Are you looking for ways to improve your work-life balance and increase your chances of getting that promotion? Are you struggling with focus and feeling exhausted and overwhelmed at the end of each day? The solution to having it all may be simpler than you think. Eating right can help balance your 'happy hormones' so that you can achieve success in the workplace without sacrificing your personal life.
Endorphins are hormones released in response to pleasure, pain or stress, and act as tools/messengers to help improve mood and reduce feelings of depression. Some of the most common endorphins known for helping to boost mood include serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. Serotonin is known for its antidepressant effects and helps regulate anxiety, while dopamine is involved in regulating motivation and reward-seeking behaviour. Oxytocin helps regulate social behavior such as trust and empathy, which can help us feel more connected to one another. By releasing these natural hormones within our bodies we can experience a sense of happiness and well-being which can be beneficial both physically and mentally. Studies have found that endorphins can help promote a more productive team by increasing happiness, motivation, mental clarity and better decision-making ability - all essential qualities for achieving success in the workplace.
Exercise is a great way to naturally boost endorphin levels; however eating a healthy diet also plays an important role in improving the quality and quantity of endorphins released post-exercise. Foods like nuts, beans, fish, eggs and whole grains contain Omega-3 fatty acids which support the release of endorphins. Protein rich foods like lean meats and Greek yogurt also help with improved endorphin release after exercise.
Equally, a diet which is deficient in protein and/or Omega 3 fatty acids, could result in reduced endorphin production. This is typically experienced as a depressive state of feeling fatigue, easily overwhelmed, unable to process tasks and feeling unproductive. Of course, as the deficiencies become chronic, this can lead to feeling both unhappy and insecure in your role.
So which endorphins are you lacking?
A lack of dopamine can lead to you feeling tired, unmotivated and unfocused. You may find it difficult to complete tasks and may even notice that usual dopamine boosters like exercise, chocolate, coffee and even sexual intercourse become less satisfying. Put simply, you will likely feel like the spice of life is missing and life has become a big bland bowl of slop (like semolina porridge - 80s babies may remember this one bleuggh!!).
A lack of serotonin may have you feeling anxious, overwhelmed and again struggling to complete tasks. You may feel a general unease, feel teary and more easily emotionally triggered. Serotonin is a natural pain reliever, so aches, pains, bloating and menstrual cramps may be more painful than usual. At work you may feel you're simply surviving the day and anxiously awaiting release from duties at the weekend.
A lack of oxytocin is particularly problematic. Here you may feel a lack of connection and support from your peers. May feel you are unable to ask for help as you do not trust that it is safe to do so. You may feel insecure and undersupported. You will likely avoid social interactions and fake sick-days to avoid team building activities.
So how do we fix this?
So as we can see, a lack of mood-boosting happy hormones (endorphins) wreaks havoc with your happiness, job performance, job security and career progression.
The good news is there are great ways to turn this around. Eating a diet which is rich in mood-boosting ingredients, along with ensuring you get enough of the essentials - protein and healthy fats - can significantly improve your level of 'happy hormones'. Throw some regular mood-boosting exercise into the mix and you'll find yourself more productive, focused and generally happier in work and life.
Mood-boosting day on a plate:
Breakfast: Smoothie made with Greek yogurt, banana, almond milk, chia seeds, and blueberries.
Tip: Throw some organic cocoa powder in here for a delicious chocolatey smoothie that actively boosts dopamine and serotonin production, whilst also supporting energy and mental clarity. This can also help prevent chocolate cravings later in the day. Around 1tsp is a good dose, but if you struggle with the bitterness, start at 1/2 a tsp.
Lunch: Wholegrain wrap with avocado, chicken breast and salad veggies.
Tip: Add a drizzle of olive oil mixed with black pepper and turmeric for a further serotonin boost.
Side note: Did you know turmeric extract has been proven to be almost as effective as prozac for the treatment of depression? Black pepper helps improve absorption of turmeric.
Dinner: Salmon with quinoa, spinach, broccoli and garlic mushrooms.
Tip: Roast or poach the salmon. Steam the veggies and drizzle with a good quality olive oil.
Snacks: Greek yoghurt with fresh fruits. hummus with carrots or celery, strawberries and raspberries with a Tablespoon of macadamia nuts.
How do I know I'm getting enough protein and Omega 3 fats?
A simple blood test via your GP can help you determine if you're getting enough protein. There are two blood tests which can help - both are usually included in a panel called an ELFT. By checking your urea levels you can get an understanding of whether you're both consuming and absorbing enough protein. A level above 5 is great for women. A level above 6 is great for men. Of course, we all have unique needs and having a Nutritionist assess your results is always best, but this gives you a great head start. You can also assess your Albumin. Albumin below 41 is indicative of chronic protein deficiency. If you know you're eating enough, it may be a problem with absorption - are you experiencing digestive symptoms such as bloating, burping and indigestion?
For the omega 3's a test called an Omega 3 index is best. This test offers a complete breakdown of the balance of your 'essential fatty acids' - the healthy fats necessary for a healthy brain and body. Omega 3's are one of several essential nutrients - meaning that we need them for our survival and must get them externally through our diet as our body is unable to manufacture 'in-house'. With this test you can get a great understanding of your nutritional needs, whether your diet is supplying enough and whether you should be increasing your dietary intake and/or supplementing with fish/algal oil supplements in order to improve your health.
Other mood boosting foods
Salmon: A high source of omega 3 fatty acids, salmon has been linked to improved mood and reduced symptoms of depression.
Blueberries: Rich in antioxidants and vitamins, blueberries have been found to reduce levels of stress hormones like cortisol, helping relieve stress and boost mood.
Dark Chocolate: High in antioxidants, dark chocolate helps promote the production of serotonin, a chemical that plays a role in regulating emotions. This can help create a feeling of contentment and improved mood.
Nuts & Seeds: Almonds, peanuts, walnuts and pumpkins seeds are high sources of Vitamin B6 which is helpful for producing serotonin. Eating these nuts on a regular basis may help promote better mental health and improved mood.
Spinach: High in folate (a type of B vitamin) spinach is said to help improve cognitive functions such as memory recall, as well as help protect against certain types of mental illness like depression.
Turmeric: Studies have found that curcumin can help reduce symptoms of depression and even enhance our overall emotional wellbeing due to its ability to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine. In addition, curcumin has been found to help lower cortisol levels which can help reduce stress and anxiety. By incorporating this nutrient-rich spice into your diet, you may just find yourself feeling happier and more relaxed!
In conclusion, eating right is key for achieving a more productive, focused workday which helps you leave at the end of the day feeling a sense of calm achievement. This allows you to focus on your career goals without becoming exhausted, overwhelmed or burned out. By ensuring higher levels of endorphins through exercise and diet, you are setting yourself up for long term health benefits as well as increasing your chances of getting that promotion!