The 3 Pound Overlord

Through my struggles with mental health issues, I’ve learned that the brain is probably the most important organ we have. Not only is it responsible for the way we think and feel, but it is also responsible for our behaviours.

If your brain is not working to its full capacity, or at least if your brain is not healthy, then your thoughts, feelings and behaviours will follow in unhealthy ways.

I understand this on an experiential level, as I’ve witnessed in my own mind the manifestation of self defeating thoughts, of excessively painful and uncontrollable feelings and the development of counter-productive behaviours and habits that have been a detriment to my health and my life.

Its fair to say that our brains are the leaders of the pack and its health will impact the health of every other organ in your body – this is its impact on your physiology.

Not only can it impact the health of your other organs in the body, but it can also impact the health of your relationships, your career and your spiritual life – this is its impact on your psychology.

The brain plays an integral role in your physical health and your psychological well-being and if we don’t have these two things, then we undermine the health everything else. This is why I’ve decided to go all chips in on my brain and mind. I feel like if I can get that right, then I can start to get other things right because it all starts in there in the brain.

I feel like I still have a long journey ahead before I can realise the type of mental and brain health that I am looking for. But the process is fascinating and fulfilling simply because I understand the scale to which this organ has rein over everything else in my life.

Everything we do is governed by this complex 3 pound object encased within our skulls. It influences the way the economy runs, how consumers make buying decisions, how we react to major world events, how we start wars, how we form meaningful relationships and how we each find our purpose in life.

Its where everything starts and where everything finishes – this is the power of the brain and mind.

Life As A Student During A Global Pandemic

There are both positives and negatives that come with the new university arrangements at the moment – an online environment as a result of the pandemic.

Lectures and tutorials are now all available online.

During the years of studying business as a much younger student, I remember always feeling guilty about the fact that I never went to lectures.

These lectures usually consisted of an hours commute to Wollongong to sit in a lecture hall with hundreds of other students for about 3 hours, while you listened to a lecturer speak. It was in my final year where I decided I may need to attend lectures so that I could feel more confident come exam time. I quickly threw those plans out the window after an attempt of attending a 3 hour lecture in which I may as well have stayed in bed for.

My attention span is about a few minutes long when I’m listening to something I’m interested in, and about 10 seconds flat when it’s something I’m not interested in – this is not a joke.

I attended all of about 2 lectures in a 3 year degree because I wasn’t capable of keeping focus, so I just never bothered. At the time I put it down to laziness, but it was never laziness, it was just a lack of interest.

And even if I could maintain focus for some of the lecture, I was almost always guaranteed to lose about 2.5/3 hours of valuable information that came from the lecturers mouth. So, I chose to stay in bed.

My marks were never great as a result, although I did manage to pull off a few good marks in my final years, as I doubled down on self teaching. Still though, not a very effective way to learn.

With this new arrangement, there is no more commuting an hour each way to sit in a hall full of yawning individuals while we listen to someone read off a bunch of PowerPoint slides.

Everything is now recorded and posted online for you to consume at your own pace. The problem I found with the old style of lectures was, if your brain didn’t want to work during those 3 hours of lecture, it meant you lose valuable content and you don’t get it back.

Now, we don’t have that problem. You decide when you want to tune in, when you feel your brain is most up to it. In regards to time efficiency, there is no doubt this is better.

I do however miss being on campus, especially in the case of tutorials – smaller classes with more face to face interaction with a teacher. These were valuable moments throughout your semester, and not having face to face access with a teacher where you can touch base once a week is difficult, although the uni is doing a good job at compensating for this with weekly consultations.

There are both positives and negatives here, and it is hard to measure and compare my performances from back in the day (Pre-COVID), to now.

However, I will say that I saw this coming. It was only a matter of time before everything went digital, and this applies to everything from corporate work to Telehealth.

Universities have been uploading content on the web for quite some time now, and more of it is becoming free of charge.

One of the worlds top ranked universities in the US – MIT, upload courses on their website in which people have sat and completed and have been offered jobs as a result by big companies like Google and Microsoft.

If we are now able to sit full university courses online without even attending that uni, it makes me wonder what else is to come.

Free tertiary education for all?
A reduction in university costs?
The collapse of certain educational institutions?

I suppose only time will tell.

The Surprising Link Between Blood Flow & Your Mental Health

I like to consider the brain to be similar to a computer. Our psychology is the software program that runs and produces our thoughts, emotions and behaviors. However, in order to have the output of the software, we require the mechanics of the hardware – this is the physiology of the brain; the electrical activity, the blood flow and the distributions of neurotransmitters from one neuron to the other.

So then, when addressing mental health it is also necessary to address brain health, as the two are interchangeable. The health of the hardware is going to directly influence how the software works. In order to have healthy thoughts, feelings and engage in healthy behaviors, its important that we consider the health of the thing that is responsible for the manifestation of these things – the brain.

Blood flow is a huge factor to consider when looking at ways to promote brain health. Studies suggest that cardiovascular health is linked to many mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, ADHD and schizophrenia. People who are diagnosed with these mental health disorders are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular health issues.

This may explain why a lack of blood flow in certain regions of the brain are symptomatic of many of these mental illnesses listed above. In a state of decreased blood flow to the prefrontal cortex, the condition of hypofrontality is a prime example of this neuro-cardiovascular connection.

As such, when approaching the health of one’s mind, the health of brain must be taken into heavy consideration. The biology is just as important as the psychology. Changing your physiology will help spark changes in your psychology.

Neurohormones – The Thyroid-Brain Connection

My mechanic once said, “don’t neglect a single part of the car, because when there is a problem with one part, it will start to cause issues with all the other parts and before you know it, you will have a broken down car that doesn’t work properly”.  I didn’t know it at the time, but that single piece of advice would change the way I look at the brain and body.  The human body works synergistically and collectively, and we can’t expect healthy functioning when we just focus on one part without taking into consideration its impact on all other parts.

This brings me to the topic of neurohormones – the interaction between your hormonal glands and the brain.

Hormones are the chemical messengers produced in the body and they control the activity of our cells and organs. When our hormones are out of balance, they can have an impact on our levels of energy and our moods.  In the case of mental illness, hormones are known to impact all of the mood disorders, including; bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.

There is a direct communication system between the brain and the organs that produce such hormones as; thyroid, cortisol, estragon, testosterone and insulin.  Communication between the brain and your hormone producing glands goes both ways.  The brain will send out signals to the glands, instructing them to produce certain hormones, and these hormones from the body will send messages back to the brain, influencing its activity.

One of the glands that has tight relations with the brain is the thyroid gland.  The thyroid is located in your lower neck and it plays an important role in keeping the brain and body in good shape.  When thyroid activity is low, brain activity is low. Low thyroid activity is commonly known as hypothyroidism, and can be associated with depression and brain fog.

The thyroid is responsible for creating various hormones such as; thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), T3 and T4.  These are some of the most influential hormones in your body and they regulate how your body uses its energy. 

The interesting thing about these hormones is, not only do they regulate the distribution of energy in your body, but they are also responsible for the production of many neurotransmitters such as; dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid – that is huge considering neurochemicals like dopamine and serotonin are the ones responsible for our moods.  This just gives you a clear picture as to how vital the health of this gland is for your mental health. 

Problems occur when the thyroid produces either too much hormone, or too little.  That’s when thyroid conditions like hypothyroidism can become confused with psychiatric disorders, and this increases your risk of mental and brain health issues, significantly.  It’s thought that psychiatric disorders such as depression can actually be one of the first signs of thyroid dysfunction.

Okay, so we have now established the importance of the thyroid gland for our mental and brain health.  Now, what can we do to protect this vital organ?

– Check for your iron and zinc levels.  Deficiencies in iron and zinc have been associated with hypothyroidism – low production of hormones. (My GP told me that there is only one place in Sydney that does zinc checks and it can be quite costly, but still may be worth it for the sake of your thyroid and brain health. I plan to get my zinc levels checked soon). 

– Watch your weight by working out and eating clean. From the 2013 European Journal of Endocrinology, there are studies that link obesity to thyroid cancer. Once thyroid cancer occurs, there becomes a significantly greater risk of mental and brain health issues – Thyroid cancer can quite easily lead to anxiety and depression.  Working out can also help boost the production of the hormones necessary for health bodily and brain function. 

-Other vitamins include; Vitamin D, Selenium and Vitamin B12.  Low levels of Vitamin D has been linked to hypothyroidism – which is associated with low hormone activity. 

If the brain were like a computer, consisting of both the hardware and the software, our brains are like the desktop computer system and our minds are like the Microsoft windows program.  If you are having issues with your computer, you might decide to address these issues at the level of the software.  This would be the equivalent to seeking therapy for your psychological issues.  This is an effective way to deal with problems that are occurring on the mental and emotional level.  However, we must not fail to forget that the mind is created from the brain.  Just how we need the desktop computer in order to use Microsoft windows, we need things like neurotransmitters, electrical activity and healthy hormone levels in order to be able to use our minds.  Try then to consider your biology when you address things like your mental health.  Hormonal health is a prime example of why it’s important to factor in your biology when addressing your psychology.

Serotonin – About The Happy Chemical

Along with many other neurotransmitters like endorphins and and dopamine, the level of serotonin that is created by your brain and body is important for mood, sleep, appetite and social engagement.

Interestingly enough, it seems as though this neurotransmitter isn’t only produced in the brain, but also in the gut. This particular neurotransmitter is what promotes those feelings of happiness and well being within us, and many conditions like anxiety and depression are found to be associated with low levels of this neurotransmitter.

Some ways in which we can naturally release some of this serotonin;

🤸‍♂️ Exercise – Research suggests that positive mood in people is a high indicator of physical health. Getting exercise boosts serotonin in the brain, with some studies finding that it can be just as effective as serotonin enhancing medications, such as SSRIs.

🦠 Probiotics – Most of the serotonin produced in your body is from the gut. Probiotics are microorganisms that live within your gut and serve as a benefit to things like digestive health, reducing depression and protecting your immune system. Yoghurts, kombucha, pickles, miso and kefir are just a few food products that contain probiotics that can serve your gut well, particularly in the case of serotonin production.

🍏 The natural amino acid building block for serotonin is called tryptophan. A healthy source of this amino acid can be found in foods such as chicken, eggs, beans and pumpkin seeds.

💊 Natural supplements such as vitamins B6, B12, and folate, as well as concentrates of saffron, can help support healthy serotonin levels.

I have been taking SSRI medication for many years now, and I would like to think that one day I can go without them. The worrying thing for me is, after many years of use, they can start to change the brain in such a way that it can be extremely difficult to reverse this dependency.

However, with the right lifestyle choices, there are ways in which people with low levels of serotonin can increase these levels without the use of medicine. This shines a new light on mental illness and how professionals are finding new ways to approach some of these more pressing issues around the human brain and mind.

Are You Fitspired Yet?

Fitspirational?

What is ‘fitspiration’, anyway?

As defined in a published paper by Tiggermann M & Zaccardo M (2015) titled, ‘Exercise to be fit, not skinny: the effect of fitspiration imagery on women’s body image’ – fitspiration is an online trend designed to inspire viewers to adopt healthier lifestyle habits by promoting exercise and diet.

We’ve all seen it before – the hot fitness model shedding their skin with the occasional raunchy photo of their half naked body; those wash board abs, or that big booty with the caption “squat life”. Perhaps, I have fallen short of this label according to the photo of me below. This image would be quite the contrary to what it means to be “fitspiring”.

To be truly “fitspiring”, one is usually seen displaying sex appeal and peak fitness. That would be sure to sell you the idea of a healthy lifestyle, right?

This all sounds swell in theory, but what does the research have to say about the effects that exposure to these images have on one’s self-esteem and mood?

Researchers gathered a sample of women between the ages of 17-30 from Flinder’s University in Adelaide to test what sort of effect exposure to “fitspiring” images viewed on Instagram had on the women’s levels of self-esteem, their mood and their own body satisfaction.

Results showed that while being exposed to “fitspirational” imagery on Instagram did in fact inspire these women to adopt healthier eating and exercise habits, there was a significant decline in their mood and an increase in body dissatisfaction after this exposure. And even though results found that these “fitspiring” images did their job at inspiring the women to adopt healthier habits, it wasn’t a guarantee that these women would translate that inspiration into actual behavior change.

So, the results were very inconclusive. There were both negatives and positives found in relation to the sexy imagery you see every day on your Insta feed. Yes, it may be inspiring you to make those changes you have always been meaning to make for the sake of your health and body satisfaction, but how much of this is contributing to your negative moods?

In reference to the ‘Social Comparison Theory’, proposed by psychologist, Leon Festinger in 1954, this theory explains how us humans evaluate our opinions and abilities based off our comparisons with other people. By comparing oneself to another, we are able to define ourselves in our minds eye.

So then, is it fair to say that this well intentioned movement is to blame for these negative moods and body dissatisfaction, or is a platform like Instagram responsible for exposing the insecurities that were already there within us? This sounds like a discussion for another day. In scientific terms, further research is required in this field of inquiry.

Mental Health & The Ridiculous Stigma

I once dreamt of having a team of lawyers and accountants, because that would make me cool and rich.

I now have a team of mental health professionals working alongside of me, and I think that is way cooler than anything else.

A psychologist, a psychiatrist, a coach and a trusty GP – my team supports me with all the care and love I can ask for.

I’m aware that there is a negative stigma around seeing psychiatrists and psychologists. No one wants to go and see them, because that would mean you are “abnormal”, or “defective”.

This just isn’t the case. Most of you out there will experience mental health issues at some point in your life. This is not a character flaw on your part. This is life and genetics and ever changing environments that we live in.

If you require help, go and get it. Even if you don’t feel like you need help, I still recommend talking to a coach or therapist so you can unpack your shit. Everyone has shit, doesn’t matter how successful you think you are, or how good you think you feel. Everyone has demons, or not even demons, but shit they would like to get off their chest.

Go and fucking do it. It’s worth every cent and I can guarantee you will never look back, but only forward.

There’s no excuse these days. The Australian government have done an exceptional job at making mental health services cheap and affordable for the general public. I was once paying $300 an hour for a psychiatrist, and now I’m paying $50.

If you are one to suffer from mental health issues on a more serious level and you haven’t sought help, Im here to tell you to get up off your ass and go and build a solid team of professionals who will make you feel secure, cared for and confident in your ability to overcome whatever it is that you’re going through.

There’s no shame in seeking help. In fact, it’s probably the most intelligent thing you can do for yourself. Your brain is an important organ, and you need to pay careful attention to the health of your psychology and your physiology.

Seeking help doesn’t make you weak and inadequate, it makes you courageous and diligent.

#mentalhealth #mentalhealthawareness #mentalhealthmatters

Our Troublesome Amygdala & How Meditation Can Help Shrink It

The amygdala is the part of the brain that is responsible for setting the alarms bells off when the brain senses danger. This amygdala is primal and it is said that it hasn’t yet adapted to modern day living. When humans were hunter gatherers, this amygdala was extremely effective, aiding us when we had to run from predators for the sake of survival.

In modern day society, this sensitive amygdala can be problematic, as we don’t face life threatening situations as often as what we might have when we were living in the wild.

Research suggests that we can shrink this amygdala through things like mindfulness meditation. If we manage to shrink the amygdala, this creates less of an issue as it becomes less dominant over other parts of our brain that are responsible for reason and logic.

This is important, as we need reason and logic to help with making sense of situations through the process of thought. If we are completely ruled by our primal emotions, this can lead to things like chronic stress, where by our emotions run their course longer and more aggressively than what is required for survival – This can leads to illness in the mind and body.

My ADHD Brain

Scans to measure blood flow and activity in the brain suggest that when you focus on a task, the part of your brain responsible for focus – the prefrontal cortex increases its level of blood flow in that region of the brain.

For someone with ADHD, when one focuses on a task, the prefrontal cortex reacts in the opposite way, decreasing blood flow to this region of the brain. Perhaps, this explains the deficit in attention, or lack of focus that one with ADHD will experience.

I have recently been given a diagnosis of ADHD by a psychiatrist.

It’s something I have suspected for many years now, however this particular type of ADHD is difficult to diagnose, and a lot of people go their whole lives with an undiagnosed mental condition that they suffer for.

A common mistake is to confuse an inattentive type of ADHD with other conditions like major depressive disorder and bipolar disorder.

There are various types of ADHD, and the most well known one is the stereotype of the hyperactive child with behavioural issues. These people with ADHD get a diagnosis during early years of life. However, there are other forms where some people go a whole lifetime without a proper diagnosis. This can cause a lot of issues in career, relationships and health – life in general.

This more subtle type of ADHD often goes unnoticed because these people don’t display the stereotypical symptoms. This other type is usually referred to as inattentive ADHD, and often involves a lot of day dreaming, lack of focus and issues with mood.

We are now learning that there are up to 7 different types of ADHD today. Taking both psychological and physiological aspects into account, scans from Amen Clinics in the US suggest 7 different types of ADHD based off blood flow and activity in the brain. Certain types of ADHD brains showed overactivity in the limbic system of the brain – the control centre for our emotions, which was associated with a depressive/mood type of ADHD. Other scans revealed overactivity in the cortex, which was associated with an anxious type of ADHD.

Although an ADHD brain can usually cause a lot of problems for ones life, there are also many advantages. ADHD brains are usually very creative, and this may have to do with the amount of time one with ADHD can spend day dreaming.

Nutrition For Your Nervous System

The Nervous system is extremely complex and vital for our survival and functioning of every day life.

Broken down into its sub parts, the nervous system is a complex collection of nerves that transmit signals and messages between different parts of the body.

Your sense of touch, smell, taste, site and sound are all tools that are used to help send messages of information to your brain. These sensory tools are part of what sends these messages to the brain for further evaluation.

Once the brain or spinal cord has decided what to do in response to the information that was collected from the sensory input, it sends out signals via motor neurons, which trigger you to move your body in response.

Take a spider that lands on your head, as an example scenario. The spider touches your skin, and this information gathered from your sense of touch travels to the brain. The brain will register this as a foreign, scary object on your head, and it will react by sending signals via motor neurons to your body parts, causing you to jump, scream and throw it away.

In order to maintain a healthy, fully functioning nervous system, there are certain foods that can be eaten;

🥗 Green leafy vegetables – Containing Vitamin B, C, E & Magnesium. Specifically, Vitamin B aids in the circulation of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers that get passed on throughout the brain and body.

🐟 Fish – Omega 3 fatty acid helps with the healing and repair of nerve cells.

🍫 Dark Chocolate – Contains flavonols which have anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties.

🥦 Broccoli – Rich in a compound called glucosinolates which can slow the breakdown of the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, which the central nervous system needs to perform its function properly.

🥚 Eggs – Rich in choline. When eaten, the choline is used by the brain to make acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter important for memory and communication among nerve cells.

🍣 Salmon – High in Omega 3 fatty acids, which help in healing and repair of nerves.

🥜 Nuts are high in anti-oxidants and Vitamin E, which helps shield cell membranes from free radical damage.