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Monday, 27 August 2018 19:17

Nutrition and Your Mental Health

If you're like most people, you can identify certain "healthy" foods, but you are not sure why you should choose some foods over others. Regardless of your health history, it's important to eat a healthy diet of whole foods — primarily fruits, vegetables and lean meats. But understanding the impact certain foods have on your body is critical to managing mental health issues, particularly depression and anxiety.

Recently an area of study has emerged globally, called "nutritional psychiatry." It's a fancy term for the field of study aimed at the correlation between diet and mental health. While this area of study is relatively new to the scene, it is rapidly becoming a bigger topic of discussion because, by 2020, the Centers for Disease Control has projected depression will rank as the second-most common cause of disability.

Depression statistics from CDC

How Nutrition Affects Mental Health

In the last five years, researchers have publicized the results of several studies showing the link between what people eat and their mental health. While there is a growing interest in the impact of food for mental health wellness, the studies have focused explicitly on the importance of diet in depression and anxiety. And the results are notable.

For one thing, a healthy diet is important for brain development in both children and adults. Why? When a person eats something high in nutrients, their body converts those nutrients and uses them to fuel brain function. It enables the brain to transmit messages to other parts of the body for optimal functioning, and it can also help the brain stay strong and send signals to other parts of the brain. When someone is struggling with depression or anxiety, it becomes even more critical that their brain is functioning well. If they lack essential nutrients, their brain will not be able to work and send signals the way it should, and this will likely have a direct impact on their mood.

Healthy diet is important

At the other end of the body, healthy food has a huge impact on your gut, which is where your immune system lives. Not only does your body use this system of "good" bacteria to prevent disease and infection, but it is also designed to control inflammation and even generate B vitamins. Inflammation, in particular, has a direct impact on a person's mood and understanding of what's going on around them.

While there has been much study into this topic over the last several years, researchers still have a long way to go in truly understanding the connection between a healthy diet and mental health. Much of the early evidence has come from "observational studies," meaning the researchers collected data from observing how people were already living, and not from a study with controlled variables.

It will take some time to establish a fuller understanding of how diet affects mental health, but, for now, the message is clear: While good nutrition is important for everyone, it can be a vital tool for someone struggling with mental health issues because of its impact on the brain.

There are a number of foods that are high in nutrients that directly impact brain health, including the following nutrients:

1. B Vitamins

There are several different B vitamins, but one of the most important for brain function and health is B12. People who are low in B12 have higher levels of inflammation and often higher rates of depression. Low levels of folate, which is also one form of the vitamin B9, have also been connected with depressed moods.

2. Zinc

This mineral is vital because it helps the body control its stress levels. Because of this, the less zinc you have in your body, the higher risk you have of being negatively impacted by stress.

3. Iron

Iron deficiency, also known as anemia, has also been linked to depression.

4. Omega 3s

These are also called "fatty acids," but they are not a "fat" like we'd associate with butter or meat. Instead, they are powerhouse nutrients that have been shown to improve memory and brain function and may also play an essential role in your mood.

How to Eat a Well-Balanced Diet

This may seem like a lot to take in. After all, terms like "fatty acids," "anemia" and "folate" probably are not ones you use in daily life. And they certainly are not in the foods you eat. Or, are they?

The truth is, these essential nutrients are easy to find — if you know where to look.

Fresh fruits and veggies are essential

A healthy diet is more than just portion control or skipping dessert after meals. In this case, a healthy diet includes fresh fruits and veggies, whole grains, yogurt, seafood and lean meats, in moderation. It means avoiding added sugars and junk food, and using "healthy fats," such as olive oil, avocado and nuts. This type of eating is often called the "Mediterranean Diet" or "eating clean," although such labels can be confusing, since there are many variations on these terms and many weight-loss plans claiming to implement their principles.

We are not advocating a particular diet plan or weight loss of any kind. What we are talking about here is much more than a fad or a diet. We are talking about a lifestyle that has the potential to have a major impact on people's mental health.

What you eat matters.

The Benefits of Eating a Healthy, Well-Balanced Diet

Much of the significant research that supports the role of nutrition in mental health has been conducted on people who were simultaneously receiving treatment or taking medication for depression or anxiety. So, while nutrition has shown to be a valuable part of a treatment plan for depression and anxiety, it is just one component. An individual who is undergoing treatment for depression or anxiety needs to continue on a well-rounded treatment plan as determined by their doctor, which often also includes a combination of medication and therapy.

The reason it is important to understand the link between nutrition and mental health is that it has been a valuable addition to the treatment toolkit. It helps strengthen a person's mind and body to be able to process their medication better. When your body is receiving the proper nutrition it needs, it can receive medication more effectively. Not only that, but certain foods contain nutrients that improve mood and decrease feelings of depression by providing the proper nutrients to your brain. "Brain food" really is a thing!

Not only will eating the right foods help balance out your brain and body chemistry, but it is essential for someone who is coping with a mental health condition to learn how to care for themselves physically, as well as mentally. If you neglect your physical health, it will be harder to achieve real and lasting results in treatment for your mental health.

Physical health can impact mental health

In other words, medication works better when a person is eating healthy. But, as we mentioned before, nutrition is just one of several tools to incorporate into a successful treatment strategy. Besides a healthy diet, there are several other things you can do to strengthen the mind and body along with your treatment journey and even once you reach the end of your formal treatment plan.

1. Exercise

Exercise is a hugely important way to improve your physical and mental health. Not only does exercise release endorphins, or chemicals that promote a feeling of well-being, but it can also serve as a healthy outlet for your energy. The other excellent thing about exercise is that it is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to participate in your treatment actively.

Benefits of exercise

It can be empowering to know you are doing something that will help improve the condition of your mind and body. And, depending on what you are doing to get exercise, you may find it gives you the opportunity to become more social and interact with other people. When you take an exercise class or even walk through your neighborhood, you'll have more opportunities to greet and interact with others.

2. Sleep

It's no secret sleep troubles are often tangled in a complicated web. But, as part of your treatment plan, it is critical to work toward getting enough sleep on a nightly basis. Depending on your diagnosis, your treatment team may have prescribed sleep aids to help with this. Whether you are taking sleep medication or not, you can actively help set yourself up for better sleep. Reserve time at the end of your day to read a book or listen to soft music. Avoid late-night screen time, and put away your phone or computer because the LED screen can actively stimulate your brain, rather than preparing it to sleep. And, of course, avoid consuming caffeine late in the day so it will not disrupt your sleep.

Avoid late night screen time

3. Drink Water

Everyone knows it's important to drink water, but did you know if your body is habitually dehydrated, it could be contributing to your depression? That's right. Chronic dehydration can negatively impact serotonin levels — which affect your mood — as well as brain energy. It can also increase the stress in your body. If you are receiving treatment for depression and anxiety, it is vital to drink enough water each day to help improve your body and brain function.

Water is important for mental health

Foods for Mental Wellness

One thing we have not discussed in much detail is why the focus on nutrition seems to center on depression and anxiety. These two mental health conditions have the most research in understanding the link between nutrition and symptom control. However, that does not mean that those struggling with other mental health issues, such as bipolar disorder, may not benefit from eating a balanced diet as well. Anyone struggling with illness — mental or physical — should always consult with their doctor about nutrition and how to arrange their diet during treatment.

When it comes to food for mental health and wellness, it's essential to eat things that give you the most nutrients with a healthy number of calories. While there are many options out there, here are 10 foods that pack a nutritional punch.

1. Salmon

Just one serving of salmon will give you tons of vitamin D, potassium, protein, vitamin B and omega 3s. The omega 3s are especially good for brain health. And, as if all those nutrients weren't enough, salmon also contains tryptophan, which the body converts to serotonin. As we mentioned before, serotonin works inside the brain to regulate moods.

2. Broccoli

This one is good for both brain and gut health, thanks to its ample supply of vitamin C, potassium, folate and fiber. The first three are essential for good brain health, while fiber has huge benefits lower in the body. The fiber acts as something called a "prebiotic," which is essential for fostering good probiotic growth in the gut.

Broccoli benefits

It is incredible to realize what happens in your digestive tract can have a direct impact on what is going on in your brain! If you seem to have trouble eating fresh vegetables fast enough and they go bad, buying bags of frozen broccoli can be a good way to keep this important vegetable on hand.

3. Chia Seeds

Not only are chia seeds a huge source of omega 3s, but they also contain magnesium, potassium and calcium. All that in just one tablespoon of these little tiny seeds! Unlike sunflower seeds, you shouldn't eat them plain. Typically, people eat them in chia pudding, which is reminiscent of tapioca, or add them to smoothies or yogurt.

4. Liver

Yes, that's right. We said liver. Now, before you completely gloss over this one, hear us out. Liver is high in potassium, protein, selenium, zinc, iron, B6, B12, folate and niacin. And all of those are essential nutrients for mental health. So, if you are one of those people who likes liver and onions, then dig right in! If not, there are other ways to get the benefits of this. You can eat a liverwurst sandwich or pate on crackers and still get the same benefits. In fact, because liver is so high in B12, you'll only need a small amount once or twice a month to reap the benefits of this.

5. Spinach

Spinach is just one of several dark, leafy greens that have considerable benefits on mental health. There's also kale, collard greens, beet greens and chard, all of which are high in potassium, magnesium, iron, folate and calcium. They also contain omega 3s. Sometimes people balk at this because they picture eating spinach plain. But it is easy to incorporate these leafy greens into things you already love. For example, you can blend spinach or kale into a smoothie or add it to your favorite homemade soup recipe.

6. Yogurt

Yogurt is well-known for its probiotics, which are essential to good gut health. And, as we have said, good gut health is important. Different varieties of yogurt have different kinds of probiotics, so if you alternate which types of yogurt you eat, you'll get the benefits of each. Besides probiotics, yogurt is also an excellent source of potassium, calcium and B vitamins, including the all-important B12.

7. Eggs

These powerhouses are full of nutrition. Besides being one of a small group of food sources for vitamin D — the nutrient you get primarily from sunlight — they are also full of protein, B12 and, if they are pasture-raised eggs, omega 3s. While most people think of eggs as only a breakfast food, they are easy to incorporate into any meal.

8. Berries

Berries are proof good nutrition does not need to be complicated. These versatile, readily available foods can have incredible health benefits. Whether you choose strawberries, blueberries, raspberries or blackberries, you'll be consuming fruit full of antioxidants, vitamin C, potassium, fiber and important digestive enzymes. Berries are delightful plain or added to yogurt or smoothies.

Health benefits of berries

9. Oysters and Mussels

We've already established salmon is one seafood item that provides several important nutrients. But did you know oysters do, too? Just four ounces of oysters has more than five times the recommended daily amount of zinc. Besides that, they also contain B12, magnesium and calcium, as well as iron. Similar to oysters, mussels are also excellent for brain health because they provide high levels of selenium. Studies have shown a correlation between low selenium levels and increased risk of depression.

10. Brazil Nuts

Nuts, in general, have a range of nutritional properties. They contain vitamin E, tryptophan and magnesium. But the thing that sets the Brazil nut apart from the rest is its high selenium content. A serving of Brazil nuts has 125 percent of the suggested daily intake of this crucial nutrient. As we just stated, this mineral is vital in improving and maintaining several health conditions, including overall brain health and function.

Seek Help When You Need It

When you have a mental health issue, it can be tempting to try to cope on your own. Many people find they need professional help to treat a mental health disorder. As hard as it can be to ask, there is no shame in asking for help.

At Brookhaven Retreat, we provide comprehensive, individualized treatment for depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar disorder, trauma, addiction and more. What makes us unique is that we are a voluntary, private mental health treatment facility for women only. We understand the unique mental health challenges facing women and it is our goal to provide a safe and secure environment for women to confront these issues and heal.

If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, anxiety or another mental health issue, we hope you will have the courage to seek help. For more information about Brookhaven Retreat and how we can help you change your life and take back your future, contact us today.

Contact Brookhaven Retreat Now

Published in Brookhaven Blog

Borderline personality disorder is a mental illness that can take a toll on personal relationships. If you have BPD, then you know how the instability caused by the disorder can impact your life. Constantly shifting moods, dramatic changes in how you perceive yourself and erratic behavior make it difficult for those with BPD to form healthy bonds with others. This is especially true when it comes to building romantic attachments.

BPD distorts the line between reality and psychosis, making the world a perilous place. Relationships that build quickly and intensely can devolve into pain, fear of abandonment and feelings of rejection. It's not completely clear what causes BPD, but it's believed that those who have endured an abusive childhood, neglect and abandonment may be at risk.

If you or a loved one has borderline personality disorder, it's important to understand the implications this illness could have on your personal relationships. You should also know that you are not alone. BPD is not a life sentence, and treatment is available.

Ways BPD Can Affect Relationships

Building healthy relationships is possible, even for those with borderline personality disorder. But first, it's important to understand how the disease can impact relational bonds. By learning and understanding how BPD affects both those who struggle with it and their loved ones, you can be aware of common dilemmas that many with BPD encounter with close personal relationships:

  1. A desire for codependency: Although relying on others is not wrong in a personal relationship, those with BPD struggle with codependency. This is when one person relies heavily on the other in the relationship to meet the majority of their desires and needs. Those with BPD can even derive their self-worth based on how much the other person is doing for them. This can cause their partner to become burned out and exhausted.
  2. Testing boundaries: Boundaries are healthy in any relationship. But those with borderline personality disorder may have a hard time understanding and respecting these. When they encounter a personal boundary, they may try to push its limits. This could include taking cash from a loved one without asking, calling at all hours or asking questions that are inappropriate.
  3. Splitting: Most people understand shades of gray and taking the good with the bad, but those with BPD struggle with this concept. For that reason, their relationships with others can fluctuate between perceiving someone as entirely good and switching quickly to thinking they're entirely evil. Their judgment is black-and-white. This could mean they are head over heels in love with someone one minute, and then on a dime, those feelings switch to intense anger. All memories of past good become tainted.
  4. Manipulation: The intense need for others in those with BPD is coupled with a fear of being dominated by them. To walk this tightrope, some people with the disorder may resort to controlling their relationships by using manipulation. One moment they could be inducing their loved one with flattery, and the next, they could be baiting them to become angry and lash out. It can even take a vindictive tone by using words or silence to punish others.
  5. Self-harming or suicidal behavior and threats: The psychological pain experienced by many with BPD is often unbearable. It can be difficult dealing with the roller coaster of feelings and perceptions. Some people with the illness use self-harm as a means to cope with this emotional pain.

Treatment Is Available For BPD

Although it may be difficult, there is hope for those struggling with borderline personality disorder and their loved ones. It may require patience, but with specialized treatment, BPD sufferers can find relief. Common treatment options for BPD include individual therapy sessions, group therapy, medication and learning to develop healthy habits and boundaries in their personal relationships.

If you are married or romantically involved with someone with BPD, remember that this is an illness. Healthy boundaries will protect you and them, but they also need to know they're loved and cared about. It may be a good idea to seek help for yourself so that you can learn how to cope as well.

If you or a loved one has borderline personality disorder, we invite you to contact Brookhaven Retreat, a women-only facility offering compassionate care to those who struggle with mental health disorders. We're here to help you break the negative patterns that BPD has caused and move forward with a healthier life.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Thursday, 09 August 2018 11:51

Psychological Effects of Divorce on Women

A divorce is an event that leaves a couple's lives permanently altered. Some of the changes are positive, bringing a deep sense of relief. However, women, especially, often experience a severe psychological and emotional toll.

Whether their lives change for better or for worse, it's extremely common for women to struggle with emotional trauma after divorce. This could include feelings of failure, sadness and loneliness, and oftentimes, women even struggle with depression or anxiety.

If these feelings seem to overwhelm you, remember, you are not alone. We will discuss some of the common psychological effects of divorce and how you can find the help you need to move forward with your life.

Psychological and Emotional Effects of Divorce

Divorce impacts women in significant ways. Not only does it involve a huge adjustment to the way you live your everyday life, but most women experience strong psychological side effects. These are completely normal, and you should never feel that just because you're struggling emotionally that you are not coping with the divorce.

Some of the most common psychological and emotional effects experienced by women after a divorce include:

  • Grief: Divorce is not completely unlike experiencing a death. The loss of this important relationship is a significant event, and many women go through some or all of the stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining and depression before they can come to a place of acceptance. People react to loss in different ways, so not every woman experiences all these stages or in this order. But it's okay to grieve the loss of your marriage.
  • Guilt: This is an extremely common feeling many women who go through a divorce experience. Whether you initiated it or not, you could feel at fault for not working harder to make the marriage work, especially if you have children.
  • Rejection and isolation: Whether real or perceived, many women feel rejected by their social group. Maybe you're embarrassed about the divorce, and you don't know how to discuss your feelings or fears. Some women endure alienation from those who didn't approve of the divorce and lose their support network. Whether truly rejected or not, these situations could cause you to withdraw and isolate yourself.

Depression and Anxiety After Divorce

The devastation and uncertainty that accompany divorce can give rise to both depression and anxiety. Whether or not you have a previous history with these mental health issues, the severe stress of divorce can cause overwhelming feelings that are often hard to deal with. These psychological disorders can take many forms, but you should be aware of the signs and symptoms that accompany them so that you can seek help from a mental health professional if needed.

Signs and Symptoms of Depression After Divorce

A deep sense of sadness is common after going through a divorce. After all, the future you imagined and hoped for is suddenly gone. If these feelings of unhappiness persist, though, you may be struggling with depression. Studies indicate that women are more likely to experience depression sometime in the three years following their divorce.

Some signs that could suggest you have depression include:

  • Low self-esteem and feeling worthless
  • Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of appetite or overeating
  • Insomnia or excessive sleeping
  • Thoughts of suicide

Signs and Symptoms of Anxiety After Divorce

When the future is uncertain, and your security is in doubt, feelings of anxiety are normal. Divorce brings about many changes and problems that women have to confront, especially for those who relied on the financial support of their spouse. You're now faced with the sole responsibility of figuring everything out for yourself and your family. It's no wonder that some women develop anxiety symptoms after their divorce.

Some indicators of anxiety include:

  • Panic attacks
  • Sweats or chills
  • Chest pain
  • Shaking
  • Tingling or numbness in extremities
  • Nausea or abdominal issues
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy

It's Okay to Ask for Help

If you've been severely impacted by your divorce, don't try to cope alone. It's okay to ask for help. Brookhaven Retreat is a women's only facility located in the foothills of Tennessee's Smoky Mountains. Our private and discreet facility provides a safe environment for you to come to terms with the psychological and emotional effects of your marriage ending and recover.

We invite you to contact us today to find out how we can help you heal during this difficult time.

Published in Brookhaven Blog
Monday, 06 August 2018 11:38

How to Break a Bad Habit

Everyone at one point or another will deal with bad habits. For example, not making your bed in the morning when you rush to work or nail-biting. However, bad habits do not define you as a person. You can change bad habits and become the person you desire to be with a little extra effort and awareness.

How Do Bad Habits Form?

Bad habits form from patterns we make when we are on autopilot. They become routines encouraged by the reward of feeling good, like the feeling of eating ice cream. You know it isn't healthy, but it initially makes you happy. It's important to stop bad habits before they become even more ingrained in us, becoming harder to break.

7 Steps to Break Bad Habits

1. Define Specific Habits You Want to Break

Kick start your journey by defining clear habits you want to stop. You may find brainstorming a list to be helpful and then identify your top priorities. These should be specific and doable items. Wanting to be more healthy is great, but it's a broad goal, whereas only eating out twice a month is specific and trackable. Think simple and doable! Do not set your expectations too high at first: start slow.

2. Identify Triggers

Many bad habits form in reaction to triggers. Often these can range from stress or life changes to seeing junk food in the fridge. Identifying these triggers will allow you to be more aware of your bad habits and ask your self "what's going on to cause this?" It is not easy, but taking this step will drastically help you avoid living your life in autopilot mode.

3. Create a Plan

There is no need for you to tackle all of your bad habits all at once. Rome was not built in a day! Take steps one at a time and create a plan - either in your head or on paper - that does not entirely get rid of your junk food eating, for example, but puts in place simple actions for you to substitute your breakfast burrito with a bowl of oatmeal and fruit. Be specific. What actions can you take to reach your goal and change a bad habit?

4. Deal with Triggers

With your plan of action, you can begin dealing with your triggers. This will look different for everyone. For some, this may mean counting to 10 and taking some deep breaths when stressed. For others, it may mean directing anxious energy into listening to music or exercise instead of into nail-biting or excessive alcohol consumption.

5. Use Reminders

Setting a daily alarm to check in with yourself about your stress level or meal-prepping healthy snacks for the work week ahead is much easier than relying on your memory. These simple reminders will propel you on your journey to breaking bad habits.

6. Have Support and Rewards

Everyone needs support, so get a friend to help you along the way, whether they are someone you can call or someone who may even be struggling with the same bad habit. In addition, give yourself incentives for hard work, like a trip to the movies after every five days of sticking with your exercise routine.

7. Be Patient with Yourself

You would not criticize a friend for making mistakes, so don't expect perfection in yourself. Stopping bad habits takes time. Be kind to yourself and you will see progress!

When It's More Than a Bad Habit

Mental health disorders, such as depression and anxiety, are more than just bad habits and often require professional intervention for effective recovery. If you or a loved one suffer from a mental health disorder, don't be afraid to ask for help.

Brookhaven Retreat is a women-only mental health treatment center that offers customized treatment programs for women affected by depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. Contact us today to learn more about our residential treatment programs and begin your journey of healing.

Published in Brookhaven Blog