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Category: Anxiety

Natural ways to manage mental health

Le'Nise Brothers yoga self care

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week here in the UK and it’s so important that we continue to have these important conversations about mental health and wellbeing.

 

I know what it’s like to be depressed, anxious and have that feeling that you’re never going to get past it. I now know it’s possible to do this and I do a lot to manage my mental health and wellbeing. That means being vigilant about what I eat & drink, how I exercise, who I let into my life and having an active practice of self-care. I take things day by day.

 

I never used to talk about this side of me, thinking there was something shameful about my anxiety and depression, like I needed to hide it in order to present my best self to the world. Campaigns like this are important because it takes away the stigma and shows that talking about mental health matters.

 

What about you? Are you comfortable talking about your mental health?

 

The impact of food and alcohol on mental health

 

What we eat and what we drink (and what we don’t eat & drink) can have a huge effect on our moods and mental wellbeing.

 

Alcohol, for example, can affect our mental health simply because it depletes B vitamins and these are what we use to produce serotonin, our happy hormone. This is the ‘hangxiety’ that some of us experience after a few drinks.

 

Food can also help us manage our moods. Getting lots of veg, especially leafy greens and cruciferous veg helps feed the good bacteria in our gut and it’s this good bacteria that helps produce serotonin (that wonderful happy hormone!)

 

Yoga, yoga, yoga! 

 

Okay, you might read this part of the post and think I’m a bit biased. Yes, it’s true that I love yoga (I do at least 30 minutes every day!) and I start my yoga teacher training in two weeks time. BUT it really is beneficial.

 

Research shows that yoga can help us better regulate our response to stressful situations and can decrease our heart rate, blood pressure and how quickly we breath in and out.

 

It’s true that yoga can never stop anxiety and depression. However, the research shows and what I know from my personal experience, is that it’s an incredible way to proactively manage mental health and manage symptoms when they crop up.

 

I’ve been leaning on my yoga pretty hard recently, in both the physical and breath practice, in order to help manage the anxiety that a pretty wild family situation has caused. The simple act of being in the flows of the different poses helps my brain shut off and adding in the breathing helps calm me down and bring some perspective. I take my breath work into the rest of my day and it helps a lot.

 

Have you seen the benefits of yoga on your mental health? 

 

Try meditation

 

In the last few weeks, I’ve been trying to add in a few minutes of meditation after each yoga practice. I do shavasana and then I go into my meditation pose. On my Instagram StoriesI’ve been calling what I do #reallifemeditation because for me, there isn’t a perfect meditation scenario. It’s about trying to squeeze it in where I can, in my day to day life, and trying not to let my mind wander too much.

 

I got an amazing message from one of my nutrition colleagues, which put what I’m trying to do in perspective. She shared something her dad said to her about meditation: it’s not about having an absence of thought, but merely observing your thoughts and letting them be.

 

So when I meditated earlier this week and thought about whether Meghan Markle was doing okay, whether she does yoga with her mom, remembering to floss before I went to the dentist, these were all thoughts that I now just need to observe, rather than stressing out that I can’t empty my mind.

 

Studies show that mindful meditation that incorporates breath work helps reduce noradrenaline, one of our stress hormones. So whether you can meditate for 30 seconds or 30 minutes, it’s can become a wonderful part of your mental health toolbox to help manage anxiety and depression.

 

Would you try meditating?

 

Get into the sun

 

Do you ever feel a bit anxious or depressed and then suddenly feel your mood lift a bit once you head outside into the sun? Some of that could be vitamin D!

 

Vitamin D is an incredible hormone (no, it’s not actually a vitamin!) that helps improve mood, build strong bones and support our immune system. We have vitamin D receptors on many of the cells in our bodies and the easiest (and cheapest way!) to get it is from the sun! ☀

 

Research shows that vitamin D plays an important role in regulating mood and keeping depression at bay, which explains why many of us feel a little bit better when we’ve got a bit of sun.

 

During the winter, it’s important to get your levels tested at your GP or privately to know how much you need to supplement. During late spring and summer, get outside into the sun! Just 10 minutes of sun exposure (without sunscreen) is all it takes to keep your vitamin D levels topped up!

 

Do you notice a difference in your mood when you’ve been in the sun?

Food and anxiety.

boats in minorca

It’s has only been in the last six months that I’ve properly considered the role that food has played in exacerbating my anxiety.

When I eat badly – too much sugary food, too much bread and pasta – I can feel my anxiety building – that tight, clenched feeling in my belly that causes me to grind my teeth, ball my fists and look for the nearest exit.

Have you made the connection between what you eat and your anxiety? There is growing evidence to support the connection between nutrition and mental health – the connection between dietary quality and mental health.

It seems like a no-brainer: the way you eat affects the way you feel. But like me, it can take a while to make this connection, and once you do, eating well almost feels like a revolutionary act, the act of giving a shit about what you eat and drink and how they make you feel.

We eat three times a day, maybe more. Food is powerful stuff. It’s medicine, it’s nourishment, it’s therapy, it’s the way we fuel ourselves to do what we need to do. When you fill your body full of good stuff, you give it the nutrients – the vitamins, the minerals – it needs to keep you going, but also to keep you feeling good.

A diet lacking in important nutrients like magnesium, iron, zinc, vitamin D, omega-3s and vitamin B6 can have a knock on effect on mood. It means you won’t be able to produce enough of the feel good hormones like serotonin and melatonin and if you are an anxious person, this can make your symptoms worse.

What do you eat? Have you considered the effects of what you eat and drink and how it effects your emotional and mental wellbeing?

Don’t forget to breathe.

blooms

In those moments of anxiety and panic, when your mind is racing, your heart is beating at 100 miles an hour and you’re not sure if you can get through the next 10 minutes, let alone the rest of the day, just breathe.

Yes, this seems obvious, but is it something you do to help manage your anxiety?

Try this exercise:

Take a deep breath in through your nose for five seconds. Then out through your mouth for five seconds. And again. And again. And again.

Do this until you start to settle, your heartbeat slows down and you feel like you have a little more perspective on the situation that was troubling you.

Even though breathing is essential, most of us spend our days shallow breathing, taking short, shallow breaths that don’t really allow us to take in enough oxygen and breathe out enough carbon dioxide. And for those of us that suffer from anxiety, this shallow breathing can exacerbate moments of anxiety and panic.

Deep breathing allows us to move from the sympathetic nervous system, which is activated in ‘fight or flight’, high stress moments (frankly, this is the system most of us, with our busy, highly stressed lives tend to rely on) to the parasympathetic nervous system, which is activated in calm, ‘rest and digest’ moments.

Have you used breathwork to manage your anxiety? Has it helped?

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Alcohol and anxiety.

mother and childIt goes without saying, but of course I’ll say it anyway: Everyone’s anxiety manifests in different ways and you might be that unicorn that reads this and says, eh, this isn’t relevant to me. Great! I applaud you!

 

For everyone else: let’s have a good chat about alcohol and anxiety.

 

Are you like me and had to learn the hard way about the effects of alcohol on your anxiety? Or are you still in the mindset of “oh, it’s just a few drinks. I’ll be fine”. Then you wake up the next day with the fear, which you call a ‘hangover’. And the ‘fear’ lasts a few more days than you thought it would. Or you drink a couple days in a row because you feel fine after the first night, but then feel dreadful after the second. Whatever your relationship is with alcohol, there’s a strong connection between what alcohol does to your body and anxiety.

 

The way we tend to (binge) drink in the UK exacerbates anxiety as a growing public health issue. Did you know that in the UK, 1 in 6 adults have experienced some sort of neurotic health problem in the past week? And many people turn to drink to help them deal with their anxiety, which creates a vicious cycle of worsening anxiety, which for some people, requires more alcohol to cope with.

 

Let’s get technical for a second: alcohol depletes the body of vitamin B6, a micronutrient that is very important for the production of serotonin, the happy hormone that helps regulate our moods and keeps us on an even keel.

 

Weekend binge drinking, the glass or two of wine every night, the 3 or 4 beers after the footy, all deplete vitamin B6. This depletion has an impact on serotonin production. And here’s the thing: when you produce less serotonin, your body downregulates its production, because it thinks you don’t need as much. Which creates a  vicious cycle, which gets worse the more you drink.

 

So what can you do?

 

Let me go ahead and state the obvious: if your anxiety is crippling, just don’t drink. I’ve been trying this recently, it has helped a lot. If that’s not an option, drink less and don’t binge drink.

 

Eat vitamin B6 foods. B6 is a water soluble vitamin, which means it gets flushed quickly from the body, so you need to continually top up your reserves.  Having these foods on a regular basis is a great way to top up your vitamin B6 levels: organic, grass fed red meat, spinach, sweet potato, free-range organic chicken, bananas, avocados, sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.

 

Eat tryptophan foods. Almonds, free-range, organic poultry, wild salmon, organic, free-range dairy, sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds all contain high levels of tryptophan. Notice the crossover between these foods and vitamin B6 foods?

 

Find alcohol alternatives so you can still be apart of the round. Seedlip is a great brand that recently launched in the UK.

 

Explain to your friends why you’re not drinking and ask for their support on nights out. And real talk: If they don’t get it, are they really a friend?

 

How has alcohol affected your anxiety?

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What I’m Reading: Anxiety For Beginners

anxiety for beginnersIn my usual pre-flight mad dash through the airport, I did a sweep of WH Smith for my standard holiday pile of magazines (I find reading fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar so relaxing on holiday! I don’t really know why, though? 🤔) and decided to pick up a couple of books as well.

I spotted this book, Anxiety for Beginners, mainly due to its Roy Lichtenstein cover image riff and although not light reading, thought it might be interesting to dive into this topic a bit more while I had some more headspace before my exam.

The author, Eleanor Morgan, has suffered from anxiety and depression since her late teens, culminating in several breakdowns and rounds of antidepressants. She decided to write the book as a way of educating herself and others about one of the fastest growing illnesses in the UK.

As a fellow anxiety sufferer, I read this book with a lot of interest, hoping to get more insight into how other people were handling the day to day management of the signs and symptoms of the disease. What really struck me was how common anxiety is, how many different ways it manifests itself and how it really cuts through all walks of life.

The author told a fascinating story about re-connecting with the most popular girls in her school years later during the writing of this book. She discovered that what she had thought was her old friend’s ‘cool girl aloofness’ was really her way of trying to manage her anxiety in the best way possible for her – holding everyone at a distance. It made me realise how quick we are to judge others, without really knowing what’s going on in their lives. Personally, I know that I can appear withdrawn and a bit cold at times, especially when my anxiety is at its peak and social interaction with new people can all be a bit too much.  A bit more compassion is needed all around, going back to the old adage: don’t judge a book by its cover.

Overall, I thought this book was a good overview into anxiety, with a lot of the author’s personal experiences interspersed throughout. What I found disappointing was how little she discussed the effects of the various food and drink we put into our bodies  and how they can exacerbate and ameliorate anxiety symptoms. The author took a very medicalised viewpoint, emphasising the benefits of anti-depressants. Obviously, given my nutrition background, I would’ve like to see more discussion about tryptophan food and the effect they have on producing serotonin, as well as the role of gut bacteria in supporting serotonin production.

The root causes of anxiety and depression can be complex and vary per person, but it stands to reason that if you treat your body like a garbage dump, filling yourself with foods that aren’t nutritionally dense and cause blood sugar spikes, your anxiety can be worsened.

I’ve written a bit about the foods I eat to help manage my anxiety here.

Life with anxiety.

spring flowers at kew gardens

I’ve written a bit about anxiety on the blog before, but never really told my own story. Since it’s Mental Health Awareness Week, here in the UK, it’s time for me to share.

I recently ‘outed’ myself in a consultation with a friend at nutrition school.

She asked to describe how I felt when I felt anxious.

I described a fist clenching, gut wrenching experience, at its worst. A feeling that makes it necessary to prep myself for everyday situations, such as meeting new people, meeting new friends of friends. A feeling that makes it necessary to give myself pep talks to get through situations I would ordinarily be able to manage. A feeling that makes everyday situations seem insurmountable.

I don’t have anxiety, everyday, all day.  It’s at its worst when I’m not taking care of myself, when I’m drinking too much, not getting enough sleep, indulging in all of my food cravings. It’s during these times, my anxiety gets better of me and I go into crisis mode.

Over the years, I’ve learnt how to manage it. Eating well and getting enough sleep are key. Eating well to me, means eating at least 7 servings a day of vegetables (especially green leafy and cruciferous veg!) and fruit, adding in some nuts and seeds in different forms, getting good quality protein, mainly meat and some fish. It also means not having much sugar and drinking lots of water, some kombucha and lovely, warming  herbal teas.

I’ve discovered recently that alcohol exacerbates my anxiety. Which makes sense, knowing that alcohol depletes vitamin B6, a key vitamin for the production of serotonin, the feel good hormone. I was sad to say goodbye to my evening glass of red wine, but even happier to spend the day on an even keen mentally.

How you manage your anxiety? The more I research, the more I discover. There are so many different tools that folks tend to use, from deep breathing techniques, to CBT, to adding and subtracting food to and from their diet, to taking various supplements.

I supplement with a good women’s multivitamin, an omega-3 fish oil with a good DHA to EPA ratio and magnesium, which helps me relax and ‘unclench’ a little. On the advice of a collegue at school, I’ve recently started supplementing with inositol, a substance produced by plants and animals, that belongs in the B family of vitamins. It helps mood regulation and can reduce anxiety.

Fingers crossed, my cobbled together approach seems to be working well so far. What do you do to manage your anxiety on a day to day basis?

Eating to improve anxiety


Anxiety seems to be a growing problem these days, especially amongst young people. Various pressures – societal, economic, physical, technological, emotional, political – mean that people are being pulled in many directions, increasing their day to day anxiety and decreasing their ability to cope.

 

When you add in increased alcohol intake too, it’s wonder that anxiety is one of the fastest growing self-help categories.

 

The good news, is that there are foods you can eat that can help ease anxiety.

 

First a bit of science: serotonin (the happy hormone) is synthesised from an essential amino acid called tryptophan, which cannot be synthesised in the body. Eating foods abundant in tryptophan throughout the day can naturally help increase / balance serotonin levels and can have a positive effect on your mood and anxiety levels.

 

So what foods are high in tryptophan? With all of these foods, go organic and free-range wherever possible.

 

Almonds: A personal favourite, you can get the benefits through whole almonds, ground almonds, almond butter or almond milk. Buy organic and local wherever possible, as almonds are notoriously resource heavy during farming. Also, when you’re using almond milk, read the ingredients to make sure you’re not buying one with loads of fillers like carrageenan, oils and sugars. I like Plenish or Rude Health Ultimate Almond.

 

Poultry: Poultry is generally high in tryptophan, however the winner in this category is turkey, which has the highest amount. This explains that happy feeling after feasting on turkey during Christmas dinner, right?

 

Avocado: This wonder fruit is also high in B vitamins, which help convert tryptophan to serotonin.

 

Salmon: The ideal choice is wild Alaskan salmon (which is also high in vitamin D!) to avoid the antibiotics and growth hormones in farmed fish. It’s very important not to go overboard with fish (my recommendation is 2 x weekly, maximum) as its goodness must be balanced with the realities of what fish are absorbing from our very polluted water.

 

Organic, free-range dairy products: They are also a good source of healthy fats and B vitamins.

 

Pumpkin, sesame and sunflower seeds: These seeds are also high in B vitamins and zinc.

 

Green tea and matcha: A new favourite of mine, they are both high in l-theanine, a calming amino acid that helps reduce stress.

 

To get more bang for your buck, eat these foods with a carbohydrate food (i.e. fruit and veg, gluten free grains like oatmeal, buckwheat or quinoa), as they will improve absorption of tryptophan.

 

Other ways to manage anxiety

Vitamin D: Make sure to get enough vitamin D, either from the sun or a supplement during the winter. If you’re not sure what your vitamin D levels are, you can get tested for £25 from http://www.vitamindtest.org.uk

 

Deep breathing: Taking a long deep breath, in for three breaths through your nose and out for three breaths through your mouth is a brilliant way to shift your nervous system out of sympathetic (fight or flight) mode, back to the calming parasympathetic rest and digest mode.

 

Get in touch for to book a free, no commitment 20 minute health coaching call to find out more about how you can improve your health & wellbeing and reduce your anxiety & stress.

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