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Why do I feel so low? Maybe it's time to think about brain health

Do you find yourself asking what you can do to stop feeling so low all the time? You would like to feel better but you’re not sure what to do? Then talking to someone is a great place to start.

There are also a lot of lifestyle changes that you can make to help your brain and mental health: getting outside every day, doing some exercise, connecting with loved ones, getting as much sleep as you can, learning some breathing or mindfulness exercises and most importantly, nourishing your brain.

This is just one of the things I look at with my clients in my practice. I work with people (online and face to face) who like to understand the underlying reasons for how they are feeling. We not only talk through thoughts and feelings but we also think about how to fuel their brain with the right nutrients to help them go in a new direction.

How much do you think about the health of your brain?

Did you know that your brain uses about 25% of what we eat?

Your brain is the control centre of your whole body. 

Did you know that your brain controls your physical health as well as your mental health?

If you start taking care of your brain, you start taking care of your future health.

How to tell if your brain is healthy

When our brain needs nourishment we get a few clues. 

Do you recognise any of these feelings?

Low mood - do you feel low, flat or numb and have lost the joy in life?

Anxious mind – is peace of mind a far off concept and instead you’re stuck with a mind that won’t shut up, involved in a myriad of worrying thoughts?

Easily stressed – do you get frustrated and irritated easily? It doesn’t take much for you to snap?

Brain fog – does your thinking get slow and foggy and you feel burned out?

Fatigue – do you feel low in energy but especially on a mental level where any more thinking is just too much?

Irregular emotions – do you experience mood swings and feeling more sensitive and tearful?

Forgetful – do you forget names and things to do more often than you’d like?

Lack of motivation – have you lost your mojo and feel like you want to work out or take care of yourself but it’s just too much?

Food cravings and indulgence – do you feed your brain the best nutrition or find yourself a slave to cravings?

Energy crashes – especially in the middle of the day? Do you keep wishing for a nap?

Disrupted sleep – do you struggle to get to sleep or wake in the night? Do you lack in deep sleep and REM sleep whereby the quality of your sleep is low and you wake up feeling just as exhausted?

Underactive physically – despite best intentions do you skip work outs and experience lower energy even if you do try to workout? 

Meditation nightmare – trying to be quiet and enjoy inner peace feels too difficult with your mind restlessly flitting around?

Did you tick any of these boxes? If yes, then maybe it’s time to look more intensely at your daily habits, quality of sleep and relationships. Exercise, relaxation and nutrients are key tools to help you improve your brain health. And you’re in a great place to start.

How you feel tomorrow starts today 

Going into the new decade of the 2020s, the new thinking in mental health research is looking at the impact of nutrients on our brain.

It is widely understood that nutrients support our physical health but there is emerging evidence that they are also vital for our mental health. 

The field of nutritional psychology focuses on how nutrients are essential for the optimum functioning of our bodies including our nervous system and brain. Good brain health means good mental health and recent research has shown that food supplements such as zinc, magnesium, omega 3, and vitamins B and D3 can help improve people’s mood, reduce stress, relieve anxiety and depression and improve the mental capacity of people with Alzheimer’s.

Nutrients for brain health are one of the most powerful ways that we can take care of ourselves and manage our mental well-being. A vital part of our self-care toolkit.

We’ve all come to know that plenty of vitamin D3 helps to lift the symptoms of SAD (Seasonally Affective Disorder) which shows how a deficiency in Vitamin D3 affects how our brain works.

How does it sound to you if I were to say that everything you eat affects your brain? Either positively or negatively.

We are good at taking care of ourselves and knowing what to do if we have a physical illness or injury. We may take a painkiller, have a rest, apply cream or heat or cold, drink fluids and sometimes we will take a supplement like vitamin C for recovering from illness.

Thoughts and emotions are the product of our brains and one big reason for low mood and anxiety are malfunctions in our brain chemistry. These malfunctions can be caused by nutritional deficiencies and our lifestyle.

They are not just inevitable characteristics of our personality. It’s not “Just who you are”. They are the result of the high or low levels of the four mood transmitters in our brain.

 You might have heard of them?

The 4 mood transmitters:

  1. serotonin  
  2. dopamine
  3. GABA
  4. acetylcholine

If they are abundant and balanced, our brain works at full power and we can live our best life.If they are low or out of balance we feel out of sorts.

If our serotonin levels are good we feel positive, confident and we sleep well; but if they are low we feel negative, obsessive, worried and have bad sleep patterns.

If our dopamine levels are good we feel energised, alert and joyful; but if they are low we feel flat, stuck, sensitive and unenthusiastic about life.

If our GABA levels are good we feel relaxed and cope well with stress; but if they are low we feel anxious, wired, stressed, burned out and overwhelmed.

If our acetylcholine levels are good we feel energetic, concentrate easily and process information well; but if they are low we feel tired and have difficulty focusing and remembering things.

For these four mood transmitters our body needs particular ingredients to make each of them: for serotonin we need the amino acid tryptophan; For dopamine we need the amino acid tyrosine; For GABA we need the amino acid glutamine; And for acetylcholine we need carnitine.

And tryptophan, tyrosine, glutamine and carnitine all need particular vitamins, minerals and omega oils to combine together to make serotonin, dopamine, GABA and Acetylcholine. A little bit like a cake needs eggs, flour, butter and sugar to rise.

The main reasons we run low on mood transmitters are:

  • being used up too quickly
  • not being replenished
  • genetic glitches

Our levels of acute (trauma) or chronic (ongoing, long term) stressors have a huge impact on our mood transmitters. Their supply is used up so quickly as we cope with the stress in our lives that we can’t restore them quickly enough leaving us feeling out of sorts and not ourselves. Our brain is misfiring. It hasn’t got the fuel that it needs to function fully effectively.

So to rebuild fuel supplies we can try a few lifestyle changes:

We can slow down making a little time for some rest, relaxation, breathing, yoga, quiet time, meditation, visualisation, daylight and sleep into our lives.

And we can also help ourselves replenish the levels by eating good mood foods full of high quality proteins, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, and healthy oils.

All topped up by a supplement to fill in the gaps we all have in our diets. Over time we all develop patterns of eating and it’s inevitable that a few food groups are missed. We all have our favourites (avocados) and our dislikes (sprouts). It’s completely normal. So it also follows that we can get low in a few vitamins and minerals, like vitamin D in the winter.

This is just one of the things I look at with my clients in my practice. 

Would you like to understand the underlying reasons for how you are feeling?

I work on Zoom or face to face at my practice on the Hampshire/Wiltshire border.

We will start by talking through your thoughts and feelings but we will also think about how to fuel your brain with the right nutrients to help you go in a new direction. Let's make a start.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Evelyn Montgomery MBACP MBPsS Counsellor and Coach

Evelyn Montgomery is a psychologist, counsellor and coach with over 20 years experience in the field. She has worked with the NHS, in schools and for Grayshott Medical Spa and now runs a private practice where she sees people online and face to face.… Read more

Written by Evelyn Montgomery MBACP MBPsS Counsellor and Coach

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