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Fight or flight: When we think about stress, we think about the brain

Stressed? 

When we think about stress we think about our brain.

For the curious amongst us, notions of anxiety and fear may conjure up images of neuroscientists sketching out the ‘fight of flight’ part of the brain, where these emotions manifest. Understanding this functioning is important, especially for those of us who want to improve our ability to think clearly and effectively.

However is this view enough; or should we be considering another part of ourselves when addressing stress?

According to Hopkins Medicine we cannot address mental imbalances without understanding the relationship between our two minds; those being our brain and more interestingly, our gut.

The mind-gut connection is not a new term. I’m sure we can all remember times where, especially as a child, we felt butterflies in our tummies or perhaps more recently, made decisions based on our gut feel. These experiences highlight that we’re likely aware of a connection between our mental state and our belly; yet in the majority we assume that it is our brain that acts as the driving force. This assumption leads us to explore remedies that focus on our mind. It is not uncommon for IBS sufferers to be subscribed CBT courses and for organisation to cascade resilience training as a stress reduction strategy.

Mind & gut, or gut & mind

However what if the latest neuroscience research is uncovering that this ‘micro-biome/brain’ connection is indeed more complex?

According to Rearden (2014) it is actually the gut’s bacteria that has a significant influence on our brains. Our gastro-intestinal track is covered in over 100 million nerve cells, otherwise known as the enteric nervous system. It is this extensive network of neurons that provides constant chemical and hormonal feedback to our minds; and with it the ability to drive our mood and stress levels.

This shift has triggered the US National Institute of Mental Health to invest $1million to uncover more about this neuro-gut relationship. Fascinatingly early results have unveiled a correlation between levels of gut micro-biome and behavioural conditions such as autism (with autistic children having significantly poorer gut health that their counterparts).

Although neuroscientists are ‘only now starting to understand how gut bacteria influences the brain’ (Rearden 2014), there is growing recognition that mental illness can not be addressed via brain based strategies alone. As Sonnenburg et al (2015) reiterate, this connection is paramount to understanding and addressing our holistic wellbeing. Something which Yoke Consultancy advocates through it’s wellbeing framework that recognises the important and dynamic connections between mental, emotional and physical health.

Addressing imbalance

With this research in mind, in order to reduce stress in our lives, we must create ways to soothe and balance both our brain mind and our gut mind.

In next months’ blog we will be addressing our brain, however today’s focus is on our enteric nervous system (gut). It is important to address each separately to help figure out which mind has the most influence on your overall wellbeing.

Below our five basic tips to promoting gut health. Give them a go over the next week and let us know how you get on!

 

  1. Remove toxins – it sounds obvious but it is important to start by eliminating food that puts pressure on our systems. Gluten, dairy, caffeine, sugar are a great way to start.

 

  1. Repair the gut lining – fill yourself with nourishing, healing foods packed with omega-3

fatty acids and antioxidants. Lots of leafy, green veg and healthy oils. And if you’re feeling

 

  1. Restore – rebuild you gut health by introducing good quality probiotics like Lactobacillus

acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis (with up to 85% good bacteria if you can)

 

  1. Replace – keep you tummy in balance with fermentable fibres, including sweet potato and

fermented foods such as sauerkraut for optimal ongoing health

 

  1. Reflect – take the time to meditate or sit with how your gut and mind react to the process.

This understanding will help support you and your future ability to continue on a path towards

healthy guts and minds

 

As always, we’d love to hear your feedback, either on the above article or following your own personal experiment.

In addition if you want to learn more about how to create effective stress reduction strategies for the workplace please get in touch with me directly. I’d be happy to share our insight: [email protected]