Putting Physical Health back into Mental Health solutions

Whilst it is useful to managers to be able to spot the signs of symptoms of stress, take the pressure off, and refer workers to the right kind of psychological help if needs be, a lot of the “health structures” that are needed to create a good foundation for wellbeing and health are missing. Poor working structures often force workers into poor life-style choices that contribute to stress and pressure. For example:

  • Workers living away from home in digs with no cooking facilities
  • Poor food choices on site
  • Long hours
  • Pressurised deadlines
  • Economic pressures forcing workers to choose cheap junk food
  • Inadequate break times forcing workers into eating just once a day
  • Culture of addictive habits – like smoking

Diet is often the missing link in the stress spiral but without the structure in place to enable this to happen, it’s a difficult one to correct. Often it is around education of key choices and then the availability of those choices to hand that make a crucial difference.

Food and nutrition influence the stress cycle through:

  • Food controlling cortisol (stress hormone) through proper blood sugar control which is key to managing stress.
  • Caffeine – effects of caffeine on stress levels are well known. Caffeine causes real addiction with more and more needing to be consumed to get the same result.
  • The Gut Brain Connection – What we eat has a direct impact on our gut and therefore our mood and our stress levels. We make most of our happy hormone serotonin in our gut which will have a direct impact on mood.
  • Essential Fats – Numerous studies have shown the influence of Omega 3 essential fats on brain health (by and large fish oil). Our brain is made up of 60 per cent fat and to run efficiently we need this special type of fat. Poor diet contributes to deficiency. This fat is essential to the running of our bodies (clue in the title – essential)
  • Hydration – hydration is important for concentration levels and the function of cells in the body
  • Zinc and Micro-nutrients – If our body was a machine, the micronutrients would be the oil that helps the machine run smoothly – we need a good supply of tiny nutrients to fuel the machine – without these, the machine stops. Zinc is one of the major nutrients that contributes to balanced mental performance but is woefully deficient in the British diet (poor quality food). If the mental machine is to run smoothly, and the stress reaction controlled, zinc is in effect an essential component of making that happen.
  • B Vitamins – Carl Pfeiffer (1908 -1988) was a biochemist and Physician who researched schizophrenia and the connection with micro-nutrients – he collaborated with Abraham Hoffer who studied the influence of B vitamins on schizophrenia and although criticised at the time, B Vitamins are well known for their positive influence on the nervous system and how we deal with stress. Again, poor diet contributes to deficiency.

What has this got to do with us and our responsibility to our teams? Mental health is a huge issue in the UK; work days lost with 11.3 million days being lost to stress, depression or anxiety in 2013/14 (HSE ). The question we have to ask is, is what we are doing working? We are often eager to put in only head based therapies (good of course) to help our people but isn’t it time we recreated the foundation of Wellness with a proper understanding of our base biochemistry – Nutrition and how it contributes to our health and stress levels, and therefore good mental health.

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