Balancing Mental Health + Regulating Mood Swings
Being a teenager can feel very overwhelming, especially with all the new changes and adjustments young people are facing. Most teens are struggling to keep up and are living with tiredness, anxiety, stress, depression, and sleeping problems as a result. School, friends, family, love, and self-image are all aspects that can cause anxiety and stress, triggering a decrease in mental health. Mental health issues have increased dramatically, especially among young people. Depression, anxiety, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and many other mental health illnesses are unfortunately very common these days, with 1 in 4 people having mental health issues at some point in their life.
There are a variety of reasons one may be experiencing a decline in their mental health. Genetics, nutrient deficiencies, lead/chemical additives, and hormonal imbalances are all possible reasons. Though there are many reasons for mental health issues, one thing is certain: mental illness is not caused by weakness or a character defect. Many people suffering feel this way, so it’s important to establish how inaccurate this is and to remember that help is always available and change is possible.
Though mood swings and mental health issues are on the rise, they should not be normalized. Below is a protocol designed to provide you with herbal, nutritional, supplemental, and lifestyle recommendations designed for teens, so that you can effectively help yourself or a loved one increase mood and balance mental health through this difficult time.
Blood sugar balancing is vital, as blood sugar spikes and crashes are the most common imbalance found in people with mental health issues. Fluctuating blood sugar levels can cause the brain to suffer tremendously, as the brain's main fuel source is glucose (sugar!). Therefore, keeping blood sugar levels steady is essential in order to mentally feel at ease.
To balance blood sugar, avoid sugar and foods containing sugar as much as possible. Try to avoid high-sugar fruits, such as bananas, pineapple, mangoes, figs, and dates, as they can spike blood sugar and cause rapid fluctuations. Instead, opt for berries, citrus fruits, and kiwis, and preferably eat fruits only before noon.
Avoid refined carbohydrate sources, as they are quickly converted to sugar by the body and will therefore spike your blood sugar levels. In addition, they have no real health benefits. Some sources of refined carbs are white pasta, white bread, white rice, crackers, bagels, cereal, and baked goods. Replace these with whole grains such as oatmeal, brown rice, bulgur, and quinoa.
Consume a high-fiber diet abundant in local and (when possible) organic fruits and vegetables. Fiber provides satiety, helps with digestion, and balances blood sugar levels, so make sure you’re getting enough with each meal - aim for 35+ grams daily. Other great fiber sources are nuts, seeds, beans and other legumes, and whole grains.
Stick to regular meal times and don’t go more than 3 hours without eating. Ideally, you should try to consume 3 main meals with 2-3 snacks in between. Include a protein source with each meal/snack to help with blood sugar balancing. Seeds, nuts, salmon and other fatty cold-water fish, chicken/poultry, eggs, and non-GMO tofu are all great protein sources. Try to opt for organic poultry, free-range eggs, and wild-caught fish whenever possible.
Increasing essential fatty acid (EFA) consumption.
Omega-6 food sources include: sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, maize, soybeans, and wheat germ.
Omega-3 food sources include: flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, salmon, mackerel, and other fish/seafood sources.
Consume most of your fats in the morning or midday, as fats take a while to digest and therefore can disrupt sleep if eaten too close to bedtime.
Balancing gut bacteria is a key step to achieving a balanced digestive system. An appropriate amount of good and bad bacteria is necessary in order to keep your gut strong and functioning optimally. In order to aid this environment, consume a variety of fermented foods rich in probiotics.
Fermented food sources include: raw sauerkraut, kimchi, tempeh, miso, natto, and kombucha. Include fermented foods into your diet daily to reap their full benefits. You can also supplement with a probiotic (more on this below!).
Identifying food intolerances is often beneficial if one is experiencing extreme mood swings. Though mood swings can be due to various issues, such as hormonal imbalances and certain medications, you may also be reacting to something you’re eating.
Following an elimination diet is recommended, as this will help you to pinpoint which food (or foods) are causing problems. The most common single food that has been linked to mental health issues is wheat, which is a rich source of gluten and a common allergen. Other common suspects include dairy, eggs, shellfish, and foods with yeast, though any food could be a potential culprit.
Remove food coloring such as tartrazine and other chemical additives from your diet, as these can cause you to have a reaction as well. Ideally, eliminate or lower your consumption of all processed foods.
Hydration is key to maintaining a strong body and mind. Dehydration may be contributing to your mood swings and irritability due to loss of blood flow to the brain, so drink half your bodyweight (in pounds) in ounces periodically throughout the day to stay properly hydrated. Drink water from a glass bottle and look into investing in a water filtration system if you haven’t already! Drinking herbal teas is also beneficial and is more flavorful if you have a hard time drinking plain water. You can also add fruit, lemon, or chia seeds to spice up your regular water.
Proper exercise can improve your mood and is extremely beneficial for your mental and physical health. Regular exercise has a profoundly positive effect on ADHD, depression, anxiety, and more. It can help to relieve stress, improve memory, and lift your mood.
Join a sport at school or outside of school with a friend or group of friends. This will not only give you the opportunity to keep active throughout the week, it’ll also give you the chance to try something new. You can even form a group of people and get together on weekends to run track or play a sport at a community center.
Join a gym with a buddy and track progress together. There are many apps, videos, and resources online to get you started if you’re confused on form or what exercises to do. Always start light and work on your form so you don’t injure yourself. You can share progress with your friend each month and motivate each other, find new music to workout to, or whatever else motivates you to keep going.
Working out from home has become incredibly easy. You can find various workouts on YouTube or even on the app store that are easy and quick to do at home. To make things more challenging, buy a stack of dumbbells and resistance bands. This option is less intimidating for some people just beginning their fitness routine, so do what you’re comfortable with!
Take yoga, kickboxing, zumba, or spin class to make things interesting and switch it up.
Catch enough z’s. Sleep deficiency can control the way you deal with stressful situations during the day and contributes to your overall happiness and wellbeing. Aim for 8-9 hours per night and be in bed no later than 11:00pm, as it’s quite common to experience increased cortisol levels after this time. Below are some tips to gain prolonged beauty sleep:
Remove electronics (cell phones, laptops, TV, etc.) at least 1 hour prior to your scheduled sleep time. Use of electronics will keep your mind active and unable to shut down prior to sleeping. It also disrupts your body’s natural circadian rhythm due to the blue lights emitted by electronics.
Read a book, meditate, or write in a journal during this hour before bed instead.
If you’re still having trouble winding down and getting to sleep, try incorporating calming essential oils such as lavender into your nighttime routine. You can diffuse them, add them to a calming bath (mixed in with some carrier oil), or spritz them on your pillow.
Lemon balm is an extremely calming herb that can be used in times of stress and anxiety. It has a mild sedative effect, which can help improve sleep and irritability. Since lemon balm may cause drowsiness, it’s best to consume this herb before bed to calm the nervous system and ease the mind. This herbal remedy can also reduce blood pressure and aid in digestion, making it an all-around wonderful herb to consider taking.
Use: Drink as an infusion. Simply add a few tablespoons of dried lemon balm leaves to a large mason jar, fill the jar with boiling water, cover it, and let it steep for 4+ hours. Strain and enjoy.
Passionflower is a herb that contains methanol, a compound extracted from the leaves, stems, and flowers which has anti-anxiety effects. It can also be used for insomnia or sleep troubles, better blood flow, muscle relaxation, nervousness, and GI-related troubled due to anxiety. This herb will help calm the mind if overthinking is an issue.
Use: Best as an infusion or in tincture form. 2-3x a day or just before bed.
Holy basil is an adaptogenic herb, meaning it will help keep you balanced and in a state of homeostasis, which includes mental balancing. Holy basil will help with adrenal function, blood sugar balancing, and regulating the stress hormone cortisol, which when elevated is related to anxiety, mood swings, brain fog, and depression.
Use: Drink as a tea, or infusion daily.
Ashwagandha is an Ayurvedic adaptogen that has been used for centuries due to its restorative properties. This herb will help with mental exhaustion, insulin sensitivity, and increase low energy due to physical tiredness. Due to its antioxidant power, ashwagandha can help to combat brain degeneration. It also has the ability to improve thyroid function and to balance thyroid hormones, working with your body to either increase or decrease thyroid production depending on what your body specifically needs.
Use: In tincture or powder form (many people prefer the tincture as ashwagandha’s flavor is not the most delicious, although the powder’s taste can easily be hidden in a smoothie or hot drink).
Fish Oil Increasing essential fatty acid (EFA) consumption is also very important since your brain is 60% fat, and the fatty tissues will need replenishing. EFAs (omega-6 and omega-3) are directly involved in brain function. Try to consume an equal balance of omega-6 and omega-3 (1:1), as this is the ratio our pre-industrial revolution ancestors maintained.
Dosage: 1,000 mg EPA+DHA per day for general health and 3,000 mg EPA+DHA when therapeutic effects are desired
Vitamin C is not only an excellent vitamin to help boost the immune system, it’s also surprisingly linked to your mood. Taking vitamin C regularly can reduce physical and psychological side effects in people with weakened mental health. It can help to reduce overall stress on both a physical and mental level, especially through strengthening the immune system.
Dosage: 1,000-4,000 mg/day. *based on body tolerance.
B vitamins help to conduct and produce neurotransmitters in the brain, especially dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and serotonin. These neurotransmitters are the brain's chemicals of communication, sending messages from one brain cell to another. Without these neurotransmitters working together and creating synergy within the brain, we often experience side effects such as mood swings, irritability, depression, and anxiety.
Dosage: B-complex dosages will vary. Look for a supplement with B vitamins in their active form and follow the dosage directions on the bottle.
Magnesium is responsible for over 300 enzymatic processes in the body, some of which affect neurotransmitters that are linked to an increase or decrease in depression and insomnia. Many people are deficient in this “natural chill pill” mineral, so increasing your magnesium levels may be beneficial. Magnesium can directly alter your mood and improve your overall mental health in various ways. It can reduce excess stress hormones and it supports the body’s efforts to detox itself of heavy metals, which often contribute significantly to mental health. It’s also wonderful for decreasing muscle cramping, calming the nervous system, increasing energy, and preventing migraines.
Dosage: 200-500 mg/day.
Chromium directly affects neurotransmitters in the brain, making it an excellent option for helping to balance mood. It also directly affects the rise and fall of insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar. Imbalanced blood sugar levels can directly affect the way that we feel mentally, so supplementing with chromium can make a big difference.
Dosage: 300-600 mg/day.
Probiotics are live bacteria that balance our gut flora, ultimately creating a healthy digestive environment. Gut health is extremely connected to the brain and our stress levels. Stress and anxiety directly link to how we assimilate and digest our food, so making sure to take care of our gut is vital when it comes to adrenal and mental health. Probiotics also help the body to absorb micronutrients and antioxidants, which can boost the body’s immune system. As 70% of the immune system is in the gut, taking care of your GI tract is vital.
Dosage: 10-50 billion CFUs/day.
By following these herbal, nutritional, supplemental, and lifestyle recommendations, you’ll find that mental health issues can usually be resolved holistically. The teenage years are often difficult, so give yourself or your loved one the necessary support to achieve optimal wellbeing and mental health.