As most of you would know from experience, dietary choices are heavily influenced by lifestyle factors. For instance, when you have had a lack of sleep or are ravaged with hunger because you skipped lunch, you are more likely to reach for something sweet or high in carbohydrates. Part of this is a physiological reaction for an instant energy boost and part of this is a psychological reaction as we often associate carbs and sugar with emotional comfort. Therefore, it is important to reduce empty calories, increase nutrient dense foods and address any root causes of emotional anguish.
In order to implement these changes, I recommend two key actions. The first is to create a routine and the second is to let go of guilt! Routine does not have to mean getting bogged down in rigid structure. It means making time for all the components of life that promote good health. Guilt does not serve us. It often pushes us into a cycle of overindulging and depravation. Instead of an all or nothing approach, aim to tick as many boxes as you can to the best of your ability.
Our minds like routines and patterns. Our brains are driven by habits, so the idea of a routine is to reinforce good habits. For a healthier mind, I suggest including the following elements in a routine:
· Pantry stock take and grocery shopping weekly. This includes a rough idea of what meals you would like throughout the week and sourcing ingredients carefully.
· Sleep. In bed by 10pm and asleep by 10.30pm. Wake with the sun.
· Cleansing and bathing with mindfulness and only with plant based personal care products.
· Moving bowels daily to support the body’s elimination of waste.
· Rest. Prioritising time to meditate or just to sit with a book or magazine in a park or café.
· Exercise and movement. Exercise is really important for oxygenating our tissues, including the brain.
· Hydration. Aim for 3% of your body weight in litres of filtered water and adjust for exercise.
· Fun. Laughter and doing an activity just for pure joy is so important for a healthy mind.
· Admin. Don’t let admin such as paying bills build up and hang over your head like a dark cloud! Schedule a small amount of time each week to attend to finances and chores so you don’t end up feeling overwhelmed.
· Chores. A clean, decluttered environment will promote productivity.
· Education. Make the time to engage in topics that you find interesting. This could be from blogs, books or newspapers. If you work or study, make the time to complete homework to avoid last minute deadline stress.
· Relationships. Make time to connect authentically and without distraction with loved ones, romantic partners, friends and family.
· Helping others. Make the time to do something charitable to help those less fortunate than you.
As we established in Part One, food plays an enormous role in the health of our nervous system and brain. That said, food is only half of the equation of living a healthy life and maintaining a healthy mind and it’s important to remember that many of our food choices are led by lifestyle
Of the points mentioned, there are a few simple things you can do that can lead to healthier food choices including increasing movement, improving quality of sleep, minimising oxidative stress and emotional healing. Individuals who are rested and exercise regularly, generally experience reduced stress levels. Or more accurately, are able to handle stress more effectively.
Adequate movement, defined as 30 minutes at least 4-5 times weekly, is necessary to maintain an optimal metabolic rate. Exercise is crucial if you’re overstressed as it helps to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system. However, it should be noted that it’s important not to over exercise in which case the exercise can cause further stress on the body.
Seven to eight hours sleep is optimal but it’s not only how long you sleep but the hours in which they take place. Aim to be in bed by 10pm and asleep by 10.30pm. According to the Chinese body clock, the repair and restoration of your organs occurs after this time and it’s important to be asleep to allow this to happen. Sleep hygiene is a term used to describe your habits around bedtime that help or hinder sleep. For healthy sleep hygiene, avoid technology thirty minutes before bed as the light emitted from devices can suppress melatonin (sleep hormone) release. Also, ensure your bedroom is appropriately dark and a comfortable temperature.
While some of the causes of depression are of emotional and psychological origin, either from a traumatic experience or ongoing stress, others are entirely physical. Physical causes can be exposure to heavy metals, a history of viral infection such as Epstein-Barr, conditions of the gut such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or leaky gut. In the instance of emotional stressors, it is imperative to seek appropriate support. For guidance on reducing physical triggers of nervous system disorders, it is best to seek the support of a qualified naturopath. Some examples of areas that should be explored include:
- Personal care and household cleaning products that contain synthetic fragrance, formaldehyde,petrochemicals, aluminium, solvents.
- Conventional (non-organic) fruit, veg, meat and dairy that contain pesticides and herbicides.
- Food additives such as MSG, colourings, flavourings, preservatives.
Together, repeated exposure to the substances listed above can cause great oxidative stress on the body. They can have an accumulative effect on the brain and body, leading to inflammation. It is well established that inflammation is at the heart of almost every health condition, particularly those concerned with the central nervous system. Hence, reducing inflammation should be at the heart of every treatment protocol.
Sunlight is an essential part of treatment for seasonal affective disorder. Up to an hour in natural sunlight daily can significantly improve depressive symptoms. Furthermore, vitamin D3 also supports the adrenal and thyroid glands. In strengthening the endocrine system and boosting immunity, vitamin D3 plays a very active role in reducing inflammation that may be contributing to conditions such as depression and multiple sclerosis.
If you are seeking a healthier mind for reasons related to stress, there are some herbs that can, under the guidance of an Herbalist or Naturopath, support this process. Examples include Lemon Balm, Kava, Gingko, Withania, Licorice Root, Rhodiola, Oats. These herbs nourish the adrenal glands, support neurotransmitters and soothe the central nervous system.
We should think of ourselves as magnets and adjust our thoughts accordingly so that we attract the kind of people and opportunities that are in harmony with our goals. Who and what will nourish us best? At the end of the day, try to focus on what you do want rather than what you don’t want. Think about what you want to eat, how you want to move and most importantly, how you want to feel emotionally and spiritually.