How A Gut Check Can Improve Your Mood

Gut Bacertia

Gut Bacteria Affects Mood

By Cathy Neville, LPC, on June 29, 2015

We feel what we eat.
Deeply, in our guts.
It’s true.More and more recent research confirms it. Your gut is literally filled with the stuff of emotion; and if we don’t address the needs of our bellies, many of us will find ourselves very sad, very anxious and in need of a gut overhaul.  A gut check may be just what we need!
Let’s look at the science:

Your gut contains healthy bacteria in the lining of the digestive tract.

That wealth of “good bacteria” is called the microbiome.

The digestive tract and its bacteria are actually the nexus of our nervous system, hormonal system and immune system.

Gut bacteria pull out the vitamins we need for use elsewhere in our bodies and help our cells respond to damaging germs and foreign invaders. Also, a delicate and important balance of the molecules that regulate emotion, and manufacture important neurotransmitters like the brain messenger, serotonin, occur there.

What happens in the gut keeps us healthy, physically and mentally.

If the digestive tract is so closely linked to our mood, it makes sense that improving digestion and bacterial quality/quantity in the tract lining could improve a mood disorder.

How do we improve digestion and the microbiome?
  • Probiotics.

Why? Probiotics are teaming with the good bacteria that also aid in obesity prevention, provide hormonal balancing, and support optimal kidney function, among many other benefits.

In 2012, Dr. Kristin Tillich led a team of researchers who conducted a study that proved a “gut-brain” connection. The UCLA study tested human brain functioning of 36 women, following four weeks of eating probiotic-laden yogurt. They reported, “The intake of an FMPP [probiotic] by healthy women affected activity of brain regions that control central processing of emotion and sensation.”

In a 2013 press release, Dr. Tillich noted, “Our findings indicate that some of the contents of yogurt may actually change the way our brain responds to the environment. When we consider the implications of this work, the old sayings ‘you are what you eat’ and ‘gut feelings’ take on new meaning.”

  • Prebiotics

Now, there’s also solid evidence to support the use of prebiotics to ease depression and anxiety specifically.

How do we know? In the first-ever human study on the subject, researchers at Oxford University discovered that ingesting prebiotic bacteria seemed to inspire an “anti-anxiety effect.”

What’s a prebiotic? It’s a non-digestible food that feeds the body over and above what could be provided through diet. It helps maintain the healthy probiotic bacteria in your gut.

In a study published this year, a dose of prebiotic reduced participants’ desire to focus on the negative. Cortisol, the “stress hormone,” was reduced in female participants as well.

Stress and negative attention are huge factors in depression and anxiety disorders. The positive aspects of prebiotics in the 2015 research were so significant, researchers say it is as helpful as ingesting an antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug.

So, the real question is how can we claim some of those benefits for ourselves?

Facilitate better bacterial balance in your body by:

  • Eating a high-fiber, plant-based diet
  • Avoiding a high-fat diet
  • Avoiding high sugar foods
  • Ingesting more complex carbohydrates

Increase your consumption of probiotic foods that contain good bacteria. Try:

  • Yogurt with live active cultures
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Miso
  • Kimchi
  • Fermented pickles

Increase prebiotic foods that feed beneficial bacteria. Eat:

  • Banana
  • Whole grains
  • Honey
  • Onions
  • Leeks
  • Garlic
  • Artichokes

These findings, supported by scientific evidence, suggest that it is possible to improve our sadness, fear responses, and other stubborn mood problems through diet.

How exciting and empowering when it comes to taking charge of our mental health!

A Remedy for Fear and Anxiety Is Here!

Relief for fear and anxiety

Mindfulness Meditation

by Cathy Neville, LPC, on May 2, 2015.

Fear and Anxiety

Emergency! Disaster! Catastrophe! The alarm bells are sounding in your head and you’re not even sure why. You’re tense and jumpy. All you know is that something is wrong. Something says run. Something says fight…again.You’ve had more than enough. How can you make anxiety subside and retreat? If you’ve reached a point where intrusive, anxious thoughts are getting in the way of your life and relationships, try mindfulness meditation as a way to help silence the alarms.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the practice or habit of being present. Learning how to remain “here and now” is the objective. Being present helps you notice and observe the thoughts and feelings that support disturbing emotions, without needing to respond. Mindfulness meditation teaches you to disconnect from negative thought patterns, become aware your bodily responses and refocus on the present moment. This practice has an extremely beneficial impact on anxiety.

Consider the following ways mindfulness meditation soothes and alleviates worry, fear, and your anxious “high alert” condition:

1. Mindful meditation allows you to watch and pay attention instead of worry and panic.

The wandering, fast and furious thoughts typical of an anxious mind are brought under control through moment-by-moment awareness.

This method keeps your attention focused on observation of thought as it comes. Essentially, mindfulness meditation lets anxiety have its way. You become aware of anxious feelings rather than hide from them.

Seeing anxiety and feeling it doesn’t mean you must engage it or control it. It doesn’t mean avoiding it either. In a mindful state, you remain in your body, aimed only in the moment. Your breathing is steady and controlled.

Each moment happens naturally. You do not attempt to change it or affect it. You are simply aware. No breath, physical impression or emotion is given less than your undivided attention.

2. Mindfulness soothes the need to overthink.

While you are in a present, observant mental state, stressors are less likely to become anxious episodes.

Mental space once reserved for worry is no longer filled with countless things, people or events you cannot control in the future or past.

People with general anxiety disorder (GAD) seem to be particularly benefitted by mindfulness meditation. Sufferers of the disorder deal with persistent and unmanageable worries, sleeplessness and irritability.

Studies like that of Dr. Elizabeth Hoge, a well-respected psychiatrist at the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital and assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, reveals that therapies incorporating mindfulness meditation help reduce anxiety beyond the improvements shown in groups which employed other stress management techniques.

3. Mindfulness meditation helps recognize the truth.

Mindfulness helps you face fears by acknowledging it for what truly is, exactly as it is. You can better determine whether they are productive answers to real problems, or the result of unrealistic thinking.

Without the distress and reaction of “fight or flight,” the reasons for your anxiety can be determined accurate or untrue.

Recent research supports this idea. In the British Journal of Clinical, researchers at the Bergen in Norway published a review of how effective mindfulness-based therapy (MBT) is on anxiety. Nineteen studies were included. The research revealed that when therapeutic interventions focused on developing a new relationship with “distressing thoughts, feelings and behavioral impulses” rather than replacing or controlling symptoms, less distress occurred. Basically, MBT shapes a new perspective of anxiety. You can observe the perceived threats and fight or flight responses rather than become absorbed in them.

From a state of present consciousness, mindfulness meditation allows you to see things more clearly and become better at letting fear go.  Good news, don’t you think?

If you need help getting started with your meditation and you live in the San Antonio area, call me or make an appointment online, so you can start controlling your fear and anxiety.

How Avoidance Makes Anxiety Worse

By Cathy Neville, LPC, on April 12, 2015

Why should you hide from anxiety?

Why should you have to avoid it, accommodate it, or act like it isn’t really there?

After all, anxiety is supposed to work for you. It is supposed to be that voice of reason in a tight situation. Fight or flight, right? Unfortunately, somewhere along the way, many anxiety sufferers learn that the way to deal with anxiety is to avoid it.

You start avoiding the things you fear the most to feel safer.

You start pouring all your effort into escaping rather than dealing with your anxious feelings and triggers.

But is it working?

Probably not.

Like any problem you refuse to face

Anxiety will get more determined to find you.

And it always does, usually in a big way.

Avoidance simply produces more anxiety.

It produces more distance between you, the life you want to live, and the people you want to love.

Avoidance simply empowers anxiety.

Avoidance simply keeps you stuck.

That is not okay.

So, how should you deal with this stalker you call anxiety?

How can you get it to fall in line in your head and respect your peace of mind?

Avoid no more.

That’s right.

Otherwise, life just gets more complicated and too limiting.

Not sure you can face your fears successfully?

Need more motivation to make a change?

Let’s look at how avoidance coping actually makes managing anxiety harder.

1. Avoidance usually just keeps you focused on the people, situations, or feelings you’re trying to avoid. Aren’t you constantly conscious of the thing you don’t want to deal with? It seems like you’re constantly maneuvering mentally in order to avoid pain, pressure, embarrassment — whatever.

Avoidance doesn’t improve anything; it just amplifies your anxiety. You’re better off “avoiding avoidance.” When you’re ready to say enough is enough, then it’s finally time to face your anxiety with the support of family, friends, or a counselor.

2. Avoidance is not as passive as it seems. In fact, avoidance is actually an attempt to fight anxiety. This rarely works. By forcing yourself to ignore your feelings you subject yourself to punishing rounds of self-deception and self-protection. You end up losing precious time and energy trying to ward off and block your uncomfortable feelings. Your health and relationships suffer as you attempt to aggressively ignore the triggers. This is fruitless. Eventually, the anxiety comes back stronger anyway. Anxiety still gains the upper hand because you won’t make peace with it.

Avoidance doesn’t allow you to tell yourself the truth about your fear and discomfort. Learning to accept anxiety is the best counter measure.

3. Avoidance makes you intolerant. Avoidance coping keeps you afraid and unable to deal with intrusive thoughts and scary feelings naturally and progressively. You simply don’t deal. Learning how to process feelings you don’t like or want to experience is emotional tolerance. Emotional tolerance is key to helping you cope differently.

Avoidance doesn’t make room for emotional self-soothing, regulating, and competency. Learning to recognize and embrace your anxious feelings will give you better opportunities to overcome or reduce them as you move forward.

Avoidance keeps you hemmed in.

It is not the powerful position it first seems.

But you are not powerless.

With the help of a compassionate professional you can regain your ability to fight or flee appropriately.

You are not solely at the mercy of over-stimulated anxiety or the draining task of ignoring it.

When you learn to accept that reality includes anxiety, anxiety will begin to loosen its hold on you.

You can look anxiety in the face, shrug your shoulders, and truly be okay.