Conversations with squirrels. Am I going nuts?
Something that happened to me today made me want to talk with you about the mind-body connection in more detail.
I was sitting on the steps today with my laptop, pretending to do some work, when I caught a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye.
There was the cutest little grey squirrel examining me closely with bright, curious eyes. Head cocked to one side. Bushy tail quivering.
I could tell he was thinking “now, what on earth are you doing? Sitting there in the glorious sunshine with the blue sky overhead and the lazy sound of bees droning right above. Shouldn’t you be doing something?”
Then he hopped over to the edge of the driveway, found something nice to snack on, and after a quick nibble, scampered up the nearest tree.
Squirrel had an excellent point. To be honest, I was procrastinating because I have writers’ block. I should have been blogging. Instead, I was on Facebook.
Can you guess why I was procrastinating?
So why was I procrastinating? I have lots of things to write about. In fact, I have so much stuff to get down, I was overwhelmed. Where to even begin?
Let me tell you what I’m supposed to be doing.
Then in 2016, I had an MRI with contrast which destroyed my already very shaky metabolism. It sent me into a spiral of despair, insomnia and exhaustion all over again. Following on from those experiences, I’ve written a book about the toxicity of MRI contrasts, called “Contrasts: More than meets the MRI.” Have you read it yet?
In between, I figured out I have an overgrowth of microbes in my upper gut that has been stealing my nutrients for years. This caused chronic inflammation and food intolerances. It played about with my mental and physical health. I reckon I had enough yeast in my tummy to set up a brewery. No wonder I had so much brain fog after eating bread, buns and cakes!
I also figured out how to get those microbial overgrowths under better control.
Before all that, I worked shifts and on-calls for a decade and a half as a paediatrician. A high-stress career with plenty of sleep deprivation. I was always switched on and in-demand.
So I am no stranger to mental depletion.
But you know it intimately as well.
Mental depletion is a huge topic
I figured that as a blogging topic, mental exhaustion would be fundamental to sink my teeth into.
Of course, I was curious about what other experts had written about it. So naturally, I did what you do when you want to find an answer. I asked Dr Google.
What came back was article after article about mental exhaustion being about:
- too much stress from work and your personal life,
- poor time management,
- not having enough breaks,
- having too much on your plate,
- concentrating for too long,
- needing a holiday… that sort of thing.
Don’t get me wrong; mental exhaustion most definitely can be related to all those things. In fact because chronic stress can be so crippling, I’ve got a FREE course for you to teach you how to manage stress effectively so that you feel happier and healthier. I’ll give you this free gift when you sign up for my newsletter now.
Get the FREE course to help you recover from the misery of chronic stress
when you sign up for my newsletter.
Nonetheless I knew, not just in my heart, but also from my own experiences and the scientific literature, that this approach only peeks under the corner of the wrapping paper on the gift that is mental exhaustion.
How does the mind-body connection work?
When other people write about mental exhaustion, they use the ‘Ghost in the machine” analogy made popular by Descartes more than 350 years ago. They view your body as a (drop dead gorgeous but high-maintenance) vehicle you use to bring your mind to work.
The danger of this approach is that it blinkers you and prevents you from exploring solutions outside of the status quo. While the remedies they suggest are great (things like meditation, yoga, exercise, taking frequent breaks, and saying no), the reductionist mentality behind them will mean that some people will get left behind because stress isn’t the only challenge they’re facing.
What ultimately happens to those who find this approach insufficient?
You’ll find that mental exhaustion has more layers than an onion. And may make you cry like you’re peeling those good old-fashioned onions granny used to buy. Modern onions don’t have the same…bite.
Exhaustion is a message. Sometimes the message is “you just have too much on your plate.” If that’s the case, then great. Declutter your mind and job, take steps to reduce your stress, and you’ll be golden.
But what if the message is something different? What if instead (or in addition) it’s:
- “you’re gluten-intolerant,”
- “you’re experiencing medication side effects,”
- “you’ve an underactive thyroid,”
- “you’ve got a nasty stealth infection,”
- “you’ve got malnutrition,”
- “your microbes in your gut or somewhere else in your body are out of balance?”
If you and your doctor haven’t identified all the other exhaustion layers, you’ll be set up for failure, disappointment, and interminable fatigue. What’s the next step? Often a diagnosis of depression or chronic fatigue and a lifetime of psychiatric medication, cognitive behavioural therapy and graded exercise therapy. Psychotropic medications, like antidepressants have very real risks. You can discover more about what these are in this post.
Can things get even worse?
A reductionist viewpoint focusing only on mental stress doesn’t just stop you from realising your potential. On top of that, it could threaten your employment and relationships. It could suppress your drive, motivation, performance, and how you show up in life with your friends, colleagues and family. Before you know it, you’re rationing your activities to ensure you’ve enough energy to see you through the day.
People with stress and exhaustion that isn’t remedied look for coping strategies. It’s only natural. But what if your coping strategies damage you and others in the long run? Like using alcohol as a crutch? Or drugs? They can even get you into trouble with the law.
That’s why I feel this sort of stress-focused, dogmatic approach is shortsighted. Perhaps even dangerous for some unfortunate people. It’s restrictive and can limit your opportunities for growth, development and recovery.
The good news is that how we view the mind has changed a lot, even in the last few decades. No longer do we consider the mind simply as some disembodied consciousness swirling between our ears.
When we discuss the mind-body connection and the importance of our gut microbes, we’re talking about how our thoughts and feelings are inextricably linked with our guts, hearts, senses, skin, limbs, and every other part of us.
How does the mind-body connection affect our emotions
This helps to explain why it’s so important to listen to your gut feelings and your heart. And why a nasty fright makes the hair stand on the back of your neck. And how you know exactly what I mean when I tell you about a scary movie you have to see because it’s spine-tingling.
The sensory inputs from our organs and bodies provide a richness of experience that would otherwise be missing. This is what the mind-body connection is all about.
Where do the "hive mind" and "groupthink" come in?
Not only that, but our connections and relationships with others are also crucial to how we behave, feel and think.
Remember an occasion when you walked into a crowded room. A room where you could sense the sentiments before anyone even uttered a word. Maybe you felt excitement, anticipation, anxiety, grief, or joy. You noticed yourself absorbing other people’s emotions, right?
Now think about a time when you felt isolated and yearned for someone to talk to or give you a hug. Unfortunately, that scenario has been all too common recently. Hopefully, you were able to connect with another caring human being. Or maybe a fur baby.
Either way, you know that it makes sense when I say our shared humanity connects us through our emotions and thoughts.
Why is the mind-body connection important?
And therein lies the problem: mental exhaustion as a topic is huge! I could write a whole book about what causes it and what you can do about it. Maybe even 2 books.
Yes, there’s the stress component. But there are also all the impacts of:
- sleep deprivation,
- toxin exposures,
- nature deficit disorder,
- relationships and community, and
- chronic disease.
Each of these different topics deserve its own chapter. Or at the very least, its own blog post.
I’ve been brainstorming and mind mapping like a crazy person. Hence all the illegible scribbles in the photos.
And that’s where I need your help.
What would YOU like to learn about mental exhaustion and the mind-body connection? Which topic should I tackle first?
Don’t worry, I’m going to go through each of these areas so nothing will be left out.
Thanks for helping me by sharing your thoughts and insights into which are currently the most pressing for you. It’s super helpful in bursting through my writers’ block.
The mind-body connection is not just a theory anymore
So out of the following topics, which would you like me to address first and why?
- Chronic illness,
- Getting into nature, or
- Relationships and community?
To let me know, simply post a comment down below. I’m really looking forward to hearing from you.