From sleep and stress to nutrition and exercise – our lifestyles can have a significant impact on our moods, how we feel, and our quality of life. The relationship between our mood and our lifestyle can be hard to define, prompting a chicken or egg dilemma. Does our mood dictate our lifestyle, or does our lifestyle affect how we feel?
How Lifestyle Impacts Mood
The short answer is yes – our lifestyle affects mood in two ways. First, by contributing to a cycle of judgment and low self-image, and second, through the neurochemical effects of our lifestyles.
Few of us are strangers to the late-night Netflix session we use to relax after a long day. Ultimately, this can contribute to sleep deprivation and irritability, making us feel worse about our choices. But upon returning home from another stressful day, the idea of relaxing with a fresh pint and your favourite show becomes incredibly tempting. As a result, we’ll often find ourselves stuck in a cycle that soothes us at the moment but negatively affects us in the long run.
Also at play is the chemical impact of lifestyle choices. Certain behaviours (working out, healthy eating, adequate sleep) release endorphins that directly impact mood all on their own!
Stress & Mood
Stressful situations trigger physical states that directly impact mood. And while many of us view stress as a negative, it serves as an essential part of our fight or flight response.
The Science of Stress
If you were to come face to face with a tiger, your body would experience a cascade of responses meant to help you survive. Your breath would quicken, your heart rate would increase, and your muscles would tense as your body readied itself to take action. As the danger fades, our body returns to a calmer, more balanced state.
The problem is that our bodies don’t differentiate between survival-related stress and daily stressors. So when we experience stress that isn’t life-threatening – like traffic, relationship issues, work pressure, family problems – our bodies experience the same response as if we were staring down a tiger.
Impact of Stress on Your Mood
Unchecked chronic stress can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- High blood pressure 
- Obesity (both directly and indirectly) 
- Sleep issues 
- Anxiety 
- Depression 
- Addiction 
Steps You Can Take: Find ways to reduce the stress in your life. This could look like: scheduling time with loved ones, meditating, going for a stroll outside, reading, dancing, creating better work/life boundaries – anything that relieves stress and inspires joy.
Nutrition & Mood
Food is critical to keeping our body supplied with essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
When we eat junk food low in nutritional value, our bodies can become deficient in nutrients. Additionally, certain ingredients can harm us, including saturated fats, trans fats, refined carbohydrates, and excess sugar.
Unfortunately, these foods that often bring comfort in the moment leave us feeling worse later, contributing to a cycle of low self-esteem that perpetuates unhealthy comfort eating habits.
Research has found diets high in sugar promote inflammation and insulin responses that worsen mood disorders like depression. However, when we prioritize healthy foods, we boost our body’s production of serotonin, 95% of which comes from the gut. Diets like the Mediterranean Diet or a traditional Japanese diet have been shown to reduce depression by 25-35%, compared to typical western diets .
Steps You Can Take: Try reducing your intake of processed foods and refined sugar. Swap them out for fruits and vegetables, unprocessed grains, fish and seafood, and limited amounts of lean meats and dairy. Additionally, foods rich in magnesium (spinach, legumes, whole grains), zinc (beef, cashews, egg yolks, oysters), and omega-3s (salmon, mackerel, flax seeds) can support healthy functioning and boost your mood.
Exercise & Mood
Numerous studies have found exercise plays a powerful role in mood management. When we exercise, we trigger the release of serotonin and endorphins that help us feel good.
The best news? You don’t have to commit to hours of CrossFit or running – walking, dancing, and more meditative activities like Tai Chi or gardening can significantly affect your mood.
One study  found that walking just 30 minutes a day, three days a week, increased perceived energy, boosted self-esteem, and decreased depression, anxiety, and stress.
Another study  found the mood-boosting effects of walking increased for participants with Major Depressive Disorder when they walked in nature rather than urban settings.
Steps You Can Take: Build yourself up by starting with small commitments (like three ten-minute walks a day) that you can easily achieve. Whatever you choose, make sure you genuinely enjoy it and will stick with it for the long haul!
Sleep & Mood
Most of us can testify that we typically aren’t our best selves without a good night’s sleep. Research suggests this isn’t a matter of self-control – without sleep we experience more irritability, stress, anxiety, depression, and mental exhaustion .
Symptoms of poor sleep make sense when we consider sleep’s critical role as a restorative and therapeutic process that helps us maintain our health.
Research suggests that 15-20% of individuals diagnosed with insomnia will experience major depressive disorder in their lives . Another study of over 10,000 people found people with insomnia were roughly 20 times more likely to develop panic disorder and five times more likely to experience depression .
Further research by the University of Pennsylvania found that even partial sleep deprivation (4.5 hours per night for seven days) led participants to feel more angry, sad, stressed, and mentally fatigued. Upon returning to the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep per night, all participants showed significant improvements in mood .
Steps You Can Take: To ensure adequate sleep, try creating a bedtime routine to help you wind down, using an essential oil diffuser, playing meditative music, listening to ASMR, or downloading apps like Headspace or Calm designed to help you sleep.
If you’re struggling to build a lifestyle that makes you feel healthy, happy, and empowered – you’re not alone. We at Bhatia Psychology are happy to help you cultivate the habits and lifestyle to support your mental health and wellness. Contact us today.