One writer shares her tips for managing her mental well-being through gut health.

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Ever since I was young, I’ve struggled with anxiety.

I went through periods of unexplainable and utterly terrifying panic attacks; I held onto irrational fears; and I found myself holding back in certain areas of my life due to limiting beliefs.

Only recently did I discover that the root of the majority of my anxiety was related to my undiagnosed obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

After receiving my OCD diagnosis and undergoing cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), I’ve seen dramatic improvements.

However, though my ongoing therapy has been a crucial part of my mental health journey, it’s only one piece of the puzzle. Looking after my gut health has also played a tremendous role.

By adding certain foods to my diet, like probiotics and high-fiber foods, and focusing on good digestion, I’ve been able to work toward balancing my anxiety and looking after my overall mental well-being.

Below are my top three strategies for supporting my gut health, and, in return, my mental health.

Knowing which foods can contribute to a healthy gut and which can potentially cause problems is a great place to start. Try replacing highly processed, high-sugar, and high-fat foods with various whole foods that offer myriad benefits. These foods include:

  • Collagen-boosting
    Foods like bone broth
    and salmon can help protect your intestinal wall and improve digestion.
  • High-fiber foods. Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, oats, peas, avocados, pears, bananas, and berries are full of fiber, which aids in healthy digestion.
  • Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids. Salmon, mackerel, and flax seeds are packed
    with omega-3s,
    which may help reduce inflammation and in turn help improve your digestion.

In the same vein, adding probiotics and prebiotic-rich foods to your diet can also help you take care of your gut. These foods can help influence the balance of good bacteria in your microbiome, otherwise known as gut flora.

Probiotic foods can help add diversity to your gut, while foods high in prebiotics help feed your good gut bacteria.

Try adding some of the following foods to your daily diet:

Probiotic foods

  • sauerkraut
  • kefir
  • kimchi
  • kombucha
  • apple cider vinegar
  • kvass
  • high-quality yogurt

Prebiotic-rich foods

  • jicama
  • asparagus
  • chicory root
  • dandelion greens
  • onions
  • garlic
  • leeks

Good digestion is a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to gut health. In order to digest, we need to be in a parasympathetic, or “rest and digest,” state.

Without being in this relaxed state, we’re unable to produce the gastric juices that properly absorb our food. This means we aren’t absorbing the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals needed to support a healthy body and brain.

In order to get to this restful state, try taking a few moments to practice some deep breathing before eating. And if you need a bit of guidance, there are a number of apps that can help.

Gut health is important for a number of reasons, including your mental health. For me, while attending therapy has helped immensely with my anxiety, OCD, and overall mental well-being, looking after my gut health has also helped me manage my symptoms.

So, whether you’re working toward a healthy gut or improving your mental well-being, consider adding one or all three of these suggestions to your diet and routine.

Michelle Hoover lives in Dallas, Texas, and is a nutritional therapy practitioner. After being diagnosed with Hashimoto disease as a teen, Hoover turned to nutritional therapy, a real-food paleo/AIP template, and lifestyle changes to help manage her autoimmune disease and naturally heal her body. She runs the blog Unbound Wellness and can be found on Instagram.