Managing Our Mental Health in the Midst of the Pandemic

Managing Our Mental Health in the Midst of the Pandemic By Ariel Suazo-Maler Over the last year, we have collectively gone through a reeducation process surrounding best ways to ‘take care’. While the pandemic caused us to immediately focus on how to support our physical well-being, we quickly understood that ‘health’ included taking care of our mental wellness. “Bringing awareness to best practices and understanding mental health as physical health is a great place to start.” Fluctuating statistics, novel discoveries, and an everchanging narrative contributed to an increase in individual stress levels to the point where stress management became an essential aspect of Covid-care and prevention. Moreover, prolonged isolation, and chronic fear triggered a simultaneous crisis in the psychiatric space, resulting in self-imposed loss of life. Now, while there is no single best solution to supporting mental health, and the path to emotional wellness is specific to the individual, bringing awareness to best practices and understanding mental health as physical health is a great place to start. “We thought it vital to go for an annual check-up, but taboo to see a therapist” Before the pandemic, while conversations surrounding mental health were beginning to be more commonplace, many of us still understood emotional and physical health as two separate entities. We thought it vital to go for an annual check-up, but taboo to see a therapist. Now, more attention has been placed on speaking openly about the link between our mental state and overall health status. Science has shown that chronic stress and anxiety can manifest as a delayed immune response to viruses and bacteria as well as contribute to negative gastrointestinal symptoms and poor cardiovascular health. So, how can we mitigate this when the contributors to our poor mental health status seem to be out of our control? For starters, learning to control our thoughts is a hugely healthful practice. Recognizing what influences where our mind goes, and realizing when it’s time to take back control is one of the most empowering things we can do for our health. “Empowering yourself to turn down the volume on sources of extra noise can be liberating”. A relatable example of how to do this involves the news. Many of us are afraid of not being up to date on the latest facts and figures when in reality, much of what is broadcasted is a repetition of the gravest statistics. Trusting that…

Is Long COVID the New Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Is Long COVID the New Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? By Emeran Mayer, MD Subtitle “COVID-19 infection has also taken a serious toll on the nervous system.” By now the COVID-19 pandemic has claimed as many American lives as World War I, the Vietnam War, and the Korean War combined, and despite the impressive reduction in infection and death rates in the US since the beginning of the year, this ravaging diseases is far from over. While most of the COVID related deaths are due to the well-known pulmonary complications of the coronavirus, the infection has also taken a serious toll on the nervous system. In addition to the acute, severe, but generally transient neurological manifestations ranging from encephalitis and cognitive impairment to stroke, milder persistent symptoms are reported by many survivors, causing pervasive yet subtle cognitive, behavioral, and psychological problems. “50% to 80% of patients continue to have bothersome symptoms three months after the onset of COVID-19.” Although many people who have recovered from COVID-19 can resume their daily lives without difficulty — even if they have some deficits in attention — there are a number of patients who may experience difficulties in meeting their regular responsibilities at home or at work. Published studies (see here and here) and surveys conducted by patient groups indicate that 50% to 80% of patients continue to have bothersome symptoms three months after the onset of COVID-19 — even after tests no longer detect virus in their body. The most common symptoms are fatigue, body aches, shortness of breath, difficulty concentrating, brain fog, inability to exercise, headache, and difficulty sleeping. Since COVID-19 is a new disease that first appeared in December 2019, we have no information on long-term recovery rates. Tens of thousands of people in the United States are reporting lingering symptoms following COVID-19. In medical jargon, such patients are called post-COVID “long haulers” and the condition they are suffering from is referred to as “long COVID,” although other names are being proposed. “Long COVID is likely the same or very similar to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.” Long before the COVID pandemic, I have seen many patients complaining of identical symptoms which at the time were referred to as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, a challenging medical problem for which no effective treatment exists. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has speculated that long COVID likely is the same as…

Microbiome and Aging

Microbiome and Aging By E. Dylan Mayer Subtitle I recently came across an article in the NYTimes titled, A Changing Gut Microbiome May Predict How Well You Age. The article talks about the gut microbiome and its role in healthy aging. The author quotes a new study published in the February issue of the journal Nature Metabolism which found it may be possible to predict the likelihood of living a longer, healthier life by analyzing your gut microbiome. “The gut microbiome goes through different developmental phases.” It has been known for some time, that the gut microbiome goes through different developmental phases, starting with fairly dramatic changes during the first 1000 days of life, followed by a relatively stable period throughout adolescence and adulthood, and ultimately by a relative decline in certain health promoting microbes (such as Faecalibacterium, Roseburia, Eubacterium), as well as a decrease in microbial diversity in the elderly. These changes in the elderly have been associated with clinical measures of frailty and cognitive decline. “The gut microbiome becomes increasingly unique to the individual with age.” The authors studied gut microbiome parameters in 3 independent cohorts, comprising over 9,000 individuals ranging in age from 18-101 years. They demonstrated that the gut microbiome in healthy individuals changes as we get older, and this change is a sign of healthy aging. The researchers found that beginning in mid-to-late adulthood, the gut microbiome becomes increasingly unique to the individual with age, with a relative decrease in the abundance of certain bacterial taxa (mainly of the genus Bacterioides), and this uniqueness was positively associated with known microbial metabolic markers – primarily tryptophan and phenylalanine/tyrosine metabolites - previously implicated in immune regulation, inflammation, ageing and longevity. “Retention of high relative Bacteroides abundance and a low gut microbiome uniqueness measure were both associated with significantly decreased survival.” In the later decades of human lifespan, healthy individuals continued to show an increasingly unique gut microbial compositional state (associated with a decline in Bacterioides but not Prevotella taxa with age, whereas this pattern was absent in those in worse health. In individuals approaching extreme age (85+ years), retention of high relative Bacteroides abundance and a low gut microbiome uniqueness measure were both associated with significantly decreased survival in the course of a 4-year follow-up. Interestingly, the age-related gut microbial changes were not found to be related to differences in diet or medication use, both of which…

Your Happiness Makes Me Happy

Your Happiness Makes Me Happy By Amanda Gilbert In mindfulness meditation there is a traditional practice called mudita, or appreciative joy. Mudita is the heart-based practice of feeling joy and happiness for others, and celebrating their happiness, good fortune and success. While mudita may be a lesser-known practice in modern times, it is one that can have great influence over our own personal happiness. “When I practice mudita for you, your happiness makes me happy.” Though this may seem counterintuitive at first, the basic idea is that when I celebrate your happiness, joy and success, and really take it into my heart, and even feel feelings of happiness on your behalf, I experience happiness too. Therefore, one of my favorite ways to summarize mudita meditation to my students is by saying, “When I practice mudita for you, your happiness makes me happy.” That is the revolutionary practice of appreciative joy and mudita meditation. It asks us to step out of our comfort zone or usual way of relating to others success with jealousy, judgment or comparing mind, and gives us the opportunity to do something different and feel happiness for them instead. For instance, when your best friend gets married before you, or your neighbor starts a new house renovation, or your colleague gets a new job promotion, instead of letting comparison mind take over, such as, “Well, I’m just not ready to get married yet, but I will be soon.” Or, “I’ll start my house renovation soon and show them I can also make my house the most fabulous and gorgeous one on our street too.” Or “Why did they get the promotion when I work just as hard? They don’t deserve it, I do!” Like I mention in my new book, Kindness Now where we spend a whole seven whole days on mudita meditation practice, in these very same instances you can try responding with appreciative joy instead. “May your happiness never diminish or leave you.” Here are some of my top mudia meditation mantras from Day 19 of Kindness Now, titled, Your Happiness Makes Me Happy, to repeat silently in your mind when you encounter any circumstance that is similar to the above situations. “May your happiness and good fortune (continue to) grow and increase.” “May your happiness never diminish or leave you.” “Your happiness makes me happy.” “Thank you for sharing your happiness with me.” Repeat…

Solutions for PMS (And What Gut Health Has to Do with It!) Part Two

Solutions for PMS (And What Gut Health Has to Do with It!) Part Two By Selin Bilgin Welcome back! I hope you found value and are already feeling better from following the recommendations I gave in my last blog post on Solutions for PMS. I’m thrilled to share with you even more steps for you to implement to have a better menstrual cycle. The impact of targeted nutrition and lifestyle has on our body and mood is truly amazing! In this article I will cover: Managing Constipation Increasing Joy (And Reducing Stress) Increase Magnesium and Vitamin B6 Intake “Chronic constipation is a common complaint in perimenstrual symptoms.” Constipation is a common complaint I hear in my nutrition practice, and as much as it can be uncomfortable to talk about - it is so important to address, in particular in context with menstrual symptoms! Ideally, you should have a bowel movement at least once per day, as chronic constipation over time has been associated with hormone imbalance (Andrews, C. N., & Storr, M. 2011). It can become a vicious cycle if we do not take the measures to balance estrogen, as studies show that excess estrogen can actually increase constipation (Oh, J. E., Kim, Y. W., Park, S. Y., & Kim, J. Y. 2013) Here is what I suggest easing symptoms of constipation related to the menstrual cycle: Add fermented foods into your diet. Establishing friendly bacteria from probiotic rich foods may add to a healthy gut microbiome, and may improve transit time, stool frequency, and stool consistency (Dimidi, E., et al. 2014). Probiotic rich foods also help keep estrogen in balance and may flush out xenoestrogens and thyroid disruptors such as bisphenol A (Oishi, K., et al. 2008). You can easily obtain fermented foods from sources such as sauerkraut, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, yakult, apple cider vinegar (with the mother) and pickles. 2. Increase your high-quality water intake. Low fluid intake can attribute to constipation (Arnaud, M.J. 2003). According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommended daily intake of water for adult women is 2.7 liters (and ½ liter can come from water in foods, such as fruits and vegetables - watermelon, cucumbers, and oranges as ideas!) 3. Look up the Bristol Stool Chart and be sure that you are familiar with what a healthy bowel movement looks like so that you can assess what adjustments you need to make. A…