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.
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.
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.
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:
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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!
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.