Food and Mood

 

Most people reading this will recognise that our state of mind and food are inextricably linked. Just as devouring a whole packet of biscuits or demolishing a chocolate bar is something many people crave when feeling tired or fed up, so too, using food to express their mental anguish is a common phenomenon.

These days, thanks to global media coverage, the awareness of conditions like obesity and eating disorders such as anorexia and binge eating are much better understood. Having said that, neither condition is more accepted in our society; however, with the diet and food industry seemingly bombarding us with subliminal messages telling us to eat this, or cut out that, it is no wonder many opt simply for denial.

The food and diet industry have a lot to answer for. Many will remember the advice to avoid butter, eggs and animal protein in meat and dairy, with spreads and low fat alternatives on every supermarket shelf. Yet today, “going to work on an egg” is once again acceptable and many shun spreads and the harmful trans fats they contain in favour of butter once again. Saturated fats are no longer seen as enemy number one. The years of confusing messages have literally turned us all off. Perhaps, Granny was right all along…”a little of what you fancy does you good.”

Diets too have come to be seen as fads that do not work. Remember these: the grapefruit diet, the cabbage diet, the Beverley Hills diet, the Atkins diet, the F-plan? I could go on.  There are the substitutes, too, where liquid meal replacements, biscuits, bars and all manner of alternatives take the place of food.

No wonder we are all confused. Look at the way the supplements industry pedal vitamins, minerals, capsules and powders of every description. All being heralded for their great health benefits. Elixir of life or youth capsules, take your pick, hand over your money and the choice is yours. Who said that snake oil remedies do not exist!

Whichever way we look at it, one thing is certain and that is, eating problems are psychological. With the very rare exception of a metabolic disorder, perhaps;  obesity, anorexia and many other food related conditions have nothing to do with hunger and everything to do with meeting an emotional need. Food is used as a “medicine” to dull down emotional pain, to soothe or to mask an emotional discomfort. Food is a comfort and we all seek to push away discomfort. Food is used to fill up, cover up, and build up a protective barrier.

Quite literally, food (and alcohol) is to the adult, the surrogate breast or bottle. Smoking too, while technically more of an obvious drug than food per se,often serves the same purpose. Yes, food can become addictive as can the hormones released when starving, or the soothing pain felt by an anorexic when they seek to feel “in control.”

To get to the bottom of our emotional discomfort and the role food plays in this really is the domain of the psychological health professional. We need someone to hold up the mirror and tell us what is really going on. We need to understand why it is that our search for the “magic potion” and a “quick fix” will bring us nothing but more suffering. Furthermore, changing eating habits is not easy, after all, making changes means altering our comfort level and most people naturally balk at that.

If you have a food issue seek out a health professional with expertise on eating disorders who has no emotional ties to you. Someone who will hold the mirror up and help you see the real picture and help you to make changes to the way you eat and your relationship to food.

Until next time, best wishes Steve.

You may wish to know that Steve is now offering therapy sessions via Skype                   Please contact us through our website @  www.stevecliffordcbt.com

Visit our facebook site @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters

Steve Clifford                                                                                                                       Senior Accredited Integrative  Psychotherapist.                                                                 Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

Primary Ref: Sullivan, R (2009) “Reclaim your youth, growing younger after 40.” Montgomery Ewing Publishers.

Image: “Supreme pizza” by Scott Bauer – http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/graphics/photos/mar01/k7633-3.htm. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Supreme_pizza.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Supreme_pizza.jpg

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Eight ways to overcome fatigue and re-energise yourself.

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Are you tired and exhausted trying to do more and more in less and less time? Are you in an energy crisis, too busy to do anything about it or too tired to even realise it? If you are, then chances are, you are one of the many over-worked, over-stressed, over-extended and potentially overwhelmed folk out there trying your best to meet unrealistic demands.

Do I hear you say, “there are not enough hours in the day” or “can’t they see how much I am doing?” Well, chances are they don’t care! Sounds harsh, but the reality is, they are too busy to care. You know the mantra, “If you want something done ask a busy person.”

Accept that the only person who can change things is you.

When you feel tired, accept the fact that you are tired. You really have two choices, keep going and ignore your needs and like a battery you will pretty soon run out of juice. Before that happens you will experience fatigue, exhaustion and open yourself up for headaches, colds and all manner of stress related ills. Worse still your prolonged exhaustion may lead to depression, insomnia, chronic fatigue, burnout and pave the way for more serious health problems.

What can you do about it?

Here are eight changes you can make today that together will add up to a big difference to your energy levels and outlook.

1. Look at your diet, chances are that if you are overworked, exhausted and stressed you are either comfort eating and snacking, or worse still, neglecting to eat. Remember, food is your body’s fuel, the energy source to sustain your output. Eat small meals regularly, if you eat too much in one go your body will complain and your energy levels will simply crash. Eat good, “clean food”,  for example, snack on complex carbohydrates such as a wholemeal bread sandwich with peanut butter, a good source of protein to fuel you over an extended period of time. Add fruit when you need a sweet pick me up. Find time for yoghurt or cottage cheese a good source of calcium and vitamin D.

2. Ditch the fizzy drinks and the cups of caffeine and take on board more water. Dehydration is a real problem when you are stressed. You need to keep your cells and your brain hydrated. One of the first signs of dehydration is fatigue. When you are dehydrated your blood volume is decreased, your heart has to work harder to pump your blood round your body, the cells in your brain constrict leading to headache and heaviness in your limbs. Furthermore, your ability to think clearly, move , stand, exercise, sleep, work, cook and even make love will diminish. So take time drink water, try keeping a glass of water on your desk and a bottle of water when you are out an about. Have a jug of water with your meals, you can add a slice to two of lemon or orange. In the summer mint and lemon balm make a refreshing herbal alternative.

3. Get fit! If you want to increase your energy levels engage in regular activity at least three times a week. Studies suggest that 30 minutes of activity at a pace where you have a light sweat will add 25 per cent more energy to every waking moment. Regular exercise has so many benefits and helps maintain muscle strength, mobility, increased metabolism, agility and boosts energy. No need to hit the gym or pound the pavements, just leave the car at home and walk to the shops and engage in regular outdoor activity such as cycling and gardening. Not only does exercise boost the system banishing fatigue but it also improves the mood, increasing serotonin and endorphin production. Furthermore, raised body temperature has a wonderful tranquillising effect, reducing depression and anxiety.

4. Get a good nights sleep. Don’t sacrifice sleep by staying up and watching television because you are too tired to move, or because you’re  finishing that report, ironing into the night or catching up with the washing. Sleep is vital if you want to beat fatigue. Look upon sleep as nature’s way of recharging your batteries with restorative energy. Sleep allows your body to repair damage, recover from stress, rejuvenate and restore balance. A good nights sleep sets you up for a good, productive day.

5. Step out into the great outdoors. Take time to surround yourself with natural energy. Sunshine and vitamin D, fresh air rather than fumes from car exhausts coupled with the sights and smells of nature can really pick you up. A nice walk enjoying the beauty of nature can be so invigorating. Switch off the computer and switch the paperwork for tree’s and fields, you will be surprised how the simple act of turning your back on work can lift the spirits and restore your energy levels. The fragrant scent of flowers, the earthy smell of the forest floor  or the salty breeze of the sea can revive and refresh as the olfactory nerve is stimulated. If you can’t get outdoors bring in some plants to detox the environment, pin up some pictures of country scenes and surround your workspace with a few natural objects such as a piece of driftwood, some stones or a crystal. Pick these objects up periodically to have a mindful moment. Nature is restorative, bring nature to you and harness it’s healing powers.

6. Be mindful. Take time to stop what you are doing and focus on your breath. As you do, check out how you are feeling in your body, scrunch your eyes up and let them go. Raise and lower your shoulders. Stand up if are sitting down, sit down if you are standing up. Have a stretch and smile. By purposefully stopping and focusing on the breath you are coming into the here and now. Running your hands under cold water and splashing your face can be so refreshing. Just letting go of stress momentarily will prevent you spinning round in circles. Stress is not good for us, it shrinks the brain, leads to weight gain due to the high levels of the hormone cortisol that the body produces when under stress, thins your hair and can fetch the reproductive system. Having a stretch and paying attention to your posture will help to eliminate bodily stress and prevent aches and pains. Take time to stop for lunch and find time for regular “pit stops,” this will ensure you keep your reserves of energy for when you need it.

7. Surround yourself with positive people. Isolation can be depressing and stressful, it may also contribute to exhaustion. A loving partner will stimulate your heart, a good role model will inspire you, a good friend will always be there for a hug and a loyal pet gives much and demands little. Avoid “vampires,” those people who literally drain your energy, instead, seek out “radiators,” those people who brim with energy, enthusiasm and life. Seek out sparkly eyed people and not those with dull listless complexions. Good energy is contagious, make sure you get your share.

8. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Better to be relaxed and good humoured rather than stiff and grumpy. Happiness doesn’t just happen, we have to make it happen. The more tired we are, the less likely we are to smile or have a laugh. By ensuring we have some things to look forward to, by engaging in activities, seeking out people, places and situations that bring a smile to our faces we can literally energise our soul. Too much work, feeling tired and worn down is a recipe for misery.

The key is to listen to your body. Don’t ignore tiredness. Our body is a sophisticated machine, where brain chemicals, hormones and blood supply  are all intimately involved in ensuring that we “feel” our fatigue, acknowledge it and then do something about it. Isn’t it time you worked with your body rather than against it?

 Until next time, best wishes Steve.

You may wish to know that Steve is now offering therapy sessions via Skype                       Please contact us through our website @  www.stevecliffordcbt.com

Visit our facebook site @ www.facebook.com/yourmentalhealthmatters

Steve Clifford                                                                                                                             Senior Accredited Integrative  Psychotherapist.                                                                   Accredited Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist.

 

Adapted from an article “Solve your energy crisis” which appeared in You magazine (March 2001) from a book by dietitian Debra Waterhouse, titled ” Tired to Inspired,” published by Thorsons.

Image ref: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AChronic_fatigue_syndrome.JPG                                                                                                                             

Coping with the Stress of Parenthood

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Stress and parenthood go hand in hand.  Coping with lively children, not to mention running a home and holding down a job and all the other myriad demands on us, creates tension.  The seemingly unrelenting pressures which we face on a daily basis can conspire to push us over the edge – headaches, sleeplessness, excess alcohol, unhappiness, panic attacks, anxiety and depression – all commonly experienced and often the result of physical and psychological stress.

Creating excitement in our lives can be very productive and can brighten up a dull routine.  A certain amount of stress is actually a very positive thing – too much stress, however, is not.

The moment a child is conceived the balance shifts from a world where, by and large, we alone dictate the pace of life to the demands of another.  The worry of pregnancy and stress of childbirth, to crying babies, bedtime tantrums, the “terrible twos”, school problems and teenage rebelliousness – each state of growing up places different demands on parents.  Even mealtimes can be a source of stress and tension.

The warning signs of stress are personal to each of us and these vary from headaches, aches and pains, skin rashes and upset stomach.  Very often we will be prone to certain ailments that have been troubling us for a long time.  Strange as it may sound, I tell clients to “make friends” with these ailments and view them as the body telling the mind that it needs to look around and make some changes.  Often they will have battled with these ailments for years, seeing them as the enemy, but simply by shifting perspective, we can begin to help ourselves.  By becoming aware of our emotional reactions and noticing increases in tension, mood swings and shortness of temper, we can take remedial action early.  We may not always be aware of our mood state and so it can be helpful if our partner or someone close to us can tell us if we are unusually irritable or grumpy (they will of course need to do so in a very loving way so as not to appear critical then become the target of a sharp tongue)!

When we are stressed even the smallest of irritations can seem monumental,  such as the children spilling drinks, or the saucepan boiling dry and even trips to the supermarket and pre-planned visits to friends can seem like major expeditions.  Often we become fretful and the list of things to do builds up to the point where we do not know which way to turn or which task to do next.  This is the point to stop and draw breath.  If not…then stress is likely to manifest in more extreme ways, for example, obsessive checking that the door is shut, or the cooker is switched off, inability to make even simple decisions such as what to cook the family for supper, drinking alcohol during the day or consuming painkillers excessively.  Mood dips may manifest as depression with increased lethargy and inability to copy with the normal everyday routine.  When under stress, the behaviour of people might change quite considerably – gregarious people may become withdrawn, laughter and smiles can be replaced with tearfulness, insecurity and worry.  The quiet, gentle person you know may disappear and in their place an aggressive, moody spectre.  Closeness and decreased interest in sex may be noticed, or similarly desire for gratification in ways that are out of character for that person.  The signs and symptoms of stress are all there, we just don’t recognise them.

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • In the past six months have you been noticing changes in yourself or the world around you?
  • Do you lack energy and feel tired more easily?
  • Are people around you increasingly annoying you?
  • Do you seem to be working harder and harder and accomplishing less?
  • Are you often overwhelmed with sadness you cannot explain?
  • Do you find it difficult to make decisions?
  • Are you forgetful?
  • Do you feel irritable and short-tempered?
  • Are you shouting more?
  • Have you stopped seeing friends and going out and having fun?
  • Are you suffering from aches and minor ailments?
  • Are you unable to laugh and joke…is joy elusive?
  • Does sex seem more trouble than it is worth?
  • Does playing with the children or having conversations seem too much? 

Stress is reversible – start by stopping.  Next, think about how you can be kind to yourself.  Have an evening to pamper yourself; buy some bath oils and give yourself time to reflect; plan an evening out or do something you have not been able to do for a while.  Sit down with a piece of paper and firstly make a note of all the physical symptoms of stress, e.g. difficulty relaxing, increased irritability, tearfulness, irrational fears, feeling constantly under pressure, frustration and anger, sadness and withdrawal etc.

Let these be your markers:  score 0 – 10 beside each and at weekly intervals review your scores.  Next, look at your life and write down all the possible causes of stress.  Look for major life events such as a recent house move or bereavement.  Note worries such as trouble with teenagers, or concerns such as redundancy or disputes with neighbours, relationship difficulties, money worries etc.  Some of these areas will just need time to settle while others such as children’s homework problems may be resolved by a word with the child’s class teacher.

Next, look at your life and what you can change.  For example, ironing as you wear clothes might be preferable to a whole evening stood ironing.  Look at prioritising jobs into “musts”, “shoulds” and can waits”.  Talk to your partner, friends and family or find yourself a good therapist – share your concerns.  Try to make gradual changes to make your life easier – trying to change everything at once will only create more stress.  The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone – there are many people feeling the same way as you do, but you can make changes to your life, however seemingly simple, which can make a great deal of difference.  Start by listening to what your mind and body are telling you.

Until next time, Steve Clifford, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist

www.stevecliffordcbt.com

Image ref: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHair_pulling_stress.jpg