Anxiety and depression have become a part of everyday life as Americans. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older every year. From the year 1999 until 2014, there has been a 65% increase in the amount of those individuals using anti-depressants. These are shocking statistics and raise a few questions. Why is anxiety so prominent? Why are so many people using anti-depressants? Does western medicine really help these individuals in the long run?
There are many factors that go into mental health issues in our society. Serotonin (the feel-good hormone) that many people associate only with the brain, is mostly produced in your gut. Anti-depression medication target serotonin to try to increase its circulation in the brain, because if you do not have enough, you get an uncontrollable anxious and depressed feeling. What many people don’t realize is that most people suffering from anxiety and depression, also have major gut issues (digestive issues, inflammation etc.). This is due to the fact that many of us eat a diet high in processed sugar and fats for the majority of our diets. Even people who eat “healthy” sometimes have gut issues because they don’t know that they have an intolerance to something like dairy products or gluten. These things all have a direct impact on your gut and will also affect your brain. Eating whole unprocessed foods are going to be your best bet for having a healthy gut because they will provide you with a variety of healthy bacteria you wouldn’t otherwise get with processed, artificial foods that can destroy healthy gut bacteria. Everyone talks about how when you eat better foods, you feel so much better. This is your gut producing serotonin and relaying the feel-good hormone to your brain.
Exercise and movement is another thing most people don’t do consistently in our society that can impact our mental health. Many people have a poor relationship with exercise and feel that to achieve a great looking body, or earn a dozen donuts they must kill themselves in the gym every day. In reality, this is not the case and why you see so many people who are depressed just take the easier route of anxiety medication. Many medical doctors just want to keep people coming back, so they prescribe addictive drugs to mask the underlying problems of anxiety. Obviously, there are people that are exercising properly, and eating a nutritious diet who may still have mental health issues and need medication. But evaluating your relationship with food and exercise will ultimately be a healthier and more sustainable lifestyle choice in the long run. When you decide to pursue changing your habits of eating and exercising, it can have a profound effect on your mental health. Exercising with weights with appropriate intensity (not beast mode every single day) will release the feel-good hormones in your brain. You will also get this effect from just simply walking and moving more often. When you increase activity, you feel better. The cool thing about resistance training is that, if you’re properly phasing in and out of certain modalities, your body also tends to change for the better (not to mention increased metabolism and improved health markers like blood sugar and blood pressure). This is especially noticeable when you are also taking care of your gut by eating nutritious foods. The result is having a lower body fat and looking better than you ever have. When you look in the mirror, you are confident with the body you have and feel good about yourself. Chasing only looks will only get you so far. If instead you chase optimal health, your physical health will follow suit.
Realizing that mental health and physical health mirror each other is extremely important in order to be happy and optimize how you feel on a daily basis. If you neglect one, the other will ultimately be hindered and could potentially lead to increased anxiety, or even signs of depression. Knowing that both are important for one another is the key to having a life where you are aware of anxiety. Everyone is going to have times where they experience signs of anxiety in our culture. Our society is very overstimulated with the number of hours we work, and how we are always plugged in with social media. Recognizing that we can help combat these triggers with the food we put in our body, and the exercise we regularly do can help us lower the rate of people turning to drugs to mask their anxiety.
Study on gut microbiome and its effect on health:
Study on exercise improving mental health: