Sunday 23 August 2020

Whole Body Soul

Ever since reading your post I've been coming across more and more references to the link between mind and body. possibly the most interesting was an article in the New Scientist which was suggesting that not only was there a link between major organs and the brain but that we should start to consider that our organs along with our brains have a soul... it was at that point that my brain started to complain and prevented me from reading any further! I do wonder whether you therefore have multiple souls co-existing or some sort of compendium of souls. Maybe when our mental health is suffering it's a reflection of our collective souls falling out with each other. I can imagine my stomach having a bit of a strop with my brain pretty much most days the amount of junk that my brain tells me that I really want to eat. There is definitely mileage in a more holistic approach to mental health. For me this would extend beyond the physical/mind and include the socio/economic spheres. I have a long-standing interest in the work of Marx as well as that of Foucault and have recently been looking into how these approaches might tie in with my own experience of mental distress. It's been an interesting time and always repays a few minutes of googling. Two names that have emerged in recent searches are Iain Ferguson and the more well known R D Laing. Drawing on the work of Laing (Insanity -- a perfectly rational adjustment to an insane world.) Ferguson suggests that in a world dominated by the profit motiive our own social and emotional needs are often ignored or where they are acknowledged they are framed in individualistic ways. We are confronted by an establishment that is primed to centre our distress within a medical model where our illness is either reduced to a set of symptoms to be 'cured' through the administration of medication or framed as our responsibility, our recovery. Even talking therapies including Cognitive Behavioural therapy talk about changing how we percieve the world around us rather than accepting that the world around us might just play a part in how we are feeling. There are some chinks of light emerging through the relatively recent development and innovation of trauma informed approaches where past trauma is recognised as implicated in current distress and an emphasis placed upon services seeking to avoid adding additional trauma to the individual experience. Radical ideas indeed!

Tuesday 4 August 2020

The Gut/Brain Axis

Dear Rob,

It’s hard to top a film that appears to be a cult classic, but we shall give it a good go. So, from Dinner with Andre to just…dinner?

You may be wondering if anything inspired this blog post. Indeed, it did. It was inspired, like most things in my life, by stress.

I have been rather stressed for two weeks or so. I practiced my meditation and mindfulness, I engaged in pleasant activities to keep my mood up and I even spoke to my therapist. My mind was clearer, I felt calmer and more optimistic.

My brain was chill. It was having a grand old time, enjoying all the positivity I had been obsessively feeding it. My stomach on the other hand, was less pleased.

I would wake up every morning (at a reasonable time, thanks brain), and I would instantly feel sick. My stomach would hurt. I would just feel…ugh. And so, like I tend to do, I hopped onto Google and asked why. And here I discovered something I hadn’t known – there is a link between your gut and your brain.

I don’t know why this was so revelatory – in fact, one of the things I had mercilessly drilled into me by a former social worker was how important food was to your mood. But I had figured it was mostly vitamin related. You eat some salad and some fish, and your body has the energy it needs to function, lessening the physical effects of depression. Simple.

I found out that the organisms present in your stomach could have a direct impact on your brain. This is because there’s a link between your gut and your brain called the gut-brain axis.
Now, I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know the ins and outs. But simply put, your stomach can produce all sorts of hormones including serotonin (we’re big fans of that one) and melatonin which helps you sleep. Your gut flora, the microorganisms that live in your digestive system, can release molecules that affect the vagus nerve which tells your brain about what’s happening in your stomach. So, there’s a connection between the two of them. It stands to reason that whatever is happening in your stomach can then affect your brain.

dissection of brain showing neurons

In fact, probiotics are meant to be good for people with mental health issues like anxiety and depression.

I mean, it’s a pretty complicated area of study, one which I have no idea about as I’m not that smart, but it’s super interesting to read up on!

Have you ever found that your stomach is affected by your mood, or potentially the other way around?

I am very tempted to give probiotics a go to see if anything happens! It’s worth noting that the research is in its infancy and most of it comes from animal studies. But I do like the idea that mental health isn’t just confined to the brain.

Do you think a more holistic approach would be beneficial in terms of mental health treatment? It would be super interesting to hear your thoughts!

Emerging into the new normal...

Yesterday we met as a group for the fist time in a cafe since the lockdown. We had a great time chatting about this and that as well as how we are all coping with thoughts around the virus. We also got to enjoy the 50% subsidy in Costas courtesy of Boris! Next stop will be getting ArtWell up and running as well as the Selby District Mental Health Forum! Get in touch if you'd like to come along to our peer support groups. Keep safe and look after yourself. Robert