'The mind, body and nervous system are connected. What affects one of these elements affects them all'

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By Joanne Reid Rodrigues

I’VE always had a strong interest in spiritual, mental, and emotional health. Perhaps it’s because in youth I often felt my mood was low, and at times I felt depressed. I had a job that paid my rent but didn’t feed my soul. My creative energies were stifled and I felt limited and confined. For me, this was the root of my boredom.

I became self-employed at 24, and, finding my purpose and passion in life, I healed those old wounds pretty quickly. Passion is simply loving what you do. And having a purpose beyond ourselves is the path to healing and happiness.

It doesn’t matter how much we achieve or acquire – social status or awards – it’s our inner life that determines our quality of life.

As I see it, the physical body is a reflection of its inhabitant, the spirit. The mind, body and nervous system are connected. What affects one affects all. The term psychosomatic doesn’t mean we’re imagining symptoms – it’s describing the correlation between mind, emotions, and physical symptoms. It’s derived from two Greek words: ‘psyche’, meaning ‘mind’, and ‘somatikos’, meaning body.

For instance, if a person is recurrently stressed, they’ll usually have tense muscles – they might develop back pain, neck and shoulder pain, or a headache. Or they might feel nauseous. They’re definitely not imagining it. In fact, stress is the primary cause of non-specific lower-back pain.

Stress in itself is non-physical, but the effects of stress are physical.

Depression, stress, and anxiety affect every part of the physical body.

The cognitive aspect of depression is most rooted in the notion of deprivation. A person might feel deprived of essential needs: respect, love, being wanted and recognised. Or they might feel deprived of basic material needs, or the opportunity to express their talents and fulfil their potential. Focusing on lack and limitation lowers our life-force energy and vitality. In time, fatigue and apathy can take hold.

The growing emphasis on mental health in the media, and in the workplace, and in daily conversations, is invaluable. It’s a natural subject that’s been greatly suppressed. The stigma that’s built up around mental illness is a violation of common sense and decency. There’s no stigma in breaking a bone. On the contrary, a broken limb often brings sympathy and flowers – and chocolates if you’re lucky.

Much of the stigma that exists around depression, stress and anxiety has its origin in the First and Second World Wars. What’s called PTSD today was then labelled shell shock – trauma experienced by people who had witnessed exploding bombs or other atrocities. When men became too ill to serve, labels including ‘cowardice’ or ‘LMF’ were often attached to them. LMF? Lack of moral fibre.

Shame on those who came up with these labels. Film footage of the time shows men so traumatised they could barely stand or walk. Only those with a psychopathic attitude could conclude that these men were cowards.

What kind of people would we be if we could participate in, or be on the receiving end of, or witness any kind of traumatic event – murder, fighting, war, a serious accident – and emerge perky and upbeat? Should we be expected to take atrocities in our stride? Really think about that.

Post-traumatic stress is certainly not a disorder. It’s a natural outcome of a brutal experience that injures the psyche just as a knife wound damages the flesh.

In his memoire detailing his struggle to survive three years in Auschwitz, Dr Viktor Frankl said: ‘An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour.’ This statement is emphasised repeatedly in the study of understanding and healing trauma.

The ramifications of wartime labels, filtered down through the decades, are still felt today. The unspoken notion that being diagnosed with stress or depression is somehow code for being incapable or not up to the job was built on a false premise. This must change.

Depression, stress, and anxiety are not separate conditions. They overlap all the time. There’s no single cause. Contributing factors include a person’s environment, home life, workplace, life situations, lack of self-expression and often the perpetual feeling of simply existing rather than truly living.

As our personalities are multifaceted, so are the causes of depression, stress and anxiety. Nutritional deficiencies play a definite role. Yes, even in Jersey or a country like Britain, nutritional deficiencies are widespread. Highly processed foods provide an abundance of calories, but little or no nutrition. Many people are overfed but undernourished. Cost of living is a factor. Yet the richest countries often have the poorest diets due to the demand for convenience and processed snacks.

It’s widely thought that low serotonin causes depression, and increasing this chemical restores balance. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that regulates mood and quality of sleep, and appetite. Low serotonin inhibits quality sleep and lowers our mood. Modern antidepressants called SSRIs – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – are designed to make more serotonin available, thus improving mood. That’s the theory, at least. I’ve never taken antidepressants, so I don’t know from personal experience.

But I do know that nutrition can increase our serotonin level, and, as a first step, changes in the diet should be applied. Our body makes serotonin, but to do so we need to provide it with the necessary building blocks. The amino acid tryptophan is essential. We find it in chicken and fish, potatoes, bananas, chia seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds.

In addition, we need B vitamins and vitamin D – without these, tryptophan can’t produce serotonin. B vitamins are found in daily staples like oatmeal, lentils, beans, potatoes, green vegetables, various nuts and seeds, avocados, cottage cheese, tuna fish, chicken and turkey. In winter, taking a supplement of vitamin D3 is recommended – up to 800 international units daily.

Dietary changes that improve our daily nutrition can bring significant results quite quickly. And relationships that are supportive create better family units and workplace environments, and contribute to society as a whole. Kindness and compassion are strengths, not weaknesses.

  • Joanne Reid Rodrigues is the founder of Slimming Together and the creator of The Authentic Confidence Course. She is an author and therapist in nutrition and cognitive behavioural therapy. Joanne can be contacted at JoanneRR.com.

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