Support Your Mood with Breathing, Sleep, and a Healthy Diet

Each year, at least 10% of Americans have concerns trying to support their mood. Feeling down is a normal part of life, but there are several simple ways to find mood support for rainy days.

As our bodies were created to experience vibrant, varied emotions, it may come as no surprise that some secrets to conquering mood come from nature.

Causes & Risk Factors for Feeling Down

What causes mood issues? Feeling blue or overly worried can be caused by:

  • Female hormone concerns
  • Medication side effects
  • Substance abuse
  • Difficult life circumstances
  • Daily stress
  • Loss and grief
  • Physical, mental, or emotional trauma
  • Less-than-optimal immune system function
  • Physical injury or illness

3 Keys to Resilience: Breath, Sleep, and Diet

1. Breath

Oxygen is actually a nutrient, though many of us don’t think of it that way. In fact, it’s the number one nutrient you need to survive!

When you can’t be cheerful or experience feelings of being edgy, it can be a challenge to breathe deeply to get plenty of oxygen.

Fortunately, breathing exercises can serve to center you and help support calm.

  • Box breathing: This exercise uses the number 4 as an easy way to keep track of your breathing. Breathe in deeply, hold for 4 seconds. Breathe out until all the oxygen is expelled from your lungs, hold for 4 seconds. Then, repeat that process 4 times. You can trace a square (box) on your palm to help keep you on track.
  • Belly breathing: Belly breathing, or breathing through your diaphragm, helps to deepen your breaths. First, lie down with pillows under your head and knees. Put a hand on your stomach and one on your chest. Breathe through your nose, being sure to expand your stomach while your chest doesn’t move much. Breathe out through your mouth, using your stomach muscles to push out all the air from your lungs.
  • Breath focus: While sitting or lying down, close your eyes and focus on each part of your body, from feet to forehead. After scanning your body once, begin to take very slow, deep breaths and continue to pay attention to your body and how each breath feels. You may want to choose one word to focus on and even speak aloud when you exhale. Do this for about 20 minutes each day.

There are many online apps that can walk you through these and other breath exercises. Check out the App Store or Play Store on your device until you find one you like.

2. Sleep

Sleep deprivation — whether for a few hours each night, or for an entire night of sleep — can cause worry, frustration, and general upset in anyone.

By optimizing your sleep, you can increase your resilience against the stresses of everyday life.

Try these tips for better sleep:

  • Reduce blue light exposure, especially before bed. The spectrum of light put off by your digital devices is somewhat similar to daylight, which your body responds to by staying alert. Use blue light filters, sunglasses, and apps whenever you can, particularly in the 2-3 hours before bed.
  • Exercise during the day (but not at night). Moderate exercise can have a positive impact on sleep by promoting health in your body’s systems that could otherwise stay sedentary.
  • Keep a sleep routine, even on the weekends. It’s most important to go to bed at the same time each night, so get in the habit of setting an evening alarm that reminds you to wind down.
  • Reduce alcohol and caffeine intake before bed. Alcohol is a go-to for many people trying to fall asleep faster, but it actually leads to poor quality sleep. Caffeine shouldn’t be consumed 6-8 hours or more before bed, as it will keep your brain more alert than you need to be for deep sleep.
  • Make your bedroom an oasis meant for sleep and rest. Avoid doing work in your room throughout the day whenever possible. At night, keep the lights and noise low. Try to sleep with the bedroom at 68 degrees Fahrenheit or lower and make sure you have comfortable pillows, sheets, and mattress. You may even try an essential oil diffuser with a pleasant scent such as lavender or chamomile to add to the “oasis” experience.
  • Hide your bedroom clock to prevent not only nighttime exposure to bright lights, but also a sense of unrest that can come from staring at a clock.
  • Don’t nap for more than 30 minutes during the day. Beyond 30 minutes, daytime naps (particularly after 3 PM) can make it harder to sleep during the night.

If you’re not sure of your sleep quality, try a sleep app (which may involve a wearable sleep tracking device) to track how it changes over time.

3. Diet

Your diet impacts every part of your health, from sleep to mood to the immune system. Removing some triggers for mood concerns and focusing on nutrient-dense foods that promote mental health can make a big difference for your emotional resilience.

These tips may help:

  • Reduce your sugar intake. We’ve all likely had that afternoon sugar crash, and it doesn’t feel good for anyone. By getting excess sugar out of your life, you may not only avoid major cravings but also find you have fewer dramatic shifts in how you’re feeling throughout any given day.
  • Increase your intake of (healthy) fats. Diets like the Mediterranean diet or ketogenic diet seem to support proper mental health, likely because of the increase in the omega-3s and other healthy fats consumed. Avoid trans fats and focus on healthy fat-rich foods, like almonds, fatty fish, avocados, and olive oil.
  • Try the DASH diet. Created by the American Heart Association, the DASH diet was originally designed to improve heart health markers. However, it also seems to support a healthy mood over the long-term better than a standard American diet.
  • Eat fermented foods. Fermented foods and drinks like kimchi, natto, and kombucha help support a healthy gut. This, in turn, can help you deal with anxious feelings that come up throughout life. In general, foods that promote gut health are likely good for your mood.

Other Remedies to Support a Positive Attitude

In addition to these major areas to address, a few natural remedies may help to support a healthy level of resilience and mood stability:

  • Curcumin/turmeric: The root turmeric, with its active compound, curcumin, is thought to support a healthy mood.
  • Fish oil: Omega-3 fatty acids found in most fish oil dietary supplements are associated with a more positive outlook on life.
  • John’s Wort: St. John’s wort is a tried-and-true herbal option for lifting spirits.
  • Rhodiola Rosea: This Ayurvedic adaptogenic herb can help to promote resilience, particularly in response to stress.

The Gut-Brain Axis

This interplay of the brain and the digestive system is known as the gut-brain axis. In short, a dysbiotic or dysfunctional gut may affect our body’s ability to maintain an optimal mood.

It seems clear that healthy inflammation levels correlate with a positive mood, although it’s not clear which may actually cause the other.

For many people, this is a chicken-or-egg situation. Perhaps a life change, like the death of a parent, triggered a gloomy season of life. Long-term issues resulting from this event may then lead to a dysbiotic gut.

But maybe it was the opposite. What if a lifelong diet of empty calories, sugar, and processed foods affected healthy inflammation levels and altered your brain’s ability to think positively?

The gut-brain axis operates using “bidirectional communication”, which means it’s impossible to divorce one from the other.

When you nourish your gut and, by extension, your immune system, you are actively working to heal the impact of sadness and worry.

By the same token, a lifestyle that addresses your body’s craving for a spirit of resilience can also support healthy levels of inflammation and even a healthy gut.

Looking to the Future

If mood concerns are your main health target at the moment, consider optimizing your breathing, sleep, and diet to support a positive outlook. A new life may just be right around the corner.

Sources

Steiner, J., Walter, M., Gos, T., Guillemin, G. J., Bernstein, H. G., Sarnyai, Z., ... & Bogerts, B. (2011). Severe depression is associated with increased microglial quinolinic acid in subregions of the anterior cingulate gyrus: evidence for an immune-modulated glutamatergic neurotransmission?. Journal of neuroinflammation, 8(1), 1-9. Full text: https://jneuroinflammation.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1742-2094-8-94