I’m sure you’ve heard people talk about the health benefits of vitamin C, but did you know that it plays a proactive role in your mental health? Assuming a role in multiple functions in the brain and body, vitamin C is necessary for the growth, development, and repair of all body tissues. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant protecting neurons (nerve cells), aids in neurotransmission, and reduces inflammation. Most essentially for our mental health and well-being, vitamin C helps synthesize neurotransmitters (brain chemicals that are related to mood) such as dopamine, noradrenaline, and possibly serotonin.
Essential for the mind/body/spiritual connection, vitamin C heals connective tissues and the neural relationship between brain cells. Those with vitamin C deficiency have reduced cognitive function and energy levels, making problem-solving and mood management more difficult.
The following recent studies reveal the positive effects vitamin C has on your mental health:
- Reducing Stress – Large doses of vitamin C reduce levels of stress hormones in the blood-and also reduced other typical indicators of physical and emotional stress.
- Improving Brain Health – Vitamin C plays a significant role in brain function. The brain holds higher concentrations of the vitamin and is the last organ to be depleted of it during deficiency.
- Decreasing Anxiety – A 2015 study reported that a reduction in anxiety was observed in high school students given 500 mg/day of vitamin C compared to the placebo group.
- Enhancing Mood – Research determined a significant association between vitamin C status and current mood state. In a sample of young adult males, those with the highest plasma vitamin C concentrations were more likely to have elevated moods as determined by a rating scale.
When I speak with patients working on resolving trauma, whether individuals or couples, I use vitamin C as a metaphor for how we can repair and strengthen formative bonds between ourselves and those we love. For some, while they are actively managing the effects of trauma, their ability to cope with day-to-day stress can be overwhelming. However, by keeping the “vitamin C’s” of healthy relationships in mind, you can lighten any misdirected baggage that may affect your relationships and ensure that your dedication toward resolving your trauma remains consistent and self-focused.
Here are three vitamin Cs to help you strengthen your mind/body/spiritual connection and keep your relationships healthy:
No one can “hold it together” all the time. This is not a realistic expectation for ourselves or anyone else. The most important thing is understanding how stress builds and what you can do to relieve stress proactively. Routine activities can be stressors in our lives (work, school, bills). These stressors compounded with pre-existing issues, which can include unresolved trauma and its lingering effects, can create a perfect storm of emotional dysregulation.
When I say that “calm” is one of the vitamin Cs of healthy relationships, I’m not suggesting that you’ve failed if you lose your cool. Instead, calm can always be a mindful goal instead of taking the easier path of camouflaging pain with anger. We can become emotionally overreactive to the actions of others, consciously or not. The next time you find yourself triggered by the words or actions of someone else, try to calm yourself down before responding. Take a moment to breathe slowly, do a short bout of exercise, or take a “self-preservation reset”. When, and only when, you’re composed can you have an honest, constructive conversation about how you feel. It is through self-awareness that we can become more effective communicators.
Consciousness of Change
Being a “creature of habit” has its pitfalls. We rely on routine to provide structure in our lives, and when our routine changes, sometimes in the slightest manner, it can feel like the world is caving in on us. Change is an unavoidable constant in our lives. Sometimes it’s within our control, but most often, it’s not. Whether for better or worse, change is a disruptor in our lives, and there are healthy ways to adapt to and even take advantage of it.
The vitamin C approach to dealing with change is to accept that change is inevitable. When you experience a change in your living circumstances, job, relationships, or financial circumstances, try to focus on your values instead of your fears. This shift in mindset can create a surprisingly powerful buffer against whatever troubles may be ailing you. Reflecting on a personal value can help you rise above the immediate threat and realize that your identity can’t be compromised by one challenging situation.
Even though we are never free from change, we are always free to decide how we respond. For example, after spending three horrific years in Nazi death camps, Viktor Frankl championed the idea of accepting his past but fighting for his future. After discovering that his mother, brother, wife, and unborn child were dead, his life was thrown into despair. However, he eventually discovered that even though he could never return to the life he once cherished, he could move forward. Frankl referred to his hope in the face of despair as “tragic optimism”.
Although Frankl’s story is an extreme example, it is tremendously inspiring. Through his book, Man’s Search For Meaning, he teaches us to keep moving forward.
Communication is more than just exchanging information – it is the effective exchange of thoughts and feelings between people and understanding their intent. Ideally, when people engage in healthy communication, they are devoted to the exchange and are aware of their actions during the conversation.
Try to notice if you do that the next time you’re in a discussion. Are you actively listening or thinking about what you will say the next time there is a pause in the conversation? Truly effective communication is a two-way street.
There are four basic styles of behavioral communication.
PASSIVE COMMUNICATION is a style in which individuals develop a pattern of avoiding expressing their opinions or feelings, protecting their rights, and identifying and meeting their needs. As a result, passive individuals do not respond overtly to hurtful or anger-inducing situations. Instead, they allow grievances and annoyances to mount, usually unaware of the buildup. But once they have reached their high tolerance threshold for unacceptable behavior, they are prone to explosive outbursts, often out of proportion to the triggering incident. After the outburst, however, they may feel shame, guilt, and confusion, so they return to being passive.
AGGRESSIVE COMMUNICATION is a style in which individuals express their feelings and opinions and advocate for their needs in a way that violates the rights of others. Thus, aggressive communicators can be verbally and/or physically abusive.
PASSIVE-AGGRESSIVE COMMUNICATION is a style in which individuals appear passive on the surface but act out anger in a subtle, indirect, or behind-the-scenes way. People who develop a pattern of passive-aggressive communication usually feel powerless, stuck, and resentful – in other words, they feel incapable of dealing directly with the object of their resentments. Instead, they express their anger by subtly undermining their resentments’ object (real or imagined).
ASSERTIVE COMMUNICATION is a style in which individuals clearly state their opinions and feelings and firmly advocate for their rights and needs without violating the rights of others. These individuals value themselves, their time, and their emotional, spiritual, and physical needs and are strong advocates for themselves while being very respectful of the rights of others.
The assertive communication style gives you the best chance of successfully delivering your message. If you communicate in a way that’s too passive or too aggressive, your message may get lost because people are too busy reacting to your delivery. When you identify your feelings and needs and learn how to express them, you can communicate with honesty and authenticity.
When in conflict, all parties in a conversation want to feel heard and understood. However, focusing too much on your desire to be understood can backfire. If you try to see the other person’s position, it may help you better explain your position and how it differs from theirs. If you still don’t understand the other party’s point of view, ask more questions until you do. People are generally more willing to listen if they feel heard.
Effective communication often involves knowing how to admit when you are wrong. The goals of effective communication skills should be mutual understanding and finding a compromise that satisfies each party, instead of someone “winning” the argument or “being right.” If you share some of the responsibility of a conflict, look for and acknowledge what part is yours. It diffuses the situation, sets a good example, and shows maturity. It also often inspires the other person to respond in kind, leading you closer to mutual understanding and a solution.
If you have trouble staying respectful during a conflict, or if you’ve tried resolving conflict with someone on your own and the situation doesn’t seem to be improving, you might benefit from psychotherapy. Through therapy, you can learn skills to resolve future conflicts.
American Chemical Society (1999, August 23). Scientists Say Vitamin C May Alleviate The Body’s Response To Stress. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 15, 2022, from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/08/990823072615.htm
Ivaldo Jesus Lima de Oliveira, Victor Vasconcelos de Souza, Vitor Motta and Sergio Leme Da-Silva, 2015. Effects of Oral Vitamin C Supplementation on Anxiety in Students: A Double-Blind, Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Pakistan Journal of Biological Sciences. J. Biol. Sci., 18:11–18. Retrieved June 10, 2022 doi: 10.3923/pjbs.2015.11.18
Pullar, J. M., Carr, A. C., Bozonet, S. M., & Vissers, M. (2018). High Vitamin C Status Is Associated with Elevated Mood in Male Tertiary Students. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 7(7), 91. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox7070091
Wikipedia. Viktor Frankl. Retrieved June 9, 2022