The biological determinants of a bad mood - and how to remedy them
You wake up early, enjoy your coffee, read the news. The weather looks fine today, doesn't it?
'Win the morning, win the day'. It all seemed so easy in theory.
Then 10am rolls around. The wind turns southerly, bringing in a cold front from the ocean and a black mood to go along with it. Where did 7am go, with its promise of a warm day and a sunny mood?
A bad mood is far more complex than a change in weather. So, what's actually happening, and how do we fix it?
Much of it comes down to neurotransmitters; The chemical messengers dancing along the neural highways of the human body.
You may be familiar with oxytocin, the 'love' chemical. Or serotonin, the 'happiness' molecule. Or, adrenaline, the ancient tool that kept us safe in times of danger but now best serves to make our hands tremble with anxiety despite everything around us being okay.
Each action, each external event, triggers a cascade of internal chemicals that dictate the pace of which we spend our days. Some of these chemicals serve to make us happy, drive our ambition, plan impromptu dates with your loved one or invest in Bitcoin.
Some serve to keep us alive, avoiding sabre-tooth tigers or warriors from neighbouring tribes.
Sometimes, these incredible chemicals aren't so incredible. Sometimes our internal balance is off, and the chemicals that get us through the day are nowhere to be found.
Sometimes, that leaves us feeling pretty f*cked up. The weather is fine, work is okay, there's food on the table and we have friends to share it with.
Each of us have 'dominant' neurotransmitters.
Most of us naturally tend to have higher levels of a certain neurotransmitter, which causes us to exhibit behaviours associated with that particular neurotransmitter.
Each kind of neurotransmitter has its strengths - such as better motivation, drive, emotional stability or stress response - and its weaknesses; such as a tendency towards anxiety, burnout, or fatigue.
Understanding that dominance allows us to determine why we feel a certain way. It also allows us to realise that when we feel down, there are chemical factors driving that mood.
So, what do we do when our chemicals don't show up to the party?
First of all, be kind to yourself. Sometimes, a bad mood needs to be felt, needs to be validated, and needs to run its course. A bad mood is telling us something - and sometimes, it's that we need rest, affection, food, solitude or friends.
But when it persists?
Try these steps.
There is a tangible, strong link between your gut health and your mental health. A poor gut microbiome lacks the enzym9es required to produce the endogenous cannabinoids that act as signalling mechanisms to our brains - this is directly related to mood, memory, motivation and reward. Adding prebiotics and probiotics can shift your mood within half an hour.
Personally, I highly recommend apple cider vinegar, greek yoghurt and my favourite, fermented cod liver oil (in capsule form!).
2. Essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients
I take magnesium and zinc daily. Please be wary of the vitamin industry - much of it is overrated, and we end up expelling a majority of vitamins through urine (hence the vibrant fluorescent pee after morning vitamins).
Magnesium in particular is essential for healthy nervous system function, stress response, decision making and short term memory.
Now, some of us aren't lucky enough to live in a sunshine state, and because of that, experience low levels of vitamin D. If that is the case, vitamin D can help to stabilise mood, as well as provide massive benefits to immune functioning.
4. Exercise (but make it fun).
I know, I know. Exercise is on every one of these bloody lists, but there's a reason for that. A nice dose of exercise to start the day prompts the release of hundreds of internal chemicals, endorphins and neurotransmitters. These chemicals can provide the foundation of a great day - once they start circulating, they keep circulating.
Personally, I find going for a run to be a tedious experience.
The key to enjoying exercise is to not think about it as exercise.
Finding an activity you can obsess over is crucial. Whether it be surfing, hiking, mountain biking, tennis, rock climbing... An activity that engages you, excites you, provides entertainment and fun, and keeps you healthy as a byproduct of that fun.
5. Nootropics and cognition enhancing supplements:
You may have heard of nootropics before. Nootropics are supplements you can take that focus solely on your mind - They enhance productivity, boost mood and memory, and help to make up for neurotransmitter deficits.
Of the nootropic supplements I've experimented with, these are my favourites:
Alpha Mind (Aussie alternative to Alpha Brain)
6. Be kind to yourself.
Sometimes it's best not to fight it. Find a good book, binge-watch Netflix, find a nice empty paddock and scream at the top of your lungs.
Just be kind to yourself.