It's easy to forget that we are all perfect in our own design. Sometimes we muck it up with habits and choices that do not serve us.
While the physical pandemic has gained all the headlines, and people are coming out of lockdown with renewed optimism and energy, everyone needs to come out of the psychological pandemic that has gained much less publicity. What makes the emotional costs of this “parallel pandemic” worse is that it potentially affected everyone who was in lockdown.
Research shows that Americans have suffered emotionally during the pandemic, and you didn’t have to catch the virus to feel anxious or depressed. Both have dramatically increased around the world. No one can calculate the potential costs when mental health is so widely affected, but you can be part of the healing.
It’s an invaluable role for meeting an urgent need—needless to say, there aren’t enough professional therapists to fill the need, and there’s always the lingering hesitation even to admit that you or someone close to you is suffering emotionally. Shame and the fear of being seen as “not normal” are powerful inhibitors.
But being realistic is always better than being in denial. The parallel mental health pandemic that experts predicted at the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, is undoubtedly upon us.Depression rates are reported to be higher than before the pandemic, and for those who have survived COVID-19, a new study shows that survival carries a 33% chance of developing mental health conditions within six months.
As a nutritional psychiatrist, co-author Uma Naidoo understands why people have taken to stress eating, soothing themselves with an extra glass of wine and being attracted to comfort foods more than ever. While this dose of alcohol and food may have a soothing effect initially, it can worsen conditions like insomnia and anxiety. If consumption goes on mindlessly, the habit can quickly get out of hand.
This past year of increased isolation from loved ones, fear, uncertainty, the feeling of consistent bad news, and fewer options to be active has led many to make worse food choices including highly processed “comfort” foods, junk foods and fast food, which ultimately cause worse mental and metabolic health.
Mental health professionals are the front line of the parallel pandemic, but as an individual concerned with self-care, you can turn to measures recommended in nutritional psychiatry. It’s a field that few people know about, but the following program, using the acronym SLAY CORONA, is eye-opening and easy to follow at home.
SLAY CORONA program
Spice it up – Add turmeric with a pinch of black pepper to your tea, soup or smoothie to help boost mood and lower anxiety. Add fresh peppermint to tea or filtered ice water to help cut through brain fog.
Lots of water – Hydration is key. Dehydration is linked with depression and anxiety, both mental conditions that can stem from poor brain function and inflammation and conditions where hydration can help to improve symptoms.
All the vitamins and minerals – While vitamin C is important, getting your B’s, magnesium, iron folate and zinc are also key as all are critical for brain function and biochemical reactions that balance mood and anxiety.
Yes to the Japanese tradition of Shinrin-yoku (aka”Forest Bathing”) – Just 10 minutes in sunlight gives you 80% of the daily vitamin D you need which helps to improve mood and lower anxiety.
Colors of the rainbow – The biodiversity of healthy gut microbiota is linked to the biodiversity of our diet. Eat a variety of vegetables of different colors to convey positive polyphenol benefits to the brain and body.
Omega 3’s and other healthy fats – Studies show that omega 3’s help improve mood and ease anxiety. Add antioxidant and anti-inflammatory fats to your diet with sock-eye salmon, anchovies, chia, flax and hemp seeds.
Run, walk, jump – Move every day. Exercise has been shown to improve mood and ease anxiety. Do whatever movement works for you. Get up. Stretch. Take breaks from Zoom.
Omit processed foods – Junk foods, fast foods, added sugars, artificial sweeteners and processed vegetable oilsall worsen depression and anxiety and cause inflammation in the body and brain. Start to limit these in your diet.
Nourish your gut microbiome – A happy gut is a happy and calm mood. Eat fiber filled foods, prebiotic and fermented foods. Fiber feeds the gut microbes allowing them to function at the peak and fend off inflammation.
Add berries – Berries are rich in anthocyanins and other polyphenols. As powerful antioxidants they fend off oxidative stress in the body. Add plenty of blueberries, black raspberries and strawberries for their tremendous benefits.
The beauty of the SLAY CORONA program is that all of these choices will increase your well-being long after the pandemic has waned. Think of it as part of the reset that has been widely forecast as the world returns to a new normal and faces a very different future. No reset is more positive and beneficial, or as easy to adopt in everyone’s lifestyle.
Reprinted from San Francisco Chronicle with permission
Uma Naidoo, MD is a Harvard-trained nutritional psychiatrist, professional chef, and nutrition specialist, and the author of This is Your Brain on Food
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