What are the most important steps to follow if you want to feel good from morning to night?
David Rakel, MD, spends his days helping people figure that out. He's the director of the integrative medicine program at the University of Wisconsin and to him, feeling good means that your body and mind are working at their peak level, and you have a general sense of well-being.
To feel good day after day, he suggests these tips:
Get sunlight during the day.
Sunlight stimulates the brain chemical serotonin, which plays a role in helping you feel happy.
While you're outdoors in the sun, use the time to exercise for an extra boost, Rakel says. Research has found that physical activity can work about as well as medications for treating mild to moderate depression, and it may work better than medicine for preventing depression from returning. It can also help your anxiety.
Set yourself up for good sleep.
In the evening as the sky grows darker, your brain makes a hormone called melatonin. This helps you get sleepy. Some of your choices during the day and evening affect your melatonin levels, which in turn can play a role in how well you sleep. Rakel suggests that you:
- Be sure to get that daily exercise in the sun, since it also helps you sleep at night. In part, that's because "melatonin is related to how much serotonin you have," Rakel says.
- Turn down your thermostat. You make melatonin when your body is cooler, so you're likely to sleep better if you aren't too warm.
- Turn off the lights. If your bedroom isn't completely dark, you won't make as much melatonin.
Eat "feel-good" foods
The way you fuel your body and mind makes a big difference in whether you feel strong or weak, focused or groggy. Keep these tips in mind:
- Focus on "multicolored whole foods that were recently alive," he says. That means fresh vegetables, fruits, and beans, and whole grains instead of refined or processed foods.
- Make room for cruciferous vegetables, which include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and kale. "Those vegetables contain chemicals that support immunity and help detoxify the body. They're super-foods for feeling good," he says.
- Avoid foods that make your blood sugar soar, like sweetened sodas and sugary baked goods. Your body will respond with a rush of insulin, which makes your blood sugar crash. These highs and lows aren't good for your health, your focus, or your energy level.
Stay focused on the present moment.
"If we can learn to recognize the clutter that our mind is in and learn to be more mindful of the present moment, that can be a tremendous asset to our overall sense of well-being," Rakel says. The "clutter" that can make you feel bad includes regret about the past and worry that bad things might happen to you.
A practice called mindfulness can help you reduce the clutter by keeping your focus on the present moment. To be more mindful, try to:
- Take in the colors, sounds, and smells that surround you at any given time.
- Pay attention to your breath moving in and out of your body for a few moments.
- Let worrisome thoughts flow out of your mind when they pop up, rather than giving them attention and dwelling on them.
Try to stay positive.
The same event can happen to two people, and one views it as a positive and one views it as a negative. So try to see the good side of the things and people around you; it can help you stay free of anxiety and depression, Rakel says.
Make a spiritual connection.
Rakel defines this as spending time on "that which gives your life meaning and purpose."This could be your religious beliefs, enjoying nature, or sharing moments with loved ones. "If we get up in the morning excited about something that gives us meaning and self-purpose, our bodies do all they can to heal," he says.
Be around people.
Having a good support network of family, friends, coworkers, and other people who care about you can help you stay healthier, feel less stressed, and even live a longer life. Spend time with these people regularly, and work to keep your relationships with them strong.
David Rakel, MD, director, UW Integrative Medicine Program, author, Integrative Medicine.
Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals: "Depressive disorders."
Carek, P.J. International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 2011.
University of California, Berkeley, Greater Good Science Center: "What is mindfulness?"
University of Minnesota: "Social support."