10 ways to feel happier

Feeling blue? Before reaching for the comfort foods to cheer yourself up, check out these top ten rules on how to stay happy and healthy


1. Green tea is an excellent healthy mood booster. “It contains some caffeine, which gives you a bit of a lift, but it is also packed with the amino acid theanine,” explains nutritionist Cassandra Barns. “Theanine can have a relaxing effect and may help to relieve anxiety and mental stress by increasing your levels of serotonin, dopamine (responsible for reward and pleasure), and gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA, which has a relaxant effect).”

2. Pop a happy pill. “Vitamin D can help with the symptoms of mild depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD),” says Cassandra. “Although you can get some vitamin D from foods such as butter and oily fish, it’s not really enough. The best way to get it is from spending lots of time in the sun. In winter months, make sure you take a supplement, such as Forte D 4000 by Quest Vitamins (revital.co.uk).”

3. Have a couple of squares of dark chocolate. “Chocolate contains several substances that may improve mood. These include phenylethylamine, which can act as a brain neurotransmitter and affect your mood and pleasure,” explains Shona Wilkinson, head nutritionist at nutricentre.com. “Chocolate also contains magnesium, one of the nutrients needed for production of serotonin, which is the primary hormone responsible for good mood. Eating any food you enjoy also stimulates endorphin release, which can simply make you happy.” Don’t over-indulge in comfort foods though, as this will only make you feel worse later on when your blood sugar levels drop.

4. Make sure you are getting enough zinc in your diet. “Good sources are seafood, nuts, seeds and green vegetables, especially spinach,” recommends Cassandra. “Consider supplementing if low, as zinc is required for normal cognitive function. Try Nature’s Plus Iron (www.revital.co.uk, £7.50).”

5. Get some daylight. “Bright light stimulates the production of serotonin. However, standard electric indoor lighting is not strong enough to do this – natural daylight is many times brighter, even on an overcast day,” says Dr Marilyn Glenville, the UK’s leading nutritionist (marilynglenville.com) and author of The Natural Health Bible for Women. “Open the blinds or curtains as soon as you get up and go for a 15-minute walk outside once or twice during the day.”

6. Do some exercise. “Exercise stimulates endorphin release, making you feel good. However, if you head to the gym and start exercising vigorously, your workouts may compound underlying problems such as back injuries,” explains Lynne Robinson, author of Pilates for Life and founder of Body Control Pilates (bodycontrolpilates.com). “Exercise doesn’t need to be intensive or of long duration: even a 10-minute brisk walk or a short exercise DVD can help. Try Pilates, which will increase your flexibility and improve posture as well as help to release tension.”

7. Distract yourself. “Ultimately, your mood reflects your thinking and state of mind, so a ‘quick fix’ is easier if you do something that stops you thinking your negative thoughts,” explains Shona. “This can include seeing a friend, doing something nice for someone else, watching something funny on TV, or engaging your mind in any other activity.”

8. Take your vitamins. “B6, B12 and folate are crucial nutrients for a natural daily chemical process called methylation. The outcome of this process is the balancing of the neurotransmitters dopamine and adrenalin, which are involved in mood regulation,” says Cassandra. “These three nutrients – which are required for normal psychological function – can all be easily found in a B complex, such as Mega B Complex from Quest Vitamins (www.revital.co.uk).”

9. Look at your diet – the answer to your low mood could be on your plate. “By cutting down on sugar and alcohol we can help to balance our yo-yoing moods,” explains Shona. “Both these substances increase a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine makes us feel rewarded and pleasurable but this doesn’t last forever and – once levels fall – we can feel lower than we did before. Eat oily fish twice a week or try an omega supplement, such as Higher Nature’s Fish Oil (www.nutricentre.com, £15.39), as fatty acids are good brain food.”

Don’t forget about protein too! “Proteins are broken down in the body to make amino acids, and these are then used to make neurotransmitters responsible for keeping our mind and mood balanced,” adds Shona. “Think nuts, seeds, meat, fish, legumes, whey protein and eggs.”

10. Wake up on the right side of your bed. If you feel especially down on dark mornings, consider using a special light lamp alarm clock. “The lamp gradually turns itself on (and gets brighter and brighter) to mimic natural dawn sunrise, to wake you up slowly before your alarm goes off,” says Cassandra. “Research has shown people feel more positive and find it easier to get out of bed in the darker months after using this device.”

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