One of my favorite programs on PBS is Daniel G. Amen, M.D. He often addresses how to treat anxiety and depression, and his clinics use a more natural approach to treating depression and anxiety whenever possible, what he calls “the sane way to beat anxiety and depression”. Two values underlie this approach; “First do no harm” and “Use the least toxic, most effective treatments”.
His clinics use brain imagery to help diagnose disorders, called SPECT imaging, which looks at blood flow and activity patterns in the brain. Examination of these brain scans soon made it clear that depression and anxiety are not simple single-cause disorders, and that for best practice, each patient requires an individual therapy plan. Depression and anxiety have many causes and should not all be treated the same way. For more information, visit Dr. Oz’s website for Dr. Amen’s comments, or directly to Dr. Amen’s website.
Oprah Winfrey’s website offers us a treasure of information on self-healing, with the work of Dr. Richard J. Davidson, PhD, from the March 2008 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, in an article called “Your Brain on Happiness” by Penelope Green. Dr. Davidson’s research has been on the effect of meditation on the brain:
“I’ve been talking about happiness not as a trait but as a skill, like tennis,” says Davidson. “If you want to be a good tennis player, you can’t just pick up a racket—you have to practice.”
The University of Massachusetts Medical School has a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program that has been featured in Bill Moyer’s PBS documentary Healing and the Mind, on NBC Dateline, on ABC’s Chronicle. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s best-selling book, Full Catastrophe Living and Saki Santorelli’s book, Heal Thyself are both based on the principles taught in the University of Massachusetts Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program. Find out more about the program, including locating programs in your area, at the University of Massachusetts website.
I really love Deepak Chopra’s perspective on leading a balanced life, which can be read in a text version of the CNN interview “Secrets to a Better Brain” with Dr. Deepak Chopra, author of the book “Super Brain”.
In his commentary, he lists the ways we can inspire our brain, such as avoiding dull routine, doing something creative every day, enjoy heartwarming relationships and take time in nature. Then he tells us how to ignore our brain; get set in our ways, never look beyond our opinions, take relationships for granted, reconcile yourself to going downhill with age, act on selfish impulses … well, you get the picture. Deepak Chopra’s website offers a multitude of resources, including books, CD’s and supplements.
Deepak Chopra also highly recommends Alan Watts’ book The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety”. Dr. Chopra writes in the introduction, “Anyone whose life needs a course correction would be fortunate to be guided by The Wisdom of Insecurity. My life still is, some thirty years later.”
I want to introduce here an idea from my own experience, which may be worth exploring if you suffer from anxiety attacks. Some research is showing that allergies will generate physical symptoms that may be diagnosed as an anxiety attack, and yet are the body’s reaction to an allergen.
My own experience has been that my relatively mild spring allergies were accompanied by a very irritated, restless state of mind. I no longer suffer from these allergies. I don’t know if I outgrew them once I was past my teenager and early twenties, but at that same time I changed to a natural, whole food diet. I quit pop, especially the “diet soda” stuff, refined grains and sugar – a struggle for sure; I’ll freely admit as it’s very addictive.
Even wildlife will get addicted to junk food at national and state parks, forsaking their natural forage and hanging around the visitors’ centers for handouts and becoming ill from malnutrition as a result. The ill health of the mooching wildlife is one of the main reasons for the signs that say, “Please do not feed the wildlife”.
Coincidentally, my spring allergies have almost completely disappeared as did my migraine headaches. The idea that food is associated with anxiety is little researched and remains controversial at the academic level.
However, it is well worth researching, and testing out how food affects your mood at the least will do no harm. Some holistic medical clinics will design and monitor a cleansing diet for you, assuring that you have adequate nutrition and giving some guidance through the dizzying array of “diets” and product blurbs out there. Practically speaking, we don’t want a “diet”; we simply need to find a lifestyle that supports our health and quality of life on all levels.
I’ve found a couple of resources to begin some research on the link between anxiety and food – or should we say “non-food”?
Notice that in the article from Women’s Fitness, as well as the medical physicians mentioned earlier in this article universally advise to avoid alcohol. There is a notion lodged in our heads that a great cure for stress is an alcoholic drink, which is believed to at least offer some comfort. But you will understand when you read the article that there is a backlash that follows the initial relaxation from alcohol. There is a great article in the Huffington Post about the reality of alcohol and sleep.
Our personal lifestyle habits will have a great effect on how we cope with the stresses life throws our way. When serious trouble strikes, high levels of stress and anxiety are a normal reaction that can overwhelm even when we are using best practices in our daily life. In such a case, the research-based coping strategies taught by holistic practitioners such as Dr. Anthony Weil, Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. Amen can help us deal with the inevitable anxiety and stress.
So, go ahead and check out some of these ideas. These are some of the ideas and practices that have inspired me; my hope is that these suggestions and resources will help encourage others to make some changes that lead to a better quality of life. I also know there are others of you out there who have found great ways to deal with anxiety. What works best for you to support self-healing? Please do share your experiences with others; others can benefit from your success! What has worked? What has proven to be ineffective? I would love to hear about your favorite conscious relaxation techniques and what works best for you to support self-healing in the Comments section below.
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