How To Benefit Your Mind and Body

Here at The Gut Co, we care about more than just your physical health; overall wellbeing is what we strive to promote and give people access to. There is such an essential link between the mind and the body that it cannot be disregarded. 

It’s all well and good if you put a lot of thought and effort into maintaining your general health. But if you find yourself having dips of energy, low moods and negative thought patterns, there may be parts of your routine you could neglect or perhaps just areas that need a slight improvement. 

The human brain is one of the most mysterious and complex organs in the body and something we are still seeking to understand. It helps us achieve tasks daily when we call for it and is also in control of things we seemingly don’t pay much attention to. 

Think about muscle memory. For example, our brain already knows the routine of how to make a coffee in the morning, which jar, which cupboard and where everything goes, and for how long, simply on autopilot.

We carry out these tasks seemingly without thinking every day. It’s incredible what the brain can do for us, but we often neglect to help it when it needs us most. 

What Can You Do To Benefit Your Brain?

You can do a few things on a daily or weekly basis that shouldn’t impact your schedule too much and can help give your brain the respite it needs from working for you all the time.

Practise Mindfulness

Mindfulness has become a popular subject of conversation in the health and wellness community over the last decade despite its roots in non-western culture being well utilised for extended periods. 

Mindfulness doesn’t ask the individual to set aside time to meditate daily. It’s more of an attempt to become present whenever the individual becomes lost in their thoughts.

Mindfulness has a very similar structure to meditation, yet you can do it at any moment in the day. You feel your brain is working overtime and feeding you overwhelming stimuli. 

A Basic Brief on How to Practise Mindfulness

  1. Pay attention to the present. Try to connect and witness your immediate environment using your senses; how can something you touch feel? What are the colours of something you can see? What are the noises you can hear individually? Rather than existing amongst them as a whole. Are there scents like a distant bakery, fresh coffee, or flowers in the air?
  2. Live in the moment. The moment is the only thing we will forever have access to in our waking lives. Try to bring attention to everything you do, notice the small things, make a note and reflect upon them.
  3. Accept yourself. Treat yourself the way you would a friend you care about, and bring this into practice if you ever catch yourself in negative self-talk.
  4. Focus on your breathing- when you find yourself having negative thoughts, don’t add more thought to them; let the thoughts disappear. A good way to detach (or instead not involve yourself) is to focus on your breathing - imagine the air going in and out of your body and allow yourself to relax.1
There are so many benefits to incorporating mindfulness into your life which include: (2,3,4)
  • Reduced anxiety levels
  • Reduced symptoms of depression
  • Reduction of hypertension, stress and blood pressure 

Practise Meditation

Meditation is similar to mindfulness in a lot of ways. It’s more so that meditation is treated as an activity rather than a new system of thought. Meditating requires setting aside time in your day to dedicate to practising meditation. However, this isn’t to say that one can’t reach a meditative state in daily life due to practising it over time.

There are a few different types of meditation, one of which is mindfulness meditation which we have already covered. The most prominent and accessible form of meditation is “focused” meditation, including guided meditation. 

Guided meditation or focused meditation is when you place your focus on breathing, a voice or an object’s sensory qualities. In guided meditation, the agent will often guide you through these, meaning there’s less chance of your thoughts interrupting the process too much. 

There are an array of apps and resources for guided or focused meditation. A few to consider are:

Headspace – An app across multiple platforms that even has featured episodes of meditation and science behind it on the streaming platform Netflix. These guided meditations focus on stress release, breathing exercises for sleep and how to be more present. The length of the meditations is also customisable, so you can choose whether or not you want to meditate for 5 minutes or up to 30 minutes.5

Calm – An app that focuses on guided meditations with “aims” for the user. These include sleep quality, reducing anxiety, improving focus and general self-improvement. There’s also a varying choice in the voice of who guides your meditations.6

Focused/Guided Meditation is brilliant to add to your life. How you choose to integrate it is entirely up to you; however, apps have free trial periods, and an abundance of guided meditations is available on free sites such as YouTube. 

Daily meditation has been researched to enhance attention, expand memory, and help with mood and emotional regulation in people with little experience in practice.7

So why not give it a try? Further research has also detailed that meditation has a positive relationship with the health of the gut microbiota and the immune system; we will cover a mind and body synergy in due course. 8

Practise Gratitude

Someone suggesting gratitude is one of those things in recent times that unfortunately can be seen or interpreted as condescending.

You may have been grieving, have been in a tough spot with finances, going through a breakup or experienced overwhelming career stressors, and someone has said, “have you tried practising gratitude?”. However, practising gratitude in dire situations does make a lot of sense.

When an individual is under extreme stress or overwhelmed, we tend to repeat these circumstances over and over in our heads, pinning the blame on ourselves and thinking about how we could’ve avoided these circumstances.

While reflection is essential for growth and ensuring we don’t make the same mistakes again; it’s best not to stay there and stagnate. 

In the same way, we can experience cravings for certain foods like ice cream that only that specific food can quench. Once we honour that craving, it would be unusual to only continue eating that one food for the remainder of your time on this earth; your body would struggle and need other nutrients.

Our minds are the same. Even when caught in a spiral of a negative thoughts, it's best to give yourself some love and gratitude in these times to stay balanced, even if it’s as simple as saying, “I’m so grateful for the friends around me”, “I’m grateful that I was able to have a walk in the park today”.

Highlighting the good within a bad situation over time will increase your resilience in future, and your brain will thank you endlessly.

In clinical studies, gratitude intervention improves subject happiness and life satisfaction while reducing anxiety and depression symptoms.9 It's as easy as writing a list of what you're grateful for.

This could be anything - the cup of coffee you have in the morning, the sun coming through the window, the smell of fresh clothes, things we often take for granted.

If we do not pay thorough attention to them, they can just become normal to us. In reality, these things are everything but that. The small things add up to a much bigger whole. 

Seek Professional/Medical Help

We can’t stress enough that mental health is a serious matter. Mental illness often needs intervention from professionals such as doctors and psychologists, who can adequately diagnose and treat individuals.

This article is purely advice suggesting activities and perspectives alongside your mental health journey. We strongly advise you to speak to a doctor who can refer you to a counsellor, therapist or mental health service.

Someone with clinical depression is likely not to benefit from a gratitude journal as much as someone experiencing depressive symptoms due to situational factors. 

There are varying degrees of symptoms, and the frequency at which we experience these and the severity are significant factors in how easily treatable the illness or symptom is.

Some may require medication, therapy, or counselling. It’s worth noting that even the most stigmatised mental illnesses are treatable with the right course of care. 

No one is ever a lost cause; recovery is not linear, and there will always be hope and advancement in treatments and research. Consider reaching out to a friend or family member if you can’t manage to contact a medical professional, and they can help you to do so. 

Vulnerability can sometimes be terrifying, but your friends and family would much rather help you when you are struggling than not know and then find out that they could’ve helped. We are all worthy and deserving of help and care. 

Look After The Gut-Brain Axis

Taking care of your mental health doesn’t only occur in your thought patterns; there is a second brain that you should also seek to take care of. This second brain is in your gut! 

The second brain goes by the name of the enteric nervous system. This system controls all of your gastrointestinal activity and makes up most of the body’s immune defences.10

The Gut and the Brain communicate consistently and relay information about one another to maintain equilibrium. This is what researchers refer to as the gut-brain axis.

It’s very likely you have had a gut instinct about something and been surprised to find out the reaction was helpful or correct. If you’ve felt this, it was likely the result of the gut-brain axis.

There is such a connection between the gut and the brain that it’s no wonder that disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) link to depressive and anxious symptoms in individuals.11

As well as this, research has been conducted recently on whether mindfulness and meditation can aid in treating IBS. These showed a positive reduction in IBS symptoms and an overall healthier gut microbiota, which strengthens the notion of the gut-brain axis.12

The gut and brain communicate along several different pathways, including the central nervous system, the vagus nerve and the autonomic system, which means a gut feeling is something you should pay attention to if you feel it. 

Take Care Of Your Mind Through Your Gut 

With all the research and studies that draw on the relationship between mental health and gut health, it's worth investing some care into your gut health, as a healthy gut can mean a healthier mind.

You can add many foods to your diet that are rich in prebiotic fibre and probiotics that can aid your gut in being the healthiest it possibly can be. Check out these blog posts for some inspiration: (13,14

Probiotic supplementation might be for you if you don’t want to change your diet. This means that all you have to do is take a tablet in the morning.

In turn, you can reap many benefits such as better skin health, better mood, less bloating and lethargy, easier digestion and more energy throughout the day and atop all of that, reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression:15

Balance Blood Sugar Levels

There are also dietary changes that can promote a more balanced mind. We now live in a world where food is a trend, and many of these trends involve hyper-palatable foods which are often high in sugar and salt. We are not suggesting that you cut anything out of your diet.

Food is more than fuel. It helps with cultural cohesion, shared memories, pleasure and cultural identity. What we do suggest is always practising moderation with all things. Every aspect of our lives is about balance. 

However, too much sugar in the diet can cause crashes, which feel similar to that of depression or can cause anxiety symptoms through spikes in our insulin levels. When our blood sugar crashes, our body produces a stress response which can lead to panic attacks and keep us caught in a depressive cycle.

A dietary intervention involving reducing highly processed foods has improved generalised anxiety disorder in individuals.16

The Bottom Line 

The mind and body are fantastic tools necessary for survival, and we must fuel them correctly to function optimally. Since there is such a link between the body and the mind, engaging in activity benefits is always good.

This means that going to the gym and meeting a friend for a drink are just as important as each other. The world is getting busier by the day so make sure you rest easy when you can, for your mind, body and soul.

References

  1. Clinic M. Can mindfulness exercises help me?. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/mindfulness-exercises/art-20046356. Published 2022. Accessed May 10, 2022.
  2. Marchand W. Mindfulness Meditation Practices as Adjunctive Treatments for Psychiatric Disorders. Psychiatric Clinics of North America. 2013;36(1):141-152. doi:10.1016/j.psc.2013.01.002
  3. Blanck P, Perleth S, Heidenreich T et al. Effects of mindfulness exercises as stand-alone intervention on symptoms of anxiety and depression: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Behav Res Ther. 2018;102:25-35. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2017.12.002
  4. Ponte Márquez P, Feliu-Soler A, Solé-Villa M et al. Benefits of mindfulness meditation in reducing blood pressure and stress in patients with arterial hypertension. J Hum Hypertens. 2018;33(3):237-247. doi:10.1038/s41371-018-0130-6
  5. Meditation and Sleep Made Simple - Headspace. Headspace.com. https://www.headspace.com/. Published 2022. Accessed May 11, 2022.
  6. Calm. Calm.com. https://www.calm.com/. Published 2022. Accessed May 11, 2022.
  7. Basso J, McHale A, Ende V, Oberlin D, Suzuki W. Brief, daily meditation enhances attention, memory, mood, and emotional regulation in non-experienced meditators. Behav Brain Res. 2019;356:208-220. doi:10.1016/j.bbr.2018.08.023
  8. Househam AM, Peterson CT, Mills PJ, Chopra D. The effects of stress and meditation on the immune system, human microbiota, and epigenetics. Adv Mind Body Med. 2017;31(4):10–25.
  9. Cunha L, Pellanda L, Reppold C. Positive Psychology and Gratitude Interventions: A Randomized Clinical Trial. Front Psychol. 2019;10. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00584
  10. Obata Y, Pachnis V. The Effect of Microbiota and the Immune System on the Development and Organization of the Enteric Nervous System. Gastroenterology. 2016;151(5):836-844. doi:10.1053/j.gastro.2016.07.044
  11. Mudyanadzo T, Hauzaree C, Yerokhina O, Architha N, Ashqar H. Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Depression: A Shared Pathogenesis. Cureus. 2018. doi:10.7759/cureus.3178
  12. Naliboff B, Smith S, Serpa J et al. Mindfulness‐based stress reduction improves irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms via specific aspects of mindfulness. Neurogastroenterology & Motility. 2020;32(9). doi:10.1111/nmo.13828
  13. Roberts A. 18 Probiotic Foods for Gut Health. The Gut Co®. https://thegutco.com/blogs/news/18-probiotic-foods-for-gut-health. Published 2022. Accessed May 11, 2022.
  14. Roberts A. 20 Prebiotic Foods for Gut Health. The Gut Co®. https://thegutco.com/blogs/news/20-prebiotic-foods-for-gut-health. Published 2022. Accessed May 11, 2022.
  15. Lye H, Balakrishnan K, Thiagarajah K, Mohd Ismail N, Ooi S. Beneficial Properties of Probiotics. Trop Life Sci Res. 2016;27(2):73-90. doi:10.21315/tlsr2016.27.2.6
  16. Aucoin M, Bhardwaj S. Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Hypoglycemia Symptoms Improved with Diet Modification. Case Rep Psychiatry. 2016;2016:1-4. doi:10.1155/2016/7165425

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