It’s been an interesting couple of years, to say the least, in terms of how COVID has radically changed the way so many of us think and do things, how we feel emotionally and whether or not we feel truly equipped to be as resilient as possible.

There are common sense things we can all do, such regular hand washing and staying home if we’re feeling under the weather, but there are a handful of other things that we can benefit from tuning into, above and beyond those basic efforts.

Namely – a true focus on gut health and not only how every part of our body is affected by it, but how what we do, how we move and what we eat affects our gut!

You’ve likely heard about the food and mood connection to start with.

Did you know that eating a healthy, balanced diet and avoiding inflammation-producing foods may be protective against depression? (1) Research has identified 12 antidepressant nutrients related to the prevention and treatment of depression; some of the foods containing these nutrients are oysters, mussels, salmon, watercress, spinach, romaine lettuce, cauliflower, and strawberries.

Notice what they all have in common?

They’re all real food, zero processing or refinement.

First item to note: Lean heavily into local, in season produce (mostly non starchy veggies), pile on the natural fats (such as organic avocado, coconut + olive oils as well as consciously sourced animal fats ).

When we eat a diet rich in real food, we create an environment conducive to supporting an optimal gut biome which then helps to support our mental health on another level, due to the gut-brain axis.

Studies (2) demonstrate the importance of a healthy microbiome, particularly the gut microbiota, for patients suffering from anxiety and depression, as dysbiosis and inflammation in the CNS have been linked as potential causes of mental illness. Of note, studies have shown that probiotics effectively mitigated anxiety and depressive symptoms similar to conventional prescription medications.

Bullet point takeaway number two: include probiotics into your daily regime.

The third important piece to add (in no particular order): get your move on! Not everyone wants to head out for a run and experience a runner’s high, nor does everyone feel drawn to a yoga flow class. The most important thing is that you’re moving your body in some capacity, ideally in a manner that you actually enjoy and some type of combination that provides some type of strength and some variation of cardiovascular training.

Physical activity reorganizes the brain so that its response to stress is reduced and anxiety is less likely to interfere with normal brain function, according to a research team based at Princeton University (3).

Not that you need science to remind you how great you feel after you’ve had a killer workout… but the research exists nonetheless.
The fourth piece to integrate may not seem quite that obvious, but without it, one’s ability to truly down regulate and literally, chill out, may be compromised: meditation.

To be clear, making the differentiation between meditation and meditative can be tricky. It certainly was for me, for quite a while, but in an ideal scenario, there’s room for both.

Wikipedia (4) tells us that meditation is a practice in which an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing the mind on a particular object, thought, or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.

There are many ways to meditate, and it’s certainly a personal discovery of what works best for each individual person, but suffice to say, whether someone is focused on overcoming an illness, reducing stress or improving athletic performance, mediation is a key pillar in all of the above.

For me, learning transcendental meditation was one the right fit for me and it’s been absolutely transformational.

If bone broth is the panacea to all that ails one from a physical perspective, consider mediation to be its spiritual counterpart.

Not only does meditation help us on a spiritual level, it also comes full circle back to gut health; during stress, an altered gut microbial population affects the regulation of neurotransmitters mediated by the microbiome and gut barrier function. Meditation helps regulate the stress response, thereby suppressing chronic inflammation states and maintaining a healthy gut-barrier function (5).

And the very last thing to consider: what habits might you have developed over time that are no longer serving you?

Have you ever stopped to consider that choosing to be happy might actually be a habit?

Being happy doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re bouncing off the walls filled with joy 24 / 7. Happiness doesn’t always make us feel happy; that’s because it’s a complex state of well-being that requires awareness of both positive and negative emotions, personal values, temperaments, and habits (6).

It’s not just about feeling happy, it’s also about leaning into the other human emotions we experience that simply present us the opportunity to experience contrast, thereby making the happy experiences even greater… and the daily practice of choosing to look for things that make us feel good.

Bottom line: by tuning in to what you’re eating, how your moving, resting and chilling out, you can improve your mood, your gut health and elevate closer to thriving optimally.