It’s a safe bet to say you desire happiness.
Almost all of us do. It’s ingrained in the foundation of the United States. Our Declaration of Independence says
. . . life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness . . .
are unalienable rights.
But Americans consistently rate themselves as being unhappy.
You could hypothesize many different reasons. But there is actual research surrounding happiness.
That’s right — there is evidence to help us better understand what makes people happy and miserable.
And the results may surprise you.
Top Detractors from Happiness
The 2017 World Happiness Report was recently published. This extensive document highlights happiness trends across the globe, but I am focusing on the results from the United States.
So what’s the biggest detractor from happiness?
Mental illness — particularly depression and anxiety.
Not income, relationship status, or employment.
It’s mental health.
How to Prevent Depression & Anxiety
If you’re a regular around here, you know I am passionate about prevention. So that is why I’m focusing on ways to PREVENT depression and anxiety.
Note: Depression and anxiety can be serious medical conditions. And there are times where they require medical treatment and intervention. I’m in no way minimizing the dire importance of adequate mental health treatment. Instead, I am focusing my attention on prevention.
Did you know there are proven ways to prevent both depression and anxiety?
There is so MUCH you can do to prevent both these mental health conditions. And I am going to highlight 6 evidence-based ways you can avoid them.
1. Eat for Mental Wellness
I’m going to be completely frank with you here: the modern American diet contributes to mental health problems.
A diet full of processed and pro-inflammatory foods contributes to depression and anxiety.
On the contrary, a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and healthy fat promotes sound mental health.
Don’t just take my word for it. There are hundreds of studies supporting my statement. A prospective study that shows the Western diet is predictive of depression can be found here.
How do you eat for mental wellness? First, fill your plates with vegetables and fruit. Then add whole grains and other lean protein sources. Second, steer clear of processed foods, refined carbohydrates (like sugar and white bread), and trans fats (this means anything “partially hydrogenated”).
Eating for Mental Health
2. Move Your Body
The benefits of physical activity on mental health have been proven time and time again.
Here’s a recap of the evidence: moving your body leads to less depression and anxiety.
Releases feel-good brain chemicals that may ease depression (endorphins and endocannabinoids)
Reduces immune system chemicals that can worsen depression
Increases body temperature which can have aiming effects
Furthermore, exercise can help increase confidence, relieve worries, improve social interaction, and help with coping and resiliency.
What kind of physical activity is best? There isn’t one best type. Low-intensity exercise, high-intensity exercise, and even yoga have been shown to prevent and even improve depressive symptoms.
My personal practice is to move my body every single day. Sometimes this is high-intensity, but other times it is lower-intensity. Some days I go running and others I take an exercise class, do HIIT, or even go for a brisk walk. So long as I am moving my body.
A few months back, I wrote an entire series on stress. If you want more information, check it out here.
The basics: stress promotes production of stress hormones like cortisol. Long-term cortisol elevations disturbs various metabolic processes the body and can lead to depression and anxiety.
If you have too much stress, either eliminate the source or augment your response to the stress. Or a little of both!
If you are interested in surprising ways to decrease stress, check out the article.
4. Get Your Zzz’s
Sleep is more important to health and wellness than you may imagine.
In fact, sleep deprivation is associated with mood changes, hallucinations, depression, and anxiety.
Both the quantity and quality of your sleep matters. Most adults should aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night for maximal physical and mental health benefits.
Do you want more information on sleep? Check out my article here.
5. Reduce Exposure to Environmental Toxins
According to the World Health Organization, several pesticides are linked to depression, anxiety, and suicide.
The most common culprit? Organophosphates.
Organophosphates are effective pesticides that can have serious impacts on the nervous system. Overexposure to organophosphates result in something called cholinesterase inhibition. This allows acetylcholine to build up and symptoms such as fatigue, headache, sweating, vomiting, twitching, and even depression, anxiety, and death may occur.
The good news is organophosphates are banned for use as home insecticides due to their poisonous effects.
The bad news is organophosphates are widely used in conventional agriculture and used on food crops such as fruits and vegetables.
Bottomline: you may be exposing yourself to organophosphates (and increasing your risk of depression and anxiety) from what you eat.
How to protect yourself? Consume food that was not exposed to organophosphates. The easiest way to do this is to eat organic.
6. Eliminate Nutrient Deficiencies
You may be surprised to learn certain nutrients play a key role in your mental health. I could write an entire book on this, but for your sake (and time) I will keep it short and to the point.
B vitamins are CRUCIAL in neurosynthesis. In particular, vitamins B6, B12, and folate are important keys. In fact, studies show increased folate intake is associated with lower risk of depression.
How can you get B vitamins through diet? Include leafy green vegetables, nuts, legumes, and whole grains.
If you have vitamin D deficiency, you are at higher risk of depression. What is less clear is if supplementing vitamin D reverses this effect.
The safe bet is to get natural vitamin D through food and sun exposure. Foods such as fatty fish are good vitamin D sources. And making sure you get 30 minutes of sun exposure twice a week can help.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have a host of benefits. Studies suggest omega-3’s may help in the treatment of depression and have a mood-stabilizing effect.
The most available sources of omega-3 fatty acids come from marine sources. Fish and fish oil are the most common ways people get their omega-3’s. Marine algae is another potent source.
Depression is associated with lower levels of the trace mineral zinc in the body. Studies show supplementing with zinc decreases depressive symptoms.
Dietary sources of zinc include oysters, legumes, nuts, and peas.
Magnesium deficiency — a fairly common issue in the United States — is associated with anxiety.
You can get magnesium through your diet. Foods such as almonds, spinach, cashews, legumes, soy beans, and broccoli all contain magnesium.
WHEN PREVENTION IS NOT ENOUGH
Maybe you have tried my evidence-based tips to prevent depression and anxiety.
And maybe you still need help.
Then please do not hesitate to see a healthcare provider for help. Modalities such as therapy and medication are effective.
RECAP & NEXT STEPS
There is much evidence surrounding happiness. And (maybe) to your surprise, mental health issues (particularly depression and anxiety) are the BIGGEST detractors from happiness. The good news is there is lots you can do to prevent depression and anxiety.
Eating right, moving your body, decreasing stress levels, getting adequate sleep, reducing your exposure to environmental toxins, and avoiding nutritional deficiencies can ALL help prevent depression and anxiety.
Over the next week, I challenge you to pick one actionable thing you can do to prevent depression and anxiety. It can be as easy as adding a serving of fruit to each day. Give it a try and see if you notice anything different!
Sending you happiness and health,