I recovered from 12 years of gluten intolerance around 6-ish months ago. A common question or comment I got throughout the time I was gluten intolerant and even now after recovering is, “but isn’t gluten bad for you anyway?”
I usually answer that with, “it depends.” I think in the way these people are asking me, they believe gluten is like eating Maccas every day for the rest of your life. I could imagine your life would be pretty short if you did that.
When I say, “it depends”, I mean, gluten is bad for certain people, but not in general. If you are Coeliac, allergic, have a health condition, or are just temporarily gluten intolerant like I was, then yes, it’s not good for your body. Unfortunately, many people believe (due to false information) that avoiding gluten even though they don’t have any of the above issues, is better for their health.
If you cut gluten out of your diet “just because”, you may be setting yourself up for nutrient deficiencies if you’re not careful. Many gluten free packaged products are actually full of sugar and additives. However, if you choose to focus on increasing your fruit and vegetable intake, this will be much more beneficial. But if you don’t need to cut gluten out, why not increase your fruit and vegetable intake, while switching to whole grains and whole meal bread?
Often, many people feel great when beginning a gluten free diet, so immediately blame gluten for their issues. However, it’s usually because all of a sudden, they’re not able to eat a lot of the junk foods previously eaten. It’s not because gluten has been cut out, it’s because the extra sugar, fat and possibly additives has been cut out.
Of course, you should see a GP if you're having tummy issues. Make sure you do not have Coeliac disease, an allergy or any other medical condition that requires you to avoid gluten. There are other digestive disorders that may benefit from avoiding gluten, such as Crohn’s disease and colitis. But it may simply be gut health, like it was for me.
If you have poor gut health, you may experience all sorts of digestive issues. Depending on how bad it is, you can experience multiple food intolerances. For me, it started with gluten. Gluten-containing grains are harder on the digestive system compared to other grains such as rice. So, it’s no surprise that it causes problems for those with poor gut health.
As my gut health got worse, more food intolerances were added to my list. Dairy was next (another difficult to digest protein). Then over time, my health declined more and more and I started to have trouble with vegetables and fruits! This is when I began to pay attention to my gut health. A low FODMAP diet was beneficial for me, but I didn’t want to live like that. For years, I wasn’t making progress. Why wasn’t I getting better!?
What I found interesting was that high FODMAP foods are foods that contain high levels of the types of fibre that your good gut bacteria feed on. I couldn’t digest high FODMAP foods, which made me realise that I didn’t have the type of bacteria in my gut that is associated with good health. My gut health was stuffed.
After taking what I had learnt from university and researching more into gut health, I was sure the cause for me was stress and anxiety. Stress kills the good guys. But just getting rid of stress wasn’t going to fix my problem, just like focusing on the physical side wasn’t going to fix me. Even though it was initially caused by stress, overtime it had become physical, and I had to tackle both the physical and the mental aspects of it. So, I did.
I think that’s one of the major problems when it comes to fixing these sorts of problems. Doctors will only look at the physical, the symptoms. Although this is essential, if you don’t address the “non-physical” as well, you will find that your progress is either very slow, or you’ll get the “one step forward, two steps back thing.”
Now I saw a lot of doctors and had a lot of tests done. So I was sure there was nothing seriously wrong going on, and that’s important to do. You must rule out things first.
Gluten is not the enemy (for most). If you avoid gluten when you don’t need to, you miss out on a lot of important nutrients, and a lot of yummy cakes! I have been back on gluten for about 6 months now with absolutely no issues. Although my doctor did another coeliac test recently “just to be sure”. It was negative.
Gut health is so important. Poor gut health doesn’t just cause food intolerances but is linked to many diseases. For me, gut health is my main focus now, and I will not go back. It’s actually quite simple to maintain your gut health; however, it’s not always easy.
Gut Health Tips:
When I was chronically ill, I had a lot of food intolerances, most which I have recovered from. Although I wouldn’t want to go back to that, I’m grateful for that experience because it taught me a lot about how food affects your body. I became very aware of food allergies as well, and the difference between an allergy and an intolerance. I also learned a lot about food additives, and how, even in a healthy person, they can negatively affect your body.
Now I’m not saying that everyone reacts the same way to these foods. Everyone is different and what may affect one person, has no effect on another. Look at MSG, I can’t eat that stuff! Yet many people have absolutely no issue with it, and it’s not actually “bad”, but it’s bad for me and others who are sensitive to MSG.
Often it comes down to ‘how much’. Yeah, food additives are not good. They’re not real food; being manufactured in a lab somewhere. And yes, it’s good to avoid these things where possible. However, someone who is quite sensitive may feel negative side effects, particularly mood effects, a lot easier than someone who is not so sensitive, and it’s probably best to avoid additives altogether.
So, in general, those who are healthy (physically and mentally) may find that the occasional lolly or soft drink, or packet of chips is no big deal. However, it becomes a big deal when it’s a daily thing and it begins push other healthy foods out of the diet.
How Does Food Affect My Emotional Health?
In Western countries, people are eating a greater amount of food than ever before. But this doesn’t mean that they are well nourished. Unfortunately, many people don’t get enough nutrients to support good brain health; choosing a diet heavy in processed foods, high in sugar and loaded with additives.
Nutritionists (mainly those in the complementary sector), have recognised the connection between nutritional deficiencies and poor mental health for a long time. Psychiatrists are only now realising this connection and understanding the benefits of using nutritional approaches in their treatments.
Inflammation is a common cause of mental health problems, which begins in the gut. Research is showing that nutrients such as magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, vitamin D3 and omega 3 can help to relieve depression and anxiety, improving people’s mood. These nutrients have also shown to improve the mental capacity of those with Alzheimer’s disease.
Many people lack magnesium in their diet, yet it’s an important nutrient for emotional health. One study showed how daily supplementation of magnesium citrate improved the symptoms of depression and anxiety in participants.
Omega 3 fatty acids is also shown to be associated with mental and emotional health. This nutrient is vital for the development and functioning of the central nervous system. A lack of omega 3 is associated with poor comprehension, cognitive decline, and low mood. B vitamins and zinc have also been found to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
How Does Gut Health Affect My Mood?
We know that 90% of serotonin receptors are located in the gut. Serotonin is the key hormone that stabilises mood, happiness and creates feelings of wellbeing. The gut and brain are in constant communicated via the vagus nerve. This connection allows us to understand the connection between diet and disease, including anxiety and depression.
What we eat affects our gut health, which also affects our emotional health. Processed foods and foods containing chemical additives are especially bad for gut health. Ultra-processed foods which are common in the Western diet are manufactured to be extra tasty. This is done by using substances extracted from foods such as sugar and starch, adding food constituents like hydrogenated fats, or adding laboratory-made additives such as colours and flavour enhancers. Some examples of ultra-processed foods include, packaged snack foods, soft drinks, buns, pastries, instant noodles, chicken nuggets and fish fingers.
We already know that a diet high in processed foods contributes to inflammation and disease. Research has shown that “fixing diet first”, before trying gut-modifying therapies such as probiotics, is the best approached to take. Avoiding processed and ultra-processed foods while eating a diet of whole foods should be the first step to improve gut health and overall wellbeing.
It is important to be careful about using food as the only method of treatment for emotional health. For mild to moderate conditions, this can be very effective. However, for serious depression and anxiety further treatment will be needed and it’s important to seek proper medical advice from your doctor.
It’s amazing how much research is emerging about gut health lately. Nearly everyday there’s a new study showing the links between the human microbiome and a specific disease or condition. We are heading in the direction of individualised nutritional treatments that shift gut bacteria in a certain direction to improve health. So exciting!
Food has magical powers to change your gut bacteria. Okay, not magical; pretty scientific really, and pretty damn fast if you choose. As fast as a few days with a drastic diet change, for better or, unfortunately, for worse.
Foods high in sugar are particularly bad for our gut bacteria. However, eating a lot of processed and packaged foods, and red meat in general, will not support the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut.
Of course, the best diet to support the growth of healthy bacteria is one with A LOT of vegetables. This is where you’ll get that lovely stuff called fibre and resistant starch. These nutrients provide food (prebiotics) for your microbiome; also gas, but that’s ok. Some fruits, legumes, nuts and grains also provide food for your gut bacteria. Some of the best “prebiotic” foods to focus on include:
What is Fibre?
Dietary fibre is basically the edible parts of plants that are resistant to digestion and absorption. Fibre partially or completely ferments in the large intestine, providing food for beneficial bacteria. Dietary fibre plays many roles besides supporting gut bacteria, it also,
Food Labels and a Healthy Gut
When reading food labels, you want to avoid products that are high in sugar, contain additives and low in fibre. If you’re looking for products to feed your gut bacteria, fibre is the first thing to check. We should consume 25 to 30 grams of fibre per day. Most Australian’s do not get anywhere near this amount.
Although it’s always best to get the majority of your nutrients from wholefoods, there’s nothing wrong with choosing a high fibre cereal to support your gut health. However, be very aware of the sugar content as well.
First of all, check the ‘Nutritional Information’ panel. Don’t worry too much about the ‘Per serve’ column unless you are sure that this is exactly how much you will serve yourself (often it’s not). The ‘Per 100g’ is where you should look; this column should also be used when comparing products because different products will have different measurements for their serving sizes.
Under ‘Carbohydrate’ there will be ‘sugar’. A low sugar product will have 5g or less per 100g. Anything above 10g per 100g is considered a high sugar product. If the product contains fruit, the 'sugar' amount will also include natural sugars that come from fruit. If this is the case, have a look at the ingredients to get an idea of how much “processed sugar” it contains.
IBS and Prebiotic Foods
People who have medically diagnosed IBS often find high fibre foods aggravate their symptoms. As a result, this information may not apply at the moment. The ‘Monash University low FODMAP diet’ has shown to be an effective treatment for IBS. You should only take on this diet under supervision of a dietitian. It is recommended that this diet is followed for 2 to 6 weeks and then your dietitian will advise you on re-introducing foods slowly. The long-term goal of FODMAP is to return to a normal diet as much as possible. Avoiding “prebiotic foods” long term will impact the growth of certain bacteria in the gut.
A few days ago, I came across a study which linked two specific beneficial bacteria strains to depression. The study found that those who had been diagnosed with depression had consistently low levels of these strains of bacteria. Now I can’t for the life of me find this damn article again, and I have forgotten the names of these two bacteria strains. One started with ‘C’ and one started with ‘D’. Yeah helpful, I know, but I'll tell you what I learnt from what I read.
I guess, knowing the names isn’t really important, but understanding how to encourage the growth of these beneficial bacteria is what we really want to know. Further research into the strain that starts with ‘C’ lead me to omega 3. This surprised me. I’ve always associated foods that encourage the grown of good bacteria to be plant based, you know, to provide the little guys with fibre and resistant starch (prebiotics). So, a fatty acid was something different and I had to know more.
One of these beneficial bacterial strains was also shown to be a pathway for dopamine, an important neurotransmitter that plays a role in mood by creating positive feelings of reward and increasing motivation. People with depression often show low motivation and a decrease in pleasure; both which are linked with dopamine.
I also came across a few other studies which showed that omega 3 fatty acid supplementation significantly increased the diversity of a handful of beneficial bacteria. Including at least one associated with depression.
There’s a whole heap of information out there about prebiotic dietary fibre and it’s beneficial effects on our gut microbiome. However, the impact that dietary fats (like omega 3) has on the human microbiome is not covered much, just yet. So far, studies are showing some positive effects using omega 3 supplementation, but that makes me wonder about the effects of a healthy diet? Oily fish, olive oil?
One study looked at the effects of supplementing with omega 3 compared to the well-known prebiotic fibre ‘inulin’. Although both resulted in an increase of beneficial bacteria, each supported the grow of different types of bacteria. So, in other words, one isn’t better than the other. But one will give you different results compared to the other. Therefore, eating a wide range of foods is the best method to take.
Watch Out for Fad Diets
Singling out nutrients (while this may bring on some temporary positive results), will reduce your microbiome diversity. Look at one of the healthiest diets in the world, the Mediterranean diet. They consume such a huge variety of everything, including vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, bread, wholegrains, olive oil and wine. They have a major focus on plant foods, but their diet is balanced, varied and abundant. Olive oil and oily fish is consumed regularly in the Mediterranean diet, both which are good sources of omega 3.
Unfortunately, when we start cutting out food groups, commonly a result of fad diets such as paleo, keto, low carb, fasting diets and gluten free, we deprive ourselves of what our body needs! Variety. You can’t get all of the nutrients you need from only one of two food groups. You need them all in moderation (if possible).
I better add that I only included gluten free for those who take on this diet when they don’t need to. If you are gluten intolerant, coeliac or have an allergy, then it’s absolutely necessary to be gluten free. I was gluten intolerant (non-coeliac) for about ten years, it sucked. But now that I have recovered, I LOVE gluten and I am much healthier with it. Pass the bread. That experience taught me about how cutting out an entire food group (even though it was necessary at the time), can actually be detrimental to your health.
The Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is an inspiration to me. It’s not really a diet, but rather a lifestyle that draws its inspiration from southern European countries. They understand moderation and variety. They have an emphasis on plant foods, grains, beans, olive oil, fish and poultry. All which supports a healthy gut. Although they do eat red meat, it’s more of a “treat” food, and served only a few times a month in small amounts. Red meat is not good for our microbiome in large quantities, and the Western diet encourages a lot of red meat, unfortunately.
Studies show that those who follow a Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of many diseases, including diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and obesity. However, you may notice that included on the Mediterranean Diet Pyramid (see below), is physical activity and socialisation. So, this is more of a lifestyle than just a diet.
There are several studies showing that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of depression and is an effective treatment for depressive symptoms. This is most likely due to the amazing gut health benefits (gut-brain connection), as well as the countless other nutritional benefits this style of eating will provide.
Stress is another factor that impacts our gut health. I don’t know what the stress levels are like in these counties that follow the Mediterranean diet, but I have a feeling it’s less than we have in Western countries. I’ll save that for another article, or I’ll never shut up.
Anywho, if you’re interested in taking up ‘Mediterranean-style eating’, the good news is, it’s not difficult. There is no single definition of a Mediterranean diet, but based on some research I found, here are some loose rules:
Update, 5th January 2021 - Although this isn't the same article I read originally. This article is about the same study which mentions the names of the bacteria.
Emotions are powerful. They are the basis for our connections to others and essential for our innate survival mechanisms. Emotions allow us to experience joy, happiness, compassion and empathy. They allow us to bond. Emotions bypass logic, but when regulated well, contribute to self-care, productivity and healthy relationships. However, when emotions inappropriately overwhelm logic, they can reduce a person’s ability to anticipate consequences, cause irrational reactions and get us into trouble.
Often, it’s hard to let go of past painful events. People often talk about their past when they’re feeling bad because it’s their negative emotions that connect them to the memories of their past. Going over and over these thoughts keeps you in the past; not just mentally, but emotionally and physically. It makes it nearly impossible to change your reality.
How Emotions Affect the Body
You think 60,000 to 70,000 thoughts every day and 90% of those thoughts are the same as the day before. Habit. If it’s true that your thoughts have an impact on what your future will be like, and almost all of your thoughts are the same as yesterday, then it makes sense that your life isn’t going to change much at all. Why is this? According to Dr Joe Dispenza, the same thoughts lead to the same choices, and the same choices lead to the same behaviours, which leads to the same experiences and the same emotions. Those familiar emotions then influence the same thoughts and we begin the cycle again.
Your thoughts and emotions trigger hormonal secretions, for example happiness sends a wave of endorphins, while worry floods the body with stress hormones. Your brain doesn’t know whether an event causing an emotional reaction is happening now, or is just a thought about a past (or future) event. So even if you’re just thinking about a painful event from the past, it will still have a physical effect on your body.
So imagine if you’re stuck in a pattern of negative thoughts about the past like I was. I was in an abusive relationship with an alcoholic during 2018 to early 2020. Now despite all the pain he put me through, there was love there, but one day he disappeared. Well “coincidently” a few days after I told him he needed to stop this bad behaviour, he dumped me over Facebook and I haven’t seen him since.
This was traumatic, mainly because I don’t know why, and that’s the difficult part, no answers. This caused a lot of negative thoughts and unanswered questions that I went over and over in my mind for months and months. This caused me to go further back in time and beat myself up about red flags I ignored and why I allowed this monster into my life in the first place.
Can Emotions Make You Sick?
Being stuck in negative thought patterns like this had a physiological effect on my body. My constant thoughts about this relationship caused ongoing stress to my body. My thoughts would be triggering my brain to believe that I was still in these bad situations, even though it was all in my head. But the brain doesn’t know this. It just does what it’s supposed to do. It believes I am under stress so it releases stress hormones.
Stress hormones are useful and they keep us alive when there’s a REAL danger present. I’m not going to use the tiger example, everyone uses that. Lets go with spiders, they cause me stress! You know how you react when you walk through a spider web? You start jumping around like a maniac, hitting yourself in an attempt to get a possible spider off your body, screaming at your friend to check your back immediately! I guess this example is only relevant to those of us who are petrified of spiders.
Anyway, that surge of energy when under stress is useful in dangerous situations. Fear and stress shut down your immune system, reduce digestion and constrict blood vessels in the torso so that blood flow increases to the arms and legs, where it’s needed to defend or run. Fight or flight. This means that the digestive system had minimal blood flow as it’s not needed during times of stress and the immune system isn’t defending against pathogens as effectively. The brain also ceases to use conscious reasoning, and focuses on pure automatic reaction as this is much faster and necessary in dangerous situations.
Now all of this is very effective at saving our lives and the body recovers just fine from short bursts of stress with adequate recovery time. However, when stress becomes chronic, which it can from ongoing negative thinking, worry, and any perceived modern-day stress, the body remains in this fight or flight response which it isn’t designed to do.
Remaining in this chronic state of stress can lead to illness. The immune and digestive systems are much less effective in this state, opportunistic pathogens may take advantage, digestive issues may arise due to poor blood flow, and the body will remain in a state of inflammation which is the beginning of many diseases.
It’s easy to overlook thoughts as a potential cause of disease, but it can begin there if you allow negative though patterns to control your life. Of course, there are countless other mechanisms that contribute to disease, it becomes like a snowball effect as one leads to the other.
Getting Out of Negative Thought Patterns
Just like drugs, emotions can become additive. In emotional addiction you become “hooked” on feeling a familiar way, or automatically responding to the powerful emotional pull. Emotional addiction leaves you at the mercy of feelings provoked by circumstances that can be either real or imaginary, and your perceptions of these events. Overwhelming emotions easily cloud judgement and may cause you to react like a loony towards loved ones. But rather than reacting to impulses, you can stop and make sensible decisions.
I believe I was, or still am addicted to my negative emotions from my past relationship. I look at the logic of it all and it makes no sense to continue to allow some nut from my past to influence my present and future. Yet I so easily get caught up in it all. The answer is very simple, yet not so simple to put into action. It’s the answer I knew all along, but I didn’t want to hear it; and it takes work and persistence.
I’m sure you’ve already heard it before. It’s called a few things, mindfulness, or staying present, or remaining in the now. And despite how long I battled this idea, it actually does work. It takes time, practice and patience, and I’m nowhere near a professional at it! But every time I notice my thoughts going back into that negative space of my past, I say “Where are you Nikky?” Which makes me laugh at myself, here I go again. Then I realise I need to come back to now and focus on what I’m doing now. Suddenly you realise how much time you spend in the past!
When you do bring yourself back to the present, you have reclaimed the energy that you have been wasting on events that don’t exist anymore. This energy can go into what’s important to you now. What you want to achieve and change to create a better future for yourself. New thoughts. If we go back to Dr Joe's example but in a positive way, different thoughts lead to different choices, and different choices lead to different behaviours; resulting in new experiences and sparkling new emotions!
I have no idea how long this process takes. But persistence does work, it’s how the subconscious mind learns. But remember, you will fail many times; I have failed more than I have succeeded so far by getting caught up in the drama. But every time you notice your thoughts in that negative space and you bring yourself out of it, that’s a victory and you deserve chocolate! I mean you deserve to congratulate yourself.
Our beliefs are one of the most important factors that shape our behaviour. Our beliefs are what impact our thoughts and actions, and we’re often not even aware of how they affect us. Because our beliefs are stored in our subconscious, they are like little automatic programs that control our actions, thoughts and emotions. The majority of our beliefs are formed during childhood and usually come from the adults who had the most influence over us at the time, such as parents, caregivers, teachers and authority figures.
I had a dream recently where a sentence came to me that I couldn’t get out of my head, “You are what you believe and you believe what you are”. Cool, ok. I am what I believe, makes sense really. If I believe I can’t do something then I'll struggle to do it. Or if I believe I have a big nose, then I’ll perceive myself as having a big nose, even if I don't. We’ve all been there. Maybe not the nose thing, I don’t think I have a big nose. Now I’m wondering if I have a big nose.
Anyway, it’s the second part that hurt my brain. “You believe what you are”. It seems to contradict the first part. Or at least trap you in an ongoing loop. If I believe what I am, and I am what I believe, so what I believe becomes what I am, yet what I am is what I believe. So how do I change what I believe to become something new if I believe what I am already?
At first, I thought, easy, just change what I believe. But this became confusing. If I am what I believe (big nose Nikky), then I’m going to believe what I am (big nose Nikky). Maybe that’s why it’s so difficult to consciously change your beliefs. It’s hard to believe what you can’t see, and easy to believe what you can see.
Although this is a very simple example, I’m sure it’s a lot more complicated. And because our beliefs are stored in our subconscious, we're often not aware of them and it’s difficult (but not impossible) to change.
Identifying and Changing Beliefs
Firstly, how do you become aware of your beliefs when you can’t consciously access them? You could try hypnotism, but you don’t need to. You don’t really need to know the specifics, just look around you, look at your life. Your beliefs are right there in front of you. You are what you believe right? So, look at your life. If there’s something that comes easily to you, a skill, money, anything, you must have a supportive belief here. For example, chocolate comes easily to me. Somewhere in my subconsciousness I must believe that I deserve a lot of chocolate. I like that belief.
Ok, be serious now. I guess we're supposed to be looking for the beliefs that affect us in a negative way. What we want to change. I struggle with procrastination when I want to begin writing something new. I’ll often eat chocolate to distract myself, you know, because I deserve chocolate! But somewhere in my subconscious I must have a belief that I’m not good enough to write, or that I suck at writing, or I don’t deserve to succeed. I don’t think that I need to know exactly what the believe is, just the general gist of it. But I’m proving that I am what I believe and I believe what I am because I get stuck in this procrastination loop for weeks before I finally begin a new project. I’m reinforcing this belief. Good one Nikky.
So how to change these unwanted beliefs? You may have consciously tried to change certain beliefs and found it nearly impossible. I’m impatient, if I don’t want to believe something anymore then I think I should be able to instantly change that belief, it’s my mind after all. Unfortunately, I learned that it doesn’t work like that. Dammit.
Living in the Subconscious Mind
During the first seven years of life the brain is in theta waves, the world of the subconscious mind. Before you become “conscious” you live in theta from the ages of 0-7. During this stage, children are more connected to their inner world. They live in a world of imagination and abstract, rational thinking hasn’t developed yet and they believe almost everything they are told.
During these initial seven years, everything a child sees, hears and experiences has a long lasting impact, as it’s stored in their subconscious. These subconscious "programs" will go on to form their beliefs, determining a lot of their behaviour and habits as adults.
According to Stem Cell Biologist and Author, Dr Bruce Lipton, as adults we spend 95% of our time living in the subconscious mind, basically on auto pilot. The majority of us are so preoccupied with thoughts of the past, daydreaming, or worrying about the future that we allow the subconscious mind to take over. Therefore, our subconscious mind is responsible for almost all of our actions, decisions, behaviours and emotions.
The conscious mind is who we really are, your identity, your spirit. It holds you wishes, aspirations and desires. The conscious mind is very creative, working in conjunction with the subconscious mind. This is why you can hold a conversation and still walk or drive your car without thinking about it. You learnt how to walk or drive your car a long time ago, and this was stored in your subconscious so you don’t have to consciously think about it anymore. But there’s a hell of a lot more stored in your subconscious mind that may or may not serve you well, such as habits, fears and beliefs.
Teaching the Subconscious Mind
The subconscious mind has very little creativity. It’s where habits and patterns are formed, and is much more powerful than the conscious mind. When you learn something complex, the subconscious mind remembers it as a program. Without your subconscious mind you’d have to re-learn how to walk each morning when you got out of bed; and that would suck.
So, if my habits and beliefs were learned and stored away during the ages of 0-7 then that’s it, I’m stuffed. I can’t change it now, can I? Actually, I can, it’s just not as simple as it was before the age of seven.
The conscious and subconscious minds do not learn in the same way. The conscious mind is very creative and can learn by reading, watching a video or attending a lecture. The subconscious mind is a habit mind. It’s a lot more difficult to change the subconscious mind (a bit like me), it’s resistant to change (a bit like me), but it’s definitely possible. Once you recognise what you want to change, it’s all about repetition.
You may read a self help book and your conscious mind will understand it completely, but nothing in your life changes. This is because you only read it once and this is not how the subconscious mind learns. If you repeat the message over and over, or practice the new habit over and over, then eventually the subconscious mind will cotton on. This is why we almost always fall back into old patterns. It’s not easy to stick to a new belief or behaviour long enough for it to take hold.
I guess this also works the other way around. Bad habits stick because we keep reinforcing them by repeating them over and over, so the subconscious mind will hang on to that. So, to break it, you need to stop and replace it with something else. I guess I could replace my procrastination habit with not procrastinating, but in my opinion, chocolate can play a part in both habits.
So, you really are what you believe and you believe what you are. But now I understand how to jump into that belief loop and create a new belief loop, or just eat some Fruit Loops.
Who wants to talk about self-love? Not me. Ick, it just sounds so silly. Oh, you’ve got to put yourself first; meditate, light a candle, love your body, love your personality. And this one made me laugh, massage your feet with intention and thank them for getting you around. Thank you feet, for not being stinky.
All jokes aside, I think this whole self-love trend isn’t too helpful. Google the term and you’ll find thousands of articles about what you must do if you are to love yourself. Many of the suggestions don’t resonate with the majority of us. How could they? We're all different. Then you wonder, well if I don’t learn to massage my feet everyday "with intention", then I'm somehow abandoning my needs.
Some of the lists of suggestions get quite ridiculous, such as: shower yourself in good vibes. What the heck does that mean? Write yourself a love letter (that’s just weird). Take yourself out on a date. Ummmm, not until I get my love letter first Nikky!
This over-the-top self-love movement is not healthy. YOU MUST LOVE YOURSELF! Use positive self talk. I’m awesome, I’m amazing, my body is perfect. Isn’t this just a form of false self-esteem? It’s like that positive thinking movement, no one can be positive all of the time, it’s OK to be in a bad mood sometimes; god it’s normal. No one feels comfortable around those fake positive people, you know them, you can spot them a mile away! It's like their eyes are going to explode at any minute and their anger and sadness will pour out like lava.
Being dissatisfied with certain aspects of yourself is what motivates you to make changes that do create a positive boost of self-esteem. You can’t live in a bubble of glitter and unicorns. The world can be unfair and we need to learn how to deal with that in a healthy way. I haven’t met anyone who loves everything about themselves, and if someone believes they do, they’re lying to themselves. And I’m going to take a stab in the dark here; lying to yourself is probably not a form of self-love.
Yeah, watch your self-talk. Constant negative self-talk isn’t good for your self-esteem. But then again, that’s something that’s probably been conditioned into you, most likely from childhood and may require outside help.
Anyway, sometimes you will be disappointed in yourself. I once cooked this awesome dinner and knocked it off the stove and all over the floor! This was my own stupidity for rushing and daydreaming (which I tend to do a lot), I wasn’t happy with myself then, but I can laugh about it now.
It’s human to move between emotions, good and bad. It's impossible to be positive all of the time, and if you try, you’ll exhaust yourself. Or worse, make yourself sick. Just because you don’t like how your legs look today doesn’t mean you have low self-esteem, or that you hate yourself. You can have off days. That’s where chocolate shines.
It’s about balance. If you find yourself wallowing in negative feelings about yourself more often than not, this may be a problem and maybe you should seek help. Trust yourself, you'll know. But on the other side of it, you can’t expect to feel positive about yourself all of the time.
These new aged self-love concepts are out of reach for the average person, if not everyone. It sets impossible standards that make you feel like some sort of failure for not reaching. How can self-love be self-love? In the way it’s promoted these days, it can’t.
So, what about self-acceptance then? Begin to accept the stuff you don’t like about yourself, accept that you don’t like it, you don’t have to love everything. Change it if you want to; or not. If you’re not hurting yourself or anyone else, then do what you feel is best for you. Oh yeah, and accept when you can't accept yourself. I might be wrong, but if you can't be positive all of the time, then surely you can't accept everything all of the time. But if I can't accept that I can't accept everything, then I'm going accept that I've opened a can of worms.
Stop trying to LOVE yourself and start trying to ACCEPT yourself.
When it comes to the verb form of self-love, I prefer the term self-care. Maybe you like meditating and massaging your feet with intention, so apologies for making a joke out of these. But for many of us these aren’t enjoyable activities (I dislike meditation immensely), and believing you must complete these lists that don’t resonate with who you are, is (in a way) abandoning yourself.
Self-care can have endless definitions and everyone will have their own. I think self-care (setting aside the self-esteem part of it), is more about following your own path, or following your heart/intuition. Doing what you ACTUALLY want to do. Not what others tell you you SHOULD do. Maybe listening to your favourite music makes you happy, maybe eating a huge piece of chocolate cake (in moderation, ha ha I have to add that), maybe you like shopping for the sake of shopping, or going fishing (not me). Or maybe you want to sit on the couch and binge watch your favourite show.
This is something I’m only just learning and still struggle with. I abandoned myself years ago. I stopped listening to myself. When I had a feeling, or artistic inspiration, or one of my crazy ideas, I’d talk myself out of it. What’s the point really? Life is so serious and we must clean the fridge out instead of wasting time playing Uno or painting birds (on paper, not real birds). After a while I stopped hearing these inspirations! And now I have to relearn how to connect with them again.
Self-care is about learning to listen to yourself. Those desires you have when you want to do something but then talk yourself out of it because you think there are more important things to do, like the washing! The washing can wait for a day can’t it? Let’s go to Kmart and waste money on crap we don’t need! Yes, I do that with my 12-year-old on occasion, and its fun.
Of course, there will be times when you have to ignore yourself and do something boring, because that’s life. But when you ignore yourself constantly, you lose yourself completely. You almost become a robot.
Remember when you were a kid? It wasn’t that long ago, was it? Well maybe. My 12-year-old thinks anyone over twenty is a grandma. Anyway, when you were a kid you had a desire and you acted on it. You did this without a second thought. Sometimes you didn’t get your way, like that second or third piece of chocolate (I’m must stop writing about chocolate), but you’d come up with crazy ideas in your head and you’d create them. For what? Just because. There doesn’t have to be a reason or a reward at the end. Do it just because and you’ll feel good.
I know, we can’t always do that as responsible adults, blah blah blah. But you’ve gotta find the time to give yourself a decent amount of self-care each day. I recon after relearning this innate skill we were born with, and after some time, we won't even call it self-care anymore. We'll call it "just livin' man". So now I bid you farewell; it’s time to go to Kmart!
Recent events that happened to me caused five months of hurt, anger and sadness. Spending this time trying to make things better has not worked, and I have been presented with a mountain of evidence that proves I should let go and move on. However, logic and emotions don’t always want to be friends. My logic says this person isn’t worth another thought. While my emotions want to know why, why, why; while hoping he’s hit by a bus tomorrow (just kidding).
Letting go is something that annoys me because I’m not very good at it. I’ve read a lot about how to let go. There’s no shortage of articles and blog posts out there about how to let go (and I’m adding to that). But they all follow the same pattern: allow emotions to flow, meditate, create distance, practice self-care, forgive etc. Now I’m sure these are all great steps for the process of letting go, but for me they don’t go all of the way. Something is left out, or left unfinished. I felt like these steps are just the beginning, because for me, this didn’t achieve complete “letting go”.
So maybe it’s time to consider this another way; how do I let go? Could this be the wrong question? What about, “why am I holding on?” Look into this with your logic, and not your emotions.
The first time I found out that my ex cheated on me was 15 months into our relationship. This was after discovering many other lies and abuse that I had “sort of” forgiven, but I had zero trust left. This was the beginning of the end of us for me. I knew I didn’t want this toxic person in my life anymore but love kept me stuck. He ended up dumping me a few months later without an explanation anyway, I still don’t know why. Although I have a feeling why!
Now logically when I think about that I understand I don’t want this kind of person near me. I don’t trust him and I don’t even like his personality. But emotionally; I deserve an explanation, I deserve a real apology, I want to see him hurt the way he hurt me. There is a major disconnection between my logic and emotions which is why I’m holding on.
Now I’m not talking about feelings here. Emotions and feelings are very different. My gut feeling told me to stay away from this person the day I met him! And I didn’t listen. Emotions are more physical in nature and connect with your thoughts. Look at how emotions have actual physical impacts on your body. Your thoughts can create emotions and your emotions can create thoughts, it’s a vicious circle that’s hard to break and can be the cause of holding on to past hurts and injustices.
We hold on so tight and will not let go because we want to demonstrate the injustice.
So, what the heck are you supposed to do? Your logic makes sense, and it’s right. But those damn emotions and thoughts keep knocking on your door. For a start, I do believe that allowing the emotions to flow through in a healthy way is essential. The more you fight them because they “feel bad” they more they persist; and what you resist persists. I’ve only tried this recently, and it actually works!
Allow the anger, or whatever negative emotion it is to flow through while feeling it without resistance, just like you would for a positive emotion. It’s amazing how quickly the emotion dissolves and you think, is that it? It’s gone. It doesn’t mean it won’t come up again, but it seems to get easier and less intense, and you’ll notice this process is so much faster and easier compared to when you fight and resist. There are many ways you may resist and avoid your emotions, such as:
Anyway, I think I’ve gotten a little off track here (chocolate). What was I talking about? That’s right, letting go, or more specifically, why are you holding on? For me, the answer to this question is emotions. So now it’s time to get out of this cycle of negative emotions. As I understand it, there’s only one way to do this and truly achieve “letting go”. STOP FOCUSING ON IT. Oh, easier said than done!
Yes, stop focusing on it. Where your focus goes, energy flows. The more I think about the evil things he did to me, the more I keep him alive in my world. And the more I keep him alive in my world, the more I think about what he did to me and want to know why. Oh no, another vicious circle. They’re everywhere today!
Now this is by no means an easy task. Especially when you’ve been through something terrible. But this is for your emotional well being, and not for those who hurt you. Going forward, I’m trying this. I am trying to focus on the new and wonderful people coming into my life. I’m trying to focus on what I want to achieve in the future and what I need to do now to achieve that. I still have moments of anger where I want to kick him in the nuts, and that would be great, but I try my best to get myself back on track. And it’s important, at least I have discovered for myself; it’s important not to resist these negative emotions when they pop up out of the blue, as this just prolongs the process. Feel the emotions (in a healthy way, no nut kicking), then move on. It gets easier.
When you finally let go, room is created for something much better!
Know that you’re loved by many people, even if you don’t notice it. Don’t let one person ruin your present and future. Believe me, they are suffering more than you in their own darkness. They may learn one day (or maybe not), but you can learn now!
One very difficult thing to get your head around is how a person who claims to love you can then go on to abuse you. If you’ve been in a relationship with an abusive narcissist (narc) which ended abruptly, you will understand the trauma and confusion it brings. How could this person go from telling me I was the love of his life to treating me like a piece of shit? And how could I have misjudged this person so badly who lied, cheated, and devalued me in front of people for his own amusement? How do you trust anyone again?
You may think that narcs are horrible people, and on the surface, they are! However, underneath they are hurting, they are sad, they need help. Narcs often use a variety of methods to numb and hide their pain, and abusing someone is probably one of these methods. From my experience though, alcohol was another method my ex narc used to numb his pain. Unfortunately, this only made his behaviour worse, as you could imagine.
Anyone who has experienced a narcissistic partner will wonder how they made such a huge mistake and how they can avoid making that same mistake again. The good news is, that like me, you would have learnt a lot about narcissists and how they operate. You understand the red flags now, those ones you ignored in the beginning. I know I saw HEAPS of red flags, and I ignored them all! Stupid, stupid.
Narcissists are predictable, they follow the same pattern in each relationship, from victim to victim. You can recognise the early signs if you pay attention to their behaviour at each stage of the relationship. Even though I saw all of these signs, I didn’t understand much, if anything about narcissists at the time, and I tried to bring the issues up with my partner. Little did I know that narcs are experts at lying and will say everything you want to hear just to shut you up. However, none of what they say is genuine. Once you settle and become comfortable again, they will go back into old habits and the cycle begins again. They do not change.
Why Narcs Often Have Abusive Traits:
People with Narcissistic Personality Disorder often have a few things that predispose them to becoming abusive. These are:
Narcissists in Relationships:
Narcissists don’t do well in relationships. One reason is because they lack empathy and only think about themselves. But also, because they lack whole object relations, and have very unrealistic ideas about their partners. They see things in black and white, there are no grey areas. You are either perfect, or flawed.
As a result, narcs repeat the same relationship abuse patterns instead of settling down in a good, healthy and long term relationship.
Narcs have no middle ground. When they first meet you, they are likely to believe you're perfect. They will chase you endlessly with attention, gifts, texts, complements and anything that proves they're devoted to you. You may notice that they will come off as a very likeable, charming, and talkative person and you may even experience "Gaslighting", like I did.
The thing is that they are very charming and likeable in public, but later, behind closed doors this will change. They will hide this negative side from family, friends and others, so that you look crazy if you try to tell others what they're really like. No one else sees it, only you.
Narcs often move fast. They will “fall in love” with you very quickly. I put “fall in love” in quotation because from my experience, narcs cannot love properly, so this is very likely fake. If you notice that they are over the top, moving fast, or it all seems too good to be true, this may be a red flag.
The Narcissist's Former Relationships:
Soon you will start to hear about their past relationships. Now pay attention here because this will give away a lot about them and who they really are. They love to play the victim, so all of their former partners will be horrible people. They will talk about past partners as being crazy, abusive, or cheaters etc. Yet the narcs will always present themselves as the perfect one, and the victim each time. This is another red flag I ignored.
When you begin to see how badly they treat you further into the relationship, you will start to question these stories about their exes, and realise that it was more than likely the other way around. This became very clear to me when I noticed my ex narc would always tell “edited” stories. Even if I knew what actually happened, he would edit the story so that he was the hero or the victim and myself, or whoever else he was talking about was the “bad guy”.
Oh, You’re Actually Not Perfect:
Once a narc has “caught” you they begin to relax and start to notice little things about you that they don't like. This is when they begin their construction project. Narcs will start to criticise little things about you to try and make you into their idea of the perfect partner. They may insult what you wear (I got this a lot), how you look (I got this a lot), what you do etc. They may “suggest” ways to improve yourself so that you become the image that they want. Or, as I experienced, they will use insults to make you feel bad about yourself and force you to change.
The Lies, So Many Lies!
Narcissists are expert liars. Well, I’m not sure if my narc was an expert at lying because I caught him out several times! However, he could look me in the eyes and lie to my face with absolute ease; and even when he was caught in the act, he would still try to lie his way out! Although I will admit, there were probably countless more lies that I never knew about.
The pattern of narc lying is interesting. They will say or do something to you one day, and then swear until they’re blue in the face that they never said or did it the next day. If you challenge them, they will go on the attack. They will turn it around on you and blame you. You must have heard them incorrectly, or somehow, it’s all your fault. The narc will not take responsibility for their own mistake, because saying sorry is a sign of weakness to them. Their mistake, lie or abuse will be YOUR FAULT.
So why are narcissists so good at lying, even when they're caught? Even when you have evidence? Because it works. They are experts at manipulating you and turning the blame on to you. They can talk their way around almost anything and confuse you, and this works! You will start to doubt yourself. They are compulsive liars and excellent talkers. They talk the talk, but won't walk the walk. Yet sometimes I wondered if my ex narc really believed his lies, it often appeared that way. This is why narcissistic personality disorder is a mental health condition.
What Happens When You Put Up Boundaries:
The worst thing you can say to a narc is “no”. When I had had enough of being used, abused, lied to and generally treated like a piece of crap, I put up boundaries. These were very healthy and very reasonable boundaries. But they initiated what would be three months of hell.
Saying no to a narc is like taking their control away, and this hurts their ego. When you hurt them, they will punish you! They will get revenge. A switch flips and a monster appears. They will use what they know will hurt you the most. This is when I became the next victim to throw away, but not after he had gotten his revenge first. For what? Because I said no.
What a normal person would take with maturity and solve with a healthy discussion, a narc will take as an attack on their sense of self. This means their so-called love turns into hate. The revenge they unleash on you will be extremely hurtful. I won’t go into detail about what my ex narc did to me, that would need a whole other article. But once they're done, you will be thrown to the side like you meant nothing; and unfortunately, you didn’t mean all that much to them in the first place. They will soon move on to the next victim if they haven’t done so already.
What Positives Have I Gained from a Relationship with an Abusive Narcissist?
I went through a horrible experience, especially in the last three to four months. However, I’m thankful for what I learned. I have been pushed to become a much stronger person, a happier person. I’ve found a new life, surrounded with positive and loving people. I won’t take verbal, emotional or physical abuse from anyone ever again. I won't take cheating and lying. I know the signs now. And I hope I can help even just one person recognise an abusive narcissist before they get too deep into a relationship with them.
It doesn’t matter how much you love them, how much you care, or how much support you offer to help them. Narcs don't want your help, nor do they want to change. It’s a mental health disorder and only a professional can help. My ex narc desperately needs help, but will not admit or acknowledge the deep pain he has inside. I know how much this hurts. I loved him more than he deserved and I still hope he will seek the help he needs. But doubt he will. Narcs are miserable being miserable and enjoy it. In some way, that’s their comfort zone and they are happy to remain there, which is very sad. So move on; because (as a friend recently told me) you are FAR too good for them anyway!
Dedicated with thanks to those who have been there for me: Cammy, Kim, Jo, Rob, Leon and Lorraine.
I have recently gone through hell and back with someone who I believed to be one person, who changed in an instant. The change was shocking, scary and cruel. But it was something I am thankful for. Why? Because it helped me to learn a lot about what I want and need, and what happens when you challenged another person’s mask by putting up healthy boundaries. I saw the real person that had been hiding behind an emotional mask.
The Emotional Masks We Wear
Many people wear emotional masks to hide feelings that they don’t want to deal with. Emotional masks are worn due to fear. There are many reasons for this; some people come from family backgrounds that have never supported or encouraged open expression of emotions. Or sometimes a person has been through trauma or difficulties in the past and feel like they can’t express, or don’t want to express the emotions associated with the event.
Sometimes people who stop showing their own emotions to people around them, stop recognising their own emotions completely. Emotional masks are a common way to avoid dealing with these difficult emotions. These aren’t actual physical masks I’m talking about. So, what exactly are emotional masks? Here’s a few examples:
Unfortunately for those who live behind emotional masks for a long time may begin to find softer emotions trigger anger easily. Such as sadness, shame and fear. It can also lead to substance abuse, such as alcoholism and drug use as a way to numb the emotions that they don’t want to deal with.
Why Wear Emotional Masks?
Everyone wears masks to some degree. However, when it’s a long-term habit to cover emotions that you don’t want to face, it becomes unhealthy and it negatively affects your relationships. One of the most common reasons people wear masks is the fear of people finding them out. One of our greatest fears is showing our true selves!
“Be yourself, everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde.
The Courage to Look Behind the Eyes of Another Person
What happens when someone see’s through your mask to the real person? This is a deeply unnerving experience for the mask wearer. They have been caught out. Everyone longs to be seen, and known for who they really are. But the fear of being seen may be too much for the mask wearer to handle. They may not be ready, or just may not want to face their difficult emotions.
“The greatest battle we face as human beings is the battle to protect our true selves from the self the world wants us to become.” E.E. Cummings.
Seeing another person for who they truly are, even if they don’t see it, can be a wonderful thing. However, if you challenge their mask it can trigger their fear of being found out causing them to turn on you. You have challenged their ego, their entire sense of self, even though it’s fake.
Uh oh spaghetti-O!
Challenging someone to take off their mask means showing their authentic self. This is a very vulnerable thing to do and requires a huge amount of courage, and a great deal of trust. But if you never do it, the past will continue to affect your present.
“You can’t change the past, but you can change how it affects you.” Unknown.
Why Should You Take Off Your Masks?
We ALL wear emotional masks to some degree, and this can be ok when it’s not taken to the extreme. However, there will come a point in life when juggling all of these masks becomes exhausting and pointless. Vulnerability isn’t a weakness, it’s a true strength. Masks are the real signs of weakness. Masks push away the ones who love you the most. Masks can create isolation and loneliness.
Most of us can tell immediately when we are in the presence of an authentic person. One without masks, who is not “putting on a show”. These are the people who enjoy the deep sense of peace authenticity brings. They experience life and love to the fullest. It doesn’t mean they don’t experience pain, but they don’t allow past experiences to prevent them from getting the most out of the present.
Obtaining perfect health, what does that mean? It’s probably different for each person and I’m not entirely sure what that means for me. But I want it. I have been working towards my idea of perfect health for many years. I’ve struggled with my health since a teenager. Poor health and chronic digestive conditions crept up on me slowly. It has happened so gradually that it almost seemed normal. I have a feeling that this is the case for many people in today’s Western world. We accept these niggling little issues with our health that may not have an official diagnosis, but over time get worse and often interfere with our quality of life.
Everything did start out mild for me; however, at some point everything came crashing down and I was unable to leave the house for six months, or work for four years. I have managed to recover from the majority of that experience; however, I am only about 70% there. Things have come to a standstill, almost like 70% health is all I can have. But I won’t accept that, I want 100%. There is something stopping me from reaching perfect health, and I have a feeling it’s more to do with something non-physical, rather than physical. But why is this?
In the Western world we often focus on physical treatments for many chronic health issues. While this is a very important part of the recovery process, there is something we often neglect. We’re not just physical beings, we are body, mind and soul; or spirit, however you want to look at it. We now know how the mind can affect the body. Whether that’s in a positive way, or a negative way.
When we only look at physical ways to heal our health problems, we fall short. Like I’ve been falling short at 70%. Don’t get me wrong, good health needs a well-balanced diet, exercise, treatments and maybe supplements or drugs depending on the issue you’re dealing with. But good health is holistic.
I’ve tried the supplements, the nutrition, conventional medicine, exercise and alternative treatments; and while these have all provided some benefits to my health, they have all failed to get me where I want to be. What was I missing, or failing to look at?
When you begin to understand the mind-body connection you realise that this is as important as any physical treatment when it comes to good health. This includes things such as your attitude, negative thinking, socialising, following your passions, your mood, your beliefs and much more.
Now I’m not saying that you should start pushing all negative thoughts aside and become a positive thinker, that’s not going to work. That will only succeed in repressing your thoughts and emotions which leads to more problems. But start noticing ongoing thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, habits etc. to understand how your mind is working. Lucky for me I had someone point this out to me. As they say you can’t see the forest for the trees.
Are you a very negative person, do you constantly compete against the clock, causing anxiety? Do you see the positive side as well as the negative? Or do you only dwell on the negative? Do you live in anxiety? Do you push aside your passions because you believe they are a waste of time? Are you isolated, or lonely?
These are only a small number of examples which impact your physical and mental health in one way or another. And which I believe have impacted my health cause my health standstill at 70%. I took care of the physical side, but neglected the non-physical aspects of wellbeing.
But what is the source of this struggle? I believe it’s living in your head rather than living through your heart. As kids we lived in the moment, through our hearts. But at some point, this is knocked out of us and we learnt to live in a state of fear. The brain isn’t there to make us happy, it’s there to keep us safe, and it does a good job of that; although sometimes the brain likes to be employee of the month too often.
Always living through the brain equals living in a state of fear too often. It can be anything that may seem insignificant from the past. Maybe you experienced rejection as a child at some point and this was stored as a memory. Your brain wants to protect you from being rejected again, so this fear might get activated by any type of event that may seem like rejection, but isn’t and cause anxiety.
Similar to this, but more logical, if you were bitten by a dog and developed a fear of dogs. This may be a more reasonable fear compared to anxiety-type fears. Your brain is protecting you from dogs that may appear vicious. However, the rejection fear seems reasonable to your brain. The brain doesn’t differentiate, it’s protecting you, that’s it’s job. But probably not always in your best interest. It could even be detrimental to your wellbeing and relationships if you get caught up in it.
When you live in your head, you’re constantly living through these fears. Some are beneficial, and could save your life. However, the majority are pointless fears that cause ongoing anxiety and stress. Such as the rejection example above. Or even something you’ve seen on TV that you have unconsciously taken on as a fear. We are constantly bombarded with fear-based images on TV and don’t realise what this does to our wellbeing.
Although I understand that living through my heart is better for health, wellbeing and overall happiness. And using the brain as a tool rather than the CEO of my life is the way to go, how to achieve this is another puzzle I’m yet to solve. There’s a lot of information that you can read with instructions on how to live through your heart; be authentic, buy a colouring in book, watch your thoughts float past like fluffy white clouds, but that just brings up more questions.
I won’t pretend to have the answers, because I don’t. But I will say that I will keep looking until I find my own answers. I think that’s the only way to go when you want to grow (nice almost-rhyme). Read and learn as much as you can, but other people’s advice and experience won’t substitute for your own personal experience; which will only come from looking within yourself.
You’ve probably heard about the gut-brain connection by now. Although it’s a fairly new area of scientific research, we are learning a lot about the fascinating and exciting influence our second brain (gut) has on so many areas of our health and wellness.
Why is the Gut Referred to as Our Second Brain?
Ok I’ll get a little technical here, sorry. Our “second brain” is actually called the enteric nervous system and it regulates the gut. This smart cookie has two thin layers of over 100 million nerve cells that line your gastrointestinal tract. And while it can’t solve maths equations or compose music, the enteric nervous system maintains constant communication with the brain. Your enteric nervous system is also in charge of digestion, from releasing enzymes, to swallowing, controlling blood flow, nutrient absorption and elimination.
The enteric nervous system doesn’t appear to be capable of thought in the way we are familiar with. However, it communicates constantly with the brain, back and forth with astounding results. Although there is a communication happening both ways, around 90% of communication is travelling from the gut to the brain via the vagus nerve and only 10% moves in the other direction.
The enteric nervous system appears to trigger emotions. For decades, scientists believed that anxiety and depression were contributing to gut disorders such as constipation, diarrhea and irritable bowel syndrome; however recent studies show that it may actually be the other way around. Research is showing amazing evidence that irritation in the gut is triggering signals to be sent to the brain that cause mood changes. This shows the relationship between the high percentage of those with gut problems and depression and anxiety.
Our gut also produces the majority of our serotonin. Serotonin is a well-known brain neurotransmitter and 90% is produced in the gut. Altered levels of gut serotonin have been linked to diseases such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and irritable bowel syndrome.
What Can We Do to Maintain a Healthy Gut-Brain Connection?
Bacteria! Oh the lovely human gut microbiome. Unfortunately, modern life is destroying our gut microbiome. High consumption of processed foods, high meat and low plant food diets, stress, antibiotics and hyper-cleanliness are some of the most common factors in modern life that are negatively affecting our gut bacteria.
The gut microbiome is essential to human health. It plays a major role in maintaining a healthy immune system (most of which is in our gut), and plays an essential part in the communication that happens between our gut and brain. Studies are showing that our gut microbiome is connected to metabolic disorders such as diabetes and obesity, as well as neuropsychiatric disorders such as autism, depression, anxiety, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and schizophrenia. Often people with these conditions have gut problems to some degree.
We are starting to discover how important gut health is and how it may play a part in numerous conditions ranging from mild to serious disease. A healthy gut may just be one of the most important aspects to wellness, yet probably requires more than just a good diet. Considering there is communication going both ways (to and from the brain), thoughts may also have an impact on gut health. In fact, we already know that chronic stress kills our good bacteria and allows the bad guys to grow.
However, considering that 90% of communication is the other way (from the gut to the brain), it may be that the gut has more of an influence over our moods than the brain does. But the brain does send its own communication to the gut and has its own influence. It’s the chicken and the egg, what came first? Was it the irritated gut that told the brain to become stressed or depressed? Or was it the brain that told the gut it was stressed, resulting in the gut responding in a negative way?
At the moment many treatments for conditions such as stress, anxiety and depression focus solely on the brain. Health professionals need to start looking at gut health more and make it a major aspect of treatment for these and possibly other conditions. This smart cookie (who probably likes cookies), has much more of an impact on our health and wellness than we have been giving it credit for.
Now that title sounds a little depressing, but recently I came across a book called “The Top Five Regrets of Dying” by Bronnie Ware. I enjoy talking to the older generation, they always have some wisdom to share. But Bonnie had an experience with dying patients that had a massive impact on her life.
Bronnie spent many years in unfulfilling jobs, like many of us, but eventually found herself working in palliative care. During her time in this work she spent many hours with people at the end of their life. What they shared with her about their regrets completely changed her life.
While talking with her patients, Bronnie began to see common patterns from the information she was given. The life stories from each patient were very different, but common themes began to emerge about their regrets. Initially Bronnie recorded these regrets in her blog. However it gained so much popularity that she wrote her book, “The Top Five Regrets of Dying”.
Not all of her patients had regrets, however the ones who did affected Bronnie's life profoundly. She used this information to make hard decisions that changed her life, leading her to become a mum for the first time at 45, relocate back to where she grew up and achieve her dream of becoming a musician by releasing 2 albums.
Bronnie’s experience with her patients isn't meant to be depressing, but instead, inspiring. Her work in palliative care must have been extremely difficult, however she gained a lot of wisdom from her patients which she put into practice in her own life. The most common theme among her dying patients was regretting not living authentically, and Bronnie decided that she wouldn't have that regret at the end of her life. Here are the top five regrets of the dying:
1. I wish I had lived life true to myself and not how others expected me to live.
This was by far the most common regret. So many of Bronnie’s patients looked back and realised that they didn’t fulfill even half of their dreams and goals. And they realised it was due to their own choices. While Bronnie said each patient found peace at the end of their life, they wished that they could go back and cross everything off their bucket list. Don’t live for other people's dreams and expectations while yours are forgotten.
2. I wish I didn’t work so much.
This was a very common regret amongst the male patients Bronnie nursed. Due to the older generation, the men were often the main breadwinners so it was less common among the female patients. Her male patients deeply regretted spending the majority of their lives stuck on the treadmill of work existence. They felt bad about missing out on seeing their children grow up, and missing out on building a proper connection with their partners.
At the end of your life you won’t care about how much money you made, or how many cars you own. You will remember the people, connections, memories and experiences you had. Working to survive is something we all have to do, but becoming a workaholic makes you forget about, or miss out the relationships that are right in front of you.
3. I wish I had expressed my feelings more.
The third most common regret was that many of Bronnie’s patients wished that they had the courage to express their feelings more. Many repressed their feelings and held them back just to keep the peace with others. Some became bitter and resentful. Bottled up feelings can lead to mental and physical illness, which some patients believed they developed as a result.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch.
Many of Bronnie’s patients regretted losing contact with friends and family. They wished they hadn’t taken relationships for granted and missed their companionship. Many had gotten so caught up in their lives that they forgot to nurture their relationships. They regretted not giving their relationships the time that they needed.
5. I wish I had let myself be happy.
Many of Bronnie’s patients didn’t realised happiness was a choice until the end of their life. They were stuck in old patterns and habits, and continued to live in their comfort zone. This overflowed into their lives and emotions. They regretted having a fear of change and pretending to be someone they're not. They longed to bring silliness and laughter back into their lives.
I think the main take away from Bronnie’s patients is the live authentically, or live true to yourself. Forget what the world says about having to work hard, achieve this and that, buy more and more, act this way because that’s what’s expected.
Don’t neglect the people in your life who care about you, otherwise they won’t stick around. Express your feelings in a healthy way, especially males, it’s ok. Don’t forget about the real life experiences, the laughter, your own goals and dreams, and the simple pleasures of life; because that’s what’s important.
As I walked up to my thinking spot this morning, ready to enjoy my flat white in peace, I noticed three surfy baby boomers already there. My first thought was, “bummer, I wanted to be alone”. However, they immediately greeted me with friendly smiles and included me in their conversation. The generation gap didn’t seem to matter in the least.
They were talking about some of their friends and how their health has declined with age. I listened with interest as they began to provide their wisdom and life experience as to why the three of them were still so fit and healthy, and very obviously young at heart.
One member of this surfy baby boomer gang, let’s call him Bob (because I forgot his real name), told me that the secret to staying young and healthy is not only to remain physically fit, but to always do what excites you. Continue to try new things and get out of your comfort zone no matter how old you are.
Jim then piped in (name changed due to my poor memory), adding that good social connections are also important, don’t isolate yourself! Steve (not his real name, damn this memory of mine!), sat quietly nodding and agreeing with his gang of surfy baby boomers.
I think often we look at ageing as a bad thing, as a time to slow down and accept that your body will deteriorate; and that your best years are behind you. Bob, Jim and Steve gave me some valuable advice today, even if they didn’t realise how much of a positive affect their words had.
Getting older doesn’t mean you have to stop enjoying life. It doesn’t mean that you will become frail and sick. Yes, illness may happen, but you can do a lot to reduce the risk. It’s not just about staying physically healthy. Your mindset has a massive impact on how you will age.
Bob, Jim and Steve all have a “young at heart” attitude even though they are in their 60’s. They continue to do what excites them (such as surfing), and approach life with child-like curiosity; yet they still manage to be productive adults with normal responsibilities. Why do so many of us lose our passion for life as we enter adulthood?
To quote Steve: “Remember that feeling when you were a kid? How everything excited you? How you wanted to try everything and anything new just for fun? Keep doing that!”
Maybe taking on their advice will help me to remember people’s names!
There are not many studies currently available on the Mediterranean diet and its effects on mental health; however, there is some evidence which shows that the nutrients gained from this diet, such as antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, fibre and B-vitamins positively effect mood and brain function.
What is missing from many studies is the impact that the Mediterranean lifestyle also has on mental health, which includes diet, lifestyle, social and cultural aspects. Although diet does play a part in treating mental illness, it is not the only aspect which should be considered.
What a person eats directly affects functioning of the brain, and as a result, a person’s mood. The brain can only function at it optimal levels when a good diet rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals is consumed. A poor diet that is high in refined food has been shown in multiple studies to affect brain function and increase symptoms of disorders such as depression.
The Mediterranean diet is associated with reducing the risks of many chronic diseases, however there is currently limited research on the affects it has on mental health. Many components of the Mediterranean diet encourage healthy brain function such as omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants and B vitamins. As well as this, the Mediterranean diet is rich in vitamins, minerals, polyunsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants which have been shown to have a positive impact on mental health.
How Diet Affects Mood
The gastrointestinal tract is lined with millions of nerve cells, making it more than just a place to digest food, but also a mood regulator. Around 95% of serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. The production of serotonin and the functioning of the neurons in the gastrointestinal tract are highly influenced by the intestinal microbiome which are directly affected by diet.
Studies have shown that traditional diets such as the Mediterranean diet, can lower the risk of depression by 25% to 35% when compared to a Western diet. This is due to the abundance of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and seafood in traditional diets such as the Mediterranean diet, as well as the limited amounts of red meat and dairy consumed.
Recently more evidence has shown that there is a link between diet and mental health. Studies have shown that consuming a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, olive oil, nuts, legumes and fish can provide protection against depressive symptoms. However, a diet high in sugar and processed foods is seen to have a negative impact on mental health, particularly depression.
The Mediterranean diet provides an abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes and fish. These foods are rich in antioxidants, fibre and many other nutrients that are positively associated with mental health. The Mediterranean diet provides a much higher proportion of omega 3 fatty acids compare to the high consumption of omega 6 fatty acids seen in a typical Western diet. Research has shown the importance of omega 3 fatty acid in supporting good mental health.
The key concepts of the Mediterranean diet and its effect on mental health are due to the diet being rich in a variety of nutrients which are associated with positive mental health effects. The Mediterranean diet is rich in antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, and B vitamins which are shown to positively affect mental health and brain function.
The Mediterranean Lifestyle
The existing theories indicate that the Mediterranean diet and its effects on mental health isn’t just about what food is consumed. It’s also about the lifestyle. The Mediterranean lifestyle is a holistic approach to supporting mental health. Although the diet provides a rich source of nutrients which are shown to positively affect mental health and brain function, the Mediterranean lifestyle also plays an important role. This include the social aspects and physical activity.
The benefits of a meal go far beyond the nutritional aspects in the Mediterranean culture. The social benefits of leisure time, cooking, sharing, and eating together in positive company support good mental health which are all depicted in the Mediterranean diet pyramid as essential aspects. Another important component of the Mediterranean lifestyle is leisure time which provides a social aspect beneficial for mental health.
More studies need to be done which include a whole lifestyle approach. A lack of social connectiveness can contribute to poor mental health including depression. However positive social connections can reduce the risk of poor mental health.
The Mediterranean lifestyle has a very important social aspect which supports overall wellness. The Mediterranean diet pyramid provides a holistic representation of a healthy lifestyle which benefits mental health including not only diet but also the cultural, social and physical aspects of good health. Looking at a single aspect such as diet does provide some benefits, however taking a holistic approach provides more long term positive effects for mental health as well as overall wellbeing.
Take home messages:
Click here for references.
“Overthinking is my best friend. Always fills my brain with delight and sits by my side. It never leaves me alone.”
― Suyasha Subedi
Fellow over-thinkers, only you will understand this post to its full extent. We are a special kind, a strange kind; a type of person who is often misunderstood. I’m not talking about general overthinking, or anxiety; which many people suffer from in the Western culture. I’m talking about those of us who are natural over-thinkers, who love to think a lot, who philosophise and analyse everything to its full extend, and often beyond. Those of us who live in our head and get lost there for hours.
I used to believe that the way my mind worked was abnormal. Other people don’t think, question and analyse every little detail. But of course, I had to analyse and think about this. I had to work out how to stop my overactive mind and chill out. But now I’m overthinking why I overthink, then overthinking why I need to think about why I overthink. Ok I see the problem.
The inner world of an over-thinker can be filled with self-doubt and constant uncertainty. This sounds pretty negative, but it’s not always the case. Psychologists state that there are benefits to the overactive mind, or “Nervous Nellie”. Those of us who are lucky enough to possess this trait often worry and over-analyse issues far more than the average person. This can lead to stress, anxiety and many health issues including digestive problems and hypertension. Taking control is the key. Embrace your monkey mind while giving it bananas when it’s time to shut up!
So, what causes someone to be an over-thinker? One paper published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences states that there is an area in the brain which controls self-created thoughts (thoughts associated with overthinking). This area may be more active in over-thinkers. This may lead to excessive thinking. However this also leads to breakthrough theories, research ideas, creativity and solutions to problems.
When compared to “normal thinkers”, i.e. those who often look on the bright side of life, over-thinkers are more likely to create solutions to the problems that they obsess over. Some research has even indicated that over-thinkers, or anxious people generally have higher IQ's compared to more relaxed individuals.
However, research also shows that over-thinkers are prone to many health problems, lower immunity and chronic health conditions. This shows that overthinking can be both a blessing and a curse. Overthinking to the point of chronic stress is not good for you, and may even cause health problems. However, using your monkey mind to your advantage can be one of your best assets.
Over-thinker isn’t a bad thing unless you let it become a bad thing. Overthinking can lead to stress, anxiety and depression when you allow it to control you. But when you take control, overthinking can be used to your advantage, leading to the most brilliant ideas, insights and breakthroughs. This is the major problem for the overactive mind, trying to take control and use it for good. Over-thinkers are prone to anxiety and it’s very easy for an over-thinker's mind to lose control. Once that happens, getting out isn’t easy. But not impossible.
Some of the common problems over-thinkers face include:
Ok, so there are a lot of problems that come along with having an overactive mind. But have you ever considered how much of a blessing it is to be an over-thinker? Many creative people are over-thinkers. Over-thinkers are never short on ideas. All of those ideas that pop into your head while your monkey mind is chattering have the potential to be amazing. Often, we start questioning whether the idea is good enough, maybe it’s stupid etc. Then we talk ourselves out of even trying.
This is where taking control is important, before that blessing turns into a curse. This is where you need to learn to recognise what you’re doing. Your amazing overthinking mind has given you an idea, so take it. If you allow yourself to analyse this idea your will talk yourself out of it. There’s a fine line between the advantages and disadvantages of the overactive mind, and recognising when that line appears is bloody hard!
This line applies to everything that triggers your monkey mind. The line will appear at different points, but understanding when your mind is working for you and when it’s sabotaging you is something that you have to practice for yourself. I certainly haven’t got it under control yet. Often you will recognise that your mind is taking control, but can’t get yourself out of it. This is when support can save you.
Why is support important? Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. You’re so involved in your thinking situation, which is turning into anxiety and you cannot see the situation as a whole. I don’t know if it’s just me, but as an over-thinker I tend to keep my overthinking to myself. This is a bad idea if you don’t always have control.
Find someone who you trust, someone who won’t judge you, who will always be there. Ask this person if you can turn to them when your mind gets out of control, and tell them what you’re thinking, or overthinking. They will see your situation from a whole new perspective and help you to calm down. This is important for those who struggle often, it will save you a lot of stress and anxiety. Rather than spending hours or days obsessing over something, you could have it resolved in minutes. If you have no one to turn to, consider a counsellor.
Overthinking can definitely be a positive trait, and you should embrace it. However most, if not all over-thinkers are all too familiar with the negative side of this gift. You can learn to take control of your monkey mind and use it to your advantage. However, you will probably slip up on more than one occasion, so make sure you have support if you need it. But don’t forget that the way your mind works is unique and is a blessing. Just think about some of history’s greatest thinkers!
Most of us have heard about the placebo effect, however less is known about the nocebo effect. The placebo effect shows the positive correlation between our mind-body connection, our body’s ability to heal itself. However, what we are started to understand is that the opposite is also true, it’s called the nocebo effect.
The nocebo effect shows us the negative side of our mind-body connection. Essentially, it’s the connection between negative thought patterns and beliefs which manifest themselves mentally and physically.
The nocebo effect is due to psychological or psychosomatic factors which produce detrimental effects to your health, such as a negative prognosis or negative treatment expectations.
What is the Mind-Body Connection?
We all know that the mind is very powerful, although we probably don’t fully understand just how powerful it is. Science is starting to accept the mind-body connection, and there are already numerous studies about how stress, anxiety and negative thinking can affect your health. However, there’s still a long way before the mind-body connection is fully accepted and no longer termed “woo woo” or “pseudoscience”.
One study done shows how the nocebo effect can occur. Researchers compared two different placebos using two groups of people for treating their arm pain. The first group unknowingly received a sugar pill and the second group unknowingly received a fake acupuncture treatment using retractable needles.
The results from the fake acupuncture group demonstrated the placebo effect well, with the group reporting less arm pain. However, what was fascinating was how both groups demonstrated the nocebo effect. Both treatments were fake, however both groups reported negative side effects from their treatments.
The fake acupuncture group reported pain, swelling and redness after their treatment and the sugar pill group reported feeling sluggish, with some feeling so tired that they couldn’t get out of bed.
What is more fascinating about these “side effects” is that the groups experienced what they were TOLD they might experience after treatment. Oh, the power of suggestion!
Currently researchers have mostly been focusing on the mind’s ability to heal the body, the placebo effect. All clinical trials randomly assign patients to either a treatment group (with the real drug or treatment), or a placebo group (a fake drug or treatment). The patients do not know which group they are assigned to, and those in the placebo group often show improvement even though their treatment is fake. Simply because they believe they are taking the real drug.
However, along with this, people who take the placebo also report side effects such as nausea, pain or headaches. This is due to the warnings they receive. Both groups (placebo and drug group) receive the same information and the same warnings about possible side effects. This causes even the people in the placebo group to experience negative side effects simply because they expected it. This demonstrates the nocebo effect.
So how can this apply to ever day life? Do you have constant and ongoing negative thoughts patterns or beliefs such as;
I have read many books on this subject and have learned an important lesson that many people don’t realise at first. It’s not so much the occasional negative thought that will suddenly make you ill, it’s more about something your truly believe. Those self-help books which make people believe that they should never have a negative though are ridiculous. You’re going to have negative thoughts, but you don’t have to believe them.
The nocebo effect is as real as the placebo effect, but it’s not something to fear. By being aware of which thoughts you choose to get caught up in, and truly believe, can change your perspective and may even change your health; hopefully for the better!
I tend to plan almost everything. I like to know what’s going to happen and how I will get from point A to point B. Yet more often than not, my plans are interrupted and this makes me uneasy. I don’t like not being in control. If I make a plan, no matter how small, I like to stick to it. And when something comes along and changes my plan, and it will, anxiety will jump in and sing ner ner ner your world is crumbling.
A certain smarty pants has managed to bring this to my attention on and off for the last eleven months. Whether this person is aware of this or not, it has helped me to change my way of thinking. You can make as many plans as you like about your future, short or long term, but you also need to realise that something will very likely come along and change what you “thought” was the best outcome for you and usually give you an even better outcome.
Unfortunately, when you’re lost in that freak out, “no no no, it was meant to go THIS way, not that way”, then you fail to see that you're being given something much better. It’s the whole ‘can’t see the forest for the tress’ expression.
Trying to control every aspect of your life only makes life a struggle. Controlling things or people only pushes those things or people away. The tighter you hold onto something, the more it pulls away. However, the thought of letting go of control is a very scary idea, especially for control freaks. It feels like allowing chaos in to run rampant through your "very well-managed life".
I think the root of the problem is down to one word, ‘trust’. Letting go of control means that you need to trust that everything will be ok. You need to trust that life will flow naturally without your constant micromanagement. That’s bloody scary.
Bad things will happen and you will deal with them as they do. Let go rather than trying to control and prevent what you fear. This only makes things worse while creating a lot of stress and worry along the way.
Trusting and letting go doesn’t mean becoming passive. It means flowing with life naturally and doing what you need to do, or can do ONLY when you need to do it. Not thinking about what you could do or should do when you can't do anything at all. That's called worrying. Or did I just confuse you, I think I confused myself.
I’ll always be a planner; I’ll make lists and plan how I will get from A to B. There’s nothing wrong with being organised. How satisfying is it to cross things off a list as they get done, or is that just me?
The problem arises when you can’t embrace change, when you fall apart because your well intentioned plans have fallen apart. Learning to accept and go with the flow of life does take a lot of stress out of the entire process. I probably should be listening to my own advice.
I do know however, that putting this into practice is a lot harder than simply writing it down. But just recognising when your control freakiness rears its ugly head is the first step to changing your attitude for the better.
“Live every day as it comes” – Sir Smarty Pants.
We all experience stress at some point, many on a daily basis. Some researchers suggest that occasional short term stress can be good for the body, however chronic stress causes many health problems.
The stress response, or “fight or flight” response evolved as survival skill which allowed people to immediately react to life threatening situations. This response was valuable during the times when humans were presented with these situations often, such as being attacked by a wild animal. However now the stress response is usually activated by non-life threatening events every day, such as work, relationship and traffic problems.
When someone perceives a stressful situation the amygdala (a part of the brain which processes emotions), instantly sends a danger signal to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus communicates with the autonomic nervous system, which regulates involuntary functions such as respiratory rate, digestion, heart rate, etc.
Once the distress signal has been sent to the hypothalamus it activates the fight or flight response. As a result the body prepares to either fight the danger, or run away. This is done by diverting blood away from where it’s not needed (such as the digestive system) and towards where it is needed (such as the muscles in the arms and legs). Adrenaline is release causing the heart rate and breathing rate to increase. Digestion slows and the liver releases glucose for energy. These changes happen so fast that we’re barely aware of them.
The fight or flight response is extremely effective when there is an actual threat. Unfortunately many people experience stress daily, and in situations which are not life threatening. Many of us have experienced the effect stress can have on digestion when it causes indigestion or heartburn. Stress can slow the digestive system which may only cause mild problems initially, but when stress becomes ongoing (chronic) it can have more serious effects on your health.
Chronic stress is associated with diabetes, heart problems, digestive issues, hypertension and much more. However it’s not all bad news: recent studies indicate that some acute stress may actually be good for the body. Moderate stress that is overcome can make the body stronger and more able to manage stress in the future. This supports Richard Dienstbier’s theory of mental toughness (1989), which states that acute stress can make you mentally stronger when it’s manageable, and there’s recovery time in between.
Like anything, it’s about moderation. When stress becomes ongoing, it may have negative effects on your health. Stress is unavoidable for most people, but we can do many things to manage stress in a healthier way.
For most people (particularly those in Western society), life is fast paced, stressful, and all about multi-tasking. We rarely (if ever) take a moment to stop and enjoy the simple things in life. Rituals can be an effective way to be present, slow down and savour the moment you're in.
Rituals can be any type of regular task from enjoying a cup of tea while dipping your biscuit, to performing your own good luck ritual before giving a speech. Rituals bring you into the present moment, they slow you down and help you to just be. Performing rituals that you connect with can help to reduce stress while allowing you to be more ‘in flow’ with life. They allow you to enjoy the moment rather than mindlessly rushing from one task to the next.
If you watch how the Japanese traditionally perform a simple task such as making tea, you will notice the beautiful flow and slow graceful focus they have. Every small movement is done with intention. Slowly and carefully. They don’t make tea while typing an email, texting a friend and trying to beat the beep of the microwave that’s heating up their lunch. Each task is done separately, and with presence. Never rushed, and never stressful. A perfect example you can see is by watching a Japanese Tea Ceremony on YouTube.
Of course you don’t have to go to the extent of a Japanese Tea Ceremony to benefit from a ritual, and most of us don’t have the time for that. However, just watching one inspires me incorporate such graceful intention into some of my own tasks. I have a feeling that if I had used some of these skills during food or drink preparation it may have saved many cups and bowls from their unfortunate shattered fate.
Since becoming aware of rituals and their benefits, I realise that growing up I had many rituals myself, particularly with treats. Whenever my mum gave me a Magnum ice cream I had a very specific way to eat it. I would chip off the chocolate piece by piece and eat it. Then I would slowly eat the ice cream underneath. Biting the whole thing together was not as satisfying. It tasted better my way, just like cutting toast in to triangles. Triangles taste better ya know!
We also had a family ritual with Mallowpuff biscuits (you may need to Google them if you’re not from New Zealand). We would tap them on our head to break the chocolate coating, chip it off, then eat the marshmallow, and lastly eat the biscuit base. Now this makes my family sound nuts (and they probably are a little), but it made the process of eating a treat much more social and fun; and became our ritual.
Living in the fast paced Western world can make it difficult to slow done and perform tasks as rituals. We feel like we must multitask and rush through everything because there just isn’t enough time. However, making time for a ritual that you enjoy can give you a moment to stop and smell the roses, as they say. And it can be anything from food, to a walk in nature; a task you love, or coffee. It’s a moment when you stop, slow down and forget about what you have to do next. A moment to focus on yourself and just enjoy the beauty of living. And that must be good for your well being!
There is a common misconception that eating healthy costs more. Many people would like to consume a healthy diet, but believe that they can’t afford to. With takeaway providing full meals for very little money, it can appear cheaper when compared to purchasing whole foods and preparing a meal from scratch. Supermarkets also create the impression that packaged food costs less than their fresh alternatives, however this isn’t the case.
Packaged and junk foods are marketed differently to fresh foods. The majority of the time fresh foods are priced according to weight (price per kg), however packaged foods are priced per serve or for larger packets, per gram. This makes it difficult to compare and decide which one will give you more value for your money.
Advertising is another way the junk food industry can mislead you. Something we don’t see advertised on TV is that you can get a bag of carrots for as little as $1, which will last for several meals. Yet what we do see is processed, packaged and takeaway meals often priced under $10, and sometimes under $5. This appears cheap for a full meal, but it’s only one meal; and when compared to cooking from scratch, it's going to end up costing more.
Tips to eat healthy and save money
Studies have shown that households spend more on unhealthy diets compared to what it would cost to eat healthy. Research has found that an unhealthy diet costs householders up to 34% more.
It often appears that unhealthy foods are cheaper, and when comparing individual items, this may be the case. However, when you look at the total diet and meals over time, a healthy diet can be a lot more affordable.
While most of us are aware of the physical side effects from too much screen time, including the impacts on vision, sleep, and weight gain from sitting down constantly, there hasn’t been many studies done to show the effects on mental health in adults.
A 2014 Nielsen report found that on average, adults spend 11 hours a day in front of screens. Is it possible that this may have an affect on mental health as well as physical health?
Studies have shown that too much screen time, especially at night affects sleep quality. One study was done on the effects of technology use on sleep at the University of Gothenburg, led by Dr. Sara Thomee. Thomee stated that the blue light emitted from screens suppresses melatonin production, preventing a restful night’s sleep. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland which regulates sleep and essentially helps you wind down at the end of the day. A lack of good quality sleep is associated with anxiety and depression.
Anxiety can also be caused by the constant influx of information through social media and other forms of media. Too much negative news can become overwhelming, leading to depression or anxiety.
Dr. Graham Davey, a British psychologist stated that constant negative news and violent media exposure contributes to depression, anxiety, stress, and possibly post-traumatic stress disorder. Negative news can significantly change someone’s mood and increase personal worries. This may lead to more negative or aggressive interactions with the world, due to subconsciously focusing on negative and threatening events.
Another issue with overusing technology is addiction. Certain types of screen time can cause dopamine to be released, such as social media. Each time you received a new post reaction, reply or message certain parts of the brain are activated and you receive a hit of dopamine. Over time this may become additive.
From the limited amounts of studies done so far, results have indicated that there is a correlation between screen time and mental health issues in adults. This includes addiction, depression, anxiety and aggression. However, not enough is known yet about the impact of screen time on mental health; and it’s still too early to determine a causation. We can’t be sure whether it’s the screens causing mental health issues, or those already suffering from mental health issues who are drawn to use technology more often.
It’s difficult to determine a “recommended amount of screen time” for adults, as many people need to use technology as part of their jobs. But you can look at how you’re using your screen time, and how it’s effecting your social life, physical fitness and overall health. If it’s negatively impacting other responsibilities and activities in your life, then you may need to take a break.
Like anything it’s all about balance. Take regular breaks and get outside as much as possible.
A few years ago, if you had asked me what my opinion on homeopathy was, I would have said it’s rubbish. How can something that’s diluted until there is nothing physically left do anything? How wrong was I!
I didn’t understand how homeopathy worked and what it actually does. It’s now one of my favourite forms of alternative treatment. It complements convention medicine and works well on its own.
Homeopathy is an energy medicine. Yes, it’s true that it’s diluted many times until there are literally no particles of the original substance left. But, and it’s a big but (yes, I said big but, try not to laugh). However (yeah that’s more mature), the energy of the original substance remains and that’s what we want because homeopathy works at an energetic level.
Many people will say that homeopathy is just a placebo. I guess in a way it is! It’s a catalyst, it encourages your body’s natural ability to heal itself. Research has shown that the placebo effect is real, and even the nocebo effect, where you can “think” yourself into illness.
Many scientific studies have shown that homeopathy doesn’t work. How bias are these studies? And what are they looking at? Many of them are looking for an active ingredient, which they won’t find. So in the results they declare that homeopathy can’t possibly work because it’s impossible to find one single molecule of the active ingredient in the substance! If they took the time to understand homeopathy they would realise that they're wasting their time searching for an active ingredient, it’s not there. It’s not supposed to be there.
“Criticisms centred around the vanishingly small number of solute molecules present in a solution after it has been repeatedly diluted are beside the point, since advocates of homeopathic remedies attribute their effects not to molecules present in the water, but to modifications of the water’s structure.”
Brian Josephson, Ph.D., a Nobel Prize-winning scientist.
A way to “sort of” understand how homeopathy works is to look at the water experiment done by Masaru Emoto, a Japanese author, photographer and researcher. He looked at how consciousness effected the molecular structure of water. Emoto believed that vibrations and energy from thoughts and emotions can affect the structure of water.
His experiment consisted of exposing water to a variety of music, pictures and words. He then froze the water and photographed the resulting crystal formations. His results showed that the water exposed to positive words and music formed beautiful crystals, while the water exposed to anything negative formed ugly crystals. Now stop for a moment and think about your own inner critic.
Emoto’s results have be questioned by scientists, while others have gone on to replicate his experiment. His results can be seen here…
Masaru Emoto Water Study
He has also done a similar experiment with rice. His experiments make a lot of sense, but in the end, you need to look at all of the evidence and decide whether or not you feel that it’s real or not. It is something to ponder over. Our bodies are made up of around 70% water.
Another amazing experiment to look at is how sound vibrations can form complex patterns. I might be getting a bit off track here, but this shows again how energy is so much more than what we perceive in everyday life. Check this out….
Everything is made up of energy vibrating at a certain frequency (including your body). To me, this experiment gives you a very simplistic look at how physical forms come together. So why should we immediately say that energetic medicines such as homeopathy couldn’t possibly work? Finding good studies on homeopathy is difficult, but they are out there if you know how to look for them.
There’s so much we still don’t know, and so much that science cannot show evidence for yet. We need to keep an open mind because science will show some amazing things in the future, things that many people now think are crazy. At least leave your door open a little, it's better to be wrong than never to investigate at all.
I think most of us have heard or read about the universe and everything in it being one, we are all one etc, etc. That's all well and good, but I feel quite individual and I found it hard to understand completely. What I mean is, I understand it in theory, logically, but the idea remained stuck in my head for many years before I truly understood it.
Could dreams be the clue to understanding what life is? I think it's very likely. If you look at a dream, as you are dreaming everything within the dream seems very real. You don't know that you're dreaming while you're dreaming (unless you have mastered lucid dreaming). It's true that a lot of the time dreams are very strange, but while you're in them you don't feel that they are.
Now on to the "one" part. Everything within your dream is within you. Every building, plant, animal and person is created by you and is you, because it's coming from you and it's your mind's creation. You may have a dream where you're in a crowd of hundreds of people, every person there acts independently and has their own personality, yet technically they are you. You have just taken on one point of focus within that dream (the character you are at that moment). Sometimes you even step back and view your creation (dream) from a distance. Almost like you're watching a movie, and you aren't specifically one of the characters.
Could it be that the universe, or god, or whatever you like to call it, is just some sort of massive consciousness creating some sort of dream-like reality and each life form is a point of focus for many different experiences? I think that it's probably far more complicated than that, and maybe too complex for us to understand. But I think it might be something along those lines. Possibly consciousness gets sort of duller as we move into a dream with in a dream within a dream.
Maybe we lose some signal quality as we move further down in a sense. For example consciousness changes or gets a little duller as you move from the spiritual world, to the physical world, and finally to the dream world. I say this because when you read about those who have had near death experiences (NDE's), so many of them mention how the spiritual world felt more real, they felt more awake and more conscious. And when you look at being awake versus dreaming, you also see a similar difference. Of course you don't notice this difference until you wake up. So you will not understand this difference until you wake up from this current "life dream".
There are many references to life being a type of dream. For example the song Row Row Row Your Boat. The boat signifies you or your body and the stream is your life journey. You're suppose to row gently down the stream, with the current (the flow of life). If you try to row against the current you will struggle as many of us do. If you try to stay in one place you will struggle; the current will do it's best to pull you in the right direction. If you try to go too fast you will miss a lot along the way. So you should row gently and enjoy the ride. Merrily as the song goes; not stressfully, because life is but a dream.
"Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent on." - Albert Einstein.
Buddhists also believe that life is a type of dream and waking up to the illusion is known as enlightenment.
Anyway, if life is "but a dream" this doesn't make it insignificant or any less important. There is surely a reason for it, a reason which may be far beyond our ability to understand. But most of us feel, or even know that we have a purpose whether we work out what that is or not. We know we have a reason for being here, some sort of inner knowing.
Everything in the physical world is impermanent just like a dream. So we can do our best not to get too caught up in the details and row our boats gently in flow with the stream of life.
Recently a person unexpectedly entered my life and completely changed my idea of how my life was going to go. Well at least the short-term life plan I had, which I thought was best for me; now I know it wasn’t.
This person has already taught me a lot about myself and life, and I suspect they have much more wisdom to give. One thing I now understand is that it doesn’t matter what you “think” should happen or how you “plan” how your life will go. More often than not the universe will throw you a curve ball which will be nothing but a blessing in your life; even if that’s not entirely how it appears at first.
So, no matter how scary it may seem initially, or how it makes you face your fears head on. Try to embrace this change and learn everything you can. It will (eventually), help you to grow as a person; and even have a positive impact on those around you.
Often people have no idea what kind of effect they have on others. It may be just a brief encounter, or a lifelong friendship. But by being yourself, you may just inspire others to embrace their own true selves.
A good lesson for me recently is that it’s ok to open up and be who you are, others will like you just for you. Being open attracts those special people who just seem to ‘get’ you, and that’s the kind of people you want in your life. When you close yourself off, it creates an invisible barrier which prevents you from experiencing the love and friendships that you deserve.
You don’t have to do anything drastic. Just be willing and open to new people and new experiences. Pushing people away doesn’t get you anywhere. It’s often fear that makes you push away someone or something which could be just what you need in your life at that moment.
I know that from experience, pushing people away out of fear doesn’t work. As someone once told me “live everyday as it comes”. Looking into the future at what “could” go wrong only creates anxiety. And the scary scenarios that the brain creates almost never happen anyway!
So, what will the next few months bring? Probably a lot of fears and anxieties, but hopefully also a lot of accomplishments. Being open to life is scary, it means actually living and experiencing the world and the amazing people that cross my path. But what is the alternative? Hiding away every day? That’s not life, at least that's not living life.