It has long been said that the human body is so complex that it would be impossible to create it from scratch. Everything is designed to work in perfect harmony, every muscle and ligament, every nerve and synapse, everything down to the way that the body extracts vitamins and minerals from food in order to keep itself working at a premium.
While we are all aware of how having a well-balanced diet can help us feel our best, it is also important to not underestimate what happens when our bodies are not getting the nutrients that they need. In this article we are going to have a very brief look at the most common deficiencies that can make us feel less than our best and how the symptoms can often manifest in ways that affect our mental wellbeing.
One of the main culprits of feeling extreme exhaustion is a deficiency in iron. This mineral is present in our blood and is concerned with our red blood cells- the part of the blood which carries oxygen around the body. A significant decrease in blood oxygen levels can make us feel cold, jittery, weak, persistently tired and headachy, many of the symptoms of which can overlap with depression and generalised anxiety. Those on a vegan or vegetarian diet can sometimes find themselves with anaemia- which occurs when there is a lack of healthy red blood cells- as a result of not enough dietary iron, though this problem is not always restricted to non-meat eaters.
B12 is another vitamin often associated with veganism and those following a vegan diet are commonly warned of the risks of not getting enough as it is usually derived from red meat and eggs. Many vegan milks and similar products however are fortified with B12 and so strangely vegans are not always the ones who fall victim to this deficiency, purely as they are generally more aware of how much they are getting and often use products that have it added in.
A deficiency or a level in the body that is even borderline deficient in B12 can manifest in very low energy, low mood, limb numbness, trouble with balance, cognitive difficulties and an extreme physical lethargy. In other words, it can often present very much like some of the symptoms of depression, M.E or chronic fatigue. Some people describe feeling as though they are underwater, others with a feeling of helplessness as life feels impossibly exhausting and they find even basic tasks hard to tackle.
Vitamin D, the so-called ‘sunshine vitamin’ is another which when we don’t have enough of, can make us feel more tired than usual, cause respiratory issues and make our bones and muscles weak. While the amount we generally need to keep us feeling strong and healthy is around a mere 20 minutes of direct sunlight a day, many of us are managing to not get even that minimal amount. When we consider that a vast number of us now work either from home or in an office environment, often travelling by car to get there, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that it is easy to spend a whole day without being in direct sunlight. Repeat this on a regular basis and there is a risk of your vit d levels dropping dramatically.
While luckily many of us are now much more clued up about the signs and symptoms of mental health it is important to first eliminate the physical side of things when we are feeling out of sorts. A simple blood test either from your GP or via a self-testing kit such as those at Holland and Barrett can help rule out a biological problem. Deficiencies can usually be easily fixed with supplementation, diet and lifestyle adjustments and in the more extreme cases a simple series of injections. The changes from adjusting vitamin levels can have a fast and very profound effect and are well worth exploring if you suspect you are feeling the symptoms of poor mental health because of your diet.
If you feel however that your mood is not related to diet or deficiencies there is also a chance that it is your mental health that needs attending to. If you feel this may be the case why not make an appointment with The Henry Centre where a professional counsellor can help you explore where this lethargy and low mood is coming from.
For most young people the first brush they have with overwhelming anxiety is around exam season and the lead up to it. Often teachers will begin to reinforce the importance of GCSEs or A-levels a full year before they are set to commence and that pressure can be mirrored at home where parents and family members remind them that they need to do well in order to get to the next academic stage. This extra worry, stacked ontop of usual teenage stress can cause a tinder box of emotion, where merely the thought of an exam or revision can send a young person into panic mode.
It is not uncommon to hear around the exam lead up of teens struggling to sleep properly, finding themselves unable to focus on work, feeling clouded with a sense of dread or experiencing panic attacks for the first time. Being bombarded with all these intense emotions can feel really scary and in a time where this young person already feels a bit out of control, the idea of not being in control of your own body or mind can feel really frightening.
As an adult onlooker it can often be hard to remember quite how difficult this time is for young people and easy to forget that we know what life is like post exam results, whether they were good or not. Education is also often portrayed as a formulaic, linear process where we meet one requirement in order to continue onto the next stage. In times where GCSEs or A Levels are looming it can feel as though if you don’t meet the mark you need all will be lost.
The cultures within family structures can also add a lot of pressure when it comes to exams, whether you are part of a gifted family or you are the first one aiming to get to uni, the expectation of parents, siblings and the wider family can play a huge part. It is important to remember that all is not lost if you dont meet the grades you are expecting or aiming towards. Although it is a pain, there is always the possibility of redoing most things in life- exams included.
Sometimes there is a sense that we should never be stressed and that in order to have good mental health we should feel happy and relaxed all the time and that if we are feeling worried then we are somehow broken. It is worth remembering that once exams are over (or if you are particularly anxious, and the results are back) the feelings of being acutely stressed will subside. One of the few things that is good about exam related stress is that it is time limited and once the work is over you can relax a bit. In times of really heightened emotion it can be useful to remember that these feelings will pass, even if at the time they feel like they won’t! It is also important to understand that almost everyone gets overwhelmed when they have exams or tests and there is nothing wrong with you for feeling the same way.
In the midst of exam season, make sure you manage your time and take regular breaks, move away from your work space when not working and allow yourself proper down time when not revising. If it is possible, have a dedicated place to work away from your room or even your house so that you can properly switch off when the revision stops. Taking care of basic functions should also not be overlooked, getting enough nutrition, sleep and exercise becomes all the more important when you are feeling overwhelmed.
However, if you feel that you are finding exams particularly difficult to cope with or have a young person in your life who is really struggling, now may be a time to reach out and find some help.
At The Henry Centre in Southend we have a number of therapists trained to work with children and young adults who will be able to provide an outlet to explore how their client is feeling and how best to cope in this heightened time. Why not get in touch today and see if talk therapy would be beneficial to you
Those who are an old hand at complementary therapies such as yoga or meditation will be well acquainted with mentions of the exotic sounding parasympathetic nervous system. In brief, this is the part of the nervous system- the nerve network that affects all our bodily functions- which is concerned with the so called ‘rest and digest’ actions in the body. It is the part of the nervous system which works in conjunction with the sympathetic nervous system, which takes care of the more active ‘fight or flight’ type responses. These two parts work together to carry us effectively through stressful times, allowing us to activate our need to react quickly to situations and then calm ourselves down again after.
While we are naturally always seeking to find equilibrium, with the two parts of the nervous system working together to make sure that we are not stuck in either of these flight or flight, or digest and rest modes for too long, sometimes we can get stuck. In times of consistent high levels of stress our nervous system can get locked in to staying in a heightened state and it is in these instances that it can be hard to then get away from this panicked feeling. Being able to activate the parasympathetic nervous system in times like this can help calm both the body and brain down quickly and help restore a sense of peace.
It is interesting to note that in general there is a huge societal push to overcome this very important need to rest and restore. You only need to take a quick glance in a bookshops self help section to notice that a lot of it is aimed at showing us how to get the most out of every waking second, how to maximise our skills and how to hone productive habits. This idea of working at full capacity and powering through stressful times is not often sustainable and keeping yourself in such a heightened state can often result in a huge crash later on.
It is therefore important to relearn how to harness the power of slowing down and to be more in tune with when your body and mind need to rest. Using simple techniques such as mindful breathing, journaling and slow meditative movement such as yin yoga can make a real difference when you are feeling overwhelmed. Being in touch with nature has also had proven positive effects on the parasympathetic nervous system; stroking a pet, watching the birds or going for a walk in a green space can all help regulate your energy levels. A lot of these techniques can feel a little elaborate when you are in the moment but even just standing outside and breathing 10 deep breaths into your belly can help bring your parasympathetic nervous system into play and give you a sense of control over the stressful situation you are grappling with. And the great news is that the more you practise activating this part of the nervous system, the quicker you will be able to utilise it and use it intuitively.
If you feel however that you are suffering symptoms of being overstimulated on a regular basis and are finding it hard to regulate your mood and emotions, why not get in touch with a mental health professional who will be able to guide you through figuring out what is keeping you in this high state of stress. Here at The Henry Centre, Southend we have a number of highly qualified counsellors and psychotherapists who have the skills to help you work through what is going on in your life at the moment and try to discover the root cause as to what is stopping you feeling at your best.