When we think about our body’s immune system, we usually focus only on physical ailments. However, the immune system also impacts our mental health in a major way. Recent studies, in fact, have found an interesting connection related to inflammation.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation is how our body responds to bacteria, viruses, damaged tissue, and more. It’s safe to say infection and our body’s response to infection combine to cause inflammation. Other factors can create or add to it, for example:
- Alcohol and tobacco products
- Certain prescription drugs
- Dietary choices
Symptoms that may indicate ongoing inflammation include:
- Digestive issues
- Skin problems
- Weight loss
- Joint pain
Injury or illness is usually not something we cause. But inflammation-creating lifestyle choices can be changed.
What role can inflammation play in our mental health?
Studies are still being done, but a connection is becoming clearer. Let’s consider depression. While this is a mental condition, there are physical symptoms. For example, a person with depression may have a loss of appetite. They may also have low energy or fatigue easily. Well, a large body of research now confirms a possible link between immune and inflammatory activity in the brain.
In 2013, another connection was made. A Danish study examined the medical records of more than 3 million people. Those who were hospitalized for infection were 62 percent more likely to develop an emotional disorder (e.g. depression and bipolar disorder).
It makes sense to explore ways to decrease inflammation in your life. The benefits may range across the spectrum of physical and psychological conditions.
3 Ways to Change Your Inflammation Situation & Mend Your Mental Health
1. Stress management and overall self-care
This may sound like general advice but taking care of yourself is the foundation for a healthy lifestyle. Stress is a universal trigger. It plays a major role in inflammation and must be taken seriously. Look into relaxation techniques like yoga, meditation, and Tai Chi. Also, guard your sleeping habits. Stress management begins with healthy sleep.
2. Dietary changes
What we eat impacts our health in so many ways. Here are some anti-inflammatory basics:
- Choose whole foods, reduce processed and packaged meals
- Choose the best award winning supplements to balance out the lack in your diet and get antioxidant support
- Make most of your intake of the plant-based variety
- Speaking of variety, embrace it
- Keep a food journal to learn your allergies and sensitivities
- Include anti-inflammatory spices like ginger, turmeric, cloves, and cinnamon
- Aim for as much organic food as you can realistically include
Of course, when it comes to diet, we each have our personal quirks. Consult a professional to make sure you’re on the right track.
3. Get active
Your body doesn’t want to be inflamed. But it definitely does want to move, twist, stretch, and sweat. This means getting active. For starters, limit your desk and device time as much as possible. Then it’s time kick things up a notch or three. You might prefer Crossfit or Zumba. Maybe it’s karate or spin class. Or how about getting outside? Walk or bike away some of that inflammation on the Bay Bridge Trail from Oakland to Yerba Buena Island.
Remember: You are not alone
Let’s be absolutely clear. It’s not easy making these lifestyle changes.
There are many reasons for this and plenty of those reasons are rooted in the mind. This is where counseling becomes essential. Working with a therapist is a proven path towards establishing new habits. We learn about our patterns and identify our obstacles as we come to better understand ourselves. After that, it’s easier to set a plan into motion.
Together, you and your therapist can lay out the groundwork for a new mindset. That new mindset may be the may be your most effective push towards less inflammation and better mental health.