With so much information and disinformation on mood, mental health, and practices to support both, it can be confusing to know how to care for our bodies.
While influencers might pitch elixirs, tonics, and supplements to cure our ails- as a mental health professional I look to research. To create this set of doodles on improving mood, I turned to research.
Even though the pandemic lockdowns of the past few years are behind us, research has persisted in discovering how these lockdowns and distancing practices are impacted our societies. One research study showed that, found that isolation (often a natural defense against low mood) correlated with even worse mood. This effect was especially true for those with less mobility, poorer sleep, and who ate a less balanced variety of foods.
Whether job stress or familial situations, illness, or significant life events: we are consistently presented with situations that may create obstacles for us. Our daily choices, however, can help us navigate these challenges with a little more support.
[IMPORTANT NOTE] These mental health-supporting behaviors do not substitute for or replace medication or counseling. If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of depression, get screened by a licensed healthcare provider. Depression can become more resistant to treatment the longer it remains untreated.
Taking A Vitamin D Supplement:
Vitamin D is an essential vitamin that many people don’t get enough of. One symptom of low vitamin D is low mood. Taking a vitamin D supplement may support improved mood. Read more about how bodies make Vitamin D from sunlight and how that may not be enough for some of us in this article from WeAreFeel.
SOURCE: Anglin, R., Samaan, Z., Walter, S., & McDonald, S. (2013). Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Psychiatry, 202(2), 100-107. doi:10.1192/bjp.bp.111.106666
Moving Your Body:
Whether you tackle an intense 30-day fitness plan or begin adding gentle movement to your day, researchers consistently find that movement – even just a bit – releases chemicals in the brain that support improved mood.
SOURCE: Dunn, A. L., Trivedi, M. H., & O’Neal, H. A. (2001). Physical activity dose–response effects on outcomes of depression and anxiety. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 33(6, Suppl), S587–S597. https://doi.org/10.1097/00005768-200106001-00027
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Spending Time Outside:
Due to the busyness of life or physical barriers, our access to the outdoors may be limited. However, researchers suggest that even spending time on a patio or park bench can improve our sense of well-being. Even an open window may improve mood in complete isolation without access to the outdoors. An interesting note about this research is that it was found to be true even if people are NOT moving outdoors- simply sitting on a park bench or laying in the grass can lead to improved markers of mental health.
SOURCE: Hon K. Yuen & Gavin R. Jenkins (2020) Factors associated with changes in subjective well-being immediately after urban park visit, International Journal of Environmental Health Research, 30:2, 134-145, DOI: 10.1080/09603123.2019.1577368
Many providers put a strong emphasis on “proper nutrition” to support mental health. While nutrition matters, food is also a source of comfort during seasons of intense disruption (such as a global pandemic or even just shifts in life like a job change or a major meeting on the horizon).
I believe a balanced diet includes both attention to eating diverse nutritionally rich foods and eating foods that feel good and bring pleasure to us. Mindful eating includes permission to eat all food groups and even in all quantities, but invites us to pay attention to our food and body as we eat the food. Invest time in preparing food you can be proud of and check in with your body as you eat.
SOURCE: Rao, T. S., Asha, M. R., Ramesh, B. N., & Rao, K. S. (2008). Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses. Indian journal of psychiatry, 50(2), 77–82. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5545.42391
Research shows that being exposed to the microbiology of soil can have a positive impact on depression symptoms. Even beyond this chemical-biological link, gardening has been known to boost mood. Working in the soil outside or even tending to houseplants can have a lasting positive impact on mood.
SOURCE: Soga, M., Gaston, K. J., & Yamaura, Y. (2016). Gardening is beneficial for health: A meta-analysis. Preventive medicine reports, 5, 92–99. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmedr.2016.11.007
Caring for a Pet:
Pets can help improve mental health for various reasons. The oxytocin released during touch, the movement involved in exercising or caring for our pets, and the unconditional positive regard that many pets – especially dogs – provide us all contribute to improved mood.
SOURCE: Beetz, A., Uvnäs-Moberg, K., Julius, H., & Kotrschal, K. (2012). Psychosocial and psychophysiological effects of human-animal interactions: the possible role of oxytocin. Frontiers in psychology, 3, 234. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2012.002344
Two Bonus Mood-Boosting Activities:
Sometimes less accessible, physical contact and synchronized breathing activities – like those experienced during choir practice- can improve mood and decrease depression symptoms. As you are able, take advantage of any safe opportunities you can find to physically connect (for example, with people already living in your home).
Our emotional brains are part of a system in our body called our limbic system. This limbic system is an open-loop system- it’s why premature infants have better survival rates when they experience skin-to-skin contact. It’s also why psychotherapy offered online usually doesn’t feel as helpful as in-person sessions. Connecting our limbic system to another person’s limbic system can help us sync up and soothe our nervous systems.
Be intentional about physically connecting. Scheduling time for physical affection – intimate or platonic – can be a way to care for yourself, especially during more intense or challenging life seasons.
SOURCE: Kai MacDonald & Tina Marie MacDonald (2010) The Peptide That Binds: A Systematic Review of Oxytocin and its Prosocial Effects in Humans, Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 18:1, 1-21, DOI: 10.3109/10673220903523615
Singing with other People:
Touch is just one way to sync a limbic system to another person’s limbic system. Experiences like singing, chanting, and even coordinated movements like a dance class can help improve our mental health via connecting with other people.
SOURCE: Tom Shakespeare, Alice Whieldon. Sing Your Heart Out: community singing as part of mental health recovery. Medical Humanities, 2017; medhum-2017-011195 DOI: 10.1136/medhum-2017-011195
Handwritten text: Ways to Boost Mood and Mental Health
One. Taking a Vitamin D Supplement. (Hand-drawn black-ink doodled image of a person placing a pill into their mouth.)
Two. Moving your body. (Hand-drawn black-ink doodled image of a person wearing a helmet and climbing up a rock wall.)
Three. Going outside. (Hand-drawn black-ink doodled image of a person hand-dropping bird seed on a sidewalk for two black birds to eat.)
Four. Eating mindfully. (Hand-drawn black-ink doodled image of a person holding a mixing bowl with a yellow substance inside.)
Five. Gardening. (Hand-drawn black-ink doodled image of a person sitting in a garden, holding a vegetable while a bee flies nearby.)
Six. Caring for a pet. (Hand-drawn black-ink doodled image of a smiling person holding a yellow rabbit.)
Image created by Lindsay Braman