Updated: Jan 9
PART 2: How to Heal & Overcome Social Anxiety
Faith-centered Prayer & Meditative Practices
Reliance on God’s Light
The Gut Microbiome
Eat Probiotic Foods
Eat Prebiotic Foods
Eat Good Fats & Minimize Bad Fats
Eat Your Fruits & Veggies
Avoid Inflammatory Foods (Sugar, Dairy, Gluten, & Others)
Remove Toxins from Your Diet
Other Ways to Detox the Body & Brain
How to Heal & Overcome Social Anxiety
I hope you’ve found the previous sections helpful and that they started you thinking of things in your life that are causing imbalances physically, mentally, and spiritually, contributing to your experience of social anxiety. My only desire is to give you something that will help you, so please don’t take anything I said as condemnation or judgement. It is only meant to open your mind, increase your awareness, and lead you to action.
Now, I will talk about all of the things that I have done in my life to overcome social anxiety. Again, I want it to be understood that overcoming social anxiety is a journey, not a destination. Mostly, I use the term “overcome” because it communicates the point best and is probably what you searched for online. You can get so good at managing social anxiety, and heal your body, brain, and spirit in so many ways that it may feel you have overcome social anxiety, but I would never want you to have the expectation that it will ever disappear forever.
Be patient with yourself and think of this as a process, not a hard stop you reach when all social anxiety has disappeared forever. You can experience immense peace, yes, but you will likely always need to use tools and do things to manage your mental state to stay ahead of social anxiety. Don’t worry, as you practice it will eventually become 2nd nature to you.
You can surely experience the “overcoming” I am describing, as I myself have to a great extent. But I always consider myself “recovering”, never completely recovered, and this leaves room for accepting the possibility that I could experience social anxiety again and that would be okay. If that does happen, I have plenty of tools and resources at my access to counteract social anxiety and “overcome” it yet again.
Understanding this enables you to approach social anxiety with the confidence of knowing it will go away again, rather than panicking and being astonished if you do experience it. With the tools and resources I will give you, you can stay ahead of social anxiety, beating it down before it pops up, and leading to a life of mental freedom you could previously only dream of.
Faith-Centered Prayer & Meditation
Prayer deeply centered in faith in God’s power will move mountains in our lives. There are many ways we can pray. I am not here to tell you how to pray (or to meditate), rather I’m here to share with you a faith-centered prayer and meditative practice that has worked well for me, enabling me to connect with my creator and invite His life-changing light.
Each morning, I sit on the floor in a cross-legged position, placing my hands over my heart. I breathe deeply in through my nose and slowly out through my mouth. While I do this, I ask God for spiritual gifts to fill me and those around me. I ask God to “align” me with certain things, to bring me “at one” with others, and to “act within me” to bring about specific good in the world. I do this for 20-30 minutes in the morning, along with around 30 minutes or so of study in holy writings such as the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao Te Ching, the Book of Mormon, and others.
Throughout this prayer and meditation, I focus on God, asking that He align me in His attributes and His light. I ask that He act in me and bring me at one with His pure kindness, humor, bonding and connection with His children, His wisdom, His discernment of truth, His opportunities to serve His children, etc. I even ask that he align me with His will and gifts of marketing and writing. Whatever I feel in the moment, I focus upon and request that He align me with and that he act in me to bring about that good in the world - not by my will or power, but by His acting in me.
Most importantly, I ask that this light, these “realities” - this love - is brought not only to me, but that it flows to all of those around me. That it is not my strengths, talents, or abilities, but God’s working through me for the good of His children.
As I focus in this way, I continue to breathe in through my nose and out through my mouth. As I breathe in, I focus on a specific gift or attribute of God, asking Him to fill my being with it. I breathe it in, envisioning it filling my heart and soul. Then, as I breathe out, I focus on those same things flowing through me and into all the world to be given to all. I envision this flowing into my heart and then out of the sides of my body into all the world.
I also focus on specific blessings others need, asking God to bring them into their lives. For me, I picture these blessings flowing into me through the sides of my body as I breathe in, and then breathing them out as they flow from the front of me and out to the specific individual.
I pray this way not because I think it is the best way for everyone, but simply because it is the way that speaks to my soul personally.
I cannot express in words the impact God has had on my life and how His Holy Spirit has healed my social anxiety. Because of Him, my brain has healed and my heart and desires have transformed. The Holy light of God has trained my mind and heart, line upon line and precept upon precept, to overcome the roots of social anxiety. He continues to teach me many things every single day. I know that He can do the same for you.
All this is a learning process for you to go through yourself. Your prayer and meditation does not have to be the same as mine. Only God knows what will work best for you and He will teach you as you are still, you practice, and you become more and more in tune with His Holy Spirit. God has your answers, listen and learn one small step at a time.
Be sure that you do not pray for the same things everyday. Prayer must be done with sincerity. For me, it helps to remember that it is not my will, abilities, or talents that I am praying for. Rather, I am praying that God’s will, abilities, and talents fill me and flow to those around me. I try my best to listen for what He would have me pray for and focus on.
When I am sincere and have faith that God will bring about good in my life and the lives of others, it is then that I experience the greatest growth and peace. This is not because of my strength, but the Lord’s.
You can use this faith-centered prayer and meditative practice to heal social anxiety, as I did for many years, and still do to an extent. I have a few pointers to help you avoid pitfalls along the way:
Don’t focus on what you don’t want
Don’t ask for things to be taken away from you or to NOT feel a certain way. This gets you focusing on the exact things that you don’t want. Instead, focus on the reality you DO want to see manifested in your life, and the attributes and gifts of God that you want to be aligned with - for yourself and for those around you.
Focus only on those things that will bless you and others
Don’t focus on selfish pursuits or things that are simply for worldly gain or to gain the approval of others. Focus on those things that are of God, that are for the blessing of you and your fellow brothers and sisters. When you do, you will find greater peace and tranquility in your prayers, as God changes your heart and desires.
This can be anything from focusing on the charity of God and serving others, to being filled with humor that brings joy and laughter to others. But notice the difference between asking God to align you in humor to bring others joy, and asking God to align you in humor so that you will be seen as funny. One is for the benefit of others, and the other is for your own selfish gain.
Know that there are no hard fast rules
While I have outlined some methods for breathing in, breathing out, phrases to think of, etc. know that I don’t always do things the exact same way. I go with what flows in the moment as well. Take what I have given as a general guide, but do whatever brings you closest to God, and feel free to vary your thoughts and focus while breathing.
Sometimes I focus on God aligning me with something while I am breathing in, and other times while breathing out, because it feels right. know that you can focus on one thing for multiple breaths, or focus on it for only a few moments.
Sometimes you may focus on things that are for the benefit of the whole world, instead of for both yourself and God’s children. You can ask God to align the ‘realities’ that surround us all in some specific gift or blessing, and not necessarily for it to be given to yourself or others in particular. It just depends on the day and the circumstance, which you can feel out with spiritual guidance.
Remember it is not the number of things you focus on, but the meaning and quality of your focus that matters. Take time to focus on the things you desire God to bring to you and others. Breathe it into yourself and out to others multiple times until you feel the light filling you. Make it sincere when you can, and take time to be still and allow it to flow. Again, be patient with yourself. Some days are better than others, and that’s okay. Just keep practicing and making small bits of progress.
Allow the will of God to lead the way
God can tell you what you need to pray for and meditate on. Let go of agendas and simply flow in the moment. This can be a challenge, so be patient with yourself as you learn to be still and listen. You will grow into this over time.
Reliance on God’s Light
As a recovering addict, I need a lot of help from God. I choose to spend an hour each morning connecting with God by reading scripture and praying/meditating. For me, this has been the focal point of my recovery from addiction, and the healing of social anxiety, perfectionism, and depression.
Currently, I read from the Bible (Christian), The Book of Mormon (Christian), the Bhagavad Gita (Hindu), the Holy Qu’ran (Islam), and the Tao Te Ching (Taoism) depending on the day.
All of these books are very sacred to me and have made a very profound impact on my mind and spirit. Their words inspire me to be closer to God and fill me with peace. I highly recommend them all if you are trying to overcome mental illness, as they all offer different perspectives and truths that may help you on your journey. Your spiritual state is the most important piece of your recovery - without this, you will not overcome social anxiety.
In addition to my morning spiritual practice, I also pray and read holy words in the evenings with my wife. The amount of time varies.
Some may find spending this kind of time each day extreme. And I agree! To be honest though, we live in an extreme world in which we need to take extreme measures to rise above and protect our minds, bodies, and spirits.
Some may think they don’t have the time for spirituality each day. I understand that. I avoided taking on daily spiritual practices for years. It wasn’t until I committed to being consistent no matter the cost that I began seeing miracles in my life.
You have the time, you just need to make it more important than anything else in your life. And I’m not saying you need to spend over an hour each day, but the amount of time and quality of that time impacts every single part of your life. Taking the time for spirituality each day increases your capacity for the rest of life, so you can do more with the time you have left. God increases your abilities. Put God first, and do what He instructs you to do to heal and overcome the ailments you are facing.
Consistency is one fundamental difference between those who heal and those who do not. I will also say that it is not the amount of words you read or the number of things you pray for - it has everything to do with your sincerity, and pausing to be still and deeply ponder what you are reading and praying about. Sincerity and pondering - these allow the Spirit to fill your being and transform your heart and mind.
But this is all far easier said than done. Have compassion for yourself as you grow one step at a time. Celebrate the things you are doing right; focus on those, be grateful for those, and grow a little more each day.
When it comes to healing from trauma, I highly recommend Dr. Kieth Ablow’s book Living the Truth. It transformed my life. As far as I’m concerned, that man is inspired by God.
His book takes you through a deep and insightful therapeutic process, guiding you to ask questions that dig into your past, relationships, deep-seated insecurities, and the truths you are hiding from. This book was instrumental in discovering the roots of my social anxiety - the pains and insecurities I had held on to my entire life without knowing it.
I will say that my success in this book was due to God’s revelation for me and how seriously I took the process. I had pages and pages of notes about my life. I thought very deeply about the questions that Dr. Ablow was asking me, and took time to analyze an sort them out. Most importantly though, I prayed to God many times throughout the course of the book, asking Him to guide me to the insights and answers I needed. Without His inspiration, I would not have come to the conclusions I did.
By the end of the book, I literally (and I mean literally) felt my brain structure shift. I experienced a substantial change in my perception of myself and my life within a matter of 24 hours. For the first time in my life, I began to deconstruct limiting beliefs I had held on to as far back as I could remember. I finally saw them for what they were and where they had come from.
In addition to the initial shift in my brain and perception, I spent months repeating mantras and statements to myself that came from what I had written down. When I began feeling social anxiety, these statements brought me instant peace as they spoke to my subconscious, answering its deepest insecurities and fears.
I will share with you a summary of my discoveries, as well as statements I repeated to myself to change my subconscious beliefs. I share these with you so that perhaps you may be inspired and gain insight into traumas you may be holding on to. I also highly recommend Dr. Kieth Ablow’s book Living the Truth. But only buy it if this is something you feel you are ready for.
Solutions I found to my own trauma
There were 3 major traumas from my past that I discovered and addressed through the course of my therapeutic process in Living the Truth. Trauma is based on the individual, and it may not make sense to us sometimes why we would feel traumatized by events that should perhaps not have been ‘so bad’.
What is traumatic for one person may not affect another person, and vice versa. I share these past traumas and the statements I use with you in hopes that they might inspire you to discover some of your own traumas or get you thinking about where your social anxiety might come from. As you read, contemplate your own life and how these traumas I experienced may directly or indirectly reflect something you've experienced, and what you can do to heal.
ONE: My relationship with "Ashton".
Here, I will share likely the most influential trauma I faced. It came in the form of a relationship. Out of respect for that individual, I will not be sharing their name. Instead, we will refer to them as "Ashton".
When going through a therapeutic process, it is important to be true to your honest feelings about a situation or person, and to know that your feelings are valid. In being true to my genuine feelings, I will say that I felt unaccepted and unloved by "Ashton". Their affection was one of the most important things in the world to me as a child and teen (and even into my early 20's, though I didn't know that), and I never felt I could "earn" it.
Because I never felt accepted or loved by "Ashton", I carried that pain with me throughout my life. That dysfunctional relationship, that lack of love and acceptance, inserted itself into every single other relationship I had.
Inside, I believed that I would not be loved or accepted by anyone, because I did not feel accepted or loved by one of the most important people in the world to me. Because of this - in a very toxic, self-perpetuating cycle - I sought out relationships with people who didn’t freely love me and often treated me poorly.
I believed that I was unworthy of good friends and having people in my life who actually cared about me. This carried into my romantic relationships as well, and I dated some very emotionally unhealthy women and spent time with those who struggled with many deep insecurities (like I did).
I was repeating the same cycle over and over and over again.
I discovered this dysfunctional cycle during my therapeutic work in the book Living the Truth by Dr. Kieth Ablow, a book I HIGHLY recommend. I took pages and pages of notes, assessing and exploring my past and my insecurities through the guidance and wisdom of God’s Holy Spirit, as the book took me through a process to deeply look at and accept the pains and insecurities I had held on to.
I then wrote a statement that I repeated various forms of for months afterwards. I still use it on occasion to this day. I share this statement with you in the hopes that it may give you some insight into a traumatic relationship you may have experienced and are continuing to repeat, as its pain inserts itself into the other relationships in your life. The statement is this:
“I do not use others as substitutes for "Ashton". Once, I needed their acceptance. Now, I have grown and am no longer the child I once was. I no longer need their acceptance or love. I have other relationships and people who are important to me that accept me for who I am and love me just like I am. "Ashton" dealt with so many of their own insecurities and mental illness. I understand many of their struggles, as I have suffered from many of the very same ones (we are both human). It is okay that they did not know how to be there for me or to love me. I understand how that feels, as I have unfortunately not been there for others in my life as well. I forgive "Ashton". Whether they and I ever have a good relationship or not is acceptable, as I have other good relationships. Perhaps we will, or perhaps we won’t. Either way is okay. In addition, "Ashton" and I are simply very different people, and so we don't have to get along. If we do get along one day, that will be acceptable, and if we don't get along then that is okay too.”
I hope you can understand the theme and process here, and hope that it might inspire and give you ideas for your own healing.
I took myself through this type of reasoning hundreds, maybe even thousands, of times over the course of 7 or 8 months. Each time, I would experience a degree of relief from anxiety, and my brain would change a little more.
One of the most important parts of this process, if not the most important, is finding forgiveness for that cousin, sibling, parent, etc. that you felt hurt by. This means coming to grips with what they did and why, seeking to understand their insecurities and difficulties, and accepting the reality of their own hardships and realizing that what they did was only a result of their own pain and insecurity, and not because they wanted to treat you poorly. Unless they are a very rare exception.
God makes all things possible. Let God be your guide in this process. It will look different for you than it does for me. It is your own personal spiritual journey and only the Lord has the answers you seek.
TWO: My relationship with my parents
My parents are good people, and they tried hard to give me a good upbringing. Heaven knows it was far better than what they came from. That being said, if I was not honest with myself about the pain I experienced as their son then I could never heal.
My parents dealt with many of their own insecurities and traumas that disabled them from being fully emotionally present for me in many ways. I certainly didn’t help, as I was a very insecure child and teenager, and as a result I acted very selfish at times.
I felt that my parents were emotionally unavailable to me. This was traumatic for me personally. It wasn't because they were bad, abusive, or selfish people. They were very loving, supportive parents. They sacrificed a great deal for me, they always provided a safe home, and they were supportive of all of the things that I wanted to be and do.
My parents tried very hard and did so much. But they had so much they were going through, from parenting 6 children, to work, to financial hardships, to their own mental illnesses they were navigating... I frequently felt they could not be present and truly there to listen to me or be genuinely interested in me.
This was in part because of my perception, as well as because of the upbringing my parents experienced and the level of depth of understanding and connection they knew in their own families growing up. They were, after all, giving far better to me than what they had.
For me, as a child with an extremely sensitive temperament and a great deal of insecurity and anxiety, they probably could have been emotionally present and genuinely there and I still would have felt that they weren't, because I was going through such strong and ever-present inner turmoil. They also had little way of knowing that I was going through all this, as I never talked about it. I wouldn't open up or communicate because not even I understood it or knew that I was leading an ever-stressful, mentally ill existence. It was just...normal to me.
Above all, I want to stress that when it comes to our relationships, especially those with our parents or siblings, we need to seek to understand them and the reasons for their insecurities and shortcomings. What were they enduring? What pains and traumas have they faced? What disadvantages did they deal with? And what part might our own perception play in how we perceived the things they said and did that caused us hurt?
We need to seek to forgive them. It is the only way. to peace and healing. Until we do, we will always hold on to the trauma from our childhood, continuing to relive it again and again in other relationships.
Here is the healing statement that I wrote down about my upbringing and relationship with my mother and father:
“I did not feel like my parents were there for me growing up. This was hurtful. I grew up feeling isolated and believing others would not understand my feelings or be there for me. That is okay. This was in part because of my perception as someone who suffered from deep insecurities and mental illness, as well as because of the upbringing my parents experienced and the level of depth of understanding and connection they knew in their own families growing up. They were, after all, giving far better to me than what they had. I forgive my parents. I accept them as imperfect, as we all are. I do not require their love or their acceptance, as I have plenty of good, uplifting relationships and people in my life to appreciate the uniqueness of, and many other things in life that I feel fulfilled doing. I accept any love freely given by those in my life. I can now give love freely to all so that they can feel what I always wanted to feel growing up. I accept that my upbringing was painful for me and it was lonely and I did not feel heard or understood sometimes. I let go of that and allow myself to experience a better life with better and more accepting and loving people now.”
Fortunately, years after originally writing this, I was able to develop a good relationship with my parents and I feel I can talk to them about most anything now. I feel they are genuinely happy for me in the good times, and genuinely there for me in the bad times. This came through their personal progression as well as my own over years of time. As each of us have been able to heal individually, we have been able to heal our relationship as well.
I am grateful this has happened in recent years. I know many people are not blessed in this way, and that they may need to accept that their relationship with their parents will never be a fulfilling or uplifting one. This is why I have included the line above "I do not require their love or their acceptance", because this understanding was valuable for me for a time, and it is place of acceptance that may or may not be valuable for you too.
Perhaps you can relate to something from my story? Maybe you had good parents, but you just didn't feel you had their attention or interest, or that they weren't emotionally available the way you needed? Maybe they were good parents, but you struggled with such an intense temperament that it was difficult for you to feel their love? Whatever it may be, you can find healing through the following steps:
Accept the way that this felt for you
Understand and write down the reasons
Seek to understand what your parents/sibling/etc. went through and why
Write on your own or talk about this with them, and seek to come to grips with their side of the story and find forgiveness
Accept that your life is no longer ruled by these things, and allow yourself to experience new relationships
THREE: My frequent moves from house to house
For some people, moving houses often would be no problem. At this point in my life, I am actually happy to move, as I like meeting new people and am used to forming new relationships. As a child though, it was extremely difficult - terrifying really. Because of the way my brain worked, I grew the habit of believing that others would leave me, abandon me, and I only had so much time with them before our relationship inevitably ended.
Due to this and a complicated mix of other insecurities, I believed that I had to be extremely impressive to every single person I met. I felt inside that each time I saw them it would be my last, and so I needed them to know absolutely everything about me. This was, of course, a selfish and self-centered perspective to have. Even if it really were my last time seeing them, why would it be all about me?
I went about trying to ensure that every person I spent time with knew absolutely everything about me. I also wanted to ensure every time I saw someone they knew how much I had changed since they last saw me, because now I was 'so much better' than the last time they saw me. I always believed that I was not good enough, that I was lacking something fundamental that everyone else seemed to have. I believed that if only I could show someone I had changed and I was now 'perfect', then they would finally love me.
This of course was complete nonsense, as I had friends and people who liked who I was, just as I was, and there were many, many others who would have been my friend if I had only accepted their friendship and invited them in. But my insecurities were too great, and I had no inkling of how often I self-sabotaged due to my own limiting beliefs.
There were many components to this dysfunction - an all-or-nothing paradigm certainly being one of them - but moving homes so frequently was a major contributor. I had a strange obsession/self-sabotaging cycle with abandoning all of my previous friends when I moved homes, believing for some reason that I could not reach out to those friends again and I had to start all over again.
This, in part, had to do with the subconscious belief that every time I called those friends or went to see them I would need to tell them every single thing that had happened to me since the last time we spoke. I also believed that I would need to ask them about everything that had happened to them since the last time we talked. And that was a LOT.
I also believed that every single time I saw someone, we had to have an absolutely perfect time together. If not, then they would not accept me and they would stop being friends with me.
Talk about dysfunctional, right? Who in the world would want to spend time with other people when those were the kinds of expectations they held themselves to? Goodness sakes!
As you can imagine, the pressure of socializing was far too great for me, and I would nearly always forgo contacting friends from previous areas all together. These same subconscious expectations also caused me to bail out of spending time with others at the last minute, finding excuses to not attend events or get-togethers with friends and family. The pressure was just too much. And of course I had no idea I had these expectations, let alone how in the world I could pacify them.
Due to all the times I bailed out on others and abandoned friends, my actions inadvertently led to the hurt feelings of these friends and a great deal of loneliness on my end. People learned that I was unreliable, and so they would often stop inviting me to events as they didn’t want to put up with my inconsistency.
I took this as people not liking me (and that may have been true sometimes), but it was often simply because I was self-sabotaging and reaping the rewards of my unfortunate actions. I thought, “Why do I never get invited to anything?” Meanwhile, I would find excuses not to accept invites, and I would not set up any activities of my own, nor be welcoming and invite others to hangout.
I slowly became aware of these strange, self-sabotaging beliefs and habits later in life. I began acknowledging them, and then acting in defiance to them. Along with this, I often repeated varied versions of the following phrase to myself:
“I am no longer moving or leaving. I will get to see and talk to the same person thousands of times throughout my life. Today is only one of those thousands of times. If I share one piece of something about me, good. If we laugh once together, good. If we have a great time, that’s wonderful. If it’s a good time, great! If it’s bad, that’s okay too. We’ll get to see each other again. If it’s bad, there will be another time that will be good, or even great. And, even if I don’t see them again in this lifetime, then I will see them in the next. We will get to see each other an infinite number of times throughout eternity, and so today is just one of those times - a moment - and there is nothing that needs to be done or proven in this one moment. Whatever today is, it simply is. I will appreciate and be grateful for whatever good comes about, no matter how small it is.”
Focusing on gratitude and simple, tiny things slowly convinced my brain over time that social get-togethers were a positive thing; they weren’t threatening or scary. I had nothing to lose, because today was just one day out of an infinite number of days throughout eternity that I would see this one person again. So, I could be there for them, accept them, and help them feel loved, and it didn’t matter what they thought of me. Of course I’m not always perfect at seeing things this way, but I keep practicing and getting better one bit at a time.
In addition, I must say that developing multiple relationships with many friends and acquaintances has helped me a lot. I know that no matter what happens with one particular person in my life, I have plenty of other relationships and people to spend my time with. Even if someone were no longer to be my friend, or they didn’t like me for whatever reason, there are many other people in my life.
This is an important part of feeling secure and at peace around others; and it isn’t meant to degrade the importance of another human being. Rather, it is to put the mind at ease, so you can let go of fear and attachment and be more present and able to genuinely be there for others’ benefit, rather than being concerned about what they think of you.
It is no mistake that I have listed nutrition as the third item in this list. First is spiritual health and connection with God, second is working through your internal traumas, and third is nutrition.
If nutrition’s central role in mental health is new to you, you are not alone. Unfortunately, medical doctors, psychologists, and psychiatrists in western culture often have little to no training in nutrition. Many don’t consider or reference nutrition with their clients, as it is not at the forefront of their minds. Perhaps they suggest that you get 3 square meals a day, but that may be about it.
Some are becoming aware though, and they are helping their clients utilize diet to tackle mental illness. Take Dr. Daniel Amen for example. He treats patients with mental health issues from ADD to Schizophrenia. He prescribes changes to diet, such as getting off white sugar, removing dairy and gluten from the diet, and more. His clients see incredible results.
It is good that this movement is underway, particularly with how toxic and nutrient-deficient many of the foods we eat these days are. There is a great awakening occurring, and people are healing.
If you don’t believe me, think about it this way. Every single organ, including your brain, is made up of cells. Cells rely on vitamins, minerals, amino acids, fats, carbs, phytonutrients, antioxidants, etc. for their moment-to-moment function. Look up any nutrient online right now by typing in “Such-and-such impact on the brain.” You will see multiple studies and articles written on what that particular vitamin, mineral, phytonutrient, antioxidant, etc. does for the brain.
If you are deficient, or even sub-optimal in any particular nutrient, then you will almost certainly suffer mentally; either now or in the future. And this does not account for how well your body is actually absorbing a specific nutrient, which gets a lot more complicated.
Often in the medical system, we speak and test in extreme terms. We consider someone perfectly healthy if they are not severely lacking in predetermined nutrients. We do not assess people for optimal versus non-optimal states of health, we do not have DVI levels for antioxidants or phytonutrients, and we have no standard for assessing things like heavy metal build up, pesticide/herbicide toxicity, etc.
For instance, did you know that the Daily Recommended Intake of iodine is 150 μg/day? Did you also know that is the amount of iodine someone needs to just barely avoid developing a goiter? One of the most severe signs of iodine deficiency? Recommended iodine DVI unfortunately has nothing to do with setting the body up for optimal happiness and hormone function, rather it is to keep the body and brain just above the cusp of falling apart.
Now, beyond vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc. there is another physical part of mental health that is crucial and has sadly been overlooked by much of the mainstream medical and psychiatric communities in westernized practices thus far, despite being widely accepted and studied since the early 2000’s. It is the gut microbiome.
The Gut Microbiome
The gut microbiome is the term used for the conglomerate of microbial communities that live inside your gut. This includes bacteria, parasites, fungi, viruses, and archaea populations in your gut.
While we have classically been taught that bacteria is bad and we should kill it, this could not be a more dysfunctional perspective. Did you know that in a healthy person, around 85% of the microbial species in their gut are beneficial and critical to maintaining optimal physical and mental health? These microorganisms determine how well we absorb nutrients, they are the defense for our gut lining, they protect the rest of our body from toxins and foreign microorganisms who enter the gut, they are critical to the function of our immune system, and they play a central role in the production and use of neurotransmitters and hormones.
And I’m sure this is only the tip of the iceberg, as this is a relatively new science that has only become popular in the last 20 years.
Every single one of the processes of our gut microbiome listed above play a direct role in brain function. If you’d like to learn more about the gut-brain connection, read my article The 4 Ways the Gut and Brain Connect.
When the gut microbiome is in a state of dysbiosis - when the bad microorganisms outweigh the good - this is directly linked to physical and mental health disorders like anxiety and depression, ADD and ADHD, autoimmune diseases, cancer, IBS, and more. Dysbiosis leads directly to inflammation in the body and brain. A body and brain in a state of chronic inflammation is in a constant state of stress - and you feel it.
An alarming number of people suffer from chronic diseases - around 40% of the American population. In addition, around 1 in 5 Americans are diagnosed with a mental illness each year. And these are just statistical numbers of those who actually receive a diagnosis, it does not include those who do not know or will not accept that they have a chronic mental or physical health condition. The real numbers are likely much higher.
These numbers are predicted to grow in the coming years. If you’d like to learn about one of the most fundamental reasons this is occurring, spoken by one of the most inspired doctors alive, I highly recommend this video by Zach Bush MD. It does an excellent job spelling out the causes of the dysfunction of our gut microbiomes and why this dysfunction is so significant.
So, all of this is really crazy, I know. Question is, what can you do about it? What can you do to strengthen your gut, increase the good microorganisms, and fight the bad ones?
Eat probiotic foods
Probiotic foods contain microbial strains of species like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium that aid in mental health in a variety of ways. It is best to get probiotics from whole food sources when you can. These foods include probiotic superfoods like kimchi, raw sauerkraut, raw apple cider vinegar, coconut kefir, tapache, and others.
It is easy to incorporate these foods in your diet, though I will say you may not like the taste at first. But when you begin incorporating these foods, you are slowly healing your gut and brain with each serving you eat. And that means the taste won’t bother you cause it’s worth it, right? Haha. Right... But seriously, you will get used to them, and they are absolutely crucial for gut and brain health. For one, these bacteria take part in producing neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin, so you can imagine how important they are for mental health.
Let me tell you a few easy ways to incorporate these foods in your daily diet.
Try pouring a tablespoon of raw apple cider vinegar into your morning smoothie, or add it into your glass of orange juice during breakfast (fresh-squeezed juice is always best, or at least go with “not from concentrate”). Be aware that raw apple cider vinegar is highly acidic. It is amazing for your body, yes, but it is best not to drink it straight every single day, as this can be hard on your teeth. Mixing it in a smoothie is a good solution for this, or brushing your teeth afterward.
Two, add raw, probiotic sauerkraut to a soup, stew, or salad. Be sure that the sauerkraut is “raw” and not pasteurized, otherwise it contains no beneficial bacterial strains. Also, do not add it to anything that is hot, as the heat can kill the good bacteria (anything below 140° should be good).
There are also some quality probiotic supplements out there, but you need to be careful about which you pick. If you’d like a simple guide on some basics for finding a quality probiotic supplement, click here.
One supplement I highly recommend for improving mental health is Mood+ by Garden of Life. I really love this company and trust their products. They’re also carbon neutral and trying to do right by the planet, which I appreciate.
My wife experienced a pretty major shift in her mental health when she began taking this supplement. She combines it with Mind Lab Pro, a powerful natural nootropic that has done wonders for her focus and mood.
Eat prebiotic foods
Prebiotic foods are foods that feed beneficial probiotic bacteria. In other words, eating these foods will contribute to your body’s ability to regulate hormones and produce neurotransmitters. Just as importantly, these foods contain a plethora of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients that support mental health and brain function.
These foods include raw cacao, cruciferous vegetables, beans, lentils, turmeric, garlic, and raw honey. For a more complete list, refer to the section “Prebiotic Foods” in my article How to Heal the Gut to Improve Mental Health.
Eat good fats and minimize bad ones
Your brain is approximately 65% fat. This being the case, the kind of fats you eat, and thereby fill your brain with, are very important. Your body can only use the building blocks you provide it with.
I speak from personal experience on this one. I can say from my own personal experience that getting quality fats in my diet has made a substantial difference in my mental health. You may not notice a difference at first, but you will as the weeks go by.
Good fats include medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), monounsaturated fats (MUFAs), polyunsaturated fats (PUFAs), and Omega-3 fatty acids such as DHAs, ALAs, and EPAs.
There are a lot of different acronyms here, but I promise it’s not that complicated. The best places to get these fats from, essentially, are nuts, seeds, fatty fish, avocados, coconut milk and coconut oil, and other healthy oils like extra virgin olive oil and avocado oil. Just be sure you cook most frequently with coconut oil, avocado oil, or other resilient oils, as extra virgin olive oil can oxidize at temperatures around 400°F+.
Now, this is not to say that saturated fats (omega-6’s) are bad. We actually need these for our body and brain to function properly. But we often get too many of these fats in our westernized diet, and so focusing on omega-3’s, MCTs, MUFAs, and PUFAs is a good call. When you get these in nuts, seeds, etc. you’ll often consume a pretty good balance of the types of fat, as multiple are naturally occurring in the seed, nut, etc.
It is also very important to minimize or avoid entirely hydrogenated vegetable oils and trans fats. These are hard on your gut microbiome and bad for your brain. Replace them with other healthy, whole foods to experience mental health that rocks! Easier said than done, I know. Just take it one step at a time, and focus on small changes here and there.
Eat your fruits & veggies
If you want to feel good and have great mental health, you’ve gotta get your fresh fruits and veggies. There’s no getting around it. I throw them in my smoothie in the morning, I eat them at lunch, and my wife and I often make plant-based dinners. I know it is a challenge, but this will honestly make a massive difference in your mental health and heal inflammation, leading to a decrease in social anxiety.
One piece of advice I have to help you get started (if you need help) is to begin changing the way you look at food. See it as something that is for the health and building of your mind and body; something that is for your spiritual upliftment. You can pray to the Lord that you will be guided to foods that uplift you and enable you to do more good in your life. Begin to see food as a tool to bring you closer to God.
If you begin to see food in this way, you will begin to crave foods that bring you joy and wellness, and you will start to reject foods that do the opposite. And of course, I say this not as judgement toward anyone, but only to help and inspire. I hope you only take it in a positive way.
Avoid inflammatory foods
Inflammatory foods are foods that cause an immune response and are toxic. They are hard on your gut and cause damage to your body and brain. Trouble is, these foods are often the ones that are most addicting (and delicious). Though, you can certainly find great enjoyment in natural foods when you know how to prepare them and your taste buds adjust to their natural flavor, rather than synthetic, man-made flavors.
The reason you need to get away from inflammatory foods is because they are directly linked to anxiety and depression. They certainly have been for me. When I removed these foods from my diet, I experienced a shift in my mood, anxiety/depression symptoms, and overall energy and well-being. I honestly cannot emphasize enough how important it is to remove these foods from your diet if you are someone who suffers from social anxiety. Here are the foods I removed from my diet that caused a massive shift in my energy, mood, and peace of mind:
Gluten (westernized wheat in general)
I may have trace amounts of these things on rare occasion, such as in a salad dressing, but I'm picky about where I choose to eat out and I try to avoid these foods as much as I can. This may seem extreme, but for me the benefits far outweigh the sacrifice. My energy & motivation levels and the freedom I now experience from much of my previous symptoms of anxiety, depression, and OCD is well worth the cost for me. I'm not saying that's the case for everyone, but it has been for me.
I put my focus on consuming foods that are uplifting for my gut, brain, and spirit. The powerful thing is, the more I focus on the good, wholesome foods that bring up my energy, the less and less I desire the other foods that bring me down.
Years ago, I removed sugar and dairy from my diet. Within only a few days, addictive thoughts and cravings I had been struggling with for years suddenly reduced, and severe anxiety and depression I had been experiencing for years all but disappeared.
Years later, I removed gluten (westernized wheat) from my diet. I witnessed an even further shift in my mental well-being at that time. I had been suffering with obsessive-compulsive thoughts that plagued me on a daily basis. They all but vanished within a matter of days. The difference was stark. I am not sure that gluten was always linked to this for me, but removing it brought blessings I never imagined I could have.
For more information on why westernized wheat is not the “staff of man” it once was, click here.
Removing things like fast food, processed foods, and trans fats from my diet came as a natural result of removing dairy, gluten, and processed sugar. This is because essentially all processed foods contain at least one of these three ingredients. But this doesn’t mean I don’t eat out. I’m just picky about what and where I eat and try to minimize my exposure to these processed foods.
All this may sound insane for some, and believe me I get it. I used to eat all the westernized fare, and I thought it was to-die-for delicious. But I also struggled with all the westernized, highly commonplace anxiety, depression, and ruminating thoughts.
I would not have made these massive shifts in my diet had I not seen an undeniable impact on my mental health. I know that food can be extremely pleasurable and highly addictive, and that food choices are emotional and a great challenge to change. I just ask you to consider the possibility that changing your food habits could help with your anxiety, perfectionism, etc. Truly, I have experienced transformations, leading to a quality of life I once only dreamed of.
One thing you need to understand is that many foods are not what they were 200 years ago. And I’m not just talking about the synthetic ones. Many “natural” foods are not the ones that we evolved alongside for thousands of years.
If you’d like to gain a basic understanding of the changes to dairy, sugar, and gluten that have made them so toxic for our bodies, read my article The Western Mutation of Dairy, Sugar, and Wheat.
In case you don't feel like all of this is extreme enough (...haha...), it is important that I add the following foods to the list of inflammatory foods:
For many, these foods are also associated with physical and mental health problems as well.
I know that the tendency at this point is to think “okay, so literally all food is bad for me is what you're saying?” I know it's crazy. I simply add these to the list to get you thinking about foods that may be causing you physical and mental health troubles personally. These foods have been the culprits for many people, and cutting them out can be life changing depending on who you are.
Soy is easy to avoid when you get away from processed and fast foods, and I will say that based on research and many people's personal experience, it may be worth considering for you.
Eggs can be a relatively easy shift depending on how often you use them. You can replace eggs in a baking recipe with applesauce, chia or flax seed, or arrowroot powder.
Corn is one that I personally haven't had issues with at this point, but I do try to avoid GMO corn and stick to organic. GMO corn is well-known for its negative health impacts and heavy contamination with multiple herbicides. Many people have a hard time digesting corn, and I have talked to and heard stories of some who experience mental/emotional side effects when they consume it.
Meat causes health issues for many people. Depending on who you are, it may be an issue for you too. I will say that consuming conventional meat from animals that have been treated poorly, is probably not good for our body and mind. Eating meat sparingly and sticking to grass-fed or pastured meats can be a good idea - including those from Grass Roots Farmer's Co-op or Butcher Box. If you're looking to add protein to a meal, it can be good to add some nuts or seeds to a meal or on the side to get an extra boost of protein (and good fats too).
But as is the case with all things, please don't stress yourself trying to do this all at once. Small baby steps are good, and it can be beneficial to accept that you will have something on occasion, rather than telling yourself you can never have it, depending on who you are and what the thing is.
I encourage you to walk your own journey with food and see what joys you might experience. What is one change you can make that could lead to improved physical and mental health and bring you closer to God?
It doesn’t have to be as extreme as cutting out an entire food. It could be simply drinking one less soda per week, or switching to a soda alternative, such as the gut-healing Olipop (my personal favorite). It could be choosing to pack a home lunch 2-3 days/week rather than eating out every day. Perhaps it's choosing to add a serving of almonds to one meal each day, or making it a goal to eat one more serving of veggies per day.
Seek God’s guidance. He knows your current ability, He cares for you, and He is happy to reveal to you one small step you can make right now to improve your health.
Remove toxins from your diet
One of the things going on behind the scenes of our mental illness epidemic are all of the toxins we are constantly being subjected to in our cosmetics, cleaning products, water supply, the air we breathe, and the chemicals sprayed on our foods.
Yes, it’s a lot, and it is natural to want to deny any of this is happening. But the truth is, there are a lot of people in high places making a lot of money, and they don’t want anyone messing up the empire they’ve built. So, they continue to use these chemicals mostly unabated. They don’t care about the health and well-being of their fellow brothers and sisters - they just want money and power. They forget the reason they came to earth was to become like God and serve others.
So, so many of these toxins in our water, air, food supply, cosmetics, etc. are endocrine disruptors. In other words, they disrupt hormones, mess with metabolism, and alter mood. This is not a secret, it is common knowledge. It is also common knowledge that many of these commonly used chemicals are linked to cancer and autoimmune diseases. What is strangest of all perhaps, is that in the U.S. we still allow many chemicals in our food, water, cosmetics, etc. that countries throughout Europe banned years ago.
In cosmetics alone, the U.S. still allows the use of over 1,300 different chemicals that Europe has already banned or severely restricted.
While I have not written about all of these toxins, I do have a fairly extensive list of food toxins that are inflammatory and harmful to your mental health. If you’d like to see that, click here.
If you’d like to know why pesticides/herbicides are problematic for your mental health, and how to cleanse your body of them, click here.
Other ways to detox the gut, body, and brain
There are so many hidden physical factors that can directly contribute to mental illness - bacterial overgrowth, parasites, candida overgrowth, fungal overgrowth, heavy metal build up, viral infections, etc.
The beautiful thing is that God has provided us with natural means of dealing with these invaders and imbalances. There are many different vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, and other natural remedies you can use to detox the body. These can help kill off species in your gut that could be actively causing your mental illness, as well as feed microorganisms that are beneficial for your mental health.
While there are entire books on this, there is one supplement I’d like to recommend that has been helpful for me. It is called Canxida - Remove by Dr. Erik Bakker. It took me a lot of research to land on this supplement, and my experience with it has been very positive - even after I have done many other things over the years to detox my body already. It is also good to note that I have not experienced any painful or overwhelming detox symptoms using this supplement.
Other simple ways of detoxing your body include taking a nascent iodine supplement everyday (I recommend Detoxadine by Global Healing), consuming chlorella (cracked-cell wall) and spirulina powder, eating cruciferous vegetables, taking a glycine supplement each day, and eating cilantro/taking a cilantro extract supplement.
Optimal iodine is one of the most important contributors to hormone balance. This is because every single cell in your entire body requires iodine to function. Hormone balance is absolutely critical to mental health, and hormone imbalance is causative when it comes to anxiety and depression.
I used to suffer pretty intense brain fog. I began taking a nascent iodine supplement and my brain fog disappeared after about 3 weeks. I highly recommend Dr. Group’s nascent iodine supplement called “Detoxadine” (by Global Healing). Excellent stuff.
It’s also important to know that fluoride, chlorine, and bromine are all iodine receptor blockers. They take the place of iodine in cells, and can cause brain fog, metabolism issues, and hormone dysfunction which can lead to anxiety and depression. If you can distill or use reverse osmosis drinking water, this will help with hormone balance and cleansing your body. Consider also that about 70% of your body is made up of water, and every single cell in your body is filled with it. The type of water you drink makes a difference.
If you’d like a seriously informative video on iodine, I recommend Dr. Group’s video Everything You Want to Know About Iodine. He’s a total hippy and a complete medical genius - I love him.
Shop from local, organic farmers & grow your own food
Much of the food we eat has lost many of its medicinal and super-nutritional qualities over the last 150 years. Why? It all comes down to soil health. The health and microbial diversity of our soil directly determines how nutritious our food is. Unfortunately, our conventional growing practices have been decimating the microbial diversity of our soil, leading to ‘dead’ food.
Here are some of the conventional agricultural practices that have led to the destruction of our topsoil:
We don’t rest and rotate our crops like we should
We till our fields
We use pesticides/herbicides, which are antibiotics and genetic disruptors that destroy microorganisms
We plant monocrops rather than polycrops, which leads to a severe decrease in microbial diversity in the soil
We use synthetic soil that simply contains nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium, when healthy topsoil is filled with microorganisms and so much more than these basic compounds.
All of this severely disrupts the natural microbial and fungal networks in our topsoil and leads to extremely nutrient-deficient, even dead, soil. This in turn leads to nutrient-deficient food, which leads to far worse building blocks for your brain.
Unfortunately, we also often pick produce early for shipping purposes, artificially ripen it, and let it sit on shelves for weeks before eating it. This all translates to a great suffering of our physical and mental health. This is because our own health depends on the health of the earth.
We need to respect our earth and the animals and plants we have dominion over. We have severely mistreated her and them for many years now and the effects are showing. To learn more about this, read my article Why Buying Local Produce Will Transform Your Mental Health.
Growing your own food in healthy, organic soil or buying from local, organic farmers can make an absolutely massive difference for your physical and mental health. Doing this avoids the many severe issues with conventional growing practices and the food you buy in the grocery store. Buying foods labeled “organic” is better than not, but unfortunately this does not get around the fact that the “organic” label does not ensure they are not using chemicals, as some are not banned for use on “organic” foods. Also, many of these foods are still picked way too early and shipped a really long way - they have lost many of their nutrients by that point.
If all of this sounds too overwhelming for you, I get it! A good baby step is to buy organic, U.S. grown, flash-frozen fruit and vegetables. These are often picked ripe and then frozen within a few hours and shipped cold. This means that they often have fully developed and have not lost nutrition sitting on a shelf, because freezing keeps nutrients intact much longer.
Believe me when I say that changing the quality of food you eat will make a massive impact on your mental health. Eating locally grown, living produce from organic soil will bring you so much peace of mind, energy, and well-being. But never forget that you can’t skip the spiritual and mental work; just because you eat healthy doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily overcome social anxiety. This is why I put spiritual work as the very first point in how to heal social anxiety.
Now, for Part 3.