In this chapter, I shall briefly touch upon the next four pillars of recovery. After CBT, ERP, mindfulness, acceptance, gratitude, insight and compassion, the eighth pillar is a good diet. There is evidence that shows that certain types of foods can cause anxiety and certain types of foods can relieve anxiety. Foods high in tryptophan can boost the production of serotonin in the brain (Strasser et al., 2016), apart from offering other benefits. Foods high in tryptophan are whole milk, fish, turkey, chicken, oats, cheese, nuts, seeds, whole grain bread, chocolate, fruits, leafy vegetables like spinach, etc. Good quality animal protein, good quality fats, vegetables, fruits, water, probiotics like sauerkraut or yogurt, nuts (pre-soaked in water to remove the anti-nutrients), lentils (pre-soaked to remove the phytates) are all good for the gut and mental health.
On the flip side, foods containing sugar, alcohol, caffeine, processed flour, aspartame (which is an artificial sweetener), are likely to cause a spike in anxiety or depressive symptoms (Robinson, 2021) and should be either entirely eliminated from the diet or at least, consumed in moderation. Vegetable oils are not as healthy as they claim to be. Simple carbohydrates convert to sugar, so they should be consumed in moderation. Sodas, colas and energy drinks should be avoided. Gluten should be minimized as it may result in a leaky gut and affect mental wellbeing. Smoking is a no-no, even though it may seem to you sometimes that smoking relieves anxiety (which you know is not true). Hence, a good diet is the eighth pillar of recovery.
The ninth pillar of recovery is sleep. Good sleep is very important for mental wellbeing. Sleep and mental health have a two-way relationship. While poor mental health can cause sleep problems, poor sleep can worsen mental health issues as well (Dahl, & Harvey, 2007). When you don’t sleep well, you automatically become more susceptible to stress, depression and anxiety. Sleep would help you recover from physical and mental exertion and if sleep is inadequate, recovery is inadequate. Hence, good sleep is the ninth pillar of recovery. I have included an article on how to sleep better as Additional Resource 3. Do read that as well.
The tenth pillar of recovery is physical exercise. Exercise is important to make sure that your mental wellbeing is maintained (Ratey, 2019). Exercise has many benefits. It can help you sleep better, which is good for mental health. Exercise can boost happy hormones such as serotonin, relaxation hormones such as GABA, which serve to lift your mood and relieve stress and anxiety and endorphins which enable you to focus better and improve mindfulness. Exercise boosts neural growth, which helps to break old habits and form new ones. Exercise also makes you more resilient and can make you feel ready for everything that life throws at you. For these reasons, exercise is the tenth pillar of recovery.
The eleventh pillar of recovery is supplements. Dietary supplements, that is. It is well known that the absence of vitamins and minerals in the body may lead to physical problems. It is relatively lesser known that this absence may hamper mental health as well. There is evidence that taking dietary supplements can help mental health (Hoffman et al., 2019). For example, deficiency of vitamin B could impact cognitive function and memory. Deficiency of folic acid (vitamin B9) can cause depressive symptoms. Deficiency of thiamin (vitamin B1) may cause anxiety. Dietary supplements to augment these depleted vitamins can help resolve the associated issues. Supplements containing vitamin B12, vitamin D, Omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, magnesium, and creatine can also boost mental health. Supplements, thus, are the eleventh pillar of recovery. Hence, exercise, good sleep, good diet and dietary supplements are important pillars to recovery.
In the next chapter, we shall look at the twelfth pillar of recovery that is medicine.
Read AR3 – 23 tips to sleep better