The coolest thing about “un-dieting” and choosing to partner with my body for nourishment – instead of punishment – is that I know when my body is craving nutrients.
After the Thanksgiving leftovers were gone a couple weeks ago, I threw this together. Then I made it again this weekend, because I was missing it. It’s just what my body asks me for after enjoying heavier, richer food this time of year.
They say this is the most wonderful time of the year, but for those of us who struggle with seasonal mood fluctuations, it often isn’t. I always try to make an effort to enter this season on the offense, instead of playing defense.
Here are five things that could be triggering anxiety and mood instability over the holiday season. The beauty of these things is that each one of them impact the other, because so many of these important processes are connected.
Poor sleep – Sleep deprivation leads to heightened activity in the amygdala (your fear brain) and decreases the function of the prefrontal cortex. With lack of restful sleep we become reactionary and it makes it difficult to make good decisions. Listen to your circadian rhythm this season, and choose to go to bed an hour earlier. That can make all the difference in the world for your brain. Cut the electronics an hour before bed or at least wear blue light blocking glasses, because blue light blocks melatonin, which we need for restful sleep.
“Sometimes I feel like being me takes up too much energy.” – me, 20 years ago.
In 2001, I started documenting my journey with what we then called “manic depressive illness,” after being unable to return to college with my friends due to my instability and frequent med changes. I forgot about the following journal pages, but they are so telling. I struggled with intense lows, wanting to leave this earth and end my pain, then I would experience shooting and soaring highs where I wanted to conquer every goal in a day.
Here are some of the entries:
8/27/01: “All I want to do is cry. I haven’t told my friends that I’m not coming back this quarter… What kind of trick are you playing on me, God? What lesson am I going to learn from this?“
9/5/01: “Sometimes I really do wonder if I should just end it all. I really do. Even when I’m stable, taking my 600 mg of Lithium, 100 mg of Topomax, and 25 mg and counting down of Zoloft (I’m hopeful that one day soon I’ll end this vicious charade with Zoloft).
What good am I doing here? What help am I to myself? Honestly? Why must I keep keeping on? Isn’t it ironic that the most inspiring thing I heard the other day came from the stupidest move, Joe Dirt. The main character, who lives a life of utter hopelessness, keeps quoting, ‘Life is a garden – dig it!’ I thought, that’s pretty inspiring. Unfortunately, I feel like any garden I’d be digging would only end up looking like weeds.“
Postpartum depression is a tricky subject. While on one hand, there seems to be a greater awareness of what it is and how to find support, it still carries a bit of a stigma and there are many misconceptions. For that reason, I don’t approach the topic lightly. Like all mental health issues, there is no one size fits all cause OR solution.
Walker Ladd, Ph.D. has been a thought leader in the field of maternal mental health for nearly two decades. Her writing and research challenge paradigms of motherhood and mental illness, using women’s stories to reveal the hidden truths and extraordinary dimensions of the lived experience of motherhood.
I woke up with a pep in my step today, not so much because it’s a new year, but because December is OVER. Historically, the month of December is rough on my mood and this year was no exception. Too much activity, too much planning, too much sugar and alcohol always puts my sensitive brain on overload.
But today marks a new month and whole new year! My newest Feast 2 Fast nutrition coaching group starts on Monday, and I can’t wait to get back to allllll the veggies!
At the last minute, I decided to whip up some lucky black eyed peas in honor of a fresh start. Full disclosure: I’ve never made black eyed peas. I remember my grandparents always had them on New Year’s Day, and as a little girl I turned up my nose at them and thought they were icky.
Not to brag or anything, but I made a mean red beans and rice one time, so I figured it couldn’t be that different. The ingredients are simple and tasty. The bone broth gives your gut microbiome some love, and the bacon adds an extra kick of flavor that partners well with the spice from the jalapeno pepper (which is an idea from my brother when I told him I was attempting to make black eyed peas).
Like all legumes, black eyed peas are a great source of soluble fiber, which helps support healthy blood sugar metabolism. Soaking them overnight can help reduce the antinutrients in order to make them more tolerable for digestion and to optimize health benefits. They’re very high in folate as well, which is a brain-boosting bonus. I enjoyed a bowl of the spicy peas right after my New Year run, and I may even end up blending some up to make a hummus dip – who knows!
How does someone with an active mental illness get through 2020?
My first response is, “I have no idea.”
But that’s not true. In reality, I’ve spent years prepping for 2020. I’ve spent years restoring my body and brain through a variety of therapies because I know that I can’t guarantee smooth sailing in every life stage. I’ve spent years reading, studying, and educating others about mental health tools.
I am so glad I did. I believe the key to treating mental illness, in whatever form, is to initiate tools for healing before times get bad, before the waves of instability hit. I played defense with my health for far too long, so at some point in the last decade or so – I started playing offense and implemented a wide range of strategies to manage my moods.
Yes, this year I have struggled with bits of anxiety, disrupted sleep patterns, and moments of apathy. I have had days where I lay around the house and don’t shower, eating at random times and doing nothing but reading crap fiction and watching crap TV shows. But that is very rare, and honestly – sometimes I plan for those days of doing nothing and I schedule my lazy days like I schedule my appointments – which makes them intentional and responsive, not reactive.
So this is my “pat myself on the back” moment. I haven’t had a breakdown. I haven’t gone into a full blown manic or depressed episode. I haven’t lost it.
But I’m not out of the woods. Ever. I must stay vigilant. I must continue to utilize the tools that have gotten me through so many years of stability.
Whether you have been diagnosed with a mental illness, or you are simply struggling with the mental fog that is the year 2020, I want to share some of my tips that keep me sane in the hopes that it helps you, too. There is no one cause to mental illness, therefore there is no one solution. What works for me might not work as well for you. This list is not exhaustive and is only a brief summary.
A survey from the CDC in June reported that since March, 25% of young adults ages 18-25 had seriously considered suicide since the start of the pandemic. The number for adults ages 26-44 was was 16%. This is NOT okay. We have a problem. Correction: we have HAD a problem with mental health concerns, but it seems as if the stress and isolation and fear from this pandemic have just exacerbated all of them!
I am on a continual quest to discover why. I want to know why our brains are suffering and why mental health issues are rising and why we have all the meds in the world – but we still have an epidemic of mental illness.
I don’t typically do book reviews, but these three books have been so helpful for me the last few months as I dig into all my why questions and seek to understand the root of mental health concerns. These issues will not be going away anytime soon. But we can support our bodies and brains through a variety of tools in the toolkit.
Book #1: This is Your Brain On Food by Dr. Uma Naidoo
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Dr. Naidoo and discussing her new book. Listen to the interview here. What sets this book apart, and the reason I list it number one, is that Dr. Uma is a psychiatrist AND a nutrition specialist AND a professional chef. She understands food on multiple levels, from food as medicine to food as an art to food as comfort. In her book, she details the gut/brain connection and why our food choices matter so much. Then she divides each chapter up by specific issue (depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc), and she explains a bit about the diagnosis, what foods improve that condition, what foods hinder it, along with what supplements to include. The recipes in the back of the book are simple and delicious, and I’m always a fan of adding new recipes to my repertoire!
Book #2: Brain Wash by David Perlmutter, MD and Austin Perlmutter, MD
Lately social media has been annoying me. I mean, this isn’t a new thing. There are periods of time (like election years) where it seems like comments get more heated than usual. So take an election year, add in a pandemic and a whole lot of confusion and it’s a recipe for a social media disaster! What I love about this book, Brain Wash, is that it breaks down how our brains work and why we respond the way we do under stressful circumstances. It ends with a 10 day brain detox program, incorporating all of the suggestions made in the book. I’ll be honest – I read the first half of the book twice, because it was so helpful for me. The difficult concepts are explained in a way that everyone can understand.
Book #3: The End of Mental Illness by Dr. Daniel Amen
Dr. Daniel Amen is someone I follow religiously on social media, and I admire his approach to psychiatry. Unlike most psychiatrists, he performs brain scans on his patients. He seeks to address root causes to the brain dysfunction being presented. He doesn’t diagnose and slap a prescription in someone’s hand, he looks at other tools that are helpful. In this book, he outlines all the principles he adopts with his patients and all the factors that impact our brain wellness – from blood flow to toxins to inflammation to genetics to head trauma and so much more. This book gives a lot of practical guidance on suggested supplements and changes to make to have a clear, healthy brain.
All books are available on Amazon or wherever books are sold.
Because we are in the middle of a mental health epidemic, we have a battle to fight with our brain health. There are so many tools available to support a healthy brain. These three books are excellent resources for anyone seeking to get to the root of their mental health issues.
Are there alternatives to medication for mental illness? Is there a way to avoid all the long-term side effects? What other tools can we utilize to help balance our neurotransmitters naturally?
In this interview with Dr. Josh Friedman, we take a deep dive into neurotransmitters and how to optimize them for mental wellness, via food as well as amino acid supplementation.
Dr. Friedman has a doctorate in Psychology from New York University and did post-doctoral training in Psychoanalysis from the Training and Research Institute for Self Psychology (TRISP) in New York City. He also is certified as a Holistic Health Counselor from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York and earned a Diploma of Comprehensive Nutrition (Dip.CN) from Huntington College of Health Sciences.
Download this episode wherever you get podcasts!
Key Topics include:
– The importance of digesting protein to create the right neurotransmitters
– The struggle with treatment-resistant depression
– Why B12 is essential for mental health
– How enzymes aid in digesting protein in order to benefit our mental health
– Amino acid suggestions for low serotonin, low dopamine, and low endorphins
“People don’t make the connection between how they eat and how they feel emotionally through the brain. They don’t realize there is a connection to food and the brain and emotional well-being.”
Dr. Uma Naidoo is a board certified psychiatrist, professional chef, and nutrition specialist. She is the director of Nutritional and Lifestyle Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital and also on faculty at Harvard Medical School.
In this fascinating episode, we discuss her exciting new book, This Is Your Brain On Food, which I highly recommend. Listen to the entire episode and subscribe wherever you get podcasts or listen here.
Key topics of our conversation include:
Dr. Naidoo’s journey as a psychiatrist and professional chef
How what we eat affects our brain
The origin of the gut/brain connection
The rise of mental health concerns
Food to avoid for mental well-being
Orthorexia and food obsession
How to add more diversity in your diet
The impact of caffeine and alcohol on mental health
So much more!
Learn more about Dr. Naidoo here. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @drumanaidoo
Find her book on Amazon or your favorite bookstore. This book is so helpful and needs to be part of your mental health library!
What do you do when your mental health is suffering and nothing you try helps? Are there options beyond the traditional treatment plans? Where can you find support?
#SameHere is an organization founded by Eric Kussin after he experienced 2 and a half years of suffering from a mental health crisis that briefly interrupted his career as a sports executive.
In this episode, you’ll learn Eric’s story in detail, and you’ll also hear from psychiatrist Dr. Andrew Pleener, who is the leader of the Same Here Psych Alliance and advocates for multiple healing modalities when it comes to psychiatry.
Listen here or listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts!
Eric’s story and how he got to the root of his issues after digging through his trauma
How mental health is a continuum and the problem with using phrases like “stop the stigma”
The non-medication healing modalities that Same Here brings awareness to
The STARR exercises that improve mental fitness, as the “gym for the brain”
The importance of creating community support and awareness for mental health
Why you can’t use the same tool over and over to improve mental health – you need more!
Mental health treatment shouldn’t be a one size fits all plan.
The work Same Here is doing with schools and businesses