As we close out our second year of the pandemic, we’re all feeling really burnt out and have been for quite a while. Many of you said you were looking for more mental health resources, so I wanted to zero in on this topic and see how we can come together as a community to support each other.
This will be a two-part series. This episode will cover general mental health, and next week we’ll talk more about cyclical changes in mental health.
Referenced in this episode:
- All Your Kombucha Questions Answered
- Cafe Astrology Natal Chart
- Compare Your Birth Chart in Multiple House Systems
- Chani Nicholas: Website | Book | App
- Jessica Lanyadoo: Website | Book | Podcast
- TimePassages app
- Time Nomad app
- Jovian Archive
- How to learn about your chart
- Human Design Reader: Jeni Gage (I’ve had personal experience with her and she was excellent!)
- Human Design Reader: Arianna Maag (Have experienced her in group settings and she’s wonderful, too!)
- Human Design Reader: Shaadi Oreyzi (Uses HD more for business purposes, very interesting!)
- Truity’s Enneagram Personality Test (The test is free but the analysis costs $19 — I used a coupon code for $10 off: ONLINE10. Not affiliated!)
- How it works
- A guide to the 9 Enneagram types
If you enjoyed the audio version, be sure to follow The Lunar Body podcast on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Love what you hear? Please share with your friends and leave a review on Apple Podcasts so more amazing lunar feminists like you can find my show!
The transcript of this blog post has been edited for length and clarity.
Can you relate?
Before we begin, remember this information is for educational purposes only, it is NOT medical advice and it is your responsibility to speak to a qualified health care provider about your unique needs. The final decision when considering any diet or lifestyle changes, whether it’s discussed on the internet, in a podcast, or prescribed by your doctor, is always your own.
Two pillars of mental health
We have two ways that our mental health is influenced and those are external influences and internal influences.
External are the mental, emotional, and spiritual factors that impact your mental health. These are perceptions and beliefs that have an impact on your nervous system. Some examples of things that influence this pillar are your coping skills, life experiences, parenting and security, education, culture, family life, outlook, and opportunity.
This can also be shaped by systemic issues that lie within race, privilege, socioeconomic status, and other determinants of mental, emotional, and spiritual health. These are from the outside coming in — incoming information that your nervous system has to accept in some way.
The second is biochemical reactions, which is the internal. But it’s not 100% internal because biochemical reactions can affect, and be affected by the external. Our perceptions can determine how our nervous system deals with all that information I just mentioned, and biochemical reactions can also determine how our nervous system reacts as well.
The internal stuff includes blood sugar regulation, nutrition, genetics, your microbiome, allergies and sensitivities, chemicals, medications.
With so much going on in our lives, I know it’s all much easier said than done, especially when not everything is in your control or is your responsibility.
The gut-brain connection
Hormones start in the brain, and you know what influences the brain? The microbiome, that collection of bacteria that lives in our digestive tract. There’s a connection between the two called the gut-brain axis.
This is also known as our enteric nervous system (the word enteric refers to the intestines). The gut contains 500 million neurons that communicate with brain through this enteric nervous system.
Communication also happens through neurotransmitters and through the vagus nerve — signals are sent to and from the digestive tract through this nerve. Activating the vagus nerve brings us into “rest-and-digest” mode, which is the opposite of our stressed “fight-or-flight” mode.
Deep breathing can activate rest-and-digest mode because it stimulates the vagus nerve. Other ways you can stimulate it include gargling, gagging, and singing loudly.
Another connection for gut health and mental health is that 95% of serotonin is produced in the gut. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter and one of your feel-good hormones. When the small intestine is compromised in some way, you can underproduce serotonin, which can be a factor in depression.
The microbiome is influenced by genetics, age, nutrition, stress, and more. And there is evidence that psychological stress can increase your risk of leaky gut, which means the lining of your gut becomes permeable and can lead to inflammation, immune health issues, and mental health changes. That evidence also shows the microbiome can impact your emotional behavior too.
Knowing this, it makes sense that if you want to take care of your mental health, you need to be mindful of your gut health too.
Nutrition for your mental health
Let’s go over some important nutrients for gut health and mental health.
As with anything, you want to start with food before popping any pills, so you can get probiotics from fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, kombucha, fermented vegetables, or pickles that are actually traditionally fermented and not just in brine.
I usually tell people that a quarter cup is good enough to start with if you’re not used to having probiotics in your routine, otherwise you might notice some digestive upset if you’re slamming back a 16oz Healthade as your first foray into this world.
B6 is key for serotonin production and it has one of the most dramatic mood-elevating effects of all the B vitamins. Serotonin is actually created from tryptophan, and B6 is required for that conversion from tryptophan to serotonin. Some good sources are eggs, nuts and seeds, bananas, spinach, legumes.
Speaking of tryptophan, you can find that in turkey, chicken, fish, mushrooms, and spinach. This also helps with sleep, because serotonin eventually converts to melatonin. Fun fact!
B vitamins in general are good for mental health purposes, but B12 is especially helpful for the production of serotonin and dopamine. We mostly get B12 from animal foods, but it’s also present in tempeh and sea vegetables. However, it’s not going to be in high amounts in plant foods, so if you’re vegan or vegetarian you may want to get tested, see where you are with your blood levels, and explore supplementation.
Inositol promotes chemical signaling in the brain and allows serotonin to travel in the body. You can find this in nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes. Cabbage and citrus are good sources as well.
The elements of balance
The way to promote blood sugar regulation and thus hormone balance is through what I call the elements of balance — having the three macronutrients represented on your plate. How that relates to your mental health:
- Protein breaks down into amino acids, which are the building blocks of our neurotransmitters.
- Fat is nourishing to the brain, because our brain is 60% fat. Cholesterol is a type of fat that we also need in healthy amounts — too much increases your risk for dementia and depression, and too little increases your risk of Parkinson’s disease. We need some cholesterol as well as essential fatty acids for proper brain functioning.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates digest as glucose and the brain uses 30% of the glucose that we have in the body.
Chronic high or low blood sugar can lead to inflammation in the brain along with many other health issues, so keeping this balance in mind is so important for many systems in the body.
What is mindfulness?
On the topic of mindfulness… what does that even mean?
To me, it simply means presence, and pause — meaning paying attention to what you are doing in the moment and giving yourself the space to think about your actions so you can move intentionally.
In terms of food: It means getting comfortable and relaxed around food and nurturing your ability to nourish yourself so you can move on and stop constantly thinking about “clean” eating or if foods are good/bad for you. Because that’s a mental health concern on its own that can lead to mental and physical stress, and in some cases disordered eating.
I have five principles of mindful eating for you to consider — you can view them in detail in this blog post. To recap:
- Eat when you are hungry.
- Make intentional decisions.
- Focus on progress, not perfection.
- Pay attention to your food.
- Incorporate non-food mindfulness practices.
The theme here is really about awareness and intention.
Tools for self-exploration
I find that learning about yourself in different ways and learning about how you function and what makes you tick can be really helpful for mental health. It inspires more self-acceptance and helps you move through the world in a way that works best for your unique needs.
If you don’t know your sun, moon, and rising signs, look up your natal chart on somewhere like Cafe Astrology, which provides super detailed readings of your chart.
Astrology really does tell you a lot about yourself and how you function. You’ll notice that different things influence your chart, so if you don’t fully identify with the description of a Virgo Sun, for example, maybe it’s because there’s no other Virgo placements in your chart and you’re more influenced by other planets and signs.
Astrology can be a DEEP DIVE but it’s a lot of fun and really helpful for understanding yourself on many different levels.
Human design is sort of astrology-adjacent. You figure out your design type by plugging your birthday into the MyBodyGraph website and what pops up is a whole lot of confusing stuff, like an illustration from an anatomy textbook. You’ll see a chart of a body that has various parts filled in or not filled in. Based on what’s colored in, and on the connections or spaces between those aspects, and the numbers all shown, it all means something.
You can get a detailed reading from a human design reader, but the main thing you’ll need to know is your actual human design type: there are projectors, reflectors, generators, manifestors, and manifesting generators. Understanding which one you are sort of gives you access to an operating manual for how you work.
I’ve learned that I’m a Generator, and that my “not-self” theme is frustration. This means the feeling that generally pops up when I’m out of alignment. This is good information to know so that I now have something actionable I can do when I become frustrated. Instead of stewing in it and letting it affect me mentally, I can stop and say okay, what’s not working here? What’s out of alignment right now?
There’s a lot more to human design, just like astrology isn’t easily explained in 2 minutes, but definitely another self-reflective rabbit hole to go down.
This is a personality theory that describes patterns in how people interpret the world and manage their emotions. There are nine personality types and each one is defined by a core belief that is something that is foundational to how you operate in the world.
Each type also has what they call a wing, which is an adjacent type that you lean towards but aren’t fully embodying.
The Enneagram test is mainly used for personal self-knowledge and development, and just like human design and astrology, it offers us another layer of understanding our core motivations and beliefs about life, which can help us better manage things like conflict, interpersonal relationships, emotions, and more.
Getting started on your mindfulness journey
Your action item this week, if it feels available to you, is to at least start tracking your mood daily if you’re not already. See if you notice any patterns, see if there is anything tied to your cycle if you’re tracking that as well.
Also take a look more into at least one of the avenues for self-exploration — astrology, human design, or the Enneagram test. If you do dive into that, I would love to know more about what your signs or types are, and whether you felt that the descriptions for each of these things spoke to you or helped you shift your perspective on anything.