Not long ago there was a stigma attached to those who sought mental health help. These days, it's become a badge of honor. Neither is good as both serve to keep people sick! During the stigma days, I went on my own six-month therapy stint, doing my best to keep people from finding out, yet having that heart-racing feeling of withdrawal as each next session drew near. The biggest help for me, though, came from a co-worker – twenty years my senior (I was 18) – who told me my issue was panic attacks and gave me a complete, accurate description which, for the first time, assured me I wasn’t alone or nuts.
Years later, after going to school and becoming a therapist myself, it was disillusioning to attend workshops and conferences that seemed to focus on keeping people on the counseling couch rather than guiding them back to living their life completely and holistically. We were trained on ways to probe to bring up memories and, at one seminar, was even told it didn’t matter if the memories were true or false if they could be used as a tool to work with the person. My mind screamed that feeding a false narrative is neither healthy nor healing, but only offers a fictitious scapegoat. New labels and diagnoses were put on common maladies such as moodiness, Premenstrual Syndrome, and rambunctiousness, calling them things like bi-polar, personality disorder, and ADHD. The common denominator was that all created the need for medication and therapy where, previously, people relied more on family and friend support and it was just as effective without the side effects.. It seemed that my clients who went on medication ended up needing long-term therapy while those who rallied their support system and made (often very simple) lifestyle changes had a speedier recovery. Worse, many are told that they will never be able to get off their medication without relapsing into mental illness, yet the medications themselves often cause side effects that are the same or worse than the symptoms they are trying to treat, not to mention severe withdrawal of coming off them.
During my own previous therapy stint, I was adamant about not going on medication because the only logical conclusion would be that the symptoms would be waiting for me waiting for me when I chose to stop medicating and would likely be worse after having been subdued for so long. Therefore, the focus became on managing the stress with minor lifestyle and diet changes. Later, as a therapist, I viewed every client as my own secret case study to see if the symptoms – and the need for therapy – could be eradicated or alleviated with simple lifestyle changes. Like me, my clients were far better able to manage their symptoms with minor changes and no disruption to their lives. Furthermore, those simple alterations made such a difference that there was often no need to rip open old emotional wounds in search of a culprit and for those who still did need it, they were in a much stronger place to work through it than previously.
In reality, our bodies are healing machines designed to cope with most of what life throws at us. Crisis events and long-term stress can deplete our adrenals and cause thyroid dysfunction and our blood sugar to fluctuate which, in turns, depletes our body of other critical nutrients that would give us the upper edge on handling the stress. Not saying it will always be easy. But when we give our body what it needs, and take away what it doesn’t need, we lay a strong platform to assimilate and absorb physical and mental stress.
In other words, everything in our lives is energy. It either feeds or bleeds us. Think of running a car with no oil – the engine will eventually burn out. Without shocks, every bump on the road is excruciating and inflicts damage to the undercarriage of the vehicle until eventually, the car falls apart. That’s our bodies. When our adrenals are drained due to chronic stress and we lack of proper nutrients, every bump in the road is like hitting a sink hole that stops us dead in our tracks, leaving damage that, had the shocks on the vehicle good to begin with, it would have been nothing more than a speed bump.
At this point, you are likely thinking, “So your saying that most people don’t need medication and therapy when they experience emotional stress, PSTD, or trauma?” Well…Perhaps! Or at the very least, less than what they are put on. This is not to tell everyone to stop their medications. It would take a doctor supervision over time and one who supports and believes in the most natural approach possible for that person. What if I told you that some basic lifestyle adjustments could immediately alleviate symptoms that are commonly prescribed medication for? And that with those changes, it is likely you could manage even traumatic events better – hard as they can be? Well… I’m telling you that! And I was not always the popular person in our conferences when I suggested this. Sickness of any type keeps millions of people employed! That is why I have switched from therapist to Holistic Life Coach. To have success in mental health recovery, one must address and find balance in all, seemingly unrelated, key-life areas. And no one can bring about your own healing better than you! That's how our bodies were divinely created!
Below are three recommendations of lifestyle changes from two of the key-life areas to start you on the path to managing your own symptoms.
#1. Diet Can Cure What Ails You!:
Eating 6-8 small meals high in protein and complex carbs per day of non-processed (raw)foods stabilizes blood sugar and reduces, if not eliminates, stress symptoms, It’s easier than you think! All the vegetables that you want (not fried), fruit, Raw nuts, olives, hummus, guacamole, boiled or deviled eggs, good quality cheeses, natural peanut butter, almond butter, protein shakes, protein bars, fish, beans, etc. The key is, eat right and love what you eat! Set up small plates and take your time enjoying the food and watch your symptoms dissipate.
All of us are born with 'switches' in our body that contain diseases that our bloodline may be prone to. How we eat and treat our body, and our stress levels are the major determining factor of whether or not these switches are turned on. Our bodies are healing machines and are designed to keep us well. But modern diets require our bodies to sort and fight the excess (and unnecessary) toxins we put into them (which accumulate over time) and cannot focus on it's primary purpose of wellness. Think of a person sitting on their front porch while a thief enters through the back door. We have control over these switches and, if one is turned on as a result of life stressors beyond our control, we have a choice of how serious the ailment will be and even throwing the switch back off simply by eating healthy and living a wellness lifestyle.
When your body has to fight off the very food you put into it, it sends out distress signals that manifest into feelings of anxiety. Remember! All food either feeds or bleeds you! Symptoms are our bodies way of communicating to us what it does and does not need. When we ignore them they scream louder. Eventually, there will be a breakdown in the area that our gene pool is susceptible to and the switch will be flipped on. For example, four people may inflict the same damage on their bodies over a long period, ignoring the early symptoms. One has a family history of diabetes and eventually he becomes one. The second person follows suit to a family history of cancer. The third on develops a mental health disorder similar to his uncle and grandmother. The last one, whose family has a history of multiple sclerosis and depression, makes the dietary and fitness lifestyle changes and never comes down with the diseases.
#2. Creative Exercise (Feeding your life energy).
We hear it again and again. Walking and swimming do wonders to alleviate stress and it’s affects on the body and cardio issues. There are many wonderful and fun ways to exercise. I ballroom dance and am amazed at the people who started this in their forties and fifties and experienced major health improvements, even coming out of wheelchairs and walkers over time. Then there is yoga that can be at any level a person needs. Meditation is low activity but teaches correct breathing. We live in a day of fast and furious activity and information and most of us are shallow breathers. Simply learning the art of breathing has amazing health and mental health benefits! Hiking, biking, skiing, skating, gardening, whatever it is you love! Just be on your feet!
#3. Purpose and Passion (Feeding your life passions)
Do you find yourself always putting off the rewards of life, thinking if you work hard enough then someday you will be able to enjoy your soul passions and purpose? We are not guaranteed tomorrow! The time is now. It doesn’t take a lot of money to determine your life passions and start doing them. Do you love art? Grab and easel and some paint! How about dance? Or astronomy? Hiking? Caving? Swimming? You are never too old to start now! Studies in the corporate world show that people who are happiest in their jobs are those who feel the work itself is rewarding or who are shown recognition, appreciation and are rewarded for hard work. In real life, our happiness comes from seeing the fruit of our life passions and we are the only ones who can provide that for ourselves.
If you have been marginally depressed, anxious, or feeling lost in life and have considered going to therapy or getting on medication and are not in any type of medical or mental health crisis, try these things first before spending your hard-earned money and limited time on therapy. There are no magic pills and every one has a cost, often much higher than the purported benefits. Focus on achieving what you want for your life and avoid the trap of fighting the symptoms. Remember, the symptoms are your friend! Your body can’t email, text, or call you to tell you there is something going on that needs to be addressed. The symptoms are the communication and your body is smart enough to send the indications long before the actual 'dis-ease'! You can feed the 'dis-ease' or you can feed yourself health and wellness. Remember the Cherokee story of the good and bad wolf. “Which one wins?” Asked the grandson of the old Indian chief. “The one who wins, my child, is the one you feed!”