(Photo courtesy of Brittney Moses Facebook)
Back to the Basics of Mental Health
An Interview with Brittney Moses
By Sarah Komisky
When it comes to faith and mental health, Brittney Moses is one of the leading champions on a social media platform. With her informative real-talk, Brittney is the face of her generation. She’s relatable and flat-out funny as the mental health professional we all want to hear from. However, what makes her most appealing is that she is just like us. This Los Angeles native, both a current student of psychology and clinical research at UCLA, is also a single mom to her 11-year-old son Austin. Pursuing academia alongside parenting has carved out a more non-traditional path, but one nonetheless that makes her someone we want to hear from. In addition, Brittney draws from her own experience growing up in the church and serving in ministry where she encountered numerous mental health crises. These encounters sparked her passion for speaking on the subject. Today, the public figure has gained opportunity to spread awareness online, and in the community, using her signature professionalism and deconstruction approach to difficult topics. In the process, Brittney has successfully offered the public non-intimidating podcasts, blog posts, and videos of a probable misconceived subjects, especially in faith circles.
Here is a look at our new interview at Marked Ministry where we went back to basics with Brittney as we talked nutrition, wellness, faith, and breaking the stigma of mental health in church culture.
Sarah: The new year brings a lot of evaluation concerning our health and eating habits. In turn, one of the things I love about you is that you talk about how our food choices connect to our mental health. How does that work?
Brittney: I’m glad that you bring this up because over the past couple years I’ve been really advocating the relationship between nutrition and mental health. First, I love to encourage people to learn more about intuitive eating. This is an anti-diet, self-compassionate approach to eating that is centered on a healthy relationship with food and our bodies. Unless we have some type of medical condition where a certain diet is doctor-recommended, I think intuitive eating is a holistic and sustainable approach. Health is not just about what we’re eating, it’s also about our mental state around food, bringing joy back to our meals, and honoring our bodies no matter where it is along the journey.
That being said, there are certain types of foods that can help improve our mental health! We have to understand food as two things: 1. Fuel for our body and 2. The chemical building blocks for our brain.
On a basic level, food breaks down into glucose which is a source of energy that keeps our bodies going and our brain powered. On a mental health level, we have something called the enteric nervous system (ENS), also known as the gut-brain connection, where there is bi-directional communication between our gut and our brain. What we’re digesting provides the nutrients and building blocks of neurochemicals being relayed to our brain. For example, 90% of erotonin, the neurochemical known for mood balance and well-being, is produced in the gut.
There’s also evidence supporting the idea that the health of our gut microbiome, the microorganisms that line our intestinal tracts, contribute to the health of our brain because of this pathway from the gut to the brain. So probiotics and fermented foods like, yogurt, kefir, Sauerkraut, etc., can contribute to the “good bacteria” in our gut. Many refer to the gut as the “second brain” for these reasons.
Additionally, we have a blood-brain barrier, which are the blood vessels that coat our brain. Here vital nutrients that we eat are carried from our bloodstream and are absorbed by the brain.
Some books I highly recommend around this topic are The Happiness Diet by Dr. Tyler Graham and Dr. Drew Ramsey, The Gut-Brain Connection by Dr. Emeran Mayer and This is Your Brain on Food by Dr. Uma Naidoo.
Sarah: This month at Marked Ministry, our newest issue theme is entitled, “Back to Basics.” So, when we talk about mental health struggles with depression or anxiety, you have shared that many who face these issues also face malnourishment and nutrient deficiencies. Considering this, what are some “basics” we can establish when we want to change our food habits to improve our brain wellness and overall energy this new 2021?
Brittney: Sure! So having a lack of basic essential nutrients or energy depletion because you haven’t been fully nourished, can both be immediate (and resolvable) reasons you’re mood has been feeling off.
Some of my personal general rules of thumb to live by have been: More veggies and leafy greens (ideally 50% of the plate). More fruits and berries, which usually have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Getting some daily intake of Omega 3’s- these are healthy fats for the brain… high sources in fatty fish like salmon and tuna, as well as avocados, but I also supplement through vitamins. I go for the grass-fed, free-range, farm raised meats and eggs when it comes to proteins. And I have a major sweet tooth, so I’m not one to judge, but trying to lessen the sugars as much as possible. Studies have shown countries with the highest intake of sugar also have the highest rates of depression. We now eat as many sugars weekly as we used to annually. It used to be a rare treat; now, it’s a lifestyle.
Staying hydrated is also underestimated. Water is literally a lubricant for your organs, including your brain. About 75% of our brain is made up of water. Especially after first waking up from a full night of sleep, it’s great to rehydrate first thing in the morning. I keep room temperature water (better for digestion) by my bedside and wherever I go because I understand how dehydration can slow down brain functioning, cognition, attention and focus. So consider what it may look like for you to stay hydrated throughout the day, such as keeping a refill bottle by your bed or on your desk!
Sarah: Going back to basics, our culture, although gradually growing with awareness of mental health, still wrestles with stigmas. And, when talking about faith culture, how do you think as both a mental health professional and person of faith, we can break down these stigmas even more this year personally and culturally in the church?
Brittney: I think that our two priority hurdles to overcome when it comes to faith, our culture and mental health are correcting our perspectives and having access to resources.
We tend to believe there are two perspectives when it comes to mental health. There’s either (the secular view that is only focused on the science and evidence but doesn’t take account for God) or the redemptive power of Christ. Then there’s this 100% spiritual view that only sees things as a spiritual issue but doesn’t take into account the other parts of our being and experiences that also impact our mental health. So, something I advocate is that we are bio-psycho-social-spiritual beings and that we need to have an integrated view if we’re going to help heal the whole person.
So this means we have biological aspects like neurochemicals and brain structuring, psychological factors like the mental framework shaped by our experiences, social aspects like our basic need healthy human attachment and spiritual aspects like our biblical worldview and the power of prayer. We want to take the whole person into account when we consider all the factors that may be contributing to a person’s mental state. This is also the benefit of professional help, where you have people who are trained to assess and provide evidence-based treatment to others that can produce real results.
Secondly, it would be in our benefit to have some resources to turn to when someone’s mental health challenges are beyond our expertise and experience, or even just for additional support. For example, knowing 24/7 hotlines like the suicide hotline (800-273-8255) or Crisis Text Line (Text HOME to 741741) for those who would use basic support at any time. I’m a certified crisis counselor on the national text line, so I can verify that responders are simply there to listen and support non-judgmentally and unbiasedly. Also, equipping our faith leaders with mental health professionals to partner with, or directories to go about the basics of locating help for others, I think will help people feel more confident about getting help.
A study by Lifeway found in their survey that 59% of pastors had counselled someone who went on to receive an acute diagnosis, meaning that they went on to develop something more severe. So this is definitely vital for the church to understand. And being able to identify severe signs on the forefront could help with early prevention.
Sarah: Overall, how do you think our mental health is interconnected with our spiritual health?
Brittney: Great question! I think that our mental and spiritual health are really intertwined in so many ways. But a common issue I think it comes down to is our core beliefs. What do you deeply believe to be true about your identity, your worth, who God is and who He is in relation to you? These are all so foundational, aren’t they? Because how we see ourselves and what we believe of God and how we interact with those around us, the quality of our interpersonal relationships are all going to be shaped by these things. So what it comes down to is our foundational truth.
Philippians 4:8 reminds us to fix our thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Remembering that you are loved, you are chosen, you are redeemed, that God is sovereign, that all things are possible through Him, that the temporary things we see now are nothing compared to the glory that is to come- so that you can stand rooted and upright in a world that can certainly feel overwhelming and upside down sometimes.
Many times when we’ve lost sight of God’s truth, when we’ve lost sight of ourselves, it can weigh on our mental health and affect one another. And so we remember that faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ (Romans 10:17). Part of our spiritual and mental health means being grounded by His word so that we can show up wholeheartedly for the calling on our lives.
Sarah: This new year, many are thinking of getting some professional help for the first time whether it be a support group, counseling, therapy, or just initiating their own research. Moreover, what would you say to these people who are just accepting the idea of professional help and what advice would you give as they seek out mental health and wellness?
Brittney: First of all, good for you! It’s never too early to get the support we need, and you deserve to be supported. We shouldn’t have to wait until we’re in a crisis or at the end of ourselves to do something about the state of our mental health. However, if you have come to a place where you’ve felt like your mental state has become hard to live with, then that is certainly what therapists, counselors and support groups are for. And I’ve been to each of these at certain points in my life and they benefit me greatly. Even therapists have therapists. So getting help doesn’t make us failures, it makes us human and it just means we’re not in it alone.
That being said, I recommend sticking with the process as you’re trying to find some support. I always recommend going through your insurance as a first resort since services should be covered. Sometimes, navigating the mental health care system for the first time and finding the right therapist for you can be a little trial and error, or it can be a great fit! Either way, stick with it because once you’re in therapy, counseling or a support group that’s right for you, it really can help provide a consistent safe space to find some relief and growth, in ways that you may underestimate at first. And it may get harder before it gets easier as you’re revisiting some difficult or unprocessed emotions and facing them directly. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not working and therapy isn’t an overnight fix or magical pill. Healing is a journey and it’s so worth it for where you’re headed in life.
Sarah: When brainstorming for this issue with our team, one of the biggest topics that came up with the “Back to Basics” theme was the topic of Bible reading. Many have anxiety when it comes to this subject, feel overwhelmed, or absolutely stuck in the mechanics that they miss the enjoyment of it. I know you have awesome Bible study guides to help in this area. So, how would you address the question of, “how do I read the Bible and cultivate a quiet time with God?”
Brittney: This is totally understandable. In fact, anxiety disorders are the top mental health conditions in the world, whether you’re a believer or not. These challenges come as a part of the human experience. I recently, wrote and entire anxiety detox devotional series on exactly this which you can check out at my website BrittneyMoses.com or on Youversion!
I specifically want us to pause and meditate on Psalm 145:8, the Lord is merciful and compassionate, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. Sometimes, when it comes to Bible reading and quiet time with God, we can feel internal shame when we haven’t prayed or picked up our Bible in a while because of the weight of our anxieties and that shame, in turn, keeps us from God. So, I wanted to remind you that God is patient, compassionate, merciful and not easily angered. At any point in time, we can choose to surrender our thoughts to Him and show up as our full selves before God. His grace will meet us wherever we are. Even when we are faithless, He is still faithful and He is not surprised by us.
The heart behind cultivating time with God is from a place of surrender and not legalistic rules, “or else.” But there are some great ways we can stay consistent and be intentional about our days for our own mental health and the renewal of our minds. For example, Bible reading plans are great, such as the ones found in Youversion. Setting aside time every morning is always a great way to approach your day from a rooted place of intention instead of being tossed into a state of reacting to everything around you. We may not always be consistent as seasons and demands change, but we can pick back up these habits at any time and remember that we can pray anywhere because God is everywhere. At any point in the day you can pause, you can breathe, you can surrender your thoughts and choose to realign them with God’s truth.
Sarah: I want to bring up meditation for a moment because it’s one of those questions that comes up a lot in Christian circles that is often misunderstood and holds an extremely negative stigma. You talk about meditation as vital quiet to our daily rhythm. In a world that is so anxiety filled, how can the quietness of meditating with scripture be beneficial to get that mind and body soul-flow?
Brittney: Meditation comes up often for me as a grey area topic, so I’m glad you asked. When a lot of people think of meditation, we tend to associate it with the ancient Eastern practices that have gone mainstream in our Western culture. However, I believe there is a clear case for biblical meditation. And that meditation should be central to the lifestyle of believers and we see this so clearly throughout scripture. For example, in Joshua 1:8 God instructs Joshua to “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
And then in Psalm 1:2 we are told that blessed is the one “whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” And we see that the biblical definitions of these uses of the word meditation in its Hebrew origin falls under the acts of musing, pondering, speaking, declaring, uttering, to imagine, to put forth thought.
It is the intentional inward dialogue of our thoughts and the outward declaration of our heart toward God. It’s letting the Spirit renew our thoughts and attitudes (Ephesians 4:23). It’s letting His Word be an anchor to our anxious hearts.
So some ways that I love to meditate and recommend are listening to an audio reading of the Psalms, journaling through how scripture is speaking to you, picking an anchor verse for each day that you stick somewhere in sight and draw back to it throughout the day. I love the idea of stretching or being out in nature with God’s creation while meditating on God’s promises.
It’s well-known that people with chronic anxiety tend to clench their jaw and tighten their muscles that can bring about some compiled tension. What a wonderful idea it would be to set aside a time, possibly in the morning, just to engage in some stretching exercises. And when you’re doing this, while focusing on the flow of your body and breath, you also give thanks to God for your body, for the day He’s made, and continue to either mentally or verbally give thanks or recite scripture.
By taking the time to pause and reflect, we can expand our gaze upward to God’s sovereignty and the bigger picture He has in place for us.
Sarah: Most of us have felt overwhelmed with life and lost the ability to see God’s good plan for our lives. How can we get back to that basic and anchoring truth at this current uncertain time?
Brittney: My hope is that you’ll pause and surrender the things that are out of your control. You may feel if you ruminate on things enough some mental breakthrough will change everything and you’ll regain some control. And if you’re ruminating from a place of worry, most of the perspective you’re acquiring is painted by fear. So pray and give these things to God and leave it in His hands.
And remember, the things that seem overwhelming for you are not too big or surprising for God. Not only has He already seen all of your days, but He is fully prepared to carry you through. Romans 8:11 says that the same power that rose Christ from the grave lives in you. This means that you have a spirit reigning within you that is able to accomplish more than you may feel or imagine right now. When He is our strength, we always have a reason to hold on because His strength never fades. In this, we can have life and peace more abundantly, even when the worst comes because He who has promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).
Pause as many times as you need to realign with the priorities of what you can do, even if it’s in baby steps, and fix your thoughts on His truth.
Sarah: What can our readers and followers be looking out for in the months ahead concerning your podcasts, videos, blogging, etc.?
Brittney: Sure! If anything I’ve said has resonated with you today, I’d be happy to stay connected for more on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. I also have the Faith and Mental Wellness podcast, where I host conversations at the intersection of faith, culture and mental health with both mental health professionals and those with life experiences. So, in general, you can look forward to more podcast episodes, and I’m trying to get more YouTube videos out as well. But if you’re following me on any of those social platforms, you should be able to stay up to date. Thanks again for having me!
Find out more about Brittney Moses by visiting brittneyamoses.com