May is Mental Health Month, so I’m not going to sugarcoat this: I’ve battled my entire life with moderate to severe depression and anxiety. That is my norm, and managing the swings is a daily and deliberate act necessary to my well being. It sucks, but it can be done.

I’d like to give a huge thanks to Carleton College biology student Lydia Russell-Roy for this insightful guest post on how to deal with internal funks–whether they be fueled by depression or otherwise. Good tips, she has!

It’s time to break the stigma.

Now…guest post by Lydia Russell-Roy:

There are some days when, inexplicably, I feel sad. Every little task seems impossible; I have to wait at every corner, the coffee pot is always empty, and I (over)analyze each of my interactions in a self deprecating manner. When I get in these moods, I get more upset at myself for being upset. I always try to rationalize and figure out the reasons for depression. However, sometimes we all just get in funks.

I sometimes call these sad days, depressed days. I am aware that depression is real medical condition and I don’t mean to discuss it flippantly. However, I think there is a spectrum of feeling depressed, at some points I feel that way. When these sad days come one after another, and it is harder to find the motivation to eat well and exercise, it could be indicative of clinical depression. It is important to understand depression symptoms so you can distinguish between natural emotional cycles and a more serious problem that should be addressed with a health professional.

Recently, instead of wallowing in my funk or trying to dissect why it is happening, I have been focusing on identifying ways to feel better.

Whenever I feel sad, my first reaction is to eat a cookie. Although this improves my mood for the thirty seconds I am ingesting it, I always feel worse afterwards. I start to think about how I didn’t go to the gym because I wasn’t feeling up to it, then I crash from the sugar and think about eating another cookie to improve my mood.

Even though it is hard to find the motivation to work out when in a funk, exercising is the perfect antidote. The endorphins that are released can improve mood and provide sustained energy to attack other tasks the rest of the day.

In addition to forcing myself to the gym, I have tried to ward off the blues by eating certain foods. I recognize that cookies are only a fake fix, so I read this article on depression dieting tips to see if there were foods that would help. I was surprised to learn that carbo loading might help prepare you for a big race not only because carbs are a good source of energy, but they can also reduce anxiety. Eating carbohydrates lowers stress by raising serotonin levels in the brain.

Selenium and vitamin D have also been recognized as mood elevators. Selenium is in foods, like beans, seafood, nuts and whole grains. By eating whole grain pasta and bread, you get the benefit of carbs and selenium. Seafood is also a good choice because it contains omega-3 fatty acids. Ingesting more of these “good fats” has been linked with reduced rates of depression. The fish with the highest concentrations omega-3 fatty acids are herring, trout, salmon and tuna.

I am lucky that one of my favorite foods, salmon, is full of this good fat. There is nothing tastier than a toasted everything bagel loaded with cream cheese, lox, cukes, tomatoes and onions. Although carbs can help reduce stress, that many refined carbs will negate any potential benefits. Instead of eating this decadent brunch, which leaves me feeling bloated the rest of the day, I make a few substitutions that are just as delicious. I replace the bagel with whole wheat toast and cream cheese with greek yogurt. In addition to being a healthier option, greek yogurt and lox on toast is easier to eat. You can pile veggies on this open face sandwich without the fearing that each bite will destroy the sandwich!

Unlike cookies, eating whole grain carbohydrates, fish, beans and nuts fit into the healthy diet I try to maintain. Knowing the additional benefits to my mood, motivates me to pass on junk food even when I feel I deserve a treat to get out of my funk.