Design by Claire Pottenger
When anxiety, stress and depression begin to take control, it can seem like medication is the only option. Although medication is the answer for some, there are plenty of ways to improve mental health solely by changing lifestyle choices. Acupuncture, yoga, meditation and diet changes can remedy mental health without popping a pill.
Acupuncture, according to licensed acupuncturist at Home Holistic Family center, Stephanie McGuirk, is “a Chinese medical practice or procedure that treats illness or provides local anesthesia by the insertion of needles at specified sites of the body.” In addition to relieving pain from physical issues, acupuncture is widely used to improve anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
Whenever I hear the word acupuncture, I get a little squeamish. The fact that people voluntarily pay to get stabbed repeatedly by tiny needles — let alone think this process was going to actually help their health — was beyond me. But after doing more research and talking to McGuirk, I see how acupuncture is more than random stabbings of needles.
McGuirk treats the 14 main meridians, which are pathways for qi, or positive energy. When these meridians are blocked, qi energy is unable to flow through the body, and prolonged blockage results in multiple health concerns. For example, the spleen meridian is connected to worrying or obsessive thinking. To determine what points each patient may need to be treated for, McGuirk goes through an interview process. By knowing a full medical history, McGuirk is able to pinpoint the emotional imbalances the patient is suffering from.
For those of us who are terrified by needles, it may be a good idea to start out with acupressure. Acupressure is the the application of pressure, instead of needles, on different points that are also used in acupuncture.
Although needles still make me uneasy, I’ll overcome my predispositions to to de-stress myself.
Yoga and meditation
I have always known yoga is good for the mind and soul, but I brushed it aside as exercise for lazy people. Now I am aware of the multiple positive effects of the exercise.
For depression and anxiety, the breathing techniques practiced in yoga can serve as a useful coping mechanism, according to psychotherapist at Family Life Clinic, Janet Byars.
Yoga teaches breathing techniques and stretches and helps people become more aware of their bodies and emotions. This means that once someone feels a panic attack coming on, they are more conscious of it and can control themselves by employing deep breathing techniques to calm down, according to Byars.
Meditation improves overall mental health by practicing mindfulness, which is the practice of being present in the moment or in whatever activity you are partaking in. Byars suggests that when with friends, focus on your relationships, instead of that class that keeps you up at night. Focus on the food you’re consuming instead of the surrounding conversations.
There are two sides of the brain – left brain, where focus is the dominant function, and right brain, where emotional trauma often lies. By practicing mindfulness during meditation and yoga, you essentially are staying out of your right brain and utilizing the left brain.
Whether it’s parents nagging toddlers to finish up their veggies or health teachers making sure students know how to read a nutrition label forwards and backwards, we’ve all been force-fed information about the importance of a healthy diet. But I recently stumbled across the fact that diet significantly affects mental health, especially for developing brains.
In fact, there is an entire branch of professionals that believes the consumption of certain inflammatory foods greatly increases anxiety in adolescents.
Anxiety and depression, among other conditions, can all be improved by a higher protein and lower carbohydrate diet. ‘Overfocus’ diseases can be improved by lower protein, high carbohydrate diets. This includes OCD, PTSD, eating disorders and other disorders.
Vitamins and natural supplements can target certain mental health issues and mitigate their effects. For instance, 5-HTP can help with other mental health issues that are caused by overfocus. Vitamin E can improve cyclic disorders, such as bipolar disorder and premenstrual syndrome. GABA can improve anxiety and SAMe can improve depression.
The things we choose to put in our body affect not only our physical health, but our mental health as well.
A person’s environment, relationships and thinking processes have serious impacts on overall mood. If surrounded by people who constantly make you feel inferior, it’s easy to get into a negative cycle of thoughts.
“I think the main thing that people struggle with that makes their mental health decrease is a negative outlook,” Byars said. “They begin to second-guess themselves. Once you get stuck in that negative thinking, it makes it really hard to rewire your brain to think positively.”
In other words, look at what is the best part of a situation instead of what’s the worst.
Although all these methods can help mental health significantly, I am in no way saying that medication is a negative thing. Therapy and or medication can be the answer for some, but you might as well try to solve issues naturally first. If natural methods fail, there is no shame in reaching out for professional help.
“People need to reach out when they have any thoughts at all about people being better off without [them] or [they] wish they wouldn’t wake up, then they definitely need to reach out for help,” Byars said.