Looking after your Mental Health
Hello. Welcome back to the couch, from where we will continue to look at ways of protecting and improving your mental health. As I said last time, the ever increasing pace of life places us at greater risk of emotional breakdown, especially against a back-drop of the energy expended in settling into life in a new country. We are all well advised to take the time to factor into our lifestyle some simple, but fundamental ways of protecting ourselves. Let’s continue with our look at the impact of diet.
Do you know how much caffeine you consume and its effect on the body’s nervous system? Caffeine is a very strong stimulant that impacts mental and metabolic processes and hence mood. Many people say they can’t function without their coffee in the morning. This may well be true, but if I tell you that one definition of the disease of alcoholism is someone who can’t function without a drink, do you see the point I am trying to make? Like most things, in moderation caffeine does no major harm, but do you know how much you take in tea, coffee, coke and many “energy” drinks? Most people avoid unnecessary medication so why not think about reducing or eliminating caffeine from your diet? Decaffeinated tea, coffee and coke are widely available in many shops and cafes. If you choose to go in this direction, I must give you a health warning. As with any drug, don’t just stop taking it. Gradually reduce your intake of caffeine over a period of time to allow your body to get used to the change. Otherwise some very unpleasant side-effects to the withdrawal will appear, showing how powerful a drug it is. Here I am only talking about caffeine, but with any drug including prescribed drugs, you must always first discuss your desire to come off them with your G.P and where this is feasible, agree a sensible withdrawal plan.
Staying with prescribed medicine, when was the last time you sat down with a G.P and reviewed the drugs you regularly take? Here in Spain, where we cannot all afford private medical care and where registering with a G.P is a more complex process than in the U.K., it is easier to buy many “prescription” drugs over the counter at pharmacies. How many of us continue to do this for drugs previously made available through a doctor’s prescription in the U.K without ever taking the trouble to see a doctor here? So, how do you know you still need to use that particular drug or, that it is the most effective and perhaps the one with least side effects of those now available? Many years ago when I was undertaking my degree in psychology one of the first things drummed into me was that no drug has one single effect. When we take multiple substances the effects become more difficult to predict and the opportunity for and impact of side effects increases. Unless you have enjoyed an on-going and long-term relationship with a G.P it is possible that apart from you, no-one has on overall view of the drugs you take each day. So, look after yourself and ensure that you have an annual health check that includes a review of your current medication. When you do see a doctor or talk to a pharmacist for new medication, ensure they have the full picture of what you are already taking - they are busy people so help them to help you by not assuming they already know.
The last thing I want to write about today in regard of the impact of diet on mental health is drinking, both too little and too much! Our bodies are two-thirds water and we live in a country where we need to drink large amounts of water each day to maintain fluid levels. Many of us are aware of the physical impact of dehydration which in severe cases requires hospitalisation. However do you realise that by the time you feel thirsty you are already dehydrated and the lack of water and salt is impacting many organs of the body, including the brain? Dehydration can cause irritability and lethargy, impacting our ability to get things done and in severe cases affects our reasoning. A 2% loss of fluid balance in the body is held to lead to a 10-20% loss of performance in athletes. Avoid this by drinking frequently and sufficiently. A guide I use suggests ½ fluid ounce to 1 pound of body weight, meaning that a person weighing 10 stones needs at least 3.5 pints of water a day, much more when you spend time in the sun or engaging in hard physical activity.
In the introduction to this series of articles I said that a distinction between mind and body is a false one and I hope by know you are beginning to see the point I am trying to make. Next time I’ll continue by looking at the impact of drinking too much, i.e. the effect of excessive use of alcohol on our mental health and on that of the people around us.
I have added some links to www.onthecouchwithsteve.com offering further and more specific thinking and recommendations on securing better health through a healthy diet. If you have missed earlier columns in this series, or any others of mine published in The Weekly Post, you can find them there too. Good-bye until next time, and thanks for reading.