Past Experiences are not your only Sources of Depression and Anxiety

Past Experiences are not your only Sources of Depression and Anxiety

I am going to apologize ahead of time because this might get too sciencey at times, but bear with me please.

In summary, there is a lot more we can do to treat anxiety and depression than traditionally thought. Psychotherapy and medication have been the two most prescribed methods of treatment, along with body work, lifestyle factors, etc. But now I want to challenge you to think more outside the box. Let’s talk about body inflammation and overall body burden.

Most of us think about inflammation from the standpoint of tissue injury. This could be from a cut, sprain, break, bee sting, or allergen. The tissue gets tight, red, inflexible, and inflamed. This is a healthy and a normal response to trauma. Acute inflammation is the body’s amazing way of repair. Like almost ANYTHING in life, acute, short-term incidents are fine. Chronic is not. Note the various other examples of acute stress in your life that occur on a daily basis, such as acute anger, acute sense of guilt…all normal. When it becomes chronic, that is when there is a problem.

Now, when our bodies undergo chronic inflammation or chronic illness (because one is the same as the other), because our brain is connected to our neck and hence our bodies (except for the headless horsemen of course) our brain becomes inflamed. Neurons become stiff and inflexible. What does that mean for thought processes? Well, our brain cells, called glial cells, are metabolically compromised, making it difficult for the cell to uptake glucose or ketones to produce the energy used to function. The neurons are not able to fire as they once did, and do not speak to each other in a way that is optimal. You are not able to think quickly and crisply and be present in your natural surroundings. Sound familiar? Mental fatigue, brain fog, forgetfulness, depression, and anxiety are all symptoms of inflammation.

You might be asking, ‘Is it the chicken or the egg?’ What comes first? The inflammation or the depression and anxiety? Well, this is very individual of course. Adverse conditions, social isolation, interpersonal conflict (thought) would all play a role in stress hormone production or cortisol. Cortisol stimulates systemic inflammation in our bodies. And what did I just tell you? Inflammation drives altered thinking processes and therefore, it becomes a negative feedback loop. It is hard to have one without having the other.

Depression and anxiety

Now you might be wondering ‘Why are you telling me this or why is this important’? It is important because now we know that theris another way of assisting depressive and anxious thoughtsIf we can calm down body burden by ridding body inflammation, then we have more leverage managing emotional stress.

How do I know if I have inflammation in my body? Well, there are many ways, but the most rudimentary way is through standard blood work. There are blood biomarkers that test for inflammation including white blood count, HS-CRP, and more. However, there are two problems with solely relying on this method. One, our standard conventional ranges are so wide that there is often a fair bit of inflammation already occurring by the time it shows up on your labs. Secondly, it doesn’t provide you with enough detail in terms of where to start. For example, if your white blood count is low, you know you have an underlying infection…but where? It could be coming from many sources.

You must think of this in the bigger sense of, ‘How do I feel daily?’. Do I feel chronically fatigued (hormone dysregulation, circadian rhythms altered due to poor sleep hygiene, lack of sufficient nutrients or minerals)? Is my digestion off (gut dysbiosis, constipation, diarrhea, parasites or infection)? Do I get sick often? Suffer from migraines, bloating, dry itchy skin or hair loss…Do I experience constant migraines, brain fog, forgetfulness, etc.

“Chronic stress shouldn’t be part of your life. It is important to recognize whether you see this as short-term stress or long term, and to seek assistance accordingly.”

via @luellajonk

Thinking like this is preventative. Because of the feedback loop I just described, we cannot disregard diet, sleep, stress management, screen use (including time on social media), movement, and your relationships may be what is keeping you inflamed. It is another entry way into finding a solution to your labile mood, depression, and anxiety. It may be advantageous for you to explore supplementing with adaptogens or other supportive vitamins and minerals as a way of calming down the inflammation. Ashwagandha, Rhodiola, American ginseng, or licorice root are a few that come to mind when I think of downregulating the cortisol response. It really depends on what stage of adrenal fatigue you are in. Are you at the beginning stages of adrenal fatigue or are you hanging by a thin thread? Food and lifestyle factors come first, but sometimes we need a bit of help to manage symptoms. Chronic stress shouldn’t be part of your life. It is important to recognize whether you see this as short-term stress or long term, and to seek assistance accordingly.

Finally, if you really want to zone in on the cause of the inflammation and you recognize that it tends to be focused more on hormones (sex, thyroid, cortisol production) digestion, toxins in your environment, etc. then there are specialized tests to consider so you can get more granular and proactive in disease prevention. I personally feel these tests are excellent if you are tired of guessing why you ‘feel the way you do’ and you want to take action. Please contact me if you are at this stage of your journey – I can help.

Either way – I hope this gives you a clearer sense on how to approach your mood and overall well-being. Brain inflammation is a real thing and I suspect you will start to hear about it frequently in psychological and psychiatric articles.

Did you take your Vitamin N today?

Did you take your Vitamin N today?

We all need it, and when you were young, you craved it daily. That magic little green pill.

NATURE!

If I think back to when I was a kid, most of my memories were of being outdoors. I was either playing with friends, siblings, animals, or an imaginary friend. I was so fortunate to be brought up in the country, where I could wander into the trees a few feet from my house and start my imaginary play.

If you have kids now, you are likely reminded how much they want to be outside. Their need to run, jump, swing, bike, scooter, skateboard, ski, etc.

Why do we crave it so much? There are many reasons. Here are a few.

Nature stimulates the dopamine centres of the brain. When dopamine is released so are the neurotransmitters adrenaline and noradrenaline. As a child, you paired the activity of being in nature to feeling good. We were ‘free’. Therefore, you are wired to seek and perpetuate this activity.

The act of being in nature often makes us active. Activity alone stimulates dopamine, so now you are getting a double dose of the feel-good chemicals. But not everyone has the need to be active to get what they are craving. I have had many of my clients remark how simply sitting on their deck, backyard, porch, balcony, or sunroom is enough to bring happiness.

Another likely co-occurrence of being outdoors is the chance of either seeing people or talking to a neighbour. Connection, especially during the pandemic, is yet another method of triggering the reward centres of your brain.

Earlier, I mentioned playing with animals. As an adult, we are drawn towards the care of animals. Also, we often see, feel, and hear animals in nature. Bird song, bunnies hopping, squirrels chirping, or deer sightings are common these days. Hearing and seeing acts of nature puts us in a state of awe. It connects us to wonderment and a higher power.

Spirituality humbles us. It takes us away from our egocentric tendencies and realigns us to our core values while reminding us of our flawed souls. There is something bigger and better than self and we would do best to serve it.

The sense of smell is also known to have a tremendous effect on our mood. Currently, the beautiful scents of lilacs and grass cuttings fill the Manitoba air. Soon the flax and canola fields will be blooming across the prairie landscape.

Are you getting the picture? It is like our body is switched from OFF to ON when we enter nature. It is a sure-fire way of stepping into the present since it is very hard to ignore the sights, sounds, feel, and scents of nature.

It is like our body is switched from OFF to ON when we enter nature.

via @luellajonk

There are many studies supporting the idea of nature shifting us towards happiness. One study that comes to mind was completed with groups of seniors comparing levels of happiness while living in long-term care facilities. One group had pictures of nature in their common rooms and suites (note: simply pictures – not actually plants) and the other group did not. After months of this type of exposure the groups were given questionnaires and well, you can likely guess the outcome. Those surrounded by images of nature were less depressed. Another similar study of seniors looked at the impact of caring for plants. One group was given plants to care for while the other group was not. The group needing to take care of a living organism (I am guessing there would be similar benefits seen if it was an animal or another human being) were happier at a statistical level of significance.

This post would not be complete if I didn’t mention the benefit of sunshine as a medium to obtain adequate levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D has been in the limelight as of late with Covid-19 touting its immune boosting properties. If you don’t think sunshine and vitamin D is related to your health, then you need to read up on Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. It is a real thing. And instead of calling it ‘flu season’, we should be calling it ‘Vitamin D deficient season’. In other words, there is a reason that flu and cold season happens when daylight dwindles. Sunshine is the cause and the cure. Nature is free and readily available. You won’t have to ask your kids or your dog twice either. They will likely race you to the door.

Meanwhile, do me a favor – take your vitamin N and call me (your therapist) in the morning.

Good night and sleep well.  

The More I Learn, the Less Interested I Become

The More I Learn, the Less Interested I Become

As a society, I think it is nearly impossible not to feel overwhelmed with information. More and more of my clients come in complaining of symptoms of adult ADHD (poor working memory, brain fog, difficulty reading or staying on task).

Where I personally experience ‘information overload’ is with nutrition and eating well. Even as a functional medicine practitioner, it is still confusing. So, let me share my two cents in the hope it makes your life simpler.

A few weeks ago, one of my clients asked me about intermittent fasting. I touched on it briefly and noted I could perhaps discuss it further in a post, so here we go.

Intermittent fasting is a form of time restricted eating.  All this means is that you eat within a specified time frame during the day. A common time frame is 12 noon – 8 pm. So, your first meal of the day is lunch, and you stop eating at 8 pm. That is considered a 16-8 fasting schedule. You are fasting for 16 hours and eating for 8 hours.

There are many benefits to this eating pattern, one of the main benefits is it gives your gut some rest and allows cells to rebuild. Secondly, it allows you to become more insulin sensitive. This is important because of insulin’s role in regulating blood glucose levels, which of course affects your energy production. Every time you eat or sip something that contains protein or carbohydrates (yes, even iced tea), your pancreas secretes insulin in response to the glucose rise. Your cells can only take in so much energy and the extra gets stored as fat.

The problem is – what works for one person may not work for another. You might try skipping breakfast one day and soar through it, while another person feels lightheaded and nauseous.   

TIME TO SIMPLIFY

Why are you doing it? Why are you skipping breakfast? There is nothing wrong with eating three meals a day. What you eat and how often you eat is much more important. I would never suggest two meals a day for a woman in her 40’s working full time, young children, stressed out (cortisol in high production). This woman needs to take stress away from her body, not add to it (which is what skipping breakfast would do for her). She needs to fuel her body with a breakfast containing low glycemic foods that will sustain her energy until lunch. This will inform her cells she is not in trouble, bring down the cortisol, bring down the insulin, and mobilize the fat stores. This is much more efficient and conducive to weight control.

On the other hand, if there is very little stress in your life, and you have a very easy time skipping breakfast and confining your eating window to 8 hours, then great. Try it out and see how you feel. Take it day by day. N=1, right?

So, to answer your question on whether you should practice intermittent fasting?

First ask yourself ‘Why are you doing it?’ and remind yourself what works for one, doesn’t work for all.

Bottom line – what you eat, your level of daily movement, how you sleep, your connection with others and how you manage stress makes a greater impact on your health than when you eat. If you approach food as information for your body, then you have a healthy relationship with food.

Which foods carry the most information to your cells? Answer: Foods without a label. Food with minimal ingredients. This doesn’t have to be complicated folks. There are some foundational supplements I feel we should all be taking (due to mineral depletion in our soils and therefore vitamin depletion in our foods), and anything more than that should be well-researched in terms of your ‘why’. If it is due to a commercial or ad in a magazine, that is not a good ‘why’.

“What you eat, your level of daily movement, how you sleep, your connection with others and how you manage stress makes a greater impact on your health than when you eat.

via @luellajonk

Picnic

Always go back to your why when life gets complicated.

When you simplify life – you get out of your head. People spend way too much time in their heads and not enough time just doing. Just do it. I no longer have young kids, but if you do, observe them. They are so joyful. Why? Because they are not in their heads.

Should I eat? Or shouldn’t I eat? If you are hungry, eat the GD (that stands for gull darn – of course) apple, chicken, egg, potato, or whatever it is you are debating about. If it was made in a factory, then don’t.

I started this post speaking about information overload. We are spending way too much PRECIOUS time on trying to decipher the information. I am not telling you to ignore it completely, but instead read it carefully. And if you are someone that is very interested in nutrition, but don’t have the time to spend one hour a week reviewing the articles, then either go back to the basics or hire someone who can take the guesswork out. It is okay to ask for help.

Not only is it okay to ask for help, but it is proactive and follows the mindset of preventative medicine. Personally, if you are suffering from lack of energy, headaches, mental fog, digestive issues etc. you shouldn’t be ignoring those symptoms either.

You deserve health and it doesn’t need to be complicated.

There are great tests out there that are now available so that you don’t have to guess anymore. You can start by discussing your symptoms with your PCP and see how deep they can go in their testing. If the answer to your ‘why’ is not solved there, continue to dig. Don’t give up.

 

Here are 10 things I try do to simplify life.

  1. Find your why.
  2. Stay out of your head – don’t think – just do.
  3. Eat more food without labels.
  4. Be aware of what your body is telling you.
  5. Focus more on cortisol rather than calories.
  6. Outer order brings inner calm.
  7. Simplify your surroundings. If you don’t use it, get rid of it.
  8. Use schedules, lists, and Siri and Alexa.
  9. Love yourself above all others.
  10. Get rid of toxic people, food, chemicals, and thoughts.
My Life Sucks!

My Life Sucks!

These are the words that are resounding around my house…coming from the mouths of my 18- and 20-year-old children. And my response?

It sure does.

With the third wave of lockdowns just coming to surface, I am really starting to feel for these kids. They have entered a social time capsule of sorts. It seems they are trying to continue with studying online, but they are missing out on so much social connection. I mean, think back to your university years. I lived for beer bashes and hanging out having coffee with my friends at University Centre, doing workouts at the gym, or hanging out in Dafoe Library pretending to study.

Not to mention the difficulty of maintaining any sort of job! You are working. Oh, wait a minute, you are not working. You are working again…sorry, that was a dream, you are not allowed to work. Oh, and by the way, we are not connecting with Gramma for Mother’s Day, even though you haven’t seen her for XX months. Let’s just go to the cabin…Sorry, you can’t enter Ontario.

So now that I just added to your already depressed state, let’s try to turn things around a bit and cheer you up. Let’s talk about Prime Minister Trudeau. J JK, that was a joke.

Are you smiling now?

WHAT TO DO?

What to do? Well, in the past, I have likely talked to you about the power of the mind. Your thoughts really do create your reality. Your thoughts program your cell biology. A toxic thought can change the structure of our DNA. That is amazing when you think of it. A negative thought, a stressful thought, can literally misfold proteins that structure your DNA.

Knowing that we cannot change what our environment dishes out to us, how do we protect ourselves from harm? How do we stay emotionally and physically healthy when life throws us curve balls all the time?

The answer to change our perception of what is harming to us and what is not. We have all done it. When we start thinking of what ‘may be’ – what ‘could be’ then we are going to go into this regurgitated thinking process and stay stuck there – as our DNA becomes more and more misfolded. We tend to ruminate on the ‘what ifs’ and get stuck in our heads…thinking, thinking, thinking.

What is the definition of regurgitation?  Informally speaking, it is what cows do when they chew on grass. They chew, swallow, and regurgitate it back up only to chew on it a bit more. Disgusting … but very effective. That is…if you are a cow.

You are not a cow. 

You are a human being who wants life to be perfect – and it is not. 

You are a human being who wants life to be perfect – and it is not. And with Covid eventually becoming less threatening and something we will at some time speak of as, ‘Remember when?’ and telling your kids or grandkids what it was all about, you will realize you did make it through. There is another side. This is temporary and patience is a virtue.

Resiliency is something we all need to strive towards, because when Covid becomes an idea of the past, there will be something else on the horizon that threatens us in some way.

So back to the goal of changing one’s perception of what a stressful event is and is not. The best way to do this is to try to reframe the thought. See it in a different light. So, with the example of Covid, you might think of it as, ‘I don’t know why I am challenged as I am right now at this stage of my life, but I trust that it will make me a better person in the end’. Using words such as, “I am CHOOSING to look at these hardships in this way because I am CHOOSING to keep my mind and body healthy”. I am CHOOSING to think this is happening for a reason and I am surrendering to the fact that I can’t control it (lack of socialization, lack of travel, lack of human touch or facial expression) and I am CHOOSING to think of something else that brings me happiness.’

When we regain the idea of having a choice, we replenish that locus of control and that feels good!! Now the healthy hormones are secreted and your biology changes.

Stay healthy in mind and body. You can’t run or eat organic foods your way out of a toxic mindset, nor can you ‘smile’ or quote positive affirmations your way out of eating crappy food.

Do your best to regain balance in all aspects of your life and meanwhile…

Yes, your life sucks (right now J).

“You can’t run or eat organic foods your way out of a toxic mindset, nor can you ‘smile’ or quote positive affirmations your way out of eating crappy food.”

via @luellajonk

Do you have a food addiction? (Part3)

Do you have a food addiction? (Part3)

I once read in order to develop a habit, success is the secret sauce. I believe this to be true with many bad habits we want to drop and new habits we want to create. This can work with food as well, but it depends on the intensity of the signal sent to our brain telling us to eat. If very strong, it will take more than just a few days of abstinence from the food substance itself. The body requires detoxification from the substance. Remember, the fact we are addicted to it means emotional dysregulation and the accompanying signal to ingest the substance is very strong. Think of a food that ‘you can’t just have one’. That food is a great example of being addictive for you. Even if it was a superfood such as kale, if we cannot say ‘no’ to kale, then there is a problem.

Let’s go back to the idea that success is the secret sauce. I will agree that success (let’s say kilograms lost) is extremely motivating, but when it comes to addiction, it is likely not enough to actually rid the craving; that is, the paired response between the sight, smell, or taste of the food with the psychological need to have the food. In order to break the sensory and psychological link, one needs to reset the taste buds to recognize this substance as a foe, not a friend. If you read the first post I wrote as part of the series on food addiction, you will understand why I feel so strongly about the disservice our government has bestowed upon us by allowing processed food lobbying to even exist.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

  1. Seek out trained professionals. Consulting with a health professional, such as a nutritionist, naturopath, or functional medicine practitioner might clarify some myths you have regarding the good food – bad food debate. I think this is an important step because there is too much information at our fingertips. It is only a Google search away and most ordinary folk cannot decipher between good sources of information and bad sources. For example, there are A LOT of unhealthy products out there that are marked ‘Keto, Paleo, Vegan, Heart Healthy, Vitamin enriched’, which is just a disguise to pull you into thinking it is a health food. Think about it… when was the last time you picked up a banana or a celery bunch at the store and it had a nutrient label on it? Exactly. Going label-less is preventative medicine. Remember, health and wellness is a multibillion-dollar industry, and everyone wants a piece of the pie.
  2. Consider reaching out to a therapist to assist in providing some empowering tools and recommendations to beat down the cravings. Addiction is not a small hill to climb and it is going to take a lot of tools and guidance. It has nothing to do with willpower, which many naive folks might think. You might also want to consider a therapist as a ‘sponsor’ or accountability partner in your journey. Think about it, we all know what to do, but to actually put words into action is a whole other ballgame. It involves a behavior or ‘habit’ change. A good psychotherapist trained in addiction will help you to validate that you have the power within to help yourself, but it is also perfectly okay having someone else help out as well. This makes a person naturally feel comforted and empowered at the same time. You will see you can set your own rules around food, what you will and will not eat, and feel very empowered by this perspective.

Here are some tools I like to use, and I have seen to be very effective:

Reframing Thoughts Surrounding Food

This is a powerful tool once you are able to do the reframe. How do you perceive food? Is food something you eat to break up your day? Or are you responding to your body signalling to you that you need nourishment? For example, your tummy is growling, or your head is pounding, or your blood pressure is dropping. Or is food something we should be scared of? Plants are good, but aren’t there antinutrients in plants too? Red meat drives up cholesterol, oh wait… no, fat is our friend? Right? Isn’t that the Keto thing I keep hearing about? Is dairy good or bad for us?

How about we develop a relationship with food that is believable to us and based on fact and not on what the latest health study suggests. We are so subjected to biased information, all of which are competing for our attention. People approach food as a religion in many ways, but we cannot be dogmatic or reductionist in our views. Can you see food as your friend? And there is no bad diet, but instead a lifestyle or diet that is right for you? How do you obtain such bliss? Taste the food and question how it makes you feel immediately, two hours after a meal, or the next day? Do you maintain a healthy weight when you eat this way? How do you feel emotionally when you eat this way? Bottom line, you need to develop healthy thoughts around food in a way that is believable to you. I think we all believe whole, unprocessed food is the best form of food we can ingest. I think we realize focusing your attention on the food in front of you, rather than your thoughts being elsewhere, is also extremely rewarding and powerful in ridding habits. If you love yourself and want to feel good, this is the place you need to start.

As a therapist practicing both out of Toronto and Winnipeg, I see many folks struggling with their relationship with food. I am more often able to reveal what is really driving the patterned behavior and how they can heal and have a better life. It’s not so much the food at fault, as it is the way you choose to react to food. Just like any stress in life, it is the way you choose to handle or perceive it that dictates the outcome.

By helping you to reframe your relationship with food, I hope to provide you with the ability to curb the addiction. As stated earlier, some of us need total abstinence in order to push ahead. I hope you can see that by viewing it under the lens of addiction, rather than an eating disorder, I am giving you the ability to become more aware and proactive in terms of your approach. Addiction has been around since the dawn of time, and it isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, processed food is being manufactured to become more and more addictive to our palates – ‘bet you can’t just have one’. Are you feeling scared reading that?

No. You don’t need to be scared. Why? Because you have a choice. You have the choice every single morning how to create your day. And if you are consistent about your food choices, you will gain a new and better habit. A habit of thought (this is my choice) then becomes a habit of action (chose unprocessed food).

“It’s not so much the food at fault, as it is the way you choose to react to food.”

via @luellajonk

Break Free of the Victim’s Mindset

A victimization mindset such as, ‘ my mom always fed me this, I was teased about my body’ or… you get where I am going with this. Everyone can come up with some reason why the habit was formed. The victimization mindset will get you nowhere – fast. It is the antithesis of a growth mindset. You either need to choose to eat healthier or not. It is not complicated, nor does it need to be cultivated in some sort of childhood response to what your parents fed to you. You were a child then with very little control over what you were given. You are (likely?) not a child now.

In closing, I will leave you with one question to ponder. What do you think it would take in order for you to begin adopting a growth mindset and initiate healthier habits around food choices? Would it take a diagnosis such as, breast cancer, colon cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, CVD, or type 2 diabetes? I am asking you because all of these aforementioned conditions are highly correlated with diet. This is not a ‘fear mongering’ statement. That is not my purpose. After studying functional medicine for the last two years, I can adamantly state I have seen research paper after research paper stating the same. How about genetic correlation? Yes, this does play a role in disease manifestation, but lifestyle choices determine whether or not these genes are expressed or suppressed.

So, I leave you with the question, ‘why wait for the diagnosis in order to change your food habits?’ And furthermore, what do you have to lose (besides weight circumference) by adopting these new food habits? Glowing skin? Better sleep? Less medications? Less time in doctor offices? Less time yelling at your kids and more time connecting with them? Improved memory and sleep? Emotional agility? Reduced social anxiety? Doesn’t sound overly risky to me when you think of it. So, if I can, I would like to suggest to begin eating like you have been diagnosed with a health condition, be it chronic or something more ‘common or accepting’ (why we see this as normal is in itself a societal problem) such as, rheumatoid arthritis, constipation, or memory loss. You don’t need to accept this. You have a choice to make change happen.

Nutritionist