Are you part of a book club? Make Beyond the Label your next book selection and invite Dr. Chris as a guest author! This is what one of Dr. Chris’s friends did and there were some wonderful and enlightening questions that come out of the book club meeting that she attended. It was very exciting for the book club members to meet the author. If you are local, reach out to Dr. Chris – she’d be happy to come speak to your group.
Below is the fourth instalment of the series of questions from the book club. Click here for part 4, and here for part 1. What would you like to ask? Contact Dr Chris and bring her to your next group meeting or book club!
1. The #1 question I get asked is:
Where do I start to improve my mental health?
What are the top 3 priorities? How do I stop myself from being overwhelmed with all the healthy things I “should” do?
It’s true that doing things in steps makes you more likely to follow through, and this is especially important when making changes for your health. I laid out a blueprint for health in my book Beyond the Label: 10 Steps to Improve your Mental Health with Naturopathic Medicine. Here, I’ll walk you through the first 3 steps to better mental health!
How often have you heard that “you are what you eat”? We make all of our neurotransmitters and brain neurons from the nutritional building blocks we get in our diet. If we don’t get these essential building blocks, you literally don’t get what you need to be happy, healthy, and balanced. Unfortunately, the standard North American Diet (or SAD diet which is an acronym for standard American diet) does not contain many essential nutrients, and instead replaces them with empty calories that raise inflammation, create blood sugar rollercoasters, and cause addiction to more fat, sugar, and salt. It’s almost an act of rebellion these days just to eat a healthy, whole foods diet, and it’s worth it!
Eating an anti-inflammatory diet that supplies the brain and body with what it needs, while reducing inflammation and eliminating intolerances goes a long way to supporting long-term mental (and physical) wellness. Get a step-by-step guide that talks about exactly what you need and how to nourish yourself on a daily basis in my nutrition guidebook, The Essential Diet: Eating for Mental Health. If changing your whole diet is overwhelming, start with one small change this week – reduce your refined sugar by ½, or increase your daily water intake to ½ your body weight in ounces. If you feel stressed about making changes (and making them stick), then just do one small thing at a time, and let go of the thoughts that tell you “you should be doing better by now”. The important thing is forward progress, not speed.
You’ve also likely heard that 8 hours a night is best, but it’s not just about the hours, it’s about the quality. Are you in bed for a long time before you fall asleep? Do you wake up easily in the night and have a hard time falling back asleep? Even if you prioritize bedtime, you need to be getting real rest. Research shows that sleep deprivation (even just 6 or 7 hours a night instead of 8, for long periods of time) increases your risk of depression, anxiety, panic, and other mental health issues. Talk to someone about getting help to sleep through the night, or to help fall asleep faster. Sleep resets the brain and helps you process all the incoming information you experienced in the day.
Here’s something maybe you didn’t know, that exercise has been shown to be as effective as some antidepressant medications. The best part is, the side effects of exercise is a more fit mind and body, not the usual sexual, metabolic and digestive side effects of antidepressants. Research shows that strength and aerobic training reduce depression and anxiety scores within 4 weeks, just as fast as antidepressant medications. I know it can be hard to motivate, especially when you’re struggling, so it’s not as easy as saying “I will exercise for my mental health”, you’ve really got to find something to be dedicated to that will get you moving. Joining a club or team doubles as social time that is hard to get when depressed, and it can cut the social anxiety because it’s centered around an activity.
Exercising outdoors is even better– studies show that the “greener” an exercise area is (ie jogging along a river, or in a forest), the more effectively it will lower anxiety scores. Again, if it’s overwhelming to join a team, just start out small and go for one walk after dinner this week, or a lunchtime stroll. Walk your dog a little longer, or meet a friend for a yoga class. It doesn’t have to be extreme cross fit 5x a week! You can make a big difference but starting small, sticking to it, and rewarding the good behaviour with positive reinforcement. Here are the best tidbits on exercise and mental health
Sources: https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/exercise-is-an-all-natural-treatment-to-fight-depression file:///Users/lachlancrawford/Downloads/ijerph-16-01352.pdf
2. What is the difference between bipolar 1 and 2?
Both bipolar 1 and 2 have periods of depressed mood, but they are separated by the presence of either mania (bipolar 1) or hypomania (bipolar 2) in addition to the depressed mood.
Bipolar 1 includes at least one episode of mania, which is a period of “sustained and abnormally elevated, expansive, or irritable mood for at least one week, and exhibits at least three of the following symptoms that are noted by family members and loved ones, and they impair a person’s ability to function at home, school, and/or work:
- Grandiosity or an inflated sense of self
- Little need for sleep
- Feeling pressured to speak, talking loudly and rapidly
- Easily distracted
- Engaging in multiple tasks at one time — more than can be realistically accomplished in one day
- Engaging in risky behavior like gambling or unprotected sex
- Racing thoughts
The above points constitute hypomania
Bipolar 2 includes episodes of hypomania, which is a shorter, less intense feeling of exaggerated energy and confidence that does not impair day-to-day function in the same way as a manic episode. A hypomanic episode does not require hospitalization, whereas a manic episode usually does.
If a person has changeable moods that include periods of depression and periods of exaggerated energy, confidence, and risky behaviour, for example, it could indicate the need for further assessment of bipolar 2. If this exaggerated mood has ever affected their work, relationships or school in a serious way, or required hospitalization, it requires assessment for bipolar 1. Generally, the hypomanic state that can occur in both bipolar 1 and 2 only escalates into a manic state which is characterized by delusions, psychosis and paranoia in bipolar disorder type 1.
Click here for part 1 of the Q&A series
Contact Dr Chris for inquiries on speaking and book club events.
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