Category: <span>Anxiety</span>

Nutrition psychology: what you eat affects your mental health

Our dietary choices have a direct effect on cognition, as well as on how we feel and behave. Growing research on the exciting new field of Nutrition Psychology has exposed the intrinsic relationship between nutrition and mental illness. Nutrition has been found to be not only a contributing factor to the development of mental illnesses, but also an important aid for its prevention and even management.

Nutrition psychology
Our dietary choices have a direct effect on cognition

In her book “This is your brain on food”, Dr Naidoo, a Nutritional Psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, lists baked goods, candy, soda, or anything sweetened with sugar or high fructose syrup, white bread, white rice, potatoes, pasta and anything made from refined flour, aspartame, French fries, fried chicken, fried seafood or anything else deep-fried in oil, as well as margarine, bacon, salami, sausage and other cured meats, as foods that make us unhappy and anxious. Those who are fighting depression and anxiety should eat high-fibre and aged, fermented, and cultured foods for their positive and calming effects on mood.

What you eat also interferes with the quality of your sleep. While caffeine and alcohol make it worse, foods that contain melatonin, such as eggs, fish, milk, rice, fruits, nuts, seeds, and vegetables such as asparagus, tomatoes, broccoli, and cucumber are said to help promote better sleep.

To fight fatigue, Dr Naidoo (2020) recommends eating foods rich in omega 3s, magnesium, zinc, vitamins B (1, 6, 9 and 12,), C, D and E, as well as colourful vegetables and spices, such as turmeric and black cumin.

Both Dr Naidoo and the clinical psychologist and researcher Julia Rucklidge (2017) agree that the Western Diet has a damaging effect on mental health. As a diet rich in bad fats, high-GI carbs and gluten, it is strongly connected to the expression of a variety of mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, ADHD and even schizophrenia, as well as weakened memory and decreased libido.

The mind gut connection can no longer be ignored by anyone concerned with their physical and mental/emotional wellbeing. For those who would like to improve their mental health but struggle to change their eating habits, having both psychological and nutritional counselling could help them address their goals from a more holistic and effective approach.

References:

Jacka, F.N., O’Neil, A., Opie, R. et al. A randomised controlled trial of dietary improvement for adults with major depression (the ‘SMILES’ trial). BMC Med 15, 23 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-017-0791-y

Naidoo, U. (2020). This is your brain on food. Hachette Book Group: NY, New York.

Is it your shame you are carrying?

Is it your shame you are carrying
Emotions like shame are highly contagious

Shame, as the other core negative emotions (sadness, anger, fear, shock and disgust), might become toxic if not identified and dealt with mindfully and proactively. Toxic shame is particularly detrimental to emotional wellbeing because it is experienced cognitively and physically in a great variety of ways, which makes it difficult to identify it. While you might underestimate how low you feel when comparing yourself to others, for instance, and fail to connect the attitude to shame, the feeling feeds off your inadequacy. Like a virus that takes over your body without your awareness, shame finds its way into your system and weakens your self-esteem and healthy sense of self.

Since emotions are highly contagious, they move from one body to another swiftly. When we consider that shame is mainly there to create discomfort when we fail to confirm to social norms and makes us aware of a threat to our group status, it can easily lead to a great fear of rejection and abandonment. As social beings who thrive in groups, feelings of wrongness and exclusion triggered by shame have the potential to stop us from behaving in an authentic fashion. A false sense of self is then created to secure membership, regulate the inadequacy and re-establish an inner sense of safety.

Therefore, catching yourself when affected by shame is key to protect self-esteem and nurture the authentic, autonomous self. You can achieve that by asking yourself “Does this shame belong to me?” when feeling inadequate, less than, unappreciated, criticised, judged or not good enough. Like anger, shame is easily projected as a dysfunctional means to emotional regulation. Despite the harm it causes to those who are directly or indirectly affected by that process, it is repeated in a highly unconscious manner, damaging not only our ability to love and accept ourselves unconditionally but the quality of our relationships. If you find your shame not to be congruent with the beliefs of your free and confident self, give it back to whom it belongs. You can do that by moving your hands as if you were throwing a shame ball back to its owner, or tell yourself, silently, that the shame you feel is not yours to keep. Use your creativity and have fun with it. For challenging negative thinking that leads to shame feelings, I also recommend filling out a Daily Record of Dysfunctional Thoughts during periods of vulnerability.

5 self-soothing techniques for healthy grief processing

5 self-soothing techniques for healthy grief processing
Grief tends to follow a sense of loss

Grief tends to follow a sense of loss. Death of a loved one, sudden increase in awareness of childhood trauma, being fired or made redundant, experiencing relationship breakups of any nature or changes in health and/or living conditions, for instance, are all examples of losses that may trigger the need to grieve. Even though it is a biological and functional process, grief is still highly misunderstood and even neglected. If you believe in the power of grieving as a reliable source of emotional connection, wholeness and wisdom but often feel overwhelmed by it, here are 5 self-soothing techniques for healthy grief processing to help you through it:

1- Self-cuddling: Peter Levine, the creator of Somatic Experiencing and writer of Waking the Tiger, has taught us how to use our bodies to soothe ourselves. Give yourself a big butterfly cuddle by placing the palm of your right hand on your left armpit, and the palm of your left hand on your right arm. Relax your shoulders and truly hold yourself while you feel the warmth of your body through the palms of your hands (to watch Peter Levine’s demo video, please click here). This technique is recommended to those who find themselves affected by feelings of sadness, loneliness, rejection and/or abandonment and, therefore, struggle to feel safe and loveable.

2- Gentle touch: place the hand you write with on your chest, and the other one on your belly. Breathe deeply (5 seconds for the inbreath and 5 seconds for the outbreath) and truly hold your own body and emotions with love and unconditional self-acceptance. This technique also works well for those who are experiencing great feelings of fear/anxiety, sadness, loneliness, rejection and abandonment.

3- Cigar breathing: make a strong pout and breathe deeply in and out through it (at least 5 seconds for inbreath and outbreath). This exercise allows you to connect with the vagus nerve so to calm down the nervous system and regulate anger and fear/anxiety/panic.

4- Tranquil place: imagine a beautiful and calm place that you associate with relaxation and other pleasant feelings. Transport yourself to your tranquil place mentally. Visualise enjoying your surroundings and savouring everything that makes this place truly especial to you. Moreover, observe how your body gradually relaxes and makes you feel more serene as the connections with the image deepens.

5- Grounding: sit on a chair with a straight back, relaxed shoulders and both feet in parallel touching the floor. Start focusing your attention on your breathing. You do not have to force anything. Then, gradually, start changing the focus to the soles of your feet. Notice the bodily sensations that bring them to your awareness, as well as the sensations between your (bare) feet and the floor. This exercise helps you feel centred and back in the present, where you belong.

Through grieving our losses with our whole self – body and mind – we not only process and overcome them healthily, but also develop emotional wellbeing and maturity, unconditional self-esteem and post-traumatic growth.

2 signs you are behaving in an emotionally dependent way

2 signs you are behaving in an emotionally dependent way
Having no time for anything also indicates an over reliance on intellectualisation, social interaction and movement as defence mechanisms not to connect with emotions

The habit of relying on external factors to regulate negative feelings and emotions is at the core of emotional dependence. People, things, work, food and exercise are all examples of external factors which are commonly used to make one feel balanced or “better”. While a certain level of dependence is healthy to nurture secure attachment, for instance, constantly searching for someone or something outside the self to help one deal with the discomfort that lies within – without consciously connecting with it – often worsens one’s ability to process emotions in a functional way in the long term. To raise your awareness or prevent you from perpetuating such tendency, here are 2 signs you are behaving in an emotionally dependent way:

You do what you can not to spend time alone

Focusing the attention on others distracts us from having it on our own selves. Emotionally dependent people tend to equate being alone to feeling lonely, restless and/or somewhat uncomfortable. That belief feeds a constant need to be surrounded by people in order not to feel that emotional discomfort. Such avoidant behaviour – or emotion phobia – signals a maladaptive tendency of not wanting to connect with the inner world, address and fully process negative emotions.

You do what you can to stay “busy”

Although activities such as studying, socialising, helping others, working, cleaning, talking and even exercising may be productive, they also work as perfect excuses for not thinking or, most importantly, feeling. As being busy is much more socially acceptable than connecting with negative emotions, since we come from a culture of emotional neglect and intolerance, endless to do lists and “no time for anything” might also indicate an over reliance on intellectualisation, social interaction and movement as defence mechanisms not to connect with emotions such as fear, anger, sadness and shame, as well as feelings of abandonment, emptiness and rejection.

Looking outside the self and relying on the external world to gain distance from emotions and, therefore, “deal with them” correspond to emotional dependent attitudes that strongly affect mental health and wellbeing. To embrace an emotionally autonomous stance, learning how to spend time alone and in stillness are essential for anyone who wishes to freely reconnect with the body and feel more centred in an organic, adaptive way which also boosts personal growth and emotional maturity.

Loneliness and emotional vulnerability

Loneliness and emotional vulnerability
Persistent loneliness is often followed by feelings of rejection, abandonment and low-self-esteem

At times of social isolation, it remains pertinent not to neglect the extreme negative effects it has on our mental/emotional health. Despite the current focus being on physical health as the only threat to wellbeing, it remains crucial to raise awareness of how isolation may have an even stronger impact on our psyches and quality of life in the longer term. In order to understand the link between loneliness and emotional vulnerability, here are 3 signs/feelings/mood states that indicate how you may be negatively affected by a lack of social contact:

Sadness and melancholy: as we have been wired for connection and intimacy, being with others and enjoying their company makes us feel more human and alive. Even if you are an introvert, a certain level of social interaction is required to promote a sense of identity and belonging. As the human presence, voice and touch are also soothing, a friend, colleague, relative or spouse, for instance, can be a source of emotional support. When we lack that and feel lonely, however, moments of sadness tend to last longer. As the days go by and loneliness lingers, we may become hopeless, melancholic and even depressed.                 

Shame and frustration: persistent loneliness is often followed by feelings of rejection, abandonment and low-self-esteem. Despite being, at times, a consequence of our own lifestyle choices and rigid beliefs about relationships, loneliness can make us feel “not good enough”, “inferior” or “less than”. Not feeling worthy of the company and love of others brings about resentment, anger and even hatred, which are felt on a deep level and are often not fully registered by the conscious mind.

Fear and desperation: feeling alone, not seen and without access to emotional connection and support may trigger the fight or flight response. That is because we also need others to feel safe.  As human beings are only able to survive and thrive in groups and with the help of other humans, complete isolation – even when seemingly coherent at times of a health crisis – may cause stress, hypervigilance and anxiety. When we are submitted to a climate of fear that seems endless, desperation sets in, which may, in turn, lead us to resort to dysfunctional, extreme and risky behaviours to regain a sense of safety and wellbeing.

As our emotional health continues to be neglected by governments, the medical community and other authorities of the health sector, it remains of the utmost importance to be creative and dedicate time and effort to personal care. If you feel lonely and emotionally vulnerable as a result of isolation, do what you can to feel connected, firstly with your inner self and then with others. There is still much you can do that respects the social distancing guidelines that will ameliorate your mood, you just need to search for what suits and complements the authentic you.

6 common effects of social isolation

6 common effects of social isolation
Not being allowed social contact could also work as a trigger for feelings of existential loneliness

The imposed social isolation and focus on the negative news surrounding the COVID-19 virus spread may work as triggers for the fight or flight response. If you have a history of unresolved childhood trauma, you may feel even more vulnerable and experience the following effects of social isolation:

Fear: a nagging sense of collective fear may put your body in a state of hypervigilance, which, in turn, makes you more susceptible to feeling stuck in an excessive worrying and anxiety loop.

Abandonment feelings: not being allowed social contact could also work as a trigger for feelings of existential loneliness, rejection and abandonment. Even if these feelings do not make sense rationally, they do emotionally for those who have suffered abuse and/or neglect and, therefore, deal with the effects of their childhood trauma.

Anger: anger tends to follow abandonment feelings because it serves as to regulate them or give us back a sense of “self-esteem” and personal power. Being forced to isolate and cope with the negative emotions that arise from it without much emotional support can make you feel disappointed, resentful or even very angry for no apparent reason.

Lack of motivation: when the air is filled with negativity and there is little movement and fun in our lives, it becomes harder to find the energy to complete the simplest of tasks.

Lack of concentration: having your body on high alert for most of the time makes you limbic system or “emotional brain” hyperactive. As a result, our brain areas interconnected with the role of attention – as the pre-frontal cortex – do not get a chance to operate properly.

If you identify with the above to some degree, increasing self-awareness and keeping a very strict personal care routine could safeguard your emotional health during this challenging period. Practices that enable you to achieve that include nurturing the inner child via meditation and visualisations, daily exercise or physical activity, contacting friends and/or family and eating a healthy/low carb diet based on plants and whole foods. Reducing considerably or even avoiding the news while keeping an objective and positive outlook for the near future, as well as avoiding contact with pessimistic and fear driven people who refuse to see beyond an extremely biased and negative outlook may go a long way to making you feel more centred and calm. In addition, watching comedies, reading inspiring literature or watching uplifting talks and videos tend to put a smile on our faces and do wonders to improve our mood.