Rethink Mental Health

The link between mental health and physical health has become increasingly clear. For example, stress is one of the leading causes of leaky gut, a condition where the intestinal wall becomes permeable and unable to distinguish what should be absorbed from what shouldn’t. As Dr. Axe explains,

“All of us experience leaky gut at one point or another…our immune system releases antibodies that neutralize the invaders, and that’s that. But when leaky gut becomes chronic, the toxic potential of those roaming microbes means leaky gut is no longer a localized, fleeting digestive issue- it becomes a systemic syndrome that can have significant, widespread, and even deadly health ramifications.” (Eat Dirt, pg 7).

He goes on to say, “Research has shown that stressful life experiences cause a decrease in probiotic diversity, which allows overgrowth of yeast in the gut…weakens the immune system over time…exacerbating any preexisting inflammation, and perpetuating leaky gut.” (pg. 11) In other words, unchecked leaky gut can lead to autoimmune conditions. Scary stuff!

A healthy diet also does wonders for energy and mental health. It’s hard to feel happy and energetic if your digestion is sluggish and you aren’t eating food that nourishes your body. In the past, I spent so much time obsessing about food and diet, and it was a real source of anxiety for me. I’m passionate about sharing the benefits of a real food diet because I feel so much more liberated now that I am not debilitated by my preoccupation with weight and feelings of hunger. Eating healthy fat, cutting back on grains and sugars and focusing on eating real, unprocessed food has helped me tremendously. Fat helps our mood and our serotonin receptors need cholesterol to function. Another reason to eat more fat!

Beyond consuming the right nourishment, stepping out into nature, getting enough sleep, practicing meditation, and finding ways to relax will not only benefit your health and longevity, but will bring joy into your life and help you deal with the challenges that arise.

It’s hard to feel happy and energetic if your digestion is sluggish and you aren’t eating food that nourishes your body.

In addition to a real food diet, meditation has helped me enormously. I believe it helps keep my skin clear (another thing I can tend to obsess about!) and helps reduce the anxiety that previously led me to try and control my life through food in a destructive way. Vedic meditation, similar to Transcendental Meditation, is a wonderful practice.  As Jeff Kober says on his website,

“Vedic Meditation is absolutely simple and can be learned by anyone, regardless of beliefs or ideas to the contrary. It is a simple technique practiced for twenty minutes twice a day sitting comfortably in a chair with the eyes closed. Though Vedic Meditation originated in ancient India, it is culturally neutral. The practice of the technique requires no change in one’s beliefs, nor must anything be taken on faith. As one meditates, the mind settles down to a state of Restful Alertness where one has a direct experience of the level of Being, the level of Bliss, the place of fulfillment. Like a wave settles down on the ocean, one’s individual self stands aside to make way for the larger Self and one begins to experience life as a place of joy and possibility rather than as a place of suffering.”

Read Jeff Kober’s Daily Thought from November 2016 where he explains that mediation is not about stopping one’s thoughts.

If you decide that Vedic meditation isn’t for you, then try to find a meditation practice that you do connect with. You can try guided meditation or a mindfulness meditation, or simply sit quietly and focus on your breath, continuing to come back to your breath when you notice thoughts arise. We are always rushing, rushing, rushing. Coming to your senses and being present is also a great practice: What do you see, smell, hear, taste and feel? Perhaps instead of checking your phone while you wait in line somewhere, take a moment to just get present.

Being in nature is also a great way to help your mental health, as are new and full moon practices. The new moon is said to be good for setting intentions and creation, whereas the full moon is more about letting go. Here are articles that explain a new moon practice and a  full moon practice. Regardless of whether you embrace these rituals, a walk under the full moon is a beautiful experience!

Sun exposure is a controversial topic but I have come to believe that if you are eating a whole food diet and avoiding putting toxic products on your skin , then a moderate amount of sun exposure can boost mood and help balance hormones. I recommend learning more by reading these two articles by Nadine Artemis: Let the Sunshine In and Wise Interactions with the Sun. She also talks about the ancient art of sun gazing, a practice where you look at the sun (but only within the 40 minutes after sunrise or 40 minutes before sunset- be careful!) for 10 seconds, building up the practice little by little each day until you are doing it for 15 minutes of longer. She says this will lead to “…less tension, fewer worries, a more balanced spirit and plenty of vitamin D.” In her podcast with Daniel Vitalis, she says this also helps balance hormone levels.

Action Steps:

  • Find a meditation practice you enjoy
  • Try hiking, walking, Pilates and/or yoga to help reduce stress
  • Use a cool-mist essential oil diffuser
  • Burn some sage and set intentions, especially on the new moon
  • Avoid electronics at night (they reduce melatonin levels and interfere with sleep quality) and try to reduce light while you are sleeping
  • Try and get seven or eight hours of sleep a night
  • Don’t obsessively check your phone. Try to be more in the moment. Maybe instead of taking a picture, enjoy the actual experience.
  • Consider getting more sun!

Tips from my kitchen (and the kitchens of those I admire):

  • Learn more about Vedic meditation with Jeff Kober in the LA area and James Brown at Vedic Path Meditation in the San Francisco area.
  • Twice daily Vedic meditation can sound overwhelming at first. How will you find the time?! But if you make it a priority in your life, for the most part, you’ll find the time! Maybe not every day but the more you do it, the more it will become a habit that you make time for. A friend was struggling with doing her afternoon meditation and I told her that I like to think of that one as a “nap”. Who wouldn’t relish a nap in the afternoon? While you sit with your head unsupported so you don’t actually fall asleep, sitting with your eyes closed with the intention to meditate is said to be even more restful than sleep. This even helps me fit in the morning one too. I try to get up earlier than I normally would, which can be tough, but I tell myself that I’ll get to close my eyes and sit quietly again soon while meditating and what’s so bad about that?
  • An easy practice to help reduce stress is alternate nostril breathing. Here’s how:
    • (using your thumb and ring or pinkie finger)
      • 1) block your right nostril and breath in through your left nostril
      • 2) block your left nostril and exhale through your right nostril, then inhale (still through your right nostril)
      • 3) block your right nostril and exhale through your left nostril
      • 4) repeat
  • After driving to work and parking your car, sit and take ten slow, deep breaths before getting out. It is a good practice of just slowing down for a minute and getting into a calmer mindset
  • For a guided mediation I recommend the Headspace app.
  • Epsom salt baths with 10-20 drops of essential oils are a great way to relax and are especially good after flying as the salts are said to reduce the effects of radiation exposure.
  • Using a cool air essential oil diffuser can help uplift mood and/or help you sleep. Nadine Artemis of Living Libations recommends diffusing oils such as thyme linalool, vanilla and lavender to stimulate melatonin production and help you sleep. If you are still having trouble sleeping, try the Calm product.  This is an interesting post about improving sleep on rawpaleo.com.
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