What is the Link Between Anxiety and Gut Health?

anxietyguthealth

When it comes to your mental wellbeing, your gut may play a much bigger role than you think. Research is now suggesting that there can be a very strong link between your gut and your brain, to the extent that your chances of developing anxiety or depression may  be heavily influenced by the health of your gut. Here’s what to know about the connection between your mental health and what’s going on in your gut.

Stress and Your Gut

The gut is heavily linked to your emotions and no doubt you have personal experience of this. We’ve all felt sensations such as nervous butterflies in the stomach or feeling sick when we’re anxious, which is physical evidence of the connection between your mind and your gut.

Stress can physically affect the gut in other ways too, including how it works. It can encourage the walls of the gut to contract, which can be a factor in bowel movements – especially diarrhoea. Stress can cause food to move through the digestive system more quickly than it would otherwise do and this can result in loose stools and frequent bowel movements.

Studies have also suggested that people with GI disorders are sometimes able to improve their symptoms if they receive psychological therapies to help them to manage stress and anxiety, and often see a better response compared to people who are only receiving “conventional” treatment.

What Science Says

Studies on mice carried out by University College Cork showed a strong connection between gut microbes and mental health. In particular, low levels of microbes in the gut were linked to depression and anxiety. The mice who were bred to be “microbe free” were a lot more anxious than the mice who had higher levels of microbes in their gut.

The theory is that microbes in the gut have an impact on key areas of the brain, notably the pre-frontal cortex and amygdala. Both of these areas are linked to anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions.

Probiotics have also been the focus of some studies, with research suggesting that probiotics could even work as well as Diazepam and Citalopram in improving mental health and reducing anxiety.

How to Improve Your Gut Health

So, what can you do to get a healthier gut environment and help to improve your mental health?

Probiotics are a great place to start. According to some studies, they can reduce anxiety so it’s definitely worth increasing your intake or starting to take them for the first time if you suffer from anxiety. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kefir and yogurt are examples of how you can add probiotics to your diet or you can try probiotic drinks if you prefer.

Prebiotics are another smart move. They aren’t quite the same as probiotics but they’re just as important – perhaps more so given that they help probiotics to work more effectively.

There is still a lot for us to know about the gut-brain connection but the evidence so far strongly suggests that your gut health can have an effect on how likely you are to experience anxiety, depression and other mental health conditions. Improving your gut health can potentially do more than just improve your digestive health and can also have a knock on effect for your mental health too!

 

What to Eat for Anxiety (And What to Avoid)

anxiety foods

What you eat can have a big impact on your health and wellbeing, and mental health is no exception to this. Some foods have been shown to have a positive effect on anxiety symptoms while others are known to make anxiety worse. Here are some of the key foods and drinks that can help to reduce anxiety, plus some of the ones to avoid.

What to Eat for Reducing Anxiety

Fruits

Antioxidants protect against oxidative stress, which can alter key neurotransmitters in the brain. In one study, anxiety has been linked to low consumption of antioxidants so it’s definitely worth upping your intake of fruit if you’re struggling with anxiety. Aim for as many different colours as you can to get a range of nutrients as well as antioxidants.

Salmon

Salmon is linked to a healthy brain, not least because it’s a good source of vitamin D and fatty acids EPA and DHA. All of these nutrients are thought to help to regulate the dopamine and serotonin neurotransmitters, which are linked to calmness.

Adding more salmon to your diet can be an easy way to improve your wellbeing and it’s backed up by research too. In one study, men who ate Atlantic salmon three times per week also experienced less anxiety.

Turkey

Turkey is a good source of L-tryptophan, an amino acid that the body uses to produce serotonin. It’s been shown to improve symptoms of depression and social anxiety.

Fermented Foods

Fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir and sauerkraut promote a healthy gut, which has a lot more to do with your brain than you might think. Studies suggest that eating probiotics and fermented foods regularly can be good for anxiety – even to the point of potentially preventing anxiety and depression. One study in particular looked at the role that fermented foods can play in treating social anxiety.

Turmeric

If you’re not adding this spice to your diet on a regular basis, you’re missing out on another chance to decrease anxiety symptoms.

It’s thought that turmeric may help the body to produce more of the omega 3 fatty acid, DHA, which is linked to key neurotransmitters in the brain.

Another factor is turmeric’s anti inflammatory qualities. This can reduce inflammation in the body and decrease inflammatory markers such as cytokines, which are also connected to anxiety and depression.

Water

Wondering about what to drink to tackle anxiety? Water is a great choice. Even being just a little bit dehydrated can affect your mood and how your brain functions, which in turn can promote anxious thoughts and feelings. One theory is that it is linked to a primal survival strategy to find water and stay hydrated but whatever the real reason, water is definitely one drink to reach for when you’re anxious.

Green Tea

Green tea contains L-Theanine, an amino acid that has shown potential for encouraging relaxation and relieving some of the physical symptoms of stress, including a fast heart rate.

Drinks containing L-Theanine can also reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. Sipping green tea several times per day can potentially bring cortisol levels down so it’s a great choice when you’re feeling stressed and anxious.

Other studies on mice have suggested that green tea can reduce anxiety to much the same extent as some anxiety medications.

Camomile Tea

According to a study from the University of Pennsylvania, drinking chamomile tea for 8 weeks helped to reduce anxiety symptoms and promote relaxation.

In another study, taking chamomile extract for 8 weeks was shown to reduce anxiety symptoms and demonstrate antidepressant effects.

Unfortunately it seems that drinking chamomile tea doesn’t have quite the same effects for reducing anxiety compared to the extracts (which are stronger), although there is a lot more research to be done in this area before any definite conclusions can be made. One plus point in favour of chamomile tea is the ability to help to make you feel calmer. And that’s always welcome when anxiety is starting to take hold!

Foods and Drinks to Avoid for Anxiety

So now you know about the foods and drinks that can help to reduce anxiety, what about the main culprits in promoting it?

Caffeine

Caffeine stimulates the nervous system and one study even found that it can make you more likely to have a panic attack, especially if you’re already prone to anxiety.

Processed Foods

Processed and sugary foods are a double whammy for anxiety. They spike your blood sugar to begin with and then encourage it to crash. According to a study from Colombia University, it also increases your riskincreases your risk of depression and mood changes – especially for women.

Alcohol

Drinking alcohol can make anxiety worse for more than a few reasons. It can affect blood sugar, is dehydrating and can even change neurotransmitters in the brain if you drink regularly and in excess.

The more you drink, the worse it can be. One study found a strong link between social anxiety and alcohol dependency.

What is Health Anxiety?

What isHealth Anxiety_

It’s natural to worry about your health sometimes but if it happens a lot, you may be experiencing health anxiety.

Signs of Health Anxiety

With health anxiety, you worry about your health to the point that it is excessive and has a big impact on your life.

You may have a chronic health condition that you worry about or you may spend a lot of time worrying about your future health and whether you’ll get things like cancer.

With a more general version of health anxiety, any symptoms you have are viewed in the worst possible light.

What if that pain in your leg means you have a blood clot or your ‘missed’ heartbeats are a sign of something more serious?

These kind of symptoms often have a far less serious cause but if you have health anxiety, you’ll tend to bypass these and go straight to the worst case scenarios.  This is the basis of health anxiety: the relentless fear that you’ll develop a serious health problem or the belief that you already have.

You may spend lots of time looking online for information and see your GP on a regular basis because of your worries.

There is also another type of health anxiety based around avoidance. This can include tuning out of anything that may potentially make health anxiety worse, such as never watching programmes on television that may mention medical issues or not going to GP appointments. You may also avoid things that you think could put your health in danger when you have worrying symptoms, such as exercising, or sitting down (or even going to bed) when symptoms occur.

The Problem With Health Anxiety

Health anxiety can become a very vicious circle in that you’re constantly alert to signs that something isn’t right with your body and this can make you aware of things that you wouldn’t normally notice.

Most of the time, these things won’t be anything serious and they may even be signs of your anxiety. Your awareness of them causes more anxiety though and the cycle continues.

Being reassured that nothing is wrong can help to put your mind at rest for a short time but the anxiety usually comes back fairly quickly.

It may not be enough to get reassurance from a doctor as there is always a “what if?” lurking at the back of your mind, especially when more symptoms crop up. This usually means going back to the doctor to get new reassurance about symptoms but it can also lead to you wanting to get a second opinion from another doctor or arranging tests, for example.

Who Gets Health Anxiety?

If you’re an anxious person in general, your health is often just another thing to worry about so it’s not that surprising if you develop health anxiety.

Being affected by negative thinking patterns is another factor in whether you’re likely to develop health anxiety. This can make you more likely to think along the lines of “if it’s going to happen to anyone, it’s bound to be me”.

Stress can be another culprit, especially if you have health related concerns in the family.

Certain beliefs can fuel health anxiety too, including:

  • Any change to your body is a sign that something is wrong
  • A family history of certain health problems means you’ll get it too
  • Doctors can miss things or get it wrong
  • Having tests is the only way to know for sure that everything is okay
  • Not knowing that you are totally well could mean that you’re actually ill

These beliefs can be incredibly unhelpful and keep your anxiety going if you genuinely believe them.

Treatment for Health Anxiety

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is often used to treat health anxiety. This can help you to identify your thoughts and feelings and give you tools to manage them. Health anxiety is kept going by the negative, unhelpful and unhealthy thoughts that characterise it and breaking free from these is key for overcoming the hold it has on you.

A lot of the coping strategies that people with health anxiety use are actually keeping the anxiety strong in the mind, including focusing more on the body, constantly looking for reassurance, reading up on illness and avoidance behaviour.

CBT can help you to develop new ways to deal with health anxiety that are more helpful in relieving the anxiety.

Medications can sometimes be used too, especially if you have depression as well.

 

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5 Ways to Overcome Negative Thinking

5 Ways to Overcome Negative Thinking

Do you regularly find yourself thinking negatively about yourself and the world around you?

Most of us have negative thoughts every now and again but if negative thinking is a chronic, long term problem, it can have a very significant effect on your mental health and wellbeing.

At its worst, negative thinking can affect your quality of life and this can be a sign that you’re suffering from depression or an anxiety disorder.

Negative thinking can have a snowball effect and tends to be very hard to control. And the more you acknowledge them, the more these thoughts feel true.

Types of Negative Thinking

Negative thoughts can fall loosely into categories such as these:

  • Predicting the future – “I’ll fail at this” or “this will be a total disaster”
  • Reading other people’s minds – “They don’t like me” or “people think I’m boring”
  • Catastrophizing and thinking the worst -Expecting things to go wrong and seeing a potential downside to every scenario

Negative thinking is often “all or nothing” and very much black and white.

Whereas someone with a more positive mindset may see shades of grey in their thinking that they can latch onto, negative thinking tends to be at the worst end of the spectrum.

You’re likely to think about all of the things that could potentially go wrong rather than focusing on the more realistic outcomes.

Overcoming Negative Thinking

One of the great things about our minds is the ability to change things up. Your thought patterns aren’t set in stone and with the right tools, it’s definitely possible to swap negative thought patterns for healthier and more positive alternatives.

  • Find the “Grey” Areas in a Situation

Negative thinking usually leads you straight to the worst possible outcomes in a given situation so you’ll need to stop your mind from thinking in such extremes. There will almost always be a number of more realistic outcomes that you can focus on instead and these “grey” areas are where your mind needs to go to instead.

One way to do this is to write down the worst case scenario that is running through your head and then list some of the outcomes that are more likely to happen. This forces your mind to think about alternative outcomes rather than focusing solely on the original negative thought.

  • Reframe Your Thinking

It’s not always that easy to put a different slant on your thinking, especially if you’re so used to being negative with your thoughts. Being able to find a more positive take on a situation can help you to see things in a very different light but this often means that you have to go against your natural tendency to think the worst and this isn’t easy.

This is where Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or hypnotherapy can help you to refocus the way that you tend to think so that you can look at things from a different angle.

  • Not Over Generalizing Situations

Negative thinking often blows situations out of all proportion so that they take on much more significance than they probably should do. For example, a date that doesn’t work out can leave you thinking that “I’ll never meet anyone” or I’ll never be happy”.

If negative thinking wasn’t controlling your mindset, you’d be much more likely to chalk it up to just not being compatible with your date rather than fearing that it sets a precedent for the future.

  • Not “Mind Reading” Situations

Another big part of negative thinking is “mind reading” a situation when you don’t actually have the evidence to back up your fears.

If someone doesn’t text you back, you may jump to the conclusion that they don’t like you, for example. In reality, it’s a lot more likely that they’re just busy and haven’t had chance to respond yet or they were in the middle of something when they got your text and have forgotten to reply.

Neither of these scenarios is any reflection of how they feel about you

  • Spending Time in the Moment

Being “in the moment” gives you the opportunity to pull back from your thoughts and focus your attention elsewhere, namely on the things around you rather than yourself.