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Mood Boosting in the Days of Chronic Stress: Natural Support for Depression and Anxiety

mood boosters

Has there ever been a time when we have collectively needed such a mood boost as in the times we live in now? All of our lives have been affected as we have done our best to adapt, roll with the punches, and have tried to keep ourselves and our families healthy and functioning.

It has been all too easy to tap into the stress and anxiety that seem to be looming in the air these days, permeating our lives like a dark cloud and causing uncertainty and turmoil in even the most normal of daily routines. We could definitely all use a little boost, a little more resilience and some peace of mind – an assurance that we are grounded and that our center is still there, no matter what we have been through, and an inner knowing that things are going to be okay. Whether you’re searching for how to help someone with anxiety or looking to support your own mental well-being, it’s crucial to remember that you’re not alone in this struggle.

In times like these, it is helpful to remember that Mother Nature is a great resource, providing us with many natural and gentle remedies to help restore our innate balance, whether we are already on medication for mood or simply looking for some natural support.

The Prevalence of Anxiety and Depression

It is worth mentioning that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., and about 50% of those diagnosed with anxiety also experience depression. Depression has a high incidence around the world and is the highest contributor to disability. However, up to 40% of patients with depressive disorders do not respond well to antidepressant medications-this is where natural remedies can come in.

Herbs can be used either together with antidepressant or anxiety medication (working with a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner who can help you choose the appropriate herbs that have been studied clinically as adjunct treatments) or as a natural and effective alternative to prescription medications.

The Science Behind Mood Disorders and Chronic Stress

Now for a little bit of the science behind mood disorders and how they are linked to chronic stress. Depression is associated with abnormal neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to change and adapt as a result of experience, reorganizing itself by forming new neural connections throughout life) in the prefrontal cortex and limbic system. These brain regions are also involved in anxiety, fear and behavioral control.

Chronic stress is one of the major risk factors for depression and anxiety and is associated with alterations in the brain that are linked to:

  • Sleep and circadian rhythm disruption
  • Impairment of cognition, memory and learning
  • Changes in behavior
  • Disruption of rational thinking and emotions

Chronic stress can also lead to persistent systemic inflammation, a key feature of depression and anxiety. Ongoing inflammation activates our HPA (hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal) axis and in turn produces more cortisol, which creates more stress and inflammation.

Cells in the brain are very sensitive to inflammation. Inflammatory mediators and inflammatory immune cells can cross the blood-brain barrier and initiate neuroinflammation, or inflammation of the brain. These immune cells can also become cortisol resistant, meaning more and more cortisol is produced to dampen their effect – leading to a heightened neuroinflammatory environment that affects behavior and sense of well-being.

The Gut-Brain Axis

This cycle not only affects our brain but our gut health as well, via the gut-brain axis. This axis is the equivalent of a two-way street between our brain and our gut.

The gut is where we make our feel-good neurotransmitters, like serotonin, and it also houses our microbiome and most of our immune system. So if we have gut dysbiosis (imbalance) and chronic inflammation, that inflammation can also affect our brain, and we are more likely to experience mental health issues such as anxiety and/or depression as a result. It’s a fine and delicate balance where one thing leads to another. Individuals with a history of mood disorders are also more susceptible to gut dysbiosis due to chronic inflammation.

Natural Remedies for Healthy Mood and Related Support

While this all sounds quite alarming and somewhat inevitable, especially in these stressful times, the good news is that we have clinical evidence for herbs that help elevate mood. We can take this a step further by also addressing inflammation and balancing the gut, which can help improve anxiety and/or depressive symptoms. Favorites for healthy mood and related support include:

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s Wort shows gold-standard clinical evidence for depression and low mood; it also enhances neuroplasticity and helps counter some of the effects of neuroinflammation. (If you are on medications, it is important to check for any potential interactions with your healthcare practitioner before taking St. John’s Wort.) Try Gaia HerbsSt. John’s Wort.

Saffron

Clinical trials found saffron to be just as effective as fluoxetine in fighting the consequences of neuroinflammation. It is also good for cognition and age-related memory loss. Saffron has antioxidant and neuroprotective properties, and it will not adversely interact with antidepressants as it has nothing to do with neurotransmitters. Try Youtheory Saffron.

Rhodiola

Rhodiola is great for the HPA axis, an adaptogen that helps the body become more resilient to stress over time. Clinical trials show improvements in mood, sleep and emotions. It is good for the downregulation of stress-activated protein kinases and has no potential interactions with antidepressants, just like saffron, as it has nothing to do with neurotransmitters. Try Oregon’s Wild Harvest Rhodiola.

Kava Root

Kava root is an excellent option for anxiety and mood problems. It is often great on its own as needed or combined with rhodiola. (Check for any potential interactions with medications with your healthcare practitioner.) Try Standard Process Kava Forte.

Other Mood-Boosting Dietary Supplements to Try

AnxioCalm by Terry Naturally

AnxioCalm by Terry Naturally is a dietary supplement that may provide relief from occasional anxiety and stress, supporting a sense of calmness without drowsiness or risk of developing a habit. If you’re looking for how to help someone with anxiety, this supplement could be a gentle and effective option to consider.

Cortisol Manager by Integrative Therapeutics

Integrative TherapeuticsCortisol Manager is a dietary supplement in convenient tablets for daily stress hormone stabilizing support, which is a great option if you’re wondering how to lower cortisol levels. When the body is able to maintain healthy cortisol levels already in the normal range, you may also enjoy a more restful sleep.

Anti-inflammatory Supplements

Boswellia, turmeric and omega 3 fatty acids address and help reduce inflammation and neuroinflammation.

Antioxidant-rich Herbs and Compounds

Rosemary, green tea, grape seed, garlic, ginkgo and resveratrol cause an upregulation of Nrf2, a very powerful antioxidant detoxifying pathway in every cell in the body. (Anxiety/depressive disorders are characterized by lowered antioxidant defenses and increased oxidative damage.)

Prebiotics and Probiotics

To support gut health, balance, and healthy immune function, consider incorporating prebiotic-rich foods like garlic, onions, leeks, asparagus, and bananas, as well as probiotic sources such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, and probiotic supplements into your daily routine.

Exercise

Physical activity and exercise have been found to be just as effective as some antidepressants for boosting mood. This is because exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters that promote feelings of well-being, while also reducing stress hormones like cortisol and promoting neuroplasticity in the brain.

Conclusion

If you’re searching for how to help someone with anxiety or are looking to support your own mental well-being, there are many natural options available. From herbs like St. John’s Wort and Rhodiola to supplements like AnxioCalm and Cortisol Manager, these natural remedies can provide gentle and effective support for a healthy mood.

Remember, it’s always best to consult with a knowledgeable healthcare practitioner to determine the best approach for your individual needs, especially if you are currently taking medications, and to determine potential side effects. By taking a holistic approach that addresses both the mind and body, we can cultivate greater resilience and find our way back to a sense of balance and well-being.