The Power of the Mind: Why Mental Health is as Important as Physical Health
If you’ve been feeling a bit ‘blah’ lately and can’t pinpoint why, perhaps it’s time for a self-mental health check. The stigma around mental health is slowly disappearing as we understand more about the power our mind has over our physical health and wellbeing.
Learn about mental health, mental illness and how improving your digestive health can be key to improving your mental wellbeing…
What exactly is mental health?
Mental health includes your emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. Therefore, it’s relevant to all of us! But it’s not a one-size-fits-all sort of thing.
Mental health is best thought of as a continuum – from mental wellness to mental illness.
One end of the continuum is mental wellness, where you’re emotionally well balanced, feeling satisfied with life and functioning well.
The other end of the continuum is mental illness, where you’re unable to cope with stress or function normally and have significantly negative thoughts, behaviors, and actions.
Mental health is not static, we all move along the continuum to varying degrees.
Mental Illness is more than ‘a bad day’
As mentioned, mental illness is at the other end of the continuum to optimal mental health.
Mental illness has an increasingly negative impact on mood, thoughts, and behaviors. Symptoms may include feelings of unexplained sadness, reduced ability to concentrate, extreme mood changes, withdrawal from friends or social activities, unwarranted fatigue, major changes in eating habits, sex drive changes or suicidal thoughts.
While mental illness is characterized by these psychological and emotional symptoms, it’s not ‘just in your head’ as there are physical symptoms too. Fatigue, reduced pain tolerance, aching muscles, headaches, abdominal pain, and digestive issues are all common signs of depression and anxiety.
While our mental health is impacted by times of stress, such as grief or financial burdens, mental illnesses such as depression, substance abuse, anxiety and eating disorders can have other underlying causes.
The mind-body connection
If you take a moment to think about how your body feels when you’re stressed, anxious, or depressed, you’ll start to realize that those headaches, fatigue, digestive issues, muscle, joint and abdominal pains are closely linked.
That’s because your brain and body are connected through the nervous and endocrine systems, with neurochemicals and hormones constantly sending signals from your brain to your body, and vice versa.
This mind-body connection is highlighted by the communication between the brain and gut. With 95% of the mood and emotion-regulating hormone serotonin being produced in the intestinal tract it makes sense that the health of your gut impacts mental wellness. In fact, researchers have found that people with healthy, diverse gut microbes are less likely to suffer from anxiety and depression.
Depression is the leading cause of disability around the world, with an estimated 322 million people living with it. The World Health Organization characterizes depression as persistent sadness and a lack of interest or pleasure in previously rewarding or enjoyable activities. The causes of depression include complex interactions between social, psychological, and biological factors.
Researchers suggest that depression and physical pain, including joint, limb and gastrointestinal pain have a deeper biological connection than a simple cause-and-effect, with the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine influencing both pain and mood.
Also, a family history of mental illness, adverse life events, and substance abuse may contribute or compound the symptoms of depression.
If your fun Friday night drinks are fast becoming your crutch to coping with everyday life, it may be time to check-in on your mental health.
Substance abuse is the uncontrolled use of substances like tobacco, alcohol, and drugs despite the harmful consequences and often leads to dependence or addiction.
While many people drink alcohol or take drugs to ‘feel better’, studies show that substance abuse can have lasting impact on the areas of the brain that relate to judgment, decision making, learning, memory, and behavioral control.
On the physical side, large amounts of alcohol can inhibit digestive enzymes that make it more difficult to breakdown food and absorb nutrients. This leads to fermentation of food in your bowel, causing bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Additionally, excessive alcohol consumption causes inflammation in your gut that could lead to leaky gut syndrome.
On top of all that, alcohol and drug use can amplify anxiety!
Feeling anxious about an upcoming presentation or meeting a new person for a date is completely normal! Anxiety is a healthy response to stress and can keep us alert in dangerous situations.
But when the anxiety is out of proportion to the situation or impairs your ability to function normally then it’s an anxiety disorder. With that excessive worry you are likely to experience the physical manifestations of headache, fatigue, stomach aches and trouble sleeping.
While anxiety can literally make you feel ‘sick to your stomach’ it has also been closely linked to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), with researchers finding up to 80% of IBS patients have at least one mental disorder, such as anxiety or depression.
Scientists believe that part of the reason your gut impacts your mental health (and vice versa) is because of the neurotransmitters controlling mood and behavior. Your gut microbes produce the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which helps control feelings of fear and anxiety. Hence, an imbalance in your gut microbiome can contribute to anxiety.
The good news is, there are animal studies that show certain probiotics can increase the production of GABA and reduce anxiety and depression-like behaviours.
Evidence suggests that anxiety disorders increase your vulnerability to eating disorders. While it’s common to find something you ‘don’t like’ about your body and adjust your eating and exercise patterns, those with eating disorders develop habits that are harmful to both physical and mental health.
Eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating are conditions where severely disturbed eating behaviors are associated with distressing thoughts and emotions. When grouped together, they affect 5% of the population!
It’s probably no surprise that up to 98% of people with eating disorders have a gastrointestinal disorder, such as IBS. Restriction of food and purging disrupts the microbiome, which can then impact your immune system and worsen symptoms of IBS.
So, what can you do about your mental health?
Therapy and support networks for mental health
It’s common for people with declining mental health and mental disorders to feel isolated, as it’s hard for others to see how you ‘feel’ or even for you to explain, despite having the associated physical symptoms! This combined with the past stigma associated with mental illness has made it even more important to have open discussions and express thoughts and feelings as they arise.
Joining supportive communities or attending psychotherapy can be useful tools in maintaining good mental health or treating mental illness.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, can help with a broad variety of mental illnesses and emotional difficulties. Research shows that most people who receive psychotherapy experience symptom relief and are better able to function in their lives.
You can also begin to address your mental wellness by understanding how your mind and body are connected.
Improve your gut health- Improve your mental health!
If you have a ‘gut feeling’ that your mental health needs some attention, then there is a good reason to listen to it. Scientists believe that your gut is your second brain. The 100 million nerve cells lining your gastrointestinal tract form the gut-brain-axis linking digestion, mood, memory, and health!
Your gut health and consequently your mental health is directly affected by your gut microbiome - the balance of bacteria that helps with digestion. Gut microbes produce short-chain fatty acids that can modulate the neurotransmitters that influence our emotions and stress behavior.
So, while your ‘gut-brain’ can’t manage your budget or email your kids, when managed well it can trigger positive emotional shifts especially in those experiencing irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, bloating and stomach pain.
So, how can you actively manage your gut health?
Eating a balanced diet is the best place to start but in the reality of our fast-paced lives having a little extra help to ensure good gut health is always useful. A combination of probiotics, prebiotics and postbiotics can improve your microbiome.
Probiotics (live bacteria that are good for you) have been shown to reduce depression, anxiety, memory dysfunction and even physical symptoms of stress.
Prebiotics are specialized plant fibre that act as food for the ‘good bacteria’ stimulating growth of the good so that they crowd out the bad.
Postbiotics are the bioactive compounds made when the good bacteria in your gut metabolizes the prebiotics. They are often considered the part that offers the health benefits!
Happy Mammoth’s Complete Gut Synergy System is a done-for-you natural system. It’s Prebiotics, Probiotics and Postbiotics work synergistically to eliminate digestive discomfort, boost energy levels, and to help your mental health!
So, if you’ve been feeling ‘blah’ lately and want to improve both your physical and mental health, start with regular exercise, a balanced diet, and take our Free Comprehensive Health Assessment to get a personal recommendation on the best products to take!