The Science of Self Care: Gut-Brain Axis – 5 Ways to Feel Better

Part IV – The Gut-Brain Axis: Five Ways to Feel Better

About the Author Megan S. Maisano, MS is health writer and Army veteran who specializes in nutrition communications and has a background in psychology. Her academic, professional, and personal experiences have convinced her that wellbeing doesn’t simply come from food, fitness, or mental health, but a peaceful balance between the three. (MS, Nutrition Communications Tufts University, BS, Psychology United States Military Academy)

We’ve made it to our final piece of this four-part blog series … and we’ve covered a lot of information. The final installment will discuss five ways you can foster your gut-brain axis to be as healthy as possible. In case you missed it, over the last few weeks we discussed:

  1. The mind-body health connection,
  2. How our gut acts as a “second brain” and what that means for our health, and
  3. The role of nutrition in gut health and mental health.

Now that we know more about the gut-brain axis — the relationship between our gut, brain, and general health — let’s explore a few things we might do to leverage t

hat connection and feel our best.  

1. Eat More of These

  • Healthy Fats—Our brain is nearly 60% fat.¹ It needs omega-3 fatty acids to support its structure and functioning. So, fill up on fish, walnuts, chia seeds, and flaxseed to ensure your brain performs its best.²⁻³
  • Plant Foods—Plants are full of compounds called phytochemicals. They have anti-inflammatory effects and may improve symptoms of depression. So, load up on vegetables, fruits, grains, nuts, and legumes to reap the benefits.⁴⁻⁵
  • Bugs—Put the grasshopper down … we’re talking about gut bugs, aka bacterial cultures, aka probiotics. These good bacteria have been linked to a healthier gut and possibly a happier mood. So, add fermented foods to your diet like yogurt, kefir, and cheese, or non-dairy options such as kimchi, sauerkraut, tempeh, and miso.⁶⁻⁸
  • Fiber—Fiber seems to be a B-list celebrity in nutrition news. However, it does some pretty incredible things. High-fiber  foods help lower cholesterol, manage weight, and keeps wet wipes in business. Fiber also acts as a prebiotic and feeds our gut bacteria – a key player in the gut-brain axis. So, nourish your gut bugs with prebiotic fiber foods like onions, garlic, oats, bananas, and asparagus.⁹⁻¹¹

2. Be Mindful of These

We don’t need no inflammation (insert Pink Floyd tune). Research shows that certain foods might cause inflammation when over-consumed. In our very first blog, we talked about how chronic inflammation confuses our immune system and is linked with poor gut health, mood disorders, anxiety, and fatigue. So, be mindful of common culprits such as red and processed meat, highly refined foods, and sweets since these can make us feel lousy both physically and mentally.¹²⁻¹⁵

3. Go Outside

Channel your inner Sheryl Crow. Research shows that simple exposure to nature can reduce stress and improve the health of your gut-brain axis.¹⁶⁻²⁰ Natural green space may affect our hormones and cognitive functioning. Additionally, sunlight helps us make vitamin D, a neurosteroid linked to depression when deficient.²¹⁻²² The de-stressing effect and exposure to outdoor microbes can boost gut health too.²³⁻²⁴ So, try to take more walks outside, explore local parks and arboretums, and enjoy picnics.

4. Get Moving

Channel your inner Bruce. Research shows that physical activity can directly and indirectly improve your mood. Increased blood flow directly affects our brain as well our HPA axis – a neuroendocrine system that influences our microbiome, mood, stress levels, and drive.²⁵⁻²⁷ Indirectly, it helps us forget about our troubles and boosts our energy, confidence, quality of sleep and sex life.²⁵⁻²⁶

No need to start marathon training, even small changes in your physical activity can make a difference in how you feel. Take the stairs, park in the back of the parking lot, take a walk during lunch breaks or when talking on the phone. If joining a gym is too costly or too intimidating, YouTube offers thousands of quality workout videos for a cost of free ninety-nine.

5. Commit to Your Crew

It’s easy to let relationships slip when you don’t feel well. But social support plays a major role in our overall health. Research shows that having a strong social network is associated with a longer life, improved mood, increased feelings of worth, and lower incidence of chronic disease.²⁸⁻³⁰ So, make an effort to stay connected with the people that bring value to your life. Schedule a weekly phone call or email to someone you care about; focus on both listening and sharing; try saying yes to more social events. Feeling supported and supporting others can feel pretty darn good.

The Bottom Line

Gut-Brain Axis GIFTaking care of yourself isn’t always easy — that’s why we’ve broken this series down into four parts. If you’re ready to take on some of these tips to improve the health of your gut-brain axis but aren’t sure where to start, take them on week-by-week, building the skills as you go along. This is a great way to see how you feel with each tip and asses the benefits for your own gut-brain axis.

It can be overwhelming to take on so much at once; if you are feeling so stuck in your depression, anxiety, PTSD or OCD that these suggestions feel impossibly out of reach, it might be time for mental health treatment with Actify. Our Patient Services team is available anytime, day or night, to provide you with more information about our compassionate and evidenced care options. Give us a call at 888-566-8774, or, if you’d prefer, send us an email.

Thanks for following along!

In this four-part blog series, The Science of Self Care, we discussed how taking care of your body can support your mental health—ultimately learning about the dynamic nature of the gut-brain axis. If you enjoyed reading these posts, let us know in the comments below. To keep up with our blog posts, mental health news and all things Actify, subscribe to our newsletter by entering your email address in the field at the top right of this page.

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