blog Jun 14, 2024

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed our lives in countless ways, reshaping our daily routines, social interactions, and significantly, our overall health and wellness. As we emerge, it’s increasingly clear that, although both physical and mental health were not optimal in North America pre-pandemic, both have definitely worsened in the aftermath. Studies have shown that across the board, negative mood states have surged, while positive mood states have dwindled, highlighting the urgent need for a comprehensive approach to health that addresses not only the body, but must include the mind as well.

Before the pandemic, the health and wellness industry was already rife with pervasive issues with the emphasis largely on weight loss. There's no disputing that as a society, we are the heaviest and most unhealthy we have every been. But the call to turn it around is not driven by health, but by societal pressures, social media influencers, and a lucrative diet industry. This focus distracts from addressing any aspects of true health, including mental wellness. Casual conversations with anyone will tell you the need is great. Many people were caught in a cycle of yo-yo dieting, chronic stress, and poor mental health.

The pandemic exacerbated these issues, creating a perfect storm of health challenges. Lockdowns, social distancing, and the constant threat of illness led to unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. The World Health Organization reported a 25% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide during the first year of the pandemic, underscoring the crisis in mental health. Negative mood states, such as fear, anger, and sadness, have become more prevalent, while positive mood states like happiness, contentment, and hope have significantly decreased.

As weight and being sedentary have give way to anxiety, stress and depression as top concerns in the corporate world, employers have also recognized the importance of supporting their employees' mental well-being. Many companies have expanded their employee assistance programs to include mental health resources, mindfulness training, and stress management workshops. The rise of remote work has prompted organizations to explore new ways to foster a healthy work-life balance, acknowledging that mental wellness is integral to productivity and overall job satisfaction.

The fitness industry has undergone a transformation as well. While physical exercise remains essential, the narrative has shifted from solely focusing on weight loss to promoting overall well-being. Fitness apps and online platforms now offer classes that integrate mindfulness and mental health, such as yoga, meditation, and breathwork. This holistic approach acknowledges that physical activity is not just about aesthetics but also about enhancing mental clarity, reducing stress, and improving mood.

These changes and adaptations are good, yet the most effective and often overlooked aspect of addressing the root cause of mental wellness, is gut health. The gut-brain connection is a well-established concept in medical science, emphasizing the link between our digestive system and mental health. Gut health plays a crucial role in regulating mood, with research showing that a healthy gut microbiome can help reduce anxiety and depression. Incorporating probiotic-rich foods like yogurt, kefir, fermented vegetables, along with a diet rich in fiber, can support gut health and, in turn, improve both physical and mental wellness.

With a growing emphasis on the connection between diet and mental health, the rise of "mood foods" – foods known to boost mental well-being – reflects an understanding that nutrition plays a critical role in maintaining mental health. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and vitamins are being highlighted for their benefits in combating anxiety and depression. This approach moves beyond calorie counting and weight management, advocating for a balanced, nutrient-dense diet that supports both body and mind.

Improving the quality of food you consume is always a great place to start. Depending on the state of your microbiome, food alone may not fully do the trick. Supplementing with the right prebiotics, probiotics, phytobiotics that work specifically for supporting bacteria that helps with mood, or anxiety, or sleep, or focus, etc., can definitely help you feel a noticeable improvement.

The shift from weight to mental wellness marks a significant change, showing the impact mental wellness and gut health has when it comes to our overall health and well-being. It's not a head thing, it's a gut thing. When we repair the gut microbiome, feed the good bacteria while starving the bad, we are in fact supporting increase of positive mood states, while at the same time, decreasing negative mood states. Anxiety, stress, depression, etc., go down, while vigor, energy, resilience and overall happiness come back up.

By continuing to prioritize mental wellness and gut health, you can build a healthier, more resilient you, which leads to a healthier, more resilient community and beyond.

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