There are two nutrition-based approaches a person can take when trying to improve their mood naturally—without drugs or pharmaceuticals. One way is to use supplements and individual nutrients to adjust the specific neurotransmitters that help determine our mood. We can think of the three primary mood related neurochemicals—dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine—as primary colors that combine in different concentrations to create what we interpret as our mood. They all mix and mingle and interact.
But trying to modulate each specific neurotransmitter to the perfect degree using specific nutrients and supplements is harder than you think. Top down orchestration of complex neurochemistry is unreliable and prone to side effects. Just look at the how the pharmaceutical single-minded focus on serotonin to combat depression has failed. Do you think you can do the same thing using supplements and get it right?
Another way, a better way, is to look at foods that have been shown to improve mood without worrying so much about their specific effect on individual neurochemicals. It turns out there is a large trove of research on the topic and we have a fairly good idea about the foods that can boost and support our mood.
If you ask the average person on the street to list “Primal emotions,” anger will be one of the first examples they offer. You understand why: It’s raw. It’s overpowering. It feels like it comes from deep down below, from somewhere instinctual. To most people, anger is the realest emotion of all because it’s so sure of itself. There’s no mistaking anger.
Though anger has a negative connotation these days, it’s there for a reason. All emotions have a purpose. If they didn’t, emotions as a physiological category wouldn’t have arisen and survived millions of years of evolution. An emotion is an adaptation to an environmental condition. Anger exists because it promotes—or promoted—a survival advantage. Those animals who felt something approximating anger outcompeted those who didn’t. That’s what it comes down to.
On the surface, anger is a self-protective adaptation. By showing anger, we display a capacity for aggressive action to those who would threaten us or our tribe—and most socially astute, reasonable people (and even many animal predators) will retreat in the majority of situations. Anger, in this way, is part of the “checks and balances” system inherent to our social contracts. It gives the other party pause to consider whether it’s really worth the trouble to encroach.
There are some amazing story-tellers out there in the world, on the television, in the newspapers, on social media. Omnipresent narrators with an authoritative command of language and imagery and sound and special effects that wield supreme confidence. Doesn’t matter if the stories they tell are largely fictional. They sound and look good so we believe them. We can’t help but pay attention and give them credence even if we tell ourselves we don’t.
For you are a story-telling hominid. It’s in your DNA. You respond to stories—on a guttural, instinctual level. You perceive your daily existence as a story unfolding into the future and stretching back through time. We are vulnerable to the power of stories.
And so for this holiday season, this Christmas, or winter solstice, or whichever one you follow, give yourself the license to tell your own story.
Let me start by saying that if you’ve mastered the art of not caring what people think, congratulations. It’s a skill most people work on their whole lives. And some don’t even realize they’re side-stepping their dreams or apologetically defending their primal lifestyle until someone points it out.
Caring what other people think of us is normal. It’s a natural human response, kind of like salivating when you see a thick ribeye sizzling on the grill. We all want to be accepted (and not rejected) by our peers and loved ones, so of course we care what they think of us.
The past 19+ months have provided us with more than a few challenges, but they’ve also allowed us to reflect on what’s working in our lives and what could use a major overhaul.
An unexpected benefit of all the cancelled happy hours, closed gyms, and remote offices is that it automatically created boundaries for our personal and professional lives. Too exhausted to go out on Friday night? No problem, the bar isn’t open. Don’t feel like going to spin class? Yoga at home sounds better anyway. Have trouble telling co-workers “No” in person? Being off site makes it easier to say you “Have a conflict.”
If you’re wondering if you’re a perfectionist, I’d say there’s a good chance you are. Or at least have perfectionist tendencies. I know I do. After all, who doesn’t want to be perfect? Who doesn’t want to be the one who gets the gold stars, the big wins, and the admiration?
Perfectionism is one of those traits people typically see as a positive, but underneath it is often self-defeating thoughts and emotions, low self-esteem, stress, and chronic anxiety, which actually make it harder to achieve your goals. And, if I’m being honest here, it makes it harder to function in general.
As a health coach, I see this all the time, and I know what it feels like. The procrastination, the all-or-nothing thinking, the unrealistic standards. My clients get so wrapped up in trying to “get it right,” that it defeats the whole purpose of working with someone to get their health on track in the first place.