This has been a tough year for my family; having lost three immediate family members in the last eight months. During my “blog hiatus”, I’ve prioritized my mental, emotional, and physical well-being. This was accomplished through an incredible amount of time spent in self-reflection. I am learning a lot about myself but also a lot about how my immediate environment impacts my inner world. I’m realizing that my overall quality of life has been influenced by many things that I considered harmless or inconsequential. Today, I’m going to be discussing the top 3 factors that can “secretly” affect your well-being.
I hate to be this person; but, nutrition MUST be at the top of this list. I’ve talked about my medical diagnoses in previous blogs and videos, so I won’t go into detail here. But the way you fuel your body directly correlates to the way you look and feel on the inside. I’m not a dietician or a health guru and I’m not going to list the best foods for a healthy diet. Instead, I will offer insight into how your diet affects your “inner world”. Experts have suggested that there may be a link between depression (and other health disorders like fibromyalgia) and chronic inflammation in the body. Other studies have suggested a direct link between gut health and mental health. Ingesting things that cause inflammation or do harm to your gut can directly affect how you feel.
I am not a physician, but I can offer anecdotal evidence to support these claims. A few months ago, I suffered from a herniated disc and subsequent pinched nerves in my neck. I can’t even begin to explain the amount of pain I felt! I couldn’t move my left arm for about two weeks, and I went nearly a week before getting three consecutive hours of sleep. I was completely miserable, and the prescriptions didn’t seem to do anything but cause adverse side effects. The doctors told me that it could take up to six months for the pain to go away! I decided to take matters into my own hands. A few holistic experts recommended changing to an anti-inflammatory diet; the idea being that the pain was caused by the inflammation surrounding the nerves. I immediately cut out foods that were known to cause inflammation like bread, pasta and dairy and incorporated things like leafy greens and alkaline water, which are known to reduce inflammation. Within two weeks (a total of 4 weeks from the onset), I was up and moving again with minimal pain!
I recognize that I could just be a quick healer, but when I compared the first two weeks to the latter two, there was no comparison in the way that I felt. I even noticed that I was experiencing mental clarity and the chronic fatigue (from fibromyalgia) had also gone away. You don’t have to just take my word for it. If you talk to any health enthusiast, the first thing they’ll tell you is that when they started eating more strategically, they felt better overall. Increasing your awareness about the foods you eat is a great place to start if you’re experiencing some mental health challenges.
Hormonal Birth Control
Buckle up, we’re going for a ride with this one. To truly understand the impact of hormonal birth control, you have to understand how reproductive hormones work in the body. I did a series on fertility a few months ago and you can check out the most pertinent post here! Despite the delivery method (i.e., pill, patch, IUD), most hormonal birth controls work in the same way. They deliver small doses of “pseudohormones”, typically progestin (similar to progesterone) and estradiol (similar to estrogen).
Experts don’t know EXACTLY how they work but they assume they prevent pregnancy in a few different ways. The first way is by preventing ovulation, or the release of an egg from the ovaries. If there is no egg available when sperm enters the body, then a pregnancy can’t occur. The second way is by thinning the lining of the uterus making it difficult or impossible for a fertilized egg to successfully implant in the uterus. Another way is by thickening the cervical mucus to prevent sperm from entering the uterus and fertilizing an egg. These effects essentially trick your body into a state of “phantom pregnancy” for as long as you continue to ingest them. For some women, it’s a few months. For others, its more than 10 years.
To Pharma’s credit, there are many warnings on the prescriptions including blood clots, nausea, vomiting, break through bleeding and “mood changes”. Doctors will insist that most of these side effects will go away within a few months of using the medication. The unfortunate truth is that many side effects, especially the “mood changes” don’t ever go away!
So, how exactly does birth control affect mood? Estradiol and progestin are not actually hormones; they are endocrine disruptors -chemicals that can be thought of as pseudo-hormones. They can do a few of the same things that hormones do, attaching to their receptors, like a key fitting into a lock. But they don’t necessarily open the door or open it fully. They also prevent the woman from producing her natural hormones, which impact more than just reproduction. Aside from being integral to fertility, estrogen also plays a role in metabolism, energy, pain relief, and mood. The presence of estrogen in the brain encourages serotonin release, which makes us feel a sense of pleasure or happiness. It is suspected that many women who experience PMS or PMDD are more sensitive to the drop in estrogen that occurs during that time in the menstrual cycle.
Birth control limits the natural production of hormones like estrogen in an attempt to prevent pregnancy, but the replacements can’t do their full job. Have you noticed a change in your mental health lately? It would be worth checking to see if birth control is the cause! If you’re interested in nonhormonal ways of preventing pregnancy, check out this post!
I’m sure this is helpful coming from someone who clearly used technology to communicate this message! I promise, I’m guilty of this one too. Somewhere along the way, our society has advanced so far that we can’t seem to go one day, even a few hours, without interacting with some sort of technology. Research is finally starting to come out with information about the detrimental effects of too much screen time. These include changes in eye health, postural changes, and muscular problems (texter’s thumb anyone?).
The big one for me is changes in social behavior. The constant interaction with technology changes the way we interact with people. It’s completely possible for a human to accomplish everything they need to do in a day without ever leaving their home. You can work, get groceries, pay bills, talk to friends/family and shop for clothes all while sitting on your couch. Humans are naturally social creatures. The isolation can eventually lead to a decline in quality of life.
With technology also comes… THE MEDIA. Whether it be newspaper articles, YouTube videos, or Instagram stories, the media can be overwhelming! Things that go viral are often the most sensational and divisive stories. The most followed and visible people are often doing outrageous things for attention. It appears more people would rather argue and berate each other rather than connect in a positive way with others. Social media platforms are designed to keep you engaging for hours on end. After a while, it’s easy to lose sight of reality. I’ve realized that it’s easy for me as a highly sensitive person to feel like the world is ending after every scroll through my timeline. Experts have also warned of the detrimental effects of social media on body image and self-esteem especially in young women. It's very possible that the amount of time you spend on technology and detached from the natural world has a direct impact on your mental well-being.
Figuring some of these things out was incredibly helpful for my own health journey. I found that most people aren’t talking about the ways in which things like nutrition and birth control and directly impact your mental health. I hope that getting the conversation started will help others! If you like what you just read, please share with someone you love! As always, comment below with your thoughts!