More and more often now we are hearing about the importance of having a strong immune system and overall health in general. Media has become hooked on buzz words and fad diets that promise you the world if only you follow these simple steps. It’s the same stuff spewed to us time and time again - New fads but the same general idea.
New research has started coming out that gives us hope, and perhaps a new promise. I’m talking about the promise of true, lasting, impactful health that you actually have control over. At this point, you may be wondering why a mental health professional is writing to you about physical health in the first place. Well, this research I am talking about has a direct impact on our mental health. The human body is a complex machine; every organ and cell working and being impacted by all other organisms in the body. This is why the concepts of Holistic Wellness and Healing are so important – they take into consideration the entire body and how the inner workings of the body are interacting with one another.
In this post, I want to focus on a crucial aspect of our mental health that hadn’t been considered until recent years – Our gut health. Without getting all sciencey, I am specifically talking about the bacteria living inside our intestines. This bacteria includes both helpful and unhelpful bacteria which ebb and flow depending on what we eat. New research has been coming out which has found correlations between the diversity of helpful/good bacteria in our intestines and our mental health. This may seem like a foreign concept, but it actually makes a lot of sense when we realize that the neurotransmitters (such as Serotonin and GABA) that impact our moods are created in our large intestines. If you want to learn more on this topic, check out this video.
One example of the powerful relationship between the gut and the brain comes from an article found in World Psychiatry in February of 2020. This article wrote about a recent study which found therapeutic potential in certain strains of probiotics (A.K.A. good bacteria) in the treatment of Bipolar Disorder. In this study, the individuals who were given these particular strains of probiotics saw significant decreases in severe manic episodes as compared to individuals which received a placebo.
If you get anything from this post, let it be this – The food you put into your bodies has a direct impact on your overall well-being, including your mental health. Over the next few months, I will be going through an extensive training to learn more about this topic so I can better help you and my clients work towards their mental health goals in the most holistic way possible. I am excited to embark on deeper learning so I can bring this knowledge and understanding into my counseling practice. For any and all clients who would like to work towards holistic health and are interested in how their diet and lifestyle may be impacting their mental health, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I would be happy to answer questions and to simply start the conversation.
I often have clients express frustration with themselves for believing they are unable to ‘talk themselves out’ of anxiety. Since I hear this type of statement on a regular basis, I would image many others believe this to be true as well. I would like to take some time right now to set the record straight and let you in some facts that are rarely taught.
As I have discussed in previous posts, anxiety is the body’s protective mechanism. When the brain perceives the body to be in danger, it sends out both physical signals and cognitive signals in an attempt to save you from whatever danger it believes you to be in. These signals can look like ‘what if…’ thoughts, rapid heart rate, sweating, shallow breathing, etc.. These signals are strong and uncomfortable…for a good reason. Your brain is doing everything in its power to get you away from the threat. If these signals were pleasant, we probably wouldn’t be as apt to get into action, right?
And you’ve probably noticed that it feels impossible to simply talk yourself out of these sensations. Well, let's take a minute to think about this from the perspective of science and biology. Say you are out and about and come across a tiger. Your brain may immediately send out those uncomfortable signals as a warning to tell you that you should probably get out of that situation. What might happen if you were able to talk yourself out of fleeing from the potential danger? What if you could simply say, “Wow! He looks so cute and gentle. I am sure this tiger won’t do anything to harm me”. You get the picture, right?
From a biological perspective, our brains are wired to protect our body at all costs. If we could talk ourselves out of being afraid of truly dangerous situations, the human race probably wouldn’t last too long as a species. So, the next time you find yourself feeling frustrated for feeling anxious, pause for a minute, take 5 deep breaths, and remind yourself that your brain is simply trying to protect you. Feeling anxious does not mean that you are weak or incapable; it means your protective mechanism works really well and may even be in overdrive for any number of reasons.
My challenge to you: When you notice you are feeling anxious, instead of fighting the anxiety and pushing it as far away as possible – take some time to become curious about it. Ask yourself:
“What might my brain be afraid of right now?”
“Is there an actual threat near me?”
“Where do I feel the most tension in my body?”
“What do I need in this moment?”
Be well and take care,
It’s hard to imagine how normal life was just a few weeks ago. Can you believe it hasn’t even been one month since the ‘Stay at Home’ order went into effect in Ohio? So many aspects of our lives have changed since the end of March and now we are in this surreal limbo – without certainty of what the rest of our year may look like or how the changes implemented over the last 3 weeks may impact the course of our lives.
I hesitate to even type out those words – fearing it’s only my own anxiety speaking. I can only image how others are possibly experiencing similar ‘worst case scenario’ thinking right now though and so I want to bring some validation for you all. We are in uncertain times, and with uncertainty comes anxiety and increased stress. Considering the threat we are collectively experiencing (A.K.A. The physical, emotional and economic impact of COVID-19), it makes sense that our bodies are responding and attempting to protect us. Maybe you’ve noticed these changes, maybe you haven’t. Let’s explore a little, shall we?
I am going to be honest with you all…
Even being a trained and licensed mental health counselor, I am not immune to the stress we have all found ourselves under amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. I think it is safe to say we are all feeling the impact of these worldly changes to some degree and these changes have thrown us off balance in many ways.
It is far too easy to get caught up in the daily ‘breaking news’ headlines which feed into what seems like a failing sense of security. I know I have fallen into this trap as of late, and am doing what I can to dig myself out of it.
A colleague recently told me their mantra for how they are staying sane during these trying times: Focus on what is true today.
Do you have enough food?
Do you have a roof over your head?
Do you have running water?
Are you able to connect with loved ones, even from afar?
This mantra can be seen as a gratitude practice as well. When we are placed in times of uncertainty, we must remember what is true, what we can control and the silver linings within the chaos. For additional reading on this topic, check out this great article by the Harvard Business Review. The author puts a name to our current collective experience and provides easy to follow guidelines for how to cope.
Be well and stay safe,