6 Steps to Improve Anxiety and Low Mood

 If you’re struggling with your mental health lately, you’re not alone. I have seen a significant increase in patients with anxiety and depression in the past few months. As we head into winter and ride out the second wave, it’s important to be self-aware and proactive about how we’re feeling.
 
It might be a good time to check in with yourself:

  1. Are you feeling anxious, overly worried, or have recurring intrusive thoughts or concerns?
  2. Do you feel depressed, sad, hopeless, or a loss of joy in things you used to find joy in?

If you’re not answering yes to the above, I still think it’s important for all of us to be aware of how we can support our mood in the coming months.
 
Step 1: Reach out for support
 
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, it’s time to reach out to your MD, ND, and/or therapist. They can discuss options like talk therapy, medications, nutrition and/or supplements to support your mood.
 
If you’re not quite ready for that, a great first step is to reach out to a friend or family member and share how you are feeling. Feeling heard and supported by loved ones is cathartic, and it helps remind us that we are not alone.
 
Step 2: Eat more protein
 
Serotonin and dopamine, our happy, reward, and anti-anxiety hormones, are made from protein. Protein is unique because we can’t make it from fat or carbs. We have to eat it in order to have enough to build serotonin and dopamine to support our mood.
 
Aim for at least 0.8g of protein per kilogram of your body weight each day. Two simple tricks are to add unflavoured collagen powder to your coffee (10g of protein) and a generous scoop of hemp hearts to all your meals.
 
Step 3: Move your body
 
Research shows that exercise improves mental health. It also improves self-esteem, motivation, sex drive, and cognitive function. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity (brisk walking counts!), 3x per week.

Step 4: Take your vitamin D

Every Canadian adult needs to take 1000 IU of vitamin D daily during the winter to help prevent seasonal depression. Take your vitamin D, please!

Step 5: Reduce Alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant, and it makes it challenging for us to regulate our emotions. It also makes sleep less restful, and it can trigger anxiety the next day.

Bring extra awareness to your alcohol intake as it relates to your mood, especially the following day. If you have a drink with dinner every night, try a week without it and see how you feel.

Step 6: Motivation & Accountability

Mental health challenges make us feel less motivated to do the things we know will help us feel better. So, start small, and pick one thing on this list to do today. Tomorrow you might feel ready to try two things, and so on.

Once we start to feel better we sometimes let our healthy habits fall by the wayside, and the anxiety and low mood return. Set up some accountability to keep you on track.

I use dry erase markers on my bathroom mirror to check off a list of goals each day: chat with a friend, meditate, supplements, eat well, bedtime routine, exercise. You could also ask your partner or friend to check-in to keep you on track, or book regular visits with your ND or therapist.

Final thought: Even though we’re all stressed with living through this strange time, it doesn’t make your stress, anxiety or depression any less important. Please reach out if you need support.

Book an appointment to address your mental wellbeing here.

Mucous in the Stool

Why is there mucous in your poop?

Have you ever looked (we all look, it’s normal) at your poop and thought – what IS that? If there’s a jellylike substance (it looks like snot in the toilet bowl) in the stool, it could be an indication that there’s an infection in the bowel.

There are levels of intensity when we’re addressing mucous in the stool:

Mild: Small amount, occasional mucous. This indicates a mild overgrowth of non-pathogenic (meaning not disease-causing), non-commensal (meaning not the good bacteria) bacteria or yeast in the bowel. This is typically seen in patients with bloating, irregular bowel movements and other IBS symptoms. I address this using antimicrobial herbs and supplements for a short time frame, plus a well-balanced probiotic.

Moderate: Moderate amount, frequent mucous. This indicates a more aggressive overgrowth of non-pathogenic, non-commensal bacteria or yeast in the small or large bowel. This is seen in patients with more severe IBS and sometimes in SIBO (Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth) and may require lab testing prior to deciding on the appropriate treatment approach.

Severe: Large amounts with severe diarrhea. This indicates a pathogenic (disease-causing) infection. This is seen in patients with a harmful infection, often traveller’s diarrhea or a parasitic infection. If you are experiencing this type of symptoms, please see your MD, ask for a stool sample, and you may need antibiotics (yes, I do support antibiotics when necessary). Follow up with your Naturopathic Doctor to replenish the gut flora with good bacteria, help with gut healing, and determine the best nutrition protocol during and after treatment.

Red flag: If there is bloody mucous in the stool, we’ll send you for fecal calprotectin testing and/or a colonoscopy, as blood is a risk factor for more serious conditions like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

Other causes: If infection isn’t the cause, it could be another underlying condition such as Celiac disease or a liver or gall bladder issue causing a malabsorption of fats (often mistaken for mucous). A full assessment of the rest of your bowel habits helps us to narrow this down so that we can send you for appropriate lab testing.

We can learn a lot from asking about bowel habits! Asking about mucous in the stool is only one of my 10 questions that I ask every patient about their bowel health.

Here’s the full list:

  • Is there mucous in your stool?
  • Is there blood in your stool?
  • Is there undigested food (other than corn) in your stool?
  • How many bowel movements to you have per day?
  • Do you feel fully evacuated?
  • Shape: Is the stool well formed / pelleted / liquid etc. ? *Bristol stool chart helps!
  • Do you experience urgency?
  • Do you have abdominal pain, or pain on passing a bowel movement?
  • Do you feel gassy?
  • Do you experience bloating?

Book your appointment to address your digestive symptoms, because a happy gut is the foundation of a healthy body.

Stress & Digestion

Why does stress affect digestion?

We all know the feeling of having butterflies in our stomach or feeling nauseous when we’re worried, but why does that happen?

When we’re feeling stressed, anxious, overwhelmed or upset, our bodies are in a sympathetic nervous system state. This is more commonly known as “fight or flight”.

During stressful situations, we release a cocktail of hormones that instructs the body to reroute blood flow from “unnecessary” to “critical to survival” areas of the body. This includes taking blood flow away from digestive organs and sending it to the heart, lungs, and large muscles. From a survival perspective, this makes sense: let’s focus on running from a lion now and we can deal with digestion later.

The problem is that if we’re feeling stressed for a prolonged period of time, our digestion suffers long term consequences:

  • Stomach: Lack of production of digestive enzymes and stomach acid leads to nausea, heartburn or indigestion.
  • Small intestine: If we don’t break down foods well in the stomach AND we have a lack of blood flow to the intestinal tract, we poorly absorb nutrients. This leads to fatigue and other symptoms of nutrient deficiency like brittle hair and nails, headaches, and muscle tension.
  • Large intestine: Poorly broken-down foods become hyper fermented by our gut flora. This leads to bloating and leaky gut.
  • Motility: The normal action of moving food through the digestive tract in a healthy time frame with proper bowel movements is affected. This can cause diarrhea in some people and constipation in others.

Long term stress has other impacts on how our digestion moves, too. It can slow our metabolic rate (causing constipation) through slowing thyroid function. Stress also alters our gut microbiome, impacting our immune system, mood, and appetite. Suffice it to say that stress has a huge impact on our digestion as the foundation of overall health!

So, what do we do?

  1. The opposite of “fight or flight” is “rest and digest”. The key is that you can’t be in both nervous system states at the same time. When you’re feeling stressed, worried, or if you notice that your digestion has been off lately, try taking a few moments before you eat to take five slow, controlled, deep breaths. This pulls you out of fight or flight and moves you into rest and digest.
  2. Focus on your meals. Avoid screens, phones, and other distractions while eating. Sit down and enjoy your food! Eating with others is helpful for the digestive process because keep us relaxed and focused on the meal.
  3. Engage in restorative and restful activities throughout the day. Remember that digestion isn’t just happening while we’re eating, it’s a continual process.
  4. Don’t work out too much. Intense workouts put our bodies back into fight or flight. Make sure your workouts are challenging but not exhausting. A good rule is that if you’re sore two days after a workout, you’ve pushed too far.
  5. Get a good sleep. Sleep inhibits our stress hormones. When we’re more tired, we feel more anxious and irritable, and this is because our stress hormones weren’t sufficiently lowered during sleep. Click here for more tips on sleep.
  6. Seek out support for coping with stress and anxiety. Dr. Chambers may use herbs and/or supplements, adjust your nutrition, improve your sleep and provide stress coping tools to help reduce stress.
  7. Uncover what else may be sabotaging your digestion. Food intolerances, IBS, thyroid issues, candida overgrowth and SIBO are all conditions impact our digestion and are made worse with stress.

Book an appointment to address the underlying cause of your digestive concerns, learn to cope with stress, and get you on the path to great digestion even in the face of stressful circumstances.

COVID-19: The Facts

There is a lot of fear surrounding COVID-19 (Coronavirus), so here is what you need to know:

1. TRAVEL

  • The Canadian government has recommended avoiding all non-essential travel outside of Canada. I cancelled my vacation, and it hurt my heart. It’s not because I’m worried about being sick, it’s because I don’t want to carry the virus and promote its spread to others. I’m sure you feel the same!
  • If you have traveled anywhere outside of Canada, as of Saturday March 14th at 12:01am, it is recommended that you self-quarantine for 14 days.

2. PREVENTION

  • Wash your hands for 20+ seconds with soap and water. Use hand sanitizer when soap and water isn’t available.
  • Don’t touch your face if you’re out in public.
  • Avoid gatherings of more than 250 people. Social distancing should be practiced when reasonable.
  • Sanitize surfaces regularly, including door handles and light switches.
  • Eat healthy, with lots of protein and as little sugar as possible. Prioritize your sleep. Talk to your ND about immune supporting supplements.

3. DISEASE

  • Symptoms include fever, cough and difficulty breathing.
  • If you have a fever or think you may have contracted the virus, contact Public Health BY PHONE (Ontario: 1-866-797-0000).
  • This illness can be dangerous for those who are immunocompromised and in the elderly, as it can cause pneumonia.
  • If you are otherwise healthy, you are unlikely to develop a severe illness. You should phone Public Health, stay home, treat yourself like you would with any other flu, and ensure you’re being monitored as per Public Health recommendations.

4. STOCKING UP

  • Don’t do it. Shop normally, and only buy what you need.

5. ANXIETY MANAGEMENT

  • I understand that this is causing a lot of fear and panic for many people.
  • Yes, we are taking immense precautions to prevent this from spreading throughout our community. This means we’re being careful, not that we’re in over our heads.
  • If you are young and healthy, do your part to protect others. If you are at risk of more serious outcomes, stay home.

6. FOR MY PATIENTS

  • I am offering OPTIONAL video consults in place of in-person consults (note: if you are under quarantine, this is not optional), but I will continue to be in the office if you would like to see me in person. If you have an appointment already booked, you’ll receive an email from me soon.
  • I will continue to monitor our Government recommendations, and I will act with an abundance of caution to protect my patients.