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Mental Health and Why it’s a Gut Feeling!

Not only are we in the middle of a global health pandemic but we are seeing the physical health issues matched by the scale of the increase in mental health issues too. 

So firstly I want to let you know I get it. 

This makes perfect sense. The first thing I want to do is to acknowledge this is real, and justified in the current circumstances and if this is you, you are not alone by a long, long way.

Many of us are concerned over the future. Some of us have partners out of work, businesses threatened, children at home again while we juggle our own commitments, elderly parents who are at risk, maybe lonely and isolated and all manner of other knock on effects of Covid-19. 

Not only that but in the UK we have the impending changes which accompany Brexit bringing more uncertainty, and with each day, the environment becomes far more of a pressing issue. Those of us both with children and without fear for the future of our planet with real reason to do so.

These are problems we face whether men or women but as a woman I do want to acknowledge that it often falls to us to deal with in laws, our own parents, and our children as the key carer and the overload I am seeing through my conversations with working mums right now is overwhelming in many cases. 

The world can seem a frightening place right now and more than a little out of control. 

When we as humans, feel out of control, due to this bigger picture we feel anxiety, stress and fear which we are seeing everywhere at the moment. 

However, there are steps we can take to manage our own mental wellbeing and start to feel more empowered to deal with what is going on around us. 

This starts with focusing on the difference between what we can control, what we can influence and what is just an area of concern. When we turn our attention to the areas we can exert power over in our lives, then we start to regain some control and our mental wellbeing improves. 

Control the priorities right now

The above illustrate my point. If we spend our lives reacting to situations, people, and that which we cannot influence, psychologically this is disempowering and damaging to our mental wellbeing. 

I have looked at many of these example models and see ‘Health’ inside the circle of influence when in fact, mostly, this is within our control. Certainly, there are ways to protect ourselves, build up our immunity and resilience, and support both our physical and mental health. 

What is more, lifestyle disease is dependent on the choices we make and genetic exceptions to this are few. Without doubt the thing that has the greatest bearing on our long term health and wellbeing is Food. 

Why?

Imagine a tree. The roots are where it all happens and damaged roots means a tree that pretty soon will wilt, and show signs of ill health. We are exactly the same. But our ‘roots’ are  found in our gut which is responsible not only for providing us with our immunity but also for our mental wellbeing.

When we become overwhelmed during times like these and our focus becomes blurred, eating becomes functional and very often the last priority. 

  • We eat quickly between meetings on zoom, or miss meals all together and end up eating the wrong snacks instead when we have 5 minutes. 
  • We eat out of packets instead of preparing meals from scratch from fresh ingredients
  • We eat of packets because we don’t prioritise the time to do a mid week top up on the fresh stuff our bodies crave to be well
  • We perhaps drink more and look forward to an earlier glass of wine to relieve stress when in actual fact, the physical effects of wine actually exacerbate it, hinder your sleep quality, interfere with your gut health and therefore your anxiety and resilience
  • We tend to get take aways far more. Food full of empty calories, the wrong fats and high in sugar and salt and very often yeast too which has a negative effect on the gut biome and kills of our biota which is supporting our immunity.
  • We eat fast food at home; the likes of white pasta which converts to sugars and provides us with very little in the way of good nourishment. 
  • We rely too much on caffeine
  • We increase our sugar intake ; both added and free sugars which is detrimental to our  gut, our health and the key cause of lifestyle disease

Food should be our number one priority right now for so many reasons but not least because our relationship with food is personal. We become every mouthful that we eat – after all our cells  as they renew can only be made from what we decide each day, each meal, each snack. 

When we eat therefore, we are either eating foods that nurture and support our gut biome – those billions of different varieties of organisms that live in our gut, or we are consuming foods that deplete it. 

What we should be trying to create in our gut is this perfect eco system which connects to the communication routes around our body, including the brain via the Vagus nerve. In this system, we are able to produce the right chemical reactions to support the overall wellbeing of our bodies. 

For example, over 90% of our serotonin, that feel good chemical, is manufactured in the gut. But it needs the right conditions to be able to do so. We need our bodies to be firing on all cylinders for it to be able to do so and we need our bodies to be in balance. 

We also require a vast amount and array of fibre to enable our guts to function properly and convert to short chain fatty acids. We need the phytochemicals and the anti oxidants from foods to protect us and build resilience. We need the vitamins and minerals from real foods to support so many other bodily functions, to provide us with the energy and also calming influences that they can bring.

So what can you be doing right now to ensure that your gut is looking after both your immunity and your mental health?

  • Make half of what you eat each day fresh vegetables or fruit; you should be eating 10 or so portions a day ( prioritise the veggies over the fruit as you want to minimise the sugars) 
  • Ensure you are eating a huge diversity of plants and vegetables. Yes we need the amount of fibre but there are so many different varieties, each plant bringing it’s own biome which adds something else to our gut health, so make a list each day of the varieties you have consumed. The higher the better and aim for around 30 if you can. 
  • Limit your intake of sugar and be aware of what products it has been added in to along with yeast which can lead to Candida and other conditions which detract from a healthy gut
  • Cut down or out alcohol. You may feel you need this right now as a crutch but please believe me when I say it will only be exacerbating your anxiety and stress and feelings of low mood in the long term. In fact all the stimulants I have mentioned will offer you a short term high but then drop you until you take the next hit. 
  • Fill the void with large glasses of water, reward yourself with mint, ice, fruit, herbs in your soft drinks and understand what effects each mouthful has on your body.
  • Eat foods out of packets – cook from fresh and integrate colour for the antioxidants to build immunity
  • Choose foods to nurture your gut like fermented foods; kombucha, sauerkraut, miso, kefir, and kimchi
  • Take a spoonful of apple  cider vinegar every day
  • Boost your immunity through adaptogens and eat plenty of ginger, turmeric, maybe Maca, even ginseng perhaps
  • Look to natural health support like wonderful Manuka honey with the highest UMF value you can get hold of
  • Think about boosting your gut health by taking a good probiotic – and of course eating the prebiotic foods I mention above. 

Fast on the heels of what we eat, how we sleep and exercise are also high on the priority list as a triangle of support for our mental wellbeing. 

The chemicals released from one, impact the other and form a triangle of support for our health. But we do know exercise releases feel good endorphins, and a good night’s sleep  and healthy sleep routine means we are far more ready to face the challenges which life is hurling at us right now.

And most of all, remember you are not alone, and nothing stays the same. 

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