The brain is a very complex organ and governs every process in our body, either consciously or subconsciously. It controls every thought we have, every memory we make, every movement we perform and every emotion we express. Our brain dictates how we perceive things in life and how we experience the world. Through childhood we learn how to view the world and react to things, often based on our parents’ views and reactions. When we start to get older, we have our own experiences which changes our perceptions. Our experiences determine what we perceive as “anxiety provoking”, what we feel we are capable of in life and how we handle things like rejection. If we have had repetitive negative experiences making friends, playing sports, or finding jobs, this starts to form our view of ourself and our capabilities. Our experiences, whether positive or negative, set the foundation for how we view life and how emotionally resilient we are through difficult situations.
However, our mind doesn’t only control how we feel emotionally, but it also controls how we feel physically. Just think of how our blood pressure rises when we are angry, or how we turn beet red and start sweating if we feel embarrassed. If we are under stress we may feel sick to our stomachs and our hands feel cold and clammy. Stress can be very toxic to our physical health and make it hard for our body to “turn on” its repair mechanisms. Our mental state can continually bathe us in “stress hormones” (which cause disease) or “rest, digest and repair” hormones (which lead to health and well-being). These hormones and chemical signals then tell each cell how to respond, just like an officer giving orders to his troops. Our cells can then work to create a healthy internal state in our body, or go “hay-wire” and cause disease as seen with autoimmune diseases or cancer. Our mind is intimately connected with our physical health, so it is important to foster a happy, healthy mind to truly experience vibrant health.
Our emotional state not only impacts how we feel physically, but how we treat our body also impacts how we feel emotionally. The foods we eat can supply our brain with the building blocks for happy, healthy thought patterns or cause the brain to create negative, dysfunctional thoughts. The foods we eat may also be “plugging up” certain pathways or cause inflammation in the brain, leading to a greater difficulty having healthy, grounded thought processes. If we are missing key brain nutrients in our diet, we may not be as “happy” or emotionally resilient as we could be. In order to have a happy mind, we need to nourish and support it nutritionally so it has all the necessary ingredients to create happy, healthy thoughts!
Try using these 5 simple tips to foster a happy, healthy brain so you can start feeling vibrant and mentally thrive!
1. START A GRATITUDE JOURNAL
A great way to start your day off with a happy mindset is to take a few minutes to write down and internally experience 7 things you are grateful for in the current moment. This may be a hard exercise when we are feeling down and negative about our lives, however this morning exercise “trains” our brain to look for positive things can be grateful for throughout the day. Our brains are what psychologists call “neuroplastic“, which essentially means we can “train our brain” to experience things a certain way. Through repetitive thoughts and experiences, we can train our brain to perceive the world in a positive way or a negative way.
Our brain is constantly being molded according to the thoughts we have, whether we are aware of it or not. When we start to notice small things we can be grateful for each morning, we start to train our brain to continually look for things we can appreciate throughout the day – whether it be a beautiful sunny day, a smile we receive from someone or that delicious pumpkins spice latte we can afford at starbucks. If we really stop to think about what we have, we start to see how blessed we really are and learn to embrace each moment with gratefulness and positivity. And the more we do this intentionally, the more it becomes automatic for us!
Start your day off right and take 7 minutes to write down 7 things you are grateful each morning – set your mind up to see the little blessings throughout your day.
2. TAKE YOUR VITAMIN D
Vitamin D, also known as the sunshine vitamin, is a vitamin that is crucial for a happy, healthy brain. Vitamin D actually acts as a hormone in the body and is crucial for many metabolic processes. One of these processes is involved in regulating mood and emotions. Studies done on vitamin D levels and mood have found that people with a low mood or depression had lower levels of this vitamin in their blood. An analysis of the Canadian Health Measures Survey, conducted by Statistics Canada, found that people with higher blood vitamin D levels reported experiencing better mental health overall. Another study has shown that vitamin D supplementation at specified doses can improve a person’s mood and reduce the symptoms of depression.
At this point you may be wondering if you really need to take vitamin D, or whether you can you get enough through your diet? The truth is that the amount of vitamin D we consume through food (ie. milk and other dairy products) is very small. It is very hard to consume enough vitamin D through food to get your blood levels in a healthy range. The Canadian Health Measures Survey found that the vast majority of Canadians are deficient in vitamin D. Since vitamin D is made in the skin upon exposure to sun, it is easy to see how we as Canadians simply aren’t getting enough. In order for enough vitamin D to even be made in the skin, the sun needs to be strong enough for this to happen. During the winter months, the sun is too weak to produce much vitamin D in our skin. Also, some people think that the use of sunscreens could be inhibiting our skin’s ability to make vitamin D during the summer months too. For this reason, it is important for all Canadians to discuss the need for supplementing vitamin D with their naturopathic doctors to ensure they are experiencing the best mental health possible.
Get your sunshine vitamin in each day to “nourish your mood” and ensure you are optimizing your mood!
3. GET YOUR OMEGA 3S IN EACH DAY
Omega 3s have a wide spectrum of health benefits, but are especially valuable for optimal brain health. Did you know that 60 percent of the brain is actually made up of fat? That’s a lot of fat! Where does this fat come from? When we are a growing fetus in our mom, the fat comes from our mom’s stores and what she eats. If a mom is low in healthy fats, the fats will actually come from her body and brain to build the growing baby’s brain. This is why some women experience “baby brain” during pregnancy – they are actually showing signs of omega 3 deficiency.
As we grow up, the fat to support our brain comes from our own diet. The best source of omega 3s comes from fish, especially low-mercury fatty fish such as mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies and salmon. However, we can also get omega 3s from ground flax and chia seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts and grass-fed eggs. The majority of North Americans do not get nearly enough omega 3 fats in their diet. If we don’t have enough omega 3s in our diet, our brain will start to suffer and try to use other less-helpful fats to get the job done.
Studies done on omega 3s in depression and anxiety which found that people with more severe symptoms actually had the lowest levels of omega 3s in their blood. Other studies using omega 3s from fish oil as a natural anti-depressant found it to be both safe and effective in improving mood – especially when the EPA content was higher. And they also found “the more, the better” when it comes to omega 3s improving mood. Our brain is constantly active and as a fatty organ, it needs enough healthy fat to do its job properly and support a thriving mind!
Start supporting your brain to be a happy, healthy brain by eating your omega 3 fats each day!
4. GET UP & START MOVING
Exercise can be a great way to get you feeling happier and more physically vibrant quickly. A little bit of exercise can go a long way to improving your mood and anxiety, even after only a week. Studies show that 30 minutes of physical activity at least 3 times a week can help you tolerate stress better and reduce the return of depression. Exercise has actually been shown to be as effective in improving mood and supporting mental health as anti-depressants. If you’re like me and you hate the idea of running on a treadmill like a hamster in a cage, try finding something you enjoy! Join a recreational sport league with friends, take your dog for a nice daily walk or go swimming at the local YMCA. Make it as fun and interactive as you can, and try doing it with a friend so you can keep each other accountable!
Psychologists at Harvard University have studied “happy people” and what makes them so happy. Their studies have shown that people who are happier live their lives “positively in the present moment.” What exactly does this mean? This means that their minds are anchored in the present moment, not focusing on past or future negative experiences, and they see life through a “glass half full” lens. Exercise can help get us “out of our heads” and help anchor us in the present moment. Mindfulness-based exercise classes such as yoga can be a great way to foster a positive mind that is focused on what is happening in the present moment. It doesn’t matter what you do to get moving, just find an activity you enjoy and get yourself mentally engaged with it!
Start getting active for at least 30 minutes, 3 days a week to feel more happy and vibrant in as little as 7 days!
5. EAT MORE ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FOODS
We know that for the most part “we are what we eat” and that the foods we eat have an impact on our physical health. However, to what degree does our diet affect how we feel mentally and emotionally? As it turns out, our diet has a huge impact on our mental health! In the last 5 years, researchers have started looking into the role of brain inflammation in mental health. Researchers have found that people with greater amounts of inflammation in their body also had greater amounts anxiety and feelings of sadness. Studies looking at the role of anti-inflammatories in the treatment of depression are underway and show promising results. But why not prevent these feelings in the first place and create an internal environment in our bodies for happy minds and thriving mental wellness!
At this point you may be wondering “Inflammation? What the heck is that?” Have you ever sprained a finger or broken an arm, and your arm swelled up and turned red? These symptoms come because there is inflammation present. When it comes to the body, the same concept applies – widespread inflammation causes our brain and tissues to become “swollen” and this causes damage to them over the long-term. Imagine a “fire” constantly licking the insides of your body, causing it to have to continually repair damage inflicted on your brain. And where does this inflammation come from? It comes from what we eat! When we eat processed foods – foods high in sugar and carbs (such as breads, white potatoes, and cookies), dairy products and red meat – we are feeding the inflammation in our body. However, when we eat foods that are anti-inflammatory – such as fresh fruits and vegetables (especially brightly coloured or dark leafy green vegetables), raw nuts and seeds, healthy fish, oils high in omega 3s and spices such as turmeric and ginger – we start to calm the inflammatory “fire” in our body and bring healing nutrients to our body’s tissues. Start brightening your mood with more anti-inflammatory foods so you can start thriving mentally, instead of just surviving.
Eat meals with more “natural colour” by incorporating more brightly coloured vegetables, dark leafy greens, and spices such as turmeric and ginger to BRIGHTEN YOUR MOOD each day!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Written by Dr. Noelle, ND
Dr. Noelle is a naturopathic doctor dedicated to providing patients with excellent care and natural solutions for vibrant health and a thriving mind. She acknowledges the role of a healthy mind on physical health, and believes a happy mind creates an environment for physical healing in the body. Dr. Noelle integrates standard medical diagnostics with evidence-based natural therapies and enjoys collaborating with other health care professionals to ensure her patients have the best care possible. Noelle has a huge heart for her patients and really wants her patients to feel like they are thriving in life – physically, mentally and emotionally – rather than just surviving.
Helping patients towards vibrant health & a thriving mind . . . Naturally.