super sweet treat (think Krispy Kreme) or refined, processed carbs (think Domino’s pizza) we feel depressed, irritable, and spacey–not to mention we often feel remorseful too for having overindulged on so much sugar.
- CAFFEINE: When that caffeine buzz from our Frappuccino wears off we are left anxious, fatigued, ravenous, and even nauseous…not to mention the embarrassing sweaty palms!
- SATURATED FATS/HYDROGENATED OILS/FRIED FOODS: Before you hit the drive thru at McDonald’s, remember that trans fats negatively affect our brain and nervous system leading to sadness, diminished brain function (think memory loss!), and low energy.
Some helpful ways to handle chronic stress besides diet include exercise–movement is great for your mental health. A short walk or series of yoga stretches is a guaranteed mood improver. Breathe work and meditation are also great ways to calm your mind and escape from negative thoughts and anxiety. Finally, accepting stress is an important coping method. We cannot control what is happening externally, but we can try to handle it as best we can, and understand that it is “not our fault”. We should also allow ourselves to feel angry or upset. Accepting our feelings of frustration is encouraged, instead of trying to suppress them.
Between diet and stress management techniques, we can all feel better during difficult times of uncertainty. Food really IS mood and sticking to a whole foods, plant-based diet is so important to your mental health. Do you find that what you eat affects your emotions?