I have always been very transparent about my mental health with clients and friends. It is much more acceptable to be open about this topic these days and the support networks/organisations being created to help people with mental health issues is fantastic. The NHS still has funding problems in this sector and that won’t change anytime soon. Still, workplaces are talking about it, politicians are talking about it and everybody else is talking about the importance of looking after your mental health.
I started writing this quick blog because I was thinking about a time when I delivered a health and wellbeing talk at a banking office. The general topic was about how exercise and changing my eating habits (amongst other daily habit that I altered) helped me to transform my mental health and become a Personal Trainer. At the end of the talk when I was getting into the benefits of exercise and healthy eating, someone said to me “this is all well and good BUT, you can’t cure someone’s clinical mental health issues through these methods.” To which I answered no, you can’t. And that obviously would still be true.
My dad had schizophrenia and bi-polar. If I were to turn around to him and say, “ok you have been diagnosed with this. But if you exercise and eat well for 6 months you will be cured” he would have laughed in my face. Everyone likely knows that this isn’t the case. If you have a chemical imbalance, this isn’t likely to be rectified through these methods.
If you have metal health issues and they are clinical, you CAN alleviate symptoms and you CAN make different choices that might help affect the way that you feel on a daily basis.
If you can affect that way that you feel on a daily basis, then you can positively impact the way you feel, think and behave longer term.
IF YOU can create more positive days rather than negative, how much better would your life be? Rather than having 6 bad days 1 one good day, you started having 3 good days and 4 bad days? And so forth…how much could that change someone’s life who is struggling mentally? How much could that make everything seem all that more bearable?
As an example. I am very reactive to coffee. I didn’t realise this for many years, so I would drink it often. It would send my anxiety through the roof and I would end up panicky, tearful and feeling like my life was about to end on a regular basis. I was drinking 3-5 strong coffees a day plus tea, so it wasn’t surprising that the caffeine was affecting me because at the end of the day, it is a stimulant. But I wasn’t educated on this matter and just put my anxiety down to me and my brain.
For someone with bi-polar who is already in a manic phase, how do you think coffee is going to affect them? They could become even more excited, agitated, frustrated or potentially explosive. Equally, studies suggest that if someone with bi-polar drinks coffee when they are not manic, that the coffee itself can trigger an episode.
If the person was educated on the affects and then shown ways in which to drink less coffee, or to consider less potent options, could this potentially reduce the amount of manic episodes they have by 50%, 20% or even 10%? Could this make it easier to manage their overall symptoms and to live easier with their condition?
Another example of how a food affects how people feel, think and behave…processed sugar. We have all heard of the sugar crash. This is basically when your blood sugar rises quickly from eating something sugary, and then falls sharply after you’ve finished eating. Generally in adults, we don’t feel a rush of energy when we’ve eaten something sweet. It’s usually the opposite. The energy yielded from a chocolate brownie doesn’t make you feel like you can run a marathon because the crash from the sugar happens so quickly. You’ll be wanting to get home for a nap on the couch and you might even start feeling drowsy in the car on the way home. If you can’t nap then you might find yourself getting irritable.
The cycle is deadly. Feel crap, eat sugar. Eat sugar, feel crap. You feel tired so you crave sugar, yet it makes you more tired. Chocolate can also make someone feel good temporarily because it releases serotonin and dopamine to the brain. Because of this, people can become addicted. But that chemical release still doesn’t counteract the effects of the sugar and the pending irritability, fatigue, mood swings and tearfulness that might follow after a big sugar binge. And because they are now addicted, it’s now a never-ending cycle.
SO, for someone who is clinically depressed who struggles with their energy levels, motivation, feelings of positivity & general wellbeing… being on a constant sugar low is only going to make their symptoms worse. If they continue to eat processed foods morning, noon and night, pretty soon they could be feeling like there isn’t really a positive light at the end of the tunnel. Because this is how people with depression feel. Like there is no way out.
These people need to be given help, support and encouragement on other options of things to eat and snack on. Educated on the reasons why this food makes them feel the way that it does. If they were shown, then they might take necessary steps themselves to help manage their own mental health. These people are vulnerable and susceptible to influence. How will they be able to resist pretty packaging and alluring deals of buy one get one free if they aren’t told of the negatives or shown how to manage a balanced diet.
I was a sufferer of depression and anxiety. I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed to get to work or college when I was a young adult. I nearly got kicked out of college because of it. I had panic attacks. It made me lack confidence. It made me create other habits to make myself feel better. I was a regular abuser of alcohol, drugs, sugar and coffee. I was eating horrendously. Reliant on energy drinks. Basically, everything I put into my body was toxic or unnatural and this was making my mental and physical health really deteriorate.
But since making lots of changes progressively over time, testing things, analysing my responses to certain substances, I’m pleased to say, I haven’t had to take any medications for anxiety or depression in 8 years. And even better, in the last 2 years, I haven’t suffered with ANY bouts of depression or anxiety at all. And that to me is a huge achievement. Because historically, I thought that my life would be a continuous struggle.
There are ways of eating and enjoying the foods that you love without problems. Planning, timing and balance plays a big factor. And people can be shown how to prioritise these factors to make it work for them. I have taken a lot of time myself to figure out a good balance. Yes, it was long and it took time figuring it all out for me. But the benefit and reward for doing it is good mental health. It was worth the effort and energy.
It’s hard for me to see people I love, doing things every day that I know will not help their symptoms. Family especially. But it isn’t helpful to preach at someone and make them feel inferior for their choices. We need to motivate, inspire and encourage them to think for themselves and to want to make themselves feel better. To know that they can have an impact on the way that they feel, and to identify that they can take back some control.
Because everyone deserves better mental health.