Supporting Mental Health in Winter



The hustle and bustle of the holiday celebrations are over. For many people, Christmas and New Years are their favorite time of year, as it is the time of gathering, giving, and receiving. But according to a recent survey, 88% of Americans say that it is the most stressful time. Finances, family conflict, and jam-packed schedules all create increased pressure and chaos. However, just as soon the holidays arrive, they are over. This holiday season also concludes our second year in this Covid era. Because of the wild circumstances in the world right now, it is really important to evaluate ourselves. How do we feel as we begin this new year?

With the vata season in its prime, emotional vata qualities are going to be very present. The cold and dark force you into seclusion, plaguing many with seasonal depression and anxiety, or aggravate existing conditions. Once the stress and pressure of the holidays are over, where does that leave the self?

In Ayurveda, depression looks different across the three doshas and there is no one treatment for all.

Vata dominant depression results in anxiety, fear, and trouble sleeping.

Pitta dominant depression results in fear of losing control, fear of failure and anger.

Kapha dominant depression results in excessive sleep, weight gain, heaviness, and just overall fatigue.

Depression is caused by losing the connection between you and your Self. An unhealthy mental digestion process is the overall reason for depression and after the holidays, the mind has not had the time to process life. However, most of us find ourselves jumping back into the hustle and bustle just as quickly and don’t allow for much needed downtime! It is all a setup for low mental health.

In western and modern medicine, the body is isolated into different systems. But in Ayurveda, the body is looked at as a whole system that is functioning together and every factor plays into each system. A person’s mental, emotional, and physical all affect the other and imbalance in one causes imbalance in the other. It is believed that the main way to find balance within all three, is through the gut.

The Gut as the “Second Brain”

The gut has been nicknamed the “second brain”, as research has shown there is similar tissues shared between the gut and the brain. There is 2-way communication between the gut and the brain, mediated through the vagus nerve, hormones, neurotransmitters, and electrical impulses through a pathway of nerves. It also involves the endocrine, immune, and neural pathways.

Our gastrointestinal tract is lined by an independent nervous system called the enteric nervous system (ENS), with around 100 million nerves. The ENS is where up to 90% of our neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, norepinephrine, and nitric oxide are produced. Our mental health and physical health can be impacted when our gut health is imbalanced. Poor gut health has been implicated in neurological and neuropsychiatric disorders such as autistic spectrum disorders, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease. There are other researchers looking at how Alzheimer’s disease and depression are impacted by gut heath. These are possibly related to inflammatory states created by microbial imbalance inside the body.

Ayurveda has been functioning for 5,000 years using food, herbs, massage, and lifestyle choices to help restore balance to the gut.

Ways to Support Mental Health and Gut Health

Take the time and space your mental and emotional well being are asking for. Support your body and nourish it physically and spiritually. Here are some ways you can do that.

  1. Find a Grounding and Centering Routine: No matter how busy you are, take the time for daily practices. A morning or nightly routine you don’t stray from can be a foundation your mind, body and soul will look forward to everyday. It remains constant, allowing you to feel more grounded. This can include journaling, prayer, meditation, or a morning and nightly skin care routine.

  2. Get Quality Rest: Sleep helps you recover from the day, mentally and physically. Take the time in the evening to have a cup of tea and read. Disconnect from technology at least an hour before bed and make sure you are not eating right before you sleep either. Try and get into bed before 10:00 pm as this is when the body begins its nightly detox process.

  3. Set Intentions and be in the Present Moment: Setting intentions are a key in fighting seasonal depression. These intentions and goals push you forward. These intentions can be small, like making a fresh meal for yourself once a week, or they can be bigger, like making a plan to visit a friend. If you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, find the present moment and connect to it. Focus on what you can physically feel and see around you. We have an article about setting intentions and goals for 2022. If you would like to read it, click here.

  4. Support Gut Health with Food and Herbs: Your mind, body, and soul need extra support. Set aside extra time each week for a few fresh and nourishing meals. This includes eating seasonal foods like root vegetables, cooked, warm vegetables or soups. Eat foods that nourish the tissues. You can also bolster your system by taking herbs that promote strong agni (digestive fire). Always consult your doctor before taking any herbal supplements you haven’t taken before.

  5. Meditate: There are numerous studies showing the correlation or positive benefits of meditation with mental health and gut health. This is due to the fact that the gut directly impacts the nervous system, immune system, endocrine systems, etc. Meditation also directly impacts all of these systems. Meditation improves the flow of blood which helps balance digestive fluids, aiding in more efficient digestion, meaning that nutrients can be more effectively distributed throughout your body.

If you find yourself experiencing symptoms of seasonal depression or are experiencing gut imbalances, we are here to help. Now is the best time to bolster your body’s system and help get it into a more balanced and healthful state. We can help with meals, herbal supplements, and overall finding you a more balanced lifestyle that works for you!

References:

Wolkin, Jennifer. “Meet Your Second Brain: The Gut” Mindful. August 14, 2015. Web.

G, Moser. “Psychotherapy in somatic diseases—for example gastrointestinal disorders”. Psychiatry Danub. December 2007:327-31.

Sydni Hughes, 1.11.2022

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