Mental Health | Gut Health | Microbiome | Immunity
Is there a connection between mental health and gut health? And if so, is the connection in one direction, or in both directions? That is, can your brain’s health influence your gut function, and can your gut health have an influence on your brain, and thus, mental health?
Last month, I arrived two minutes before a six-hour continuing education lecture on the subjects of immunity, inflammation, and the gut microbiota was slated to begin, and there were but a few seats left in the crowded hotel conference room. Apparently, I picked a hot topic! The majority of the participants were nurses and doctors, and based on the speed of the note-taking I witnessed, there was great interest in the topic. However, I wouldn’t expect the average person to care, even though I think everyone should.
For you, I will disseminate those six hours of lecture into the best takeaways for you regarding the connection between your gut and your mental health. For our purposes here, I’ll try to keep the medical terminology simple and on point about its connection to brain health and mental health.
During the last weekend of August, Mother Nature clearly let people in the Seattle area know that it is now Fall weather season! We had a windstorm with rain that knocked down trees, took out power, and claimed the lives of two people. It was quite a contrast to the unusually hot and dry weather we have had during the summer.
The Seattle area usually receives a bit of a more gentle nudge with the change in seasons as we near September — the morning air has a crispness to it, the evening light fades earlier, and Starbuck’s advertises its Pumpkin Spice Lattes in October (ha ha). Not this year! As I packed up my camping tent at 6 am in the middle of a downpour, I was laughing. A 50% chance of rain really means, “Yep, it’s gonna rain!” I could feel it in the air. Fall has arrived.
I can feel a lot of other things in the air too. The beginning of Fall, with the obvious signs of a change of season, is a fun-tastic time to assess how things are working or not working for you. As I was reading Tara Gentile’s Quiet Power Strategy on my solar-panel powered Kindle reader, the author quoted another author who is oft asking her clients something I have asked my clients each time they encounter a “stuck point” while using the same tactics, strategies, and mainstream solutions they have always used:
How’s that working for you?
When you hear yourself respond to this question with, “Not very well,” perhaps you are ready to change how you are looking at the challenge, problem, or frustration that you are currently facing. Why continue to throw the same solutions at the same problem, expecting a different result?
You are the one who knows when something isn’t working. Stop. Just stop. And then, clear your mind.
One of the ways I clear my head is to go for a trail run. There is something about being in nature, focusing on the technical trail with its rocks, roots, and shifting ground, and a higher level of exertion that makes me look at things differently after I’ve completed my run. I’m panting like a dog, my legs get covered with dirt, all I can hear is my breath and the sound of my soft footfalls on the ground.
The open trail, like the one pictured above, narrows into a single-track that requires my complete attention for the next couple of hours. Later, when I’m showered and dressed for the day, I find that my mind can wander back to the complex situations of my clients, as well as my own personal, professional, and creative challenges. I have then gained an ability to see the problems from multiple directions and pathways, mindfully aware of suspending judgment and setting aside fear.
Are you ready for Fall? Are you ready to go beyond your answers when you discover things aren’t working the way you had hoped or envisioned for yourself? Would you like to try another pathway to explore the possibility of a different outcome than the one you have come to expect?
At SDC, we welcome you to Fall, and we welcome you to explore the pathways you will discover through counseling with one of us. While you don’t need to become avid trail or road runners like we are, we recognize that there are many tools that help the mind and heart to enter a place of self-discovery, courage, grief, growth, and emotional/social intelligence.
In a few days, you’ll see my next post about the subject of ghosting [Edit: something came up and I will be delaying that post to make room for a more emergent topic]. My Fall challenge involves sharing with you about many difficult topics, such as death and dying (and elder care), ghosting, surviving a difficult breakup, handling unpleasant and painful memories, as well as complex skills many of us need to develop to thrive in the 21st century, such as pathways to building your Emotional Intelligence, and recovering from with workplace trauma.
All I know is this: to write about these things with any amount of vulnerability, candor, and thoughtfulness requires plenty of trail running!
Most people who struggle with depression, anxiety, or a mixture of both want to know how to better manage their symptoms. Typically, I spend some time educating each client about the “Big Five” treatment plan. This plan includes the five elements of evidence-based treatment straight from the text books: 1. Talk therapy, 2. Nutrition, 3. Rest, 4. Exercise, and 5. Medication. Of all of these treatment options, which do you think the majority of people struggle with the most when it comes to consistent implementation?