Honestly speaking, why turn to a pill without first giving mindful consideration to a plethora of research in support of powerful options that put you, and the power of your choices, in the driver’s seat? You always have a choice to give yourself permission to self-direct your own healing naturally (together with your doctor, as necessary).
After all, who better to understand you and your brain and body’s natural healing intelligence, to grow your awareness of inner signals and sensations, to get to know the healing attributes of different foods and exercise, and the powerful impact of this knowledge on your life?
Who is in better position to connect to your own inner resources of intuitive and common sense wisdom, your deepest needs for emotional, mental (and physical) health and wellbeing, or your fondest dreams and aspirations?
In the first post, Part 1, we looked at published findings that sound alarm on antidepressants, and possible forces behind the exponential rise of mental (and physical) illness in the last few decades, and then in Part 2, we considered five factors that can elevate toxic levels of stress in the body, and set the stage for serious emotional disturbances, such as depression or anxiety.
In this post we look at seven strategies that work together to successfully address the factors that elevate toxic levels of stress. The last couple of decades have seen a growing consensus and numerous findings and publications recognizing the benefits of taking a natural approach to emotional (and physical) wellness.
Seven strategies that boost natural healing processes?
The five strategies listed below are designed to work together to promote emotional, mental, physical healing – by boosting the brain and body’s natural healing intelligence.
Enjoy a balanced exercise program. Exercise is a must, and your body is designed to move. Research has shown the positive effects of exercise on health, in the treatment of depression and anxiety, and enhancing emotional wellbeing in general. Robust exercise increases hormones known as opiods and endorphins which lower pain and produce feel-good feelings. Findings show exercise fuels the brain in several ways. Neurons appear to fuel themselves during exercise, activating rapid-fire messages that coordinate muscle contractions, vision, balance, and other complex interactions among all systems of your body that allow you to move accordingly.
Believe it or not, your emotional health and happiness do not depend on external factors, unless of course you’re a small child or you hold a (limiting) belief that they do! They depend instead on the quality of the connection you have with your inner world of thought, sensation and feelings. Anxiety and depression are serious conditions, to be sure. More often than not, however, they are not genetic diseases or abnormalities in themselves (author’s position) though they may be related to a medical or drug-induced condition (keeping in mind that anything ingested, to include food, is potentially mood-altering).
Truth be told, stress itself is not the problem. The problem lies in how you deal with stress, more specifically, how you have wittingly and unwittingly taught your subconscious mind to automatically manage what stresses you. Like a computer, your subconscious simply uses strategies you have programmed it to use. It doesn’t know you didn’t mean to do so. From day one of your life, it has kept a meticulous ongoing record of what most stresses you, what automatic defensive strategies ‘work’ to give you quick-fix relief, and so on. As your body’s operating system, this is a job your subconscious is hardwired to perform akin to breathing you.
You can learn to harness amazing inner resources, among them, your brain’s capacity for neuroplasticity, on behalf of your own personal and relational well-being and growth. For example, it’s in your power to learn how to regulate your emotions, identify your triggers, become aware of emotions and sensations as action signals, make effective repairs, release fear-based coping patterns, and consciously rewire your brain to be more consistently receptive to create, integrate, shift to the most optimal states possible.
5. Energize an optimistic outlook on life to enhance resiliency, happiness and performance.
In addition to promoting personal growth and life-satisfaction, positive emotions nourish the brain and body, and have been linked to creativity, resiliency, performance, and the formation of healthy relationships. In contrast, pessimism is linked to depression, learned helplessness, repeated mistakes, and serious health conditions, such as heart, cancer and higher risk for PTSD.
In several carefully controlled large-scale longitudinal studies of optimism, Dr. Martin Seligman found that optimism is a learned approach to life that contributes significantly to mental and physical health, resiliency, personal and professional happiness and even monetary success. The pioneering work of psychologist Dr. Bob Murray and therapist Alicia Fortinberry on the effects of optimism on resiliency and depression, also tested and developed a drug-free approach to treating depression in children. The results are published in a must-read book for parents titled, Raising an Optimistic Child: A Proven Plan for Depression-Proofing Young Children–For Life.
6. Practice mindfulness, meditation and conscious living.
A plethora of research shows that, in addition to optimizing processes that influence the brain to be open to change and to grow in positive directions, there is clear evidence of the benefits of mindfulness. Practices such as yoga, meditation, and similar tools that build inner awareness, such as spending time in nature, have been shown effective in lowering depression and anxiety. A mindful orientation deepens awareness of inner processes and thus potentially promotes better care for the body and mind. A key component of mindful practices is deep breathing, arguably one of nature’s most potent forces for healing.
Relationships are invaluable to human beings. All growth and learning, healing and transformation take place in the context of our relationships. Emotions, and in particular strivings for meaningful connection, value and compassion, give meaning and purpose to life. The brain is “a relationship organ” notes author of The Developing Mind Dr. Daniel Siegel, and it is wired with circuitry for caring and empathic connection. It can be said that all experience in life is relational. Compassion fosters empathic connection, an essential prerequisite for emotional intimacy, and empathy strengthens the connection between your mind (logic) and body (heart).
The learned capacity to love with a heart willing to remain open to see, to know and to understand self and other through the eyes of compassion is what deepens and grows wisdom, and at the same time an awakened understanding of self. Your deepest strivings are for love and meaningful connection to life within and around you. This explains why responses that convey love enhance your sense of security, whereas responses that signal danger of rejection or abandonment can, when repeated and prolonged, can lead to chronic states of anxiety and depression. These emotional threats to your wellbeing are rooted in your hardwired drive to matter in relation to life and others.
A pro-active and holistic approach?
Research shows that natural ways of reducing anxiety and depression are effective in the care of your emotional health and wellbeing. A study by Dr. Roger Walsh, looking at the impact of lifestyle changes, found simple modifications such as exercise, improved nutrition, relationships, recreation, relaxation, stress management, time in nature, and so on, enhance memory and brain functioning. Foods and drinks that cause inflammation in the body must simply be eliminated and replaced with nutrient rich foods. Practices involving mindfulness, exercise and nutrition have also been shown effective in the treatment of depression and anxiety.
There’s one caveat, however. Your dedicated commitment to making holistic lifestyle changes. These strategies are designed to work together, so that all factors are addressed in some way. Simply put, failing to address one of these factors, lowers the effectiveness of your attempts to address the others.
Any approach worthy of your best efforts must necessarily be holistic in nature. For optimal results, these strategies work together to boost emotional, mental, physical healing – naturally. And yes, after more than a century of being conditioned to think of our body and brain as distinct parts, we all need to keep reminding ourselves that the body, mind and emotional (spiritual) self are part of one system.
It’s all about taking a proactive approach to:
- Learn what your body and mind need to be healthy.
- Recognize what is toxic to your mental and physical health, and avoid or replace them with healthy options.
- Accept that the care of your mental, emotional and physical self are intrinsically connected.
- Become aware of your options and the power of your moment-by-moment choices.
- Fully embrace the responsibility for self-directing your own healing with a holistic approach.
When you treat your mind, emotions and body as one system, the positive benefits not only strengthen your confidence and ability to regulate your emotions, but also transform your attitude toward emotional pain and health. A system operates like a baby mobile, thus, what affects one aspect affects the whole system.
Taken together, the above strategies give you a choice to make a determined commitment to take the reins as captain of your emotional and physical state of being, and to employ the available strategies to consciously steer your life in the direction of personal health and healing.
Learn to harness your amazing inner resources, among them, your brain’s capacity for neuroplasticity, to make changes on behalf of your own personal and relational healing and growth. A healing approach involves identifying what toxic habits to turn away from and what healthful options to turn toward at the same time.
How willing are you at present to make a commitment to take a holistic approach in the care of your mind, emotions (spirit?) and body?