As we approach almost 2 years living in this new world of restrictions, border closures and a complete change of our way of life, it is no surprise that many Australians are currently struggling with mental health issues and are reporting high levels of distress in their lives.
As we’ve all recently learnt, you can’t control everything in life and that it’s more important to focus on the things you can, to support yourself, your family and friends.
When focusing on mental health it’s important to consider what is going on in the brain. The two most known neurotransmitters are Serotonin & Dopamine.
Serotonin helps to regulate mood and social behaviour, appetite, digestion (and bowel movements), sleep and memory. Dopamine regulates mood and muscle movement and plays a vital role in the brain’s pleasure and reward systems.
Both of which play a big part in mental health issues such as anxiety & depression.
About 95% of our serotonin is manufactured by our gut bacteria and around 50% of our dopamine. Therefore, diet is essential in the wellbeing of our mental health.
However, instead of that common saying “you are what you eat”, I prefer the saying “you are what you absorb”, because you can eat an almost perfect diet and yet if you are not absorbing what you are eating, it is not going to be as beneficial as it could be.
How do you improve your gut health?
- Chew your food – A LOT! About 20 times per mouthful or until it is almost mush! Why? Because digestion starts in the mouth, so by chewing your food you are activating the salivary enzymes to start the digestion process.
- BITTER foods – Bitter foods stimulate the vagus nerve and send a chemical message to your gut to basically tell them to wake up & get to work, so foods like rocket, radicchio, dandelion greens, horseradish.
- Remove or significantly reduced highly processed foods & sugars as they can feed the ‘bad’ bacteria and have an impact on how you feel.
- Consume foods like organic, grass fed bone broth as they contain collagen and glutamine from the animal bones to help with your gut integrity.
- Support gut health with prebiotic rich foods (which ‘feed’ the good bacteria) and probiotics increase the types of good bacteria.
Prebiotics: garlic, asparagus, leek, dandelion root, apples, Jerusalem artichoke and onions
Probiotics: yoghurt, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh & kefir.
What else can I do to support my mental health?
- Reduce constant monitoring of the news and social media pages that increase your anxiety.
- Spend time in nature – beach, park or the mountains. Fresh air and a disconnect from the digital world can help so much!
- Sunshine!! Get 10-20min each day (particularly on the inner thighs, belly and inner arms) Low vitamin D levels are often seen in those with mood disorders like depression.
- Mindfulness practices and meditation.
- Increase foods high in Tryptophan – Chicken, turkey, fish, avocado, almonds, pumpkin seeds & sesame seeds.
- Routine – Especially if you are in lockdown, however most people do really well on structure. Waking up at the same time, a good breakfast to start the day (protein & fat to keep your blood sugar regulated and energy sustained).
- Making a to-do list – daily, short & long term goals.
- Cold showers! Yes, perfect as the weather heats up – Cold showers are seen to boost serotonin levels!
- Exercise – Move your body, whether that is a walk, yoga, HIIT, bike riding, dancing, whatever you enjoy.
- Get creative – Find something you enjoy – music, drawing/painting, pottery, knitting, building something from scratch – exploring these interests boosts our dopamine levels and makes us feel like we’ve achieved something & its pleasurable.
- Spending time with family and/or friends – in person, if you can or phone/video calls to keep connected.
- Use services such as a Counsellor or Psychologist or use the helplines such as Beyond Blue (1300 224 636) or Lifeline (13 11 14).
If you are feeling anxious, I also suggest things like breathing techniques –
- Inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds and exhale for 6 seconds. That exhale will switch from ‘flight or fight’ to ‘rest & digest’.
- Imagery – What can you see, what can you smell, what can you touch, what can you hear, what can you taste. This grounding technique can help you bring you back into the moment. Being present reduces that anxious feeling of ‘what if’ and brings you back to the here and now.
As always, specific assistance with anxiety and depression is best dealt with by a health care practitioner. Naturopathy offers some wonderful options including the use of nutritional supplementation, where deficiencies are suspected, herbal medicine, flower essences and diet & lifestyle modifications. If you are already on pharmaceutical medication, we can check interactions and prescribe accordingly.
If you wish to see our Naturopath Amanda to discuss your health, please contact us at the clinic on 07 5531 6461 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also book online here.
Written by Amanda Flower, Naturopath & Nutritional Medicine. BHSc Nat.
© Coastal Natural Therapies ™ Gold Coast 2021