Almost by any measure you care to choose, research tells us these are pretty stressful times. On top of the more traditional pressures – bills to pay, work deadlines to meet and relationships to maintain – we’re now smack dab in the middle of the information age.
We’re more connected than ever and many feel our inability to switch off literally means less chance to switch off mentally. This might explain why episodes of chronic stress, burn out, depression and anxiety are on the rise.
Not that there has to be a reason of course. Unfortunately some of us are simply unlucky and prone to mood issues. Around 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem at some point in our lives.
So whether you’re just feeling worn down of late, or you’re feeling the very real effects of depression and anxiety, you’re not alone.
Signs you might need to recharge include:
- Low mood
- Insomnia or oversleeping
- Inability to relax
- Lack of motivation or enjoyment
The good news is there’s plenty we can do to help ourselves out of these slumps naturally.
The sooner you take action to treat low mood and stress the sooner you’ll get back to feeling on top form. Even if you don’t feel seriously low, prevention is better than cure.
These are our top natural picks to help keep you healthy and happy.
Zinc is a vitally important mineral for our bodies, playing a crucial role first in terms of healthy development, then just our general continued wellbeing day to day.
Maintaining the proper levels bring a number of advantages, including a role positively influencing mood.
Though it doesn’t have any really strong anti-depressant properties, sluggishness and feeling low can often be down to zinc deficiency. Also it has been seen to improve the effectiveness of treatments which do directly improve mood.
You might not think this applies to you, but it’s surprisingly easy to find yourself short of zinc. For a start it’s difficult to get enough of purely from diet and also we lose a lot when sweating.
You can go overboard, but supplementing at around 30mg is a smart move to avoid dips.
Our main source of vitamin D is of course the sun. That means if we’re not lucky enough live somewhere with plenty of good weather, or we aren’t getting out enough, we risk being at a disadvantage health wise. Strong levels of the vitamin help our hormone balance, bone health and fertility.
A lack of vitamin D is also thought to be the main trigger of Seasonal Affected Disorder (SAD) which are periods of low mood owing to lack of sunlight.
So if you’re consistently in the wrong place at the wrong time for catching some rays, supplementing vitamin D is your best bet for keeping that sunny disposition.
Those with darker skin should also consider topping up as the extra melanin in your skin makes it harder for the ultraviolet B rays to penetrate effectively.
Vitamin D3 is the most easily absorbed by our system and 3000IUs should make a difference.
This plant extract is a favourite in alternative medicine because it helps us in a numerous ways. These include boosting energy levels, aiding fat burning and naturally regulating some hormones.
It makes this list though because evidence suggests it also be able to stimulate a change for the better when you’re feeling down.
A 2015 study for example showed that Rhodiola Rosea mimicked the effects of a popular SSRI antidepressant. The effect wasn’t as strong, but was theraputic and had less chance of side effects.
Around 100-300mg is a useful amount to consider.
More commonly known as St John’s Wart, it might not sound the most appealing supplement in the world, but it can make a real difference.
Hypericum has proven to be so useful in treating mild to moderate depression, in Europe it’s often prescribed before pharmaceuticals.
However there are certain things it doesn’t react well with, so although it’s widely available over the counter, if you want to try it, it’s smart to get advice from your doctor first.
Provided you’re okay to give it a shot 300-600mg is usually the sweet spot for lightening your emotional load a bit.
Another important multipurpose mineral when many responsibilities when it comes to maintain our health and happiness. Muscle building, nerve function and blood sugar levels are just a few of the things that depend on a high enough supply.
Evidence also suggests that one of the main symptoms of being lacking in enough magnesium is a spike in anxiety.
Like zinc, it’s easy to become deficient in magnesium without even really noticing it. An improperly balanced diet for example, or excess sweating again. One study claims up to 75% of Americans aren’t getting enough.
So there’s every chance your stress levels could be up because mineral levels are down. A daily top up of around 200mg could set you right.
Kava is a herb from the Pacific Islands, often used in alternative medicine to relax the user and sharpen mental focus.
It’s stood up pretty well to modern scientific trials too, proving to be a natural, effective way of soothing anxiety,
Work still needs to be done as far as the long term results of kava use and it should never be paired with prescription meds, for a short period 50-150mg is a good organic way to lower symptoms of stress.
Ashwagandha is an adaptogen, meaning it helps the body cope with stress. Any kind of stress. Physical stress sure, allowing you to exercise for longer, but also mental stress.
Prolonged mental stress can turn into anxiety and chronic anxiety can cause depression so ashwagandha may be useful in breaking up this cycle.
So although the benefits aren’t exactly direct, 300-500mg a day is still useful as far as stating in the right frame of mind and taking the edge off certain strains.
We all know what lavender is and have probably heard about its relaxing qualities.
It’s easy to dismiss something like this as an old wives tale, but in actual fact research suggests it can be very successful at obliterating stress.
Whether you ingest it or use it as aromatherapy it has a measurable calming effect on users, so making room for 80-100mg is well worth it.
This being the kind of site it is you probably expect us to plug exercise for everything. But it’s widely proven that regular exercise releases endorphins and serotonin in your brain.
These are feel good chemicals, which lift mood and relieve stress, helping both depression and anxiety.
It can be tough to get going when you’re feeling mentally below par as often motivation disappears. What’s key to remember though is low mood flips the script. Normally, you feel motivation to do something, then you do it. When you’re down you have to push yourself to do something first. This stimulates motivation to keep doing it. Hard, but well worth it.
As little as half an hour of sensible working out a day can help us feel better within a matter of months. The more you do though the faster and better your results will likely be.
The right fuel
If you’re looking to use food to keep your mood balanced than the best way to do that is eat a healthy diet. Balance in, balance out. It doesn’t hurt to load on up on some of these particular feel good favourites however.
Bananas, walnuts, pineapple, salmon, green salad, pumpkin seeds or avocado, are a few to get you started.
Also, we hate to be buzz kills but avoiding the obvious vices will help too. Junk food, drink, drugs; these things may give short term relief, but when they wear off the tend to worsen and prolong symptoms
Don’t be a hero
We can feel down or uptight for all sorts of reasons. What we’ve talked about here are all good ways to address those problems or lower the chances of them happening.
However, if you’ve been experiencing depression or anxiety for a long time or severely, it’s really important to talk to your doctor.
Both conditions are common and very treatable. Even at there worst, there’s a good chance of full recovery, so it pays to act early. A lot of what we’ve suggested here can be carried on alongside whatever approach the doc deems best too, giving you every chance of success.
If you’re already seeking treatment absolutely seek professional medical advice before pairing any of these suggestions up with medication.
Studies Quoted in the Review
- Walter Swardfager, Nathan Herrmann, Graham Mazereeuw, Kyle Goldberger, Tetsuhiro Harimoto, Krista L. Lanctôt. Zinc in Depression: A Meta-Analysis Neuropsychopharmacology Research Group, Sunnybrook Research Institute, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (2013)
- Anglin RE, Samaan Z, Walter SD, McDonald SD. Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: systematic review and meta-analysis. Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Neurosciences, St Joseph’s Hospital, 50 Charlton Avenue E, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. (2013)
- Mao JJ, Xie SX, Zee J, Soeller I, Li QS, Rockwell K, Amsterdam JD Rhodiola rosea versus sertraline for major depressive disorder: A randomized placebo-controlled trial. University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, United States (2015)
- Edzard Ernst Review: St John’s wort superior to placebo and similar to antidepressants for major depression but with fewer side effects Complementary Medicine Group, Peninsula Medical School, Universities of Exeter and Plymouth, Exeter, UK (2009)
- Neil Bernard Boyle, Clare Lawton, Louise Dye The Effects of Magnesium Supplementation on Subjective Anxiety and Stress–A Systematic Review School of Psychology, University of Leeds, Leeds LS2 9JT, UK (2017)
- Geier FP, Konstantinowicz T. Kava treatment in patients with anxiety. Geriatric Hospital Elbroich, Am Falder 6, 40589 Duesseldorf, Germany.(2004)
- Chandrasekhar K, Kapoor J, Anishetty S.A prospective, randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled study of safety and efficacy of a high-concentration full-spectrum extract of ashwagandha root in reducing stress and anxiety in adults. . Department of Neuropsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry, Asha Hospital, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India (2012)
- Woelk H, Schläfke S.A multi-center, double-blind, randomised study of the Lavender oil preparation Silexan in comparison to Lorazepam for generalized anxiety disorder. Surgery for psychiatry and psychotherapy, Buseck-Beuern, Germany(2010)