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Psychobiotics: Microbes, Mood and the Gut-Brain Connection

Scott Anderson

Scott Anderson (@Psychobiotic) is a veteran science journalist with specialization in medical research and computer programming. He is the author of a number of books covering topics as diverse as Human Embryonic Stem Cells and Video Production skills, and he was also one of the creators behind the computer game Lego Island, which was one of the biggest selling computer games of the 90’s.

Scott runs a laboratory called Freedom Health that studies bacterial health in racehorses and has developed prebiotics for animals and humans, and his newest book “The Psychobiotic Revolution“, along with John Cryan and Ted Dinan from the APC Microbiome Institute, explores how and why your brain health and state of mind are intimately connected to your gut microbiome.

In today’s episode we discuss the history of the gut-brain research, how the gut and the brain communicate with one another, why the bacteria living in your digestive system may contribute to mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, how western dietary habits lead to the destruction of a healthy gut ecology, and we also discuss some of the pre and probiotic foods that you can start consuming to bring your brain and body back into balance.

 

Related Links

Feed Your Microbes, Nurture Your Mind – John Cryan, TEDx Talk

Food for thought: How gut microbes change your mind – John Cryan TEDMED Talk

Book Recommendations

Images (modified) courtesy: Hey Paul Studios (Brain, Gut

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How to Bankrupt Your Business, Destroy Your Family, and Lose Your Mind

Well, it had to happen sooner or later, I suppose.

In today’s episode I share my own story of my decent into madness. Beginning with my early childhood flirtations with hypochondria, I take you all the way through my battles with depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, and depersonalization, right the way through to hitting rock bottom in early 2015 when I experienced a brief period of suicidal ideation.

If that doesn’t sound morbid enough, on the way we’ll encounter adoption, drugs, prostitution, strip clubs, brothels, lies, infidelity, gangland violence, ambition, failure, bankruptcy, nudists, modern art, tongue piercings, and my illustrious career as a dog shit picker-upper.

Enjoy!

I’ve included some photos and links below to add a few visuals to the narrative, or just in case anyone thinks I might be telling porkies pies.

 

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Related Links

Hit me up on Twitter: @dannydwhittaker

Calls for investigation after brothel charges – Manchester Evening News

Clubland shooting victim named – BBC

Teen’s key-fob death is still a mystery  – Manchester Evening News

Skinbook: Facebook for 21st Century Nudists – TIME

Book Recommendations

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Why Stress Destroys Us

Prof. Carmine Pariante

Carmine Pariante (@ParianteSPILab) is Professor of Biological Psychiatry at Kings College London, where he also leads the Stress, Psychiatry and Immunology (SPI) Lab, investigating the relationship between stress, mental health and the immune system.

Carmine is the editor of a number of books including “Understanding Depression: A Translational Approach“, and “Behavioral Neurobiology of Stress-related Disorders“, and he also writes a blog for the Huffington Post.

He has received a number of awards for his research including the 2012 “Academic Psychiatrist of the Year” Award from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the 2015 Anna-Monika Prize for Research on Depression, and the Norman Cousins Award for outstanding contributions to research in psychoneuroimmunology.

In today’s episode we discuss the biology of stress, everything from the anatomy of the brain, to the endocrine system, and how it’s all functions together. We explore the evolutionary advantages of the stress response, how the pressures of modern life can cause stress to become chronic, and how the physiological damage of long-term stress can lead to conditions such as anxiety and depression.

 

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Related Links

Stress, Psychiatry and Immunology (SPI) Lab – Facebook Page

Book Recommendations

          

Image courtesy: Amy McTigue

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Dads in a Dark Place

Mark Williams

Mark Williams (@MarkWilliamsFMH) is the founder of Father’s Reaching Out and co-founder of International Father’s Mental Health Day (19th June).

After experiencing a traumatic labour during the birth of their son Ethan in 2004, both Mark and his wife Michelle struggled with crippling anxiety and post-natal depression.

While Michelle recovered, Mark continued on a downward spiral which eventually culminated in suicidal ideation and a complete nervous breakdown.

After finally seeking help, Mark has since made a full recovery, and now makes it his life’s mission to raise awareness of perinatal mental health issues in fathers.

Mark has spoken around the World at over 150 conferences and events, and has written about fathers’ mental health in several publications.

He has appeared on numerous TV news outlets and has also appeared in television documentaries concerning mental health including Channel 5’s “My Secret Past” discussing post-natal depression.

In 2012 he was awarded “Local Hero” at the Pride of Britain Awards and Inspirational Father of the Year.

 

Recommended Links

Father’s Reaching Out

Dads Cymru

Dads Matter UK

Fathers Mental Health Network

Maternal Mental Health Alliance

Postnatal depression and perinatal mental health (Partners Page) – Mind

Books Mentioned in This Episode

               

 

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Image courtesy: Andrés Nieto Porras

Childhood Mental Health and Raising Confident Kids

Prof. Sam Cartwright-Hatton

Samantha Cartwright-Hatton (@SamCH_ClinPsych) is Professor of Clinical Child Psychology and Senior Clinical Research Fellow at University of Sussex. She works as one of the clinical advisors to Anxiety UK, and in 2009 she received the British Psychological Society May Davidson Award in recognition of her research into childhood anxiety.

She’s the author of “Coping with an Anxious or Depressed Child: A Guide for Parents and Carers“, and “From Timid To Tiger: A Treatment Manual for Parenting the Anxious Child“.

In today’s episode we talk about depression and anxiety in preadolescent children, whether nurture or nature plays the biggest role in the development of childhood mental health, how you may be inadvertently teaching your child to be fearful of the world and how to stop doing so, why it’s more important to praise effort over ability, the seven confident thoughts that children need to grow up happy and confident, and why Sam is in favour of installing a communist dictatorship.

 

Sam’s Recommended Links

Anxiety UK – National charity helping people with Anxiety.

Books Mentioned in This Episode

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Image courtesy: Guilherme Jofili

How to Write the Perfect First Blog Post?

Reading time: 8 mins

How many of you can relate to this experience?

You’ve decided, for whatever reason, to start a blog. You agonize for days over a name for your project where the .com, .net, or .org hasn’t already been snapped up by some arsehole domain squatter. Fifty attempts later, you finally settle on something you’re happy with and fork out a couple of quid on GoDaddy.

You buy a little web space, install WordPress, and upload a swanky, stylish, modern template that makes you look all premium and professional and stuff. And just like that, you’re ready to go. The world is your oyster.

You click “New Post”. A big blank page opens up before you. Oh, the potential. The little cursor seems to flicker with impatience, ready to skitter across your screen spilling syllables by the boatload. You crack your knuckles in preparation for the wordy symphony you’re about to hammer out on your keyboard. Just call you Williwig van Shakeshoven.

But hang on a minute. Hold your horses, sunshine. Let’s not be too hasty now.

Online, as in real life, first impressions matter. There’s fifty gazillion other blogs floating around out there in the ether. A bajillion of which already cover your chosen topic. Umpty-seven of which are authored by writing geniuses with God-tier marketing skills and eleventy-squillian subscribers.

You can’t just wing it and toss out any old codswallop. Not if you hope to compete with these behemoths of the blogosphere. No siree, Bob. You need to hit these mofos with a haymaker of an opening gambit. Come in like a wrecking ball, like that little Miley Cyrus fella says.

Your first ever blog post needs to be fun. It needs to be witty. It needs to be informative. It needs to be profound, amusing, intelligent, relatable. It needs immaculate spelling and punctuation. It needs flawless grammar and syntax. It needs structure and flow and character and style. It needs to be, well… Perfect.

Oh, the pressure. Your heart sinks. You sit and stare at your laptop screen. All that white space glaring back at you that mere moments ago felt like a blank canvas of infinite potential suddenly morphs into a bottomless abyss of nothingness. The words don’t come. The cursor flickers, slow and laboured. On. Off. On. Off. On. Off.

Five days later, you still haven’t written a thing.

Ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to writer’s block.

Shit.

Oh, don’t worry. I know I’m being a drama queen. But that’s anxiety for you. And this, along with depression and other mental health issues is what this blog is all about.

Anxiety, however, is my specialty. I’m the Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Lionel Messi, Roger Federer of worry. Place me in any innocuous situation and I can catastrophize the bejesus out of it.

My heart skips a beat, I’m going to have a heart attack. Every minor stomach ache is stage four bowel cancer. If a loved one doesn’t answer their phone after three attempts, they’ve died in a car crash. And the content of my first blog post is as important to humanity as Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”.

What this latter delusional anxiety boils down to, is self-consciousness. I. Care. What. You. Think. I wish I didn’t. I’d like to pretend I don’t. But I can’t. Because I do. And that’s that.

Like all world-class professionals though, I have my off days. And today is one of those days where I’m off my anxiety game enough to be able to step back and take a sober look at this self constructed predicament.

Those of you with experience in CBT might be familiar with cognitive restructuring exercises. These are (usually) written exercises where you identify your negative thought patterns or limiting beliefs and then subject them to a little rational scrutiny. The goal being to contradict them and thus undermine the emotional power they exert over you.

Let’s say you berate yourself for being a “loser”. You might look for evidence why this isn’t true, such as listing off some past victories. Or maybe you could reframe past mistakes by finding the important lessons they contained, and thus turn them into a win.

The limiting beliefs fueling my writer’s block in this particular instance are twofold:

1) It matters what you, the reader, think of me. Therefore…
2) My first blog post needs to be perfect.

There are plenty of surface level criticisms to be leveled at these limiting beliefs, and plenty of vacuous platitudes I could employ to counter them. Why do you care what people think? You can’t please everyone. Who says it needs to be perfect? There’s no such thing as perfect. Ruh, ruh, ruh.

However, for your entertainment, I reckon I’ve discovered a couple of deeper misconceptions in these limiting beliefs which are slightly more profound, and infinitely more amusing.

First of all, I said a moment ago, that I care what you think. You! But who is this “you” exactly?

As this is the first draft of my first ever blog post, by definition, there’s no blog to be read yet and hence no readership. So this “you” that I’m speaking to isn’t a separate other you at all, because an actual other you doesn’t technically exist yet.

Even if I claimed to be writing for a future you, having imagined what you might be like, you’re still no more real than the nudist Kerry Washington I share an apartment with whenever I start daydreaming at a stop light.

This you that I’m so desperate to impress is really just a Frankenstein’s monster of my own paranoid projections. In other words, you aren’t you at all. You are actually just me in disguise and relabeled with the pronoun “you”.

This whole situation is like  sitting in front of the mirror and being worried about having something of interest to say in case the reflection staring back at you disapproves in some way.

In short, I’m worried what to say myself because if I don’t say the right thing and impress myself, I’ll disapprove of what I have to say, and then feel bad about myself as a result.

Jesus!

But this is just a transient issue. The fact is, there will at some point in the future be other people who aren’t me who read this blog post. Which brings me to the matter of whether or not this first blog post even matters.

It doesn’t. And neither does yours. Not that it doesn’t matter, period. It just doesn’t matter yet. And by the time it does matter, what it actually says won’t matter much anyway. In fact, the worse it is now, the better it will eventually be.

Confused? Let me explain.

I’m sure there are some examples of bloggers out there who went from total anonymity on a Monday, to a viral sensation by Wednesday off the back of their first blog post. And good for them. But for the rest of us, no matter how revolutionary it is, our first blog posts will go completely unnoticed.

Launching a blog is like setting up a market stall in the middle of the desert. The only people who know you’re there are you parents and three of your friends. Sure they’ll pay you a token visit. Maybe they’ll tell their friends, and if you’re lucky, some of them will pop by for a minute or two.

But after this, the bulk of your early readership will consist of little more than the occasional straggler who stumbles across your blog by sheer fluke of a misspelled Google search.

If you want to get past this and build an audience, you have to expand your inventory. Write and write and write some more. Rack up those blog posts until people begin to arrive on purpose. By which point your first blog post is buried so deep in the archives, even you might struggle to unearth it.

Regardless of what your anxiety might try to tell you, your first blog post will not shape the first, nor the lasting impression that 99.99% of your readers will form of you. That’s the responsibility of future blog posts you haven’t even thunk about thinking about yet. So, save your writer’s block for those.

The sole purpose of your first blog post is to get yourself off the starting blocks and into the race. Nothing more. For everyone else, the only use your first blog post will serve is to satisfy the curiosity of those readers who want to see how much of an amateur you were when you first started out.

So, do these future readers a favour and let your first blog post be shit. The shitter the better. With any luck, by the time anyone actually reads it, you yourself will have turned into the kind of blogging royalty that will intimidate the next generation of newbie bloggers into a bout of writer’s block about their own first blog post.

Genuine spontaneous side note. As I sit writing this, finally coming to the end of my own first blog post, I’ve begun to suspect that writing your first blog post about the anxiety of writing your first blog post is probably one of the biggest clichés in blogging. But bollocks to it. I’m not going to check. I don’t even want to know.

Anyway, I’m sorry if you stumbled across this blog post while searching for some practical advice on how to construct an amazing, original, SEO-friendly masterpiece that will make you an overnight viral sensation. I’m not saying it can’t be done. I’m sure it can. I’ll bet it has. But I don’t know how to do it.

I don’t know what makes a great first blog post. I don’t even know what makes a good first blog post. But, in my humble opinion, the perfect first blog post is the one that gets published.

Here’s to perfectoin!

 

Image courtesy: Drew Coffman