Wednesday 11 July 2012

A Brain Healthy Summer

Posted at 8:11 AM


(submitted by Wendie Martell-Williams of Visions Counseling)

People do tend to feel better emotionally in summer, in part from the boost of mood enhancing “brain chemicals” serotonin, dopamine, and noradrenalin.  These are all increased naturally by the longer daylight hours and our increase in physical activity.  For some, summer means some kind of vacation, and a break in the routine can also offer something to look forward to.
However, there are some specific challenges that go with the summer season:
  • Atypical depression: For some, dark moods crop up in summer, for others, there may be agitated (angry) depression associated with the heat and increased dopamine and noradrenaline (norepinephrine).
  • Risk of increased aggression, domestic or sexual abuse (law enforcement reports that crime rates increase in warmer weather).
  • Traumas linked to activities or risks, i.e. water-related accidents, head injuries, falls.
  • Increased use of addictive substances-alcohol, drugs, food.  Associated with greater availability or giving ourselves permission to eat or drink more.  More opportunity, free drinks or food at social events and outdoor gatherings, combining alcohol with sporting events.  Being “under the influence” may be a factor in any of the above problems, such as drinking and driving, drinking and diving, or domestic abuse.
Counselors often are called on to help with overcoming depression, teach how to protect oneself and improve relationships, support those who are willing to admit and conquer addictions, and guide through the process of resolving trauma.  At Visions I am available for doing this in a solution-focused way; so many people tend to move through issues, take responsibility, and feel better in just a short time. 
What I’ve just mentioned are situations that do happen, but are not so common as how the brain is affected by our summer lifestyle.  There is a direct connection between the foods, drinks, and activities we choose and our mood, short and long term.  One of the things I’ve noticed at the grocery checkout lines are cases of soda that are bought, and I think, “yeah, I used to drink that.”  I have no desire for “a cold one” soda or beer, at this point in my life, and honestly, I will share why.
The truth is that whatever goes up comes down, and often the low is lower than the high is high.  Sugar and alcohol are drugs that increase both the mood chemicals and blood sugar (glucose or glycemic index) very quickly.  Since neither offer the body any nutrition, and actually prevent the intake of nutrients from other foods, they are depleting the body and the brain.  The basic result is depression, anxiety, lack of energy, and cravings for more sugar or alcohol. 
What is bad for the brain is bad for the body in general.  While I was looking up the research on soda for today, one brochure said, “drinking soda is likely to leave you with little appetite for vegetables, protein, and other food your body needs.”  Phosphoric acid is one of the main components of soda, which can lead to osteoporosis or softening of the teeth and bones. Phosphoric acid also neutralizes the hydrochloric acid in your stomach, which can interfere with digestion.  Parents or coaches, did you know that studies show that girls who play sports and drink soda daily have 3 times the risk of bone fractures?  If you are drinking diet soda, know that the artificial sweeteners are all known to increase rather than decrease weight, and have a glycemic index that is higher than sugar (80 compared to 70).  Sucralose, Aspartame, and Saccarin all have dangerous health effects including brain tumors and seizures.  And caffeine?  Poor concentration, high blood pressure, and insomnia, just to name a few side effects.
What are the brain healthy choices?  Whether drinks or foods, I invite you to get the sugar out, and go with real, natural, whole options instead of processed.  Someone who is cutting down on soda and coffee told me he used the juice of a mango to flavor water, and even the kids enjoyed it.  Diluting juices can make them less of a blood sugar spike. Sun teas, or brewing and then chilling any flavor of herbal or green tea can give you a wide variety of flavors.  I also use a green drink, Liquid Clorophyl, which has a minty taste.  There are vitamin and mineral enriched powders that do not contain sugar, like Emergen-C Electro-Mix, a great sports or pick me up drink (for when my husband is sweating excessively in this hot weather).
As for adding sweetener, stevia is an herb that you can grow in your garden or buy in packets, to sweeten the more sour fruits like strawberries. There are stevia flavors, available at the local health foods stores or through Visions Counseling as a fundraiser for our nonprofit organization.  These flavors are great because they are very sweet for a small amount, do not promote tooth decay, and have a zero glycemic index, perfect for those who have diabetes, anyone wanting to lose weight, or to have sweet without sugar. 
We can choose the abundance of fruits and vegetables to give our brain and body nutrition and cool refreshment. I spent years rationalizing that if I didn’t bring the sweets or soda or alcohol, I would be disappointing other people.  What I learned is they’ll get over it, it’s just one meal, and I need to meet my needs too.  Some people love the fresh food and drinks and see it as a true sign that I really care about them.
It’s likely that I’ve touched on one thing you may or may not have thought of changing to take better care of yourself.  Summer is a great time to start, to practice while the brain has the added boost of the feel-good chemicals!  Through Visions I offer affordable support, accepting most insurance plans, Medicare, Medicaid, and fees by donation. I can be reached at 715-551-1970, or Feel welcome to call me and ask questions I about the suggestions I’ve offered today, or for a session for yourself, you and your spouse, or your family.  I envision you enjoying a brain healthy summer!


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