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.
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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“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!
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.
I was having a casual conversation with a group of people the other day. One of the ladies in the group started to talk about how she works twelve-hour days with no breaks, studies at night, looks after her kids and needs to be up at 5.30am tomorrow for another twelve-hour shift. She was then praised for her dedication and her strength while being cheered on with “wow’s” and “how do you do it’s”.
While this might be a more extreme example, it’s become the norm in Western society. Being constantly busy is seen as good. You will be praised and rewarded for working yourself into the ground.
I learnt my lesson the hard way. I took on too much in my final year of my undergraduate degree. I had just become a single mum to a toddler so I needed to find work to support us, which I did. But instead of cutting down on my uni subjects I continued as I was so I could still finish as planned. Between parenting, working and uni I couldn’t handle it. I had no time to rest. I was eating in my car on the run, shovelling the food in as fast as I could.
I was proud that I was working so hard because that’s what you’re meant to do, right? And that’s what I though until my body said “enough!” I became ill, so ill that I was unable to work and it took me 5 years to recover.
I can now look back and see how being sick has changed the way I live. I wouldn’t want to go through it again, and I don’t want others to go through something similar; or worse.
The overworked culture isn’t just happening in the Western world, in Japan they have a word for this, “karoshi” - meaning job related exhaustion or death from overwork. According to the Heart Foundation Australia, more heart attacks occur on Monday mornings, most likely due to the stress and anticipation of the upcoming working week.
It’s not only work that can cause major stress on the body in modern society. In fact, many of us love our careers and balance them very well with life. However there are many other stressors that prevent us from slowing down, such as technology, television, phones, advertising, news and gadgets. Our senses are constantly bombarded, never given a break.
I find it interesting when I'm out in public, almost everyone will be staring at their phone. Even when they sit down on a lovely park bench in front of a nice view; out comes the phone. Why not take ten minutes to relax and look at the view? But don’t take out the phone to take a photo, just enjoy. People feel like they MUST be “doing” something even when they're doing nothing.
It’s definitely not easy to relearn your way of living. I say relearn because we instinctively knew how to live when we were kids. Maybe we need to look at how kids live life to remember how we should be living. We don’t need to “act” like a child. We can maintain maturity while living in the moment and taking care of ourselves.
Yet as an adult we can't avoid those responsibilities which are often the source of our stress. But we do have the power to simplify life as much as possible to reduce stress. You can do this by taking on some, or all of the following ideas:
Today I started my car and the radio came on. It just happened to be the beginning of a song called Mad World by Gary Jules. I first heard this song in the movie Donnie Darko, but I have never really paid attention to the lyrics, although I found the song quite depressing. For some reason today I paid attention. While I believe most music isn’t so much about what is put in, but more about what the listener gets out of it. A song's meaning might be very different depending on the person, and that’s ok, it’s a personal thing.
I felt this song has a very strong message, and it’s probably a similar message many people get. The Gary Jules version is a cover of the Tears For Fears original, however I find the Tears For Fears version doesn’t have the same impact as the newer version. I feel like this song explains perfectly what I try to put into my own writing. For example:
All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head, I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow
To me this verse describes the typical life of those stuck in the “rat race”. “All around me are familiar faces, worn out places, worn out faces”, seeing the same crowd every day, worn out, depressed, doing the same thing every day, and “going nowhere”. Not following their heart, but doing what the think the must do. Or even what the have to do to get by, even though it’s not what they want to be doing. The next part really got to me, “no expression”. How many times have you sat on public transport during peak hour and looked around? Really looked at the faces around you? So many people look like blank zombies, where’s their happiness gone and how can I help them?
Here are two short films below that I find very inspirational:
I feel like this verse also touches on the loss of connection between humans. We see many people every day, but we aren’t connected anymore. Usually because we are looking at our phones. When did we become so afraid of strangers? Of course you have to be careful, but the majority of people are good and you will find that out when you connect. Smile at a stranger, you never know what that might mean to them, or how it will change their day.
The next verse is probably the most saddest part of the song for me:
Children waiting for the day, they feel good
Happy birthday, happy birthday
Made to feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen
Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher, tell me what's my lesson
Look right through me, look right through me
I put the first two lines in bold because this really kicks you in the guts. And I think this applies to adults more than it does to kids. As an adult we believe that happiness will come at some point in the future, usually from something we are trying to “get”. This training starts young. Children know how to be happy, they know how to follow their passions and live in the present. Unfortunately we adults beat this out of them (not literally).
They learn that happiness comes from things, you will be happy when you get “this and that” on your birthday, or at some future point. But right now you must be serious and get your work done. There is a time to be serious and work, but where's the balance gone? Kids want to be creative, they learn from expressing themselves in their own individual way. While many schools are starting to recognise this, they are still placed into boxes and expected to all be the same. And when you’re different, you are bullied at school, or the “weirdo” as an adult.
So why can't we find happiness in the present? We are always looking towards the future, but life isn't there, it's here. "There" doesn't exist yet. And unfortunately it's often the latest "thing" we can buy that we think will bring us happiness. Quite often buying the latest "in thing" will bring some amount of happiness, but it won’t last. So we move on to the next phone, or TV, or whatever is “in” at that moment.
Minimalism is a great movement to get in to. However I personally wouldn’t take it as far as some people do, ending up with one lonely chair in a bare room. I like my home to be cosy and filled with enough, but not too much furniture. I found it very empowering to go through all of my stuff over time (probably about a year), and sell or donate everything that I either didn’t need, serve a practical purpose, or didn’t love. It was a slow process because I found it hard to give up some items, even though they didn’t serve a purpose for me, I guess I was scared that one day I might “need” this item. But I got braver and I haven’t missed anything I have gotten rid of.
I now carefully think about purchases before I make them and decide if I really need the item, or if I will love this item and not get sick of it after a few weeks. One thing I have notice (apart from saving money), is that I now buy better quality things, or secondhand things that will last and bring joy to me over the long term. Instead of cheap rubbish that breaks after a month, or is so mass produced that it has no originality. Quality, not quantity as they say! There’s something beautiful about secondhand furniture. It has a history and quality that you don't get from new furniture.
Now I’ve gotten a little of track here, so lastly I will cover the chorus of the song:
And I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles it's a very very
Mad world, mad world
I found the verses spoke to me more than the chorus. But the chorus tells me that to some people, dying is more exciting than living in this mad world. A world where we run in circles. In other words getting nowhere. But not nowhere in a physical sense. Nowhere in a spiritual sense. We ignore our spiritual side, and whether we like it or not we are physical, mental and spiritual beings. We must nurture all of these parts to live in harmony with ourselves and others.
At the moment, at least in the Western world, we pay the most attention to the physical and the mental sides. We need to learn how to listen to our hearts more and follow our intuition and passions; which could actually be working in an office. But it could also be singing, or art, or writing, or a doctor, or a scientist; I could go on. Whatever it is, at the very least try. You might fail, but at least you tried.
“It's better to regret what you have done than what you haven't.” ~ Paul Arden.
You don’t need to go crazy and quit your job to follow your heart. It could be something as simple as doing what brings you joy in your spare time instead of watching TV or browsing Facebook. Doing what society tells you to do may make you rich, but will it make you happy?
"Everyone you meet always ask if you have a career, are married or own a house as if life was some kind of grocery list. But no one ever asks you if you are happy" ~ Heath Ledger.