Proven Strategies to outsmart depression and anxiety

Have you heard the news?  A report out from the Conference Board of Canada stated depression and anxiety cost the Canadian economy $50 BILLION a year in lost productivity. It shocked me and it highlights how many Canadians are living with mental health issues.  It’s time to roll up our sleeves and learn a little bit about our brain, our body, and what we can do to help ourselves out. Important sidebar: if you just want to get to the strategies, scroll down.  

Have you heard of the “Brain-Gut” health connection?

I’ve done all the legwork of reading and understanding dense research literature so you don’t have to.  It comes down to this:  We have this amazing organ called the gut (aka. The gastrointestinal track).  Inside the gut, we have microbes, such as bacteria.  Now, because I’m a therapist, we’re going to talk about how this impacts our mental health.  

The gut bacteria send signals directly to the brain.  The gut itself is also surrounded by 500 million (!!) neurons and these gut neurons also carry information to the brain and the brain right back down to the gut. This is also known as the “second brain”. So cool!  So how is this related to mental health?   

New evidence suggests that our gut microbes can play a factor in anxiety and depression because of the gut microbes ability to influence serotonin and its pal, tryptophan.  Serotonin is key in how we regulate our mood, how we respond to stress, and our thoughts.  

Do you have IBS, Celiac, or Crohn’s Disease?

If a person lives with anxiety or depression, there is a higher likelihood they will also have gut health issues, such as irritable bowl syndrome (IBS).  The big question has been “Does the anxiety come first, then the gut health issue or is it the gut health issue comes first, then the anxiety?”  Research is coming out that supports the idea the gut microbes trigger the mental health disorder.  

Thankfully, we do have the power to help our mental health. I don’t know about you but this is especially important for me going into the winter months.  So what’s a person to do?  Put on your nerd glasses because we’re going back to the research. Here are four ways to help your mental health.

Number One: Eat Real Food

Think the Mediterranean diet - vegetables, fruit, wholesome carbohydrates (carbs are not the enemy), good quality fats like seeds, nuts, and avocadoes, and good sources of protein like beans, legumes, and fish. Bonus items for depression include turmeric, green tea, blueberries, pomegranate, and honey.

Fun Fact: Research shows fermented foods, such as kombucha, fermented soy products, kefir, and cultured yogurt positively influence our gut health.

Number Two: Move Your Body

Human beings were not meant to sit for the 10+ hours that we now do daily.  This impacts our mental health. What’s the best exercise? The one you will do!  What ever you choose to do get your sweat on – swimming, yoga, walking, hiking, biking, rock climbing, pickle ball, cricket, curling, skiing, snowshoeing, do it because you actually enjoy it. This will help you commit to the long term.

Fun Fact: Research shows exercise can be as effective as anti-depressants!

Number Three: See a counsellor ... and no, you’re not crazy.

Did you really think I would leave out therapy? Life will have a series of glorious amazing moments … and then not so glorious and amazing moments.  It can be really helpful to see a counsellor to get a new perspective on your situation and learn coping tools and strategies.  I’ve had my fair share of clients who thought they “were going crazy” only to learn that other people were going through the same thing.

Number Four: Meditation for the win

This practice has become one of my top strategies to support my mental health. Studies show that mindfulness (MBSR and MCBT) decrease depression, anxiety, and general psychological distress.  In Kelowna, there are a number of places that offer mindfulness classes.  Check out a few of them and see which one resonates with you.  If you’re wanting an at home practice, my favourite apps are Buddhify, Calm, and Headspace.  Tara Brach is a Buddhist Psychologist and has free mediation recordings on her website.

There you have it.  Four things you can do to support your mental health.  Remember, its not just one thing that makes our mental health awesome but a combination of all the above.  

To learn more about the brain-gut connection, check out The University of Utah Genetic Learning Science Centre.

Ashley Phillips, MEd, C.C.C., is a mental health therapist and certified yoga & meditation teacher living in beautiful Kelowna, British Columbia. She is passionate to support you living your best life, especially if you live with emotional / binge eating, anxiety, depression, stress, and chronic illness.   

 

 

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