Let’s face it, this has been an unprecedented year with many changes for all of us. For some people this has come with more stress, anxiety, low mood and sleep concerns. How can we get back to a place of going with the flow of life? And how do we thrive in our current new reality?
FEEL GOOD with SEROTONIN
Our mental health and sense of well-being is more important than ever. So, what does it mean to crave a cookie vs a piece of cheese?
If you consistently crave sweets, cookies, milk chocolate or high sugar carbohydrates especially in times of stress, you may be deficient in serotonin.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter secreted by the brain to regulate mood, appetite, sleep/wake cycles and energy levels. It is often thought of as our ‘happy hormone’ because its production increases when we are exposed to natural sunlight and when we focus on one thing rather than multi-task.
Supplements to help build serotonin include; 5-HTP, St. John’s wort, vitamin B6, rhodiola, inositol, vitamin D3 and fish oils.
FOCUS with DOPAMINE
What if you consistently choose cheese, salty snacks, dark chocolate or red wine especially in times of stress? It means that you may be deficient in dopamine.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter secreted by the brain that supports daily cognitive functioning, including; focus, alertness, learning, creativity, stamina, memory and attention. It also influences feelings of well-being, controls motor functions and is involved in the pleasure center of the brain.
Deficiency symptoms may include; low mood, attention disorders, memory loss, difficulties problem solving, low libido and restless leg syndrome.
Supplements to support dopamine include; l-tyrosine, d-or dl-phenylalanine, rhodiola, and chasteberry.
Chill out with GABA
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a naturally calming inhibitory neurotransmitter involved in relaxation, healthy sleep, digestion an the easing of muscle tension, pain and anxiety.
GABA inhibits the more stimulatory neurotransmitters; serotonin, dopamine and noradrenalin so that we can let go of the day and sleep. GABA helps with staying asleep for a more restorative, deeper recovery. We find that GABA is well tolerated, even at higher doses.
Supplements to help build or enhance GABA, include; passionflower, taurine, magnesium and L-glutamine and you can take GABA itself.
Most neurotransmitters have both a brain and gut connection. This is why it is important to look after your digestive health as much as your mental well-being, if you’re concerned about your mental health or feel like you need a bit of support to get your brain and body functioning optimally, be sure to book a consult with us so that we can help you make the best choice to suit your needs.
Strategies for enhancing mental health
May factors can contribute to inadequate diets including food insecurity, processed food consumption and micronutrient deficiency, and as a result can increase the prevalence of anxiety and depression. Micronutrients are extremely important for our mental health! Vitamins like B12, B6, and B5 all help to keep our brains firing properly and our mood up. These essential nutrients can be found in foods like; eggs, salmon, beef, leafy greens and legumes.
Lack of adequate water intake or dehydration, can lead to cognitive impairment, mood changes or even delirium. Are you drinking enough water to keep your brain hydrated?
Most adults need to drink 2-3 liters of water a day. To make it really simple, have a 1L water bottle (glass or metal) and make sure to drink one bottle before lunch and then one more before dinner.
Physical activity is linked with reducing symptoms of depression and stress as well as increasing self-esteem, resilience, concentration and memory. If you haven’t been regular with your exercise lately, think about scheduling it in and work the rest of your activities around it.
You’ll notice a change in your mood when you get your body moving!
Not enough sleep has been linked with psychiatric disorders, including; depression, bipolar, anxiety, ADHD. Adequate sleep can help with mental resilience and emotional regulation. If you don’t have good sleep habits or have found yourself getting to bed much too late, you may be aggravating your mental health. Setting routines around proper sleep is extremely important, putting away devices, setting a bedtime, and sometimes using natural herbal or nutritional support to help set up better sleep patterns is also needed.
Alcohol and drugs may be used to self-medicate to help cope with anxiety, depression or stress.
It can actually exacerbate other mental health concerns and increase your risk of other mental health disorders. Turning to substances to deal with stress seems to be fairly common this year.
But, if substance use has become a regular part of your life, you may want to re-evaluate how you’re really feeling. Are you using substances to cope with your emotions or escape uncomfortable feelings? Be sure to check-in with yourself and ask for help when you need it.
Dealing with illness or underlying health concerns
Anxiety and stress brought on by the experience of an illness can also lead to mental health disorders or exacerbate underlying symptoms related to anxiety, or depression. If you have been chronically unwell or you don’t know why you don’t feel well, it can really drain on your mental outlook. Taking care of yourself can become especially hard when you feel like you’ve tried everything. When you’re unwell, it’s important to build a network around yourself, a team of healthcare providers, a team of social support and a team to help you do the things you need to get done.
Poor social connection or overall social well-being is associated with poor emotional health and may even exacerbate mental health conditions such as depression. How connected are you?
Having real personal connections is extremely important for our mental health. It’s easy, in the age of social media, to forget to actually call your friends or meet up in person. But, perhaps we all need to make a goal of calling a friend more often and see what the payoff really is, do we feel happier, appreciated, excited, loved? Do you have someone you’ve been meaning to call?
Check up on them today, it could be great for both of you!
Even though this year has been unusual and things feel different, we all have aspects in our lives that we are grateful for. It can be a good practice to incorporate journaling, deep breathing, meditation or being grateful for what we feel is going well. These practices bring about more feelings of happiness and calm the nervous system.
Happy Fall and Happy Thanksgiving!
Dr. Rebecca Sagan, ND and Dr. Hajnalka Pinter, ND