Natural boosts for mood and mental health

Earlier this week, I reported on the decline of America’s mental health over the last 30 years. We arrived at this low point, in part, because mental health professionals have stopped listening to their patients’ needs as individuals. Instead, most of them exclusively rely their prescription pads to shoe-horn patients into any number of drugs on the market that simply don’t work. Furthermore, in my view, any effective, long-term mental health treatment must address the mind and the body.

Fortunately, as I mentioned earlier this week, you have many effective, natural approaches to support mood and mental health, as well as physical well-being. And today, I’m pleased to share some wisdom from my colleague James Lake, M.D. on what he has learned from his career working on natural approaches to mental health. (I’m also pleased to announce that Dr. Lake will be contributing a chapter on his work to the 6th edition of my medical textbook, Fundamentals of Complementary & Alternative Medicine due out in 2018. In the meantime, you can get a copy of the current edition.

When you’re literally sick with worry

Many people struggle daily with stress and anxiety. And at this time of year, lovingly known as “tax season,” they may feel it even more acutely.

Symptoms can manifest as excessive worrying, heightened arousal, and feelings of physical tension. These symptoms interfere with work and family time. They can also interfere with one’s ability to stay present in the moment and experience any feelings of enjoyment.

Acute, intense anxiety can be experienced as panic attacks. A frightening or unexpected situation or object can trigger these episodes. Or they can even occur spontaneously.

You may experience dizziness, sweating, rapid heart beat and palpitations, and rapid breathing or shortness of breath, together with feelings of intense dread and even fear of dying.

Chronic anxiety often leads to sadness, insomnia, depression, and other mental health problems. Abnormal heart beats, Type II diabetes, thyroid disease, and other medical problems can mimic generalized anxiety — but usually it goes away when the underlying medical problem is treated.

Established mainstream treatments of stress and anxiety include cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, and prescription drugs. These treatments may benefit the patient for a time, but they have limited long-term effectiveness. When it comes to prescription drugs, people with generalized anxiety often have a positive initial response, but remain symptomatic over the long-term.

Patients with chronic, generalized anxiety may also have trouble with depression, insomnia, alcohol abuse, and drug abuse. Use of potent drug sedatives and sleep remedies often lead to addiction, and ultimately severe withdrawal symptoms.

Fortunately, you can turn to the many effective, non-drug treatments for anxiety and stress (just as you can with chronic pain).

 Natural approaches to overcoming anxiety

Remember, true personalized medicine means finding the treatment that works best for you. So you may have to try a few different options before you find what works best.

You can start with a natural supplement used to treat anxiety called Kava kava (Piper methysticum). It comes from the black pepper (Piper nigrans) family. Other options include certain Ayurvedic herbal remedies and the amino acid L-theanine.

Studies also show that 5-hydroxy-tryptophan (5-HTP), a natural precursor of serotonin, may also benefit people with anxiety. And research shows boosting vitamin D levels also boosts mood, especially now at the end of a long winter.

You can also try the many effective mind-body techniques, including biofeedback, relaxation therapies, meditation, and yoga. In addition, bodywork such as massage and other manual techniques alleviate stress and anxiety and promote relaxation.

Acupuncture and micro-current electrical stimulation can also reduce symptoms of anxiety. Listening to music is effective for many. Partaking in healthy physical activity for 20 to 30 minutes daily significantly improves one’s ability to handle stress and anxiety. And last but certainly not least, getting outside into the sunshine in Nature benefits mood and mental health, beyond the exercise itself.

Don’t let the many failures of modern psychiatry, which I have documented this week, get you down. If you suffer from typical levels of stress, anxiety and low mood, skip the dangerous and ineffective “one size fits all” drugs. You have many other options to try.

To find out which mind-body techniques will work best for you as an individual, take my “emotional type” quiz. For further discussion, read my book with Mike Jawer, Your Emotional Type.