Complementary and Alternative Treatments
For those undergoing treatment for mental illness and addiction, the typical course of action is a combination of medication and psychotherapy. However, it’s worth talking to your doctor about incorporating complementary and alternative therapies into your treatment plan. A variety of practices have proven to help alleviate symptoms of illnesses when used in conjunction with traditional treatment.
Mindfulness meditation can be very beneficial, but many people are intimidated by because they think it’s necessary to completely shut the mind off; that’s not the case. During meditation, you work towards staying focused on the present moment with the goal of becoming more aware of your thoughts, emotions, physical sensations and your surroundings. It can be challenging to figure out how to begin a meditation practice, so guided meditation is a good way to start.
A common misconception is meditation involves sitting in nature, cross-legged with your hands on your knees and palms facing upwards. However, you can meditate anywhere; you just need to tune-in to your mind and body. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and bestselling author, has written numerous books that teach you how to incorporate mindfulness into simple everyday activities, from walking to washing dishes, to eating an orange.
Yoga has grown in popularity in recent years; an estimated 37 million Americans practice yoga. There are many forms of yoga, but they all combine stretching and balancing exercises with deep breathing, mindfulness and meditation. Not only does yoga improve physical fitness, strength, flexibility, it has mental health benefits. Studies show the body’s stress response is altered during yoga; the heart rate slows and blood pressure drops. This physiological change improves mood and anxiety. Some studies have shown yoga is also beneficial for people with PTSD, pain and insomnia.
Tai chi originated in China as a form of martial art. It is a gentle, low- impact exercise, making it ideal for those who aren’t in the best shape. Unlike yoga, tai chi stretches the body using continuous slow motions instead of holding poses. There are also no extreme stretches and there is less stress on the back and joints. Like yoga, tai chi improves physical health and can help to modify the body’s stress response. Studies have shown people experience mood improvement and stress reduction when incorporating the practice into their mental health treatment plan.
What you put into your body not only affects your waistline, it has an impact on your mental health. Although you think that cupcake or candy bar will put a smile on your face, diets high in refined sugar and processed foods cause inflammation, which alters the brain structure and actually worsens mood. Some Studies have compared traditional Mediterranean and Japanese diets to the typical Western diet and found that the risk for depression is 25% to 35% percent lower in those cultures. What’s the difference? Diets in those regions are rich in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed grains and fish, with limited amounts of meat and dairy, whereas the Western diet is just the opposite. American diets are very high in fat, sugar and processed foods.
When you think of your diet, it’s all about balance. Don’t cut carbs completely because they are helpful. Serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical that elevates mood, suppresses appetite, and has a calming effect, can be found in carbs. However, choose complex carbs that are high in fiber and packed with whole grains. Simple carbs, found in white flour, cookies and candy, give you a jolt of energy, but are followed by a crash, which leaves you feeling sluggish and grumpy.
Don’t forget about necessary vitamins, minerals and omega-3 fatty acids. Insufficient levels of omega-3s, iron, thiamine and folic acid can lead to depression, fatigue and moodiness, but the right amount will can help increase your general happiness and sociability. Find iron in red meats, beans and artichokes. Thiamine in cereal grains and vegetables. Egg yolks, if fortified, have all three: iron thiamine and Omega 3. Green veggies, oranges, nuts and whole wheat bread have folic acid. Omega 3, is found in fatty fish like salmon, mackerel and sardines, or alternatives like flaxseeds, walnuts and canola oil.
Before beginning any of the therapies and practices mentioned, you should consult your treatment providers. Never stop your medication without talking to your doctor first. Complementary and alternative therapies are typically most successful when used in conjunction with your current treatment.