Four Calming Techniques to Improve Your Mental Health

If you are like me and the other nearly 325,000,000 trillion people in the U.S., you have experienced stress. From raising kids, dealing with your boss or handling a health issue, you can feel overwhelmed. But there’s good news! Learn how to create peace and take control of your life.

Determining the Type of Stress

Most people do not realize stress, a response to stimuli comes in two varieties which is good stress and bad stress. Bad stress or distress happens when your perception of an event is threatening. According to Stress Management Society, “Through the release of hormones, such as adrenaline, cortisol…the caveman gained a rush of energy…”. This onset of biological and emotional reactions resulted in the need to fight or flight.

Good stress or positive stress is the opposite response. It is marked by feelings of happiness and a sense of confidence. Your thoughts are focused and the energy is motivating.

Four Paths to Calm

Now that you know more about stress, you can start to manage it. Try these tips to make stress ignite your creativity and passion. Make stress work for you.

1. Keep It in Perspective

So, how do you transform your bad stress into good stress? Change your perception. If your job causes you to relocate, consider it a career opportunity. If the throbbing in one of your molars means you need a root canal, don’t panic. Discuss it with an emergency dentist Calgary. Consider it an investment in your health.

2. Calm the Monkey

Your mind races with thousands of thoughts all day. Anxiety builds as you obsess about future concerns. What if this happens, what if that happens? Stop!

Just breathe. As you mindfully count from 1 – 10, inhale and exhale slowly. Feel your heart rate decrease.

The Buddhists used this breathing method for quiet meditation to conquer the Monkey Mind or frenzied mental condition. In Mindfulness: Taming the Monkey Mind by Mitchell Wagner, the author states, “It is not possible for the mind to be open…when it is consumed by anxiety.”

3. Choose the Right Foods

What do yogurt, pistachios, and spinach have to do with relaxation? They contain key ingredients which affect your mood.

Pistachios

According to Organic Facts, pistachios have “6 grams of protein per ounce…”. Protein contains an amino acid which produces serotonin, a regulator of hunger.

Spinach & Avocado

The folate found in this green leafy vegetable produces dopamine, a chemical producing feelings of pleasure. Folic acid improves memory in adults experiencing stress. Avocados are also high in folate and vitamin E.

Yogurt

This comfort-inducing snack is filled with probiotics. It delivers healthful live bacteria in the gut linked to good mental health.

Strawberries, Raspberries, & Blueberries

These fruits are high in vitamin C which helps fight stress.

4. Become a Yogi

Yoga is a tradition dating back 300 years ago. Yoga is low impact and is a synergy of mind, body, and soul.

The International Journal of Yoga published “Exploring the therapeutic effects of Yoga and its ability to increase the quality of life” and found “Yogic practices enhance muscular strength…reduce stress, anxiety…”. Bikram, Hatha, and Kundalini are some of the best forms of yoga for beginners.

Invest in Stress Management

Consult with your doctor. Read books and attend local exercise classes. Stay up-to-date about trends.

Stress is a part of life. Learn stress management. Anticipate the unexpected and choose a strategy challenging you to do your best. Then, sit back and relax.

Yoga Effective at Reducing Symptoms of Depression

People who suffer from depression may want to look to yoga as a complement to traditional therapies as the practice appears to lessen symptoms of the disorder, according to studies presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

“Yoga has become increasingly popular in the West, and many new yoga practitioners cite stress-reduction and other mental health concerns as their primary reason for practicing,” said Lindsey Hopkins, PhD, of the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center, who chaired a session highlighting research on yoga and depression. “But the empirical research on yoga lags behind its popularity as a first-line approach to mental health.”

Hopkins’ research focused on the acceptability and antidepressant effects of hatha yoga, the branch of yoga that emphasizes physical exercises, along with meditative and breathing exercises, to enhance well-being. In the study, 23 male veterans participated in twice-weekly yoga classes for eight weeks. On a 1-10 scale, the average enjoyment rating for the yoga classes for these veterans was 9.4. All participants said they would recommend the program to other veterans. More importantly, participants with elevated depression scores before the yoga program had a significant reduction in depression symptoms after the eight weeks.

Another, more specific, version of hatha yoga commonly practiced in the West is Bikram yoga, also known as heated yoga. Sarah Shallit, MA, of Alliant University in San Francisco investigated Bikram yoga in 52 women, age 25-45. Just more than half were assigned to participate in twice-weekly classes for eight weeks. The rest were told they were wait-listed and used as a control condition. All participants were tested for depression levels at the beginning of the study, as well as at weeks three, six and nine. Shallit and her co-author Hopkins found that eight weeks of Bikram yoga significantly reduced symptoms of depression compared with the control group.

In the same session, Maren Nyer, PhD, and Maya Nauphal, BA, of Massachusetts General Hospital, presented data from a pilot study of 29 adults that also showed eight weeks of at least twice-weekly Bikram yoga significantly reduced symptoms of depression and improved other secondary measures including quality of life, optimism, and cognitive and physical functioning.

“The more the participants attended yoga classes, the lower their depressive symptoms at the end of the study,” said Nyer, who currently has funding from the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health to conduct a randomized controlled trial of Bikram yoga for individuals with depression.

Elsewhere at the meeting, Nina Vollbehr, MS, of the Center for Integrative Psychiatry in the Netherlands presented data from two studies on the potential for yoga to address chronic and/or treatment-resistant depression. In the first study, 12 patients who had experienced depression for an average of 11 years participated in nine weekly yoga sessions of approximately 2.5 hours each.

The researchers measured participants’ levels of depression, anxiety, stress, rumination and worry before the yoga sessions, directly after the nine weeks and four months later. Scores for depression, anxiety and stress decreased throughout the program, a benefit that persisted four months after the training. Rumination and worry did not change immediately after the treatment, but at follow up rumination and worry were decreased for the participants.

In another study, involving 74 mildly depressed university students, Vollbehr and her colleagues compared yoga to a relaxation technique. Individuals received 30 minutes of live instruction on either yoga or relaxation and were asked to perform the same exercise at home for eight days using a 15-minute instructional video. While results taken immediately after the treatment showed yoga and relaxation were equally effective at reducing symptoms, two months later, the participants in the yoga group had significantly lower scores for depression, anxiety and stress than the relaxation group.

“These studies suggest that yoga-based interventions have promise for depressed mood and that they are feasible for patients with chronic, treatment-resistant depression,” said Vollbehr.

The concept of yoga as complementary or alternative mental health treatment is so promising that the U.S. military is investigating the creation of its own treatment programs. Jacob Hyde, PsyD, of the University of Denver, gave a presentation outlining a standardized, six-week yoga treatment for U.S. military veterans enrolled in behavioral health services at the university-run clinic and could be expanded for use by the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Hopkins noted that the research on yoga as a treatment for depression is still preliminary. “At this time, we can only recommend yoga as a complementary approach, likely most effective in conjunction with standard approaches delivered by a licensed therapist,” she said. “Clearly, yoga is not a cure-all. However, based on empirical evidence, there seems to be a lot of potential.”

Mindfulness Shows Promise as We Age, but Study Results Are Mixed

COLUMBUS, Ohio – As mindfulness practices rise in popularity and evidence of their worth continues to accumulate, those who work with aging populations are looking to use the techniques to boost cognitive, emotional and physiological health.

But studies so far have shown mixed results in the elderly, and more investigation is needed to determine exactly how best to apply mindfulness in that population, a new review of the research to date has found.

A majority of the 27 studies in the review suggest that the focused attention at the core of mindfulness benefits older people, but others don’t point to improvements. And that should prompt more rigorous investigations in search of interventions likely to do the most good, researchers from The Ohio State University found. Their analysis appears in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

“Mindfulness is a practice that really serves as a way to foster a greater quality of life and there’s been some thought that it could help with cognitive decline as we age,” said Stephanie Fountain-Zaragoza, lead author of the study and a graduate student in psychology.

“Given the growing interest in mindfulness in general, we wanted to determine what we know right now so that researchers can think about where we go from here,” she said.

The good news so far: The evidence from a variety of studies points to some benefits for older adults, suggesting that mindfulness training might be integrated into senior centers and group homes, the researchers found.

Older people are an especially important population to study given diminished social support, physical limitations and changes in cognitive health, the researchers point out.

Studies of mindfulness meditation usually involve three types of practices. The first, focused attention, involves sustained attention to a single thing (such as the breath) and an effort to disengage from other distractions.

Open monitoring meditation, often seen as the next step up in mindfulness, includes acknowledging the details of multiple phenomena (sensations, sounds, etc.) without selectively focusing on one of them.

“This includes being open to experiencing thoughts and sensations and emotions and taking them as they come and letting them go,” Fountain-Zaragoza said.

Loving-kindness meditation encourages a universal state of love and compassion toward oneself and others.

“The goal with this is to foster compassionate acceptance,” said senior author Ruchika Shaurya Prakash, director of Ohio State’s clinical neuroscience laboratory and an expert in mindfulness.

In addition to looking at how mindfulness contributed – or did not – to behavioral and cognitive functioning and to psychological wellbeing, some of the research also looked at its potential role in inflammation, which contributes to a variety of diseases.

In all categories of study, including inflammatory processes, Prakash and Fountain-Zaragoza found mixed results.

The hope is that mindfulness could help the elderly preserve attention and capitalize on emotional regulation strategies that naturally improve as we age, Prakash said.

“Around 50 percent of our lives, our minds are wandering and research from Harvard University has shown that the more your mind wanders, the less happy you are,” she said.

“Mindfulness allows you to become aware of that chaotic mind-wandering and provides a safe space to just breathe.”

In older people, mindfulness ideally has the potential to help with cognition, emotion and inflammation, but little research has been done so far and those studies that have been done have had mixed results and scientific limitations.

While most of the studies in the review showed positive results, the field is limited and would benefit greatly from larger randomized controlled trials, Fountain-Zaragoza said.

“We want to really be able to say that we have strong evidence that mindfulness is driving the changes we see,” she said.

Self-Connection Through Yoga

yoga-studio-guelph-2

I have never thought of myself as flexible ~ at least not physically flexible. I don’t think I have ever been able to touch my toes without bending my knees.

So, when I first began to learn yoga, it was mostly for the benefits that I knew my body would love in terms of stretching and improving my flexibility. It all began with a video I used to practice at home a few times a week.

Even at that time, I came to realize that the benefits exceeded improved flexibility ~ cardio and strength training were part of the practice as well.

It wasn’t until many years later when I was introduced to Moksha and Bikram Yoga practices that I realized the benefits that went beyond the physical.

Both practices are done in a heated room and follow a specific set of postures that are completed in 1 – 11/2 hour sessions.

Benefits Beyond the Obvious

The first thing I noticed was the focus on breath. There was no way I could survive the practice if I didn’t remind myself to breathe deeply. I was so used to shallow breathing ~ breathing from the back of my throat as opposed to the deep lung and belly breathing promoted in yoga.

I learned that breathing deeply has great impact on physical processes ~ slowing down the heartbeat and blood pressure ~ increasing oxygen flow throughout the body ~ especially the brain.

Over time, I found myself naturally using my breath differently and I noticed that my physical endurance had improved and rather quickly.

Breathing also brings me back to this moment ~ this breath. It can become a mantra in that way. Many times in yoga practice, the instructor would remind us to come back to our breath ~ to breathe as we went into the posture, held it and came back out.

Isn’t it amazing that we often need to be reminded to breathe? Many of us have the habit of holding our breath ~ almost all the time ~ but especially during more intense emotional moments and in times of physical pain.

Maybe even beyond all of these benefits, I recognized a calmness in my mind. And this occurred quite quickly ~ it didn’t take weeks or months of practice to feel this benefit. One session made a difference for me.

So much focus was required to withstand the heat, to maintain balance and to physically attain and hold the postures. If I let my mind wander, I would lose balance or become physically overwhelmed ~ so I learned to keep coming back to the moment and to my body.

Get Comfortable in Your Own Skin

Speaking of body ~ yoga is an amazing way to ground yourself. And if you are anything like me, grounding can be a challenge. I tend to be in my head ~ my thoughts and my daydreams ~ much more readily than in my physical vessel.

Did you realize that your emotions are felt in your body? This is a recent epiphany for me. I became aware that for the last several years, I have been doing my best to think through my emotions ~ even to think my emotions ~ as opposed to feeling them.

One day not long ago, I really felt myself come into my physical body as I landed in my hometown. You know how our long-term childhood homes can evoke strong memories and stir the emotions? Well, that is what happened to me. It was in that moment, though, that I realized “of course, I must be in my body if I am committed to feeling my emotions instead of thinking them ~ where and how else can they be felt?”

Join The Conversation

Self-Connection Through Yoga is the topic of the next episode of Serving Consciously on Friday November 25 at 12:00 noon (PST) on www.ctrnetwork.com.

santoshi
Santoshi Davis

I am excited to introduce you to my guest for that show ~ Santoshi Davis.

Santoshi Davis is a Certified Executive Coach, a Certified Akhanda Yoga Instructor and a graduate student working towards a Masters in Psychotherapy, Spirituality and Art (Art Therapy Specialization).

She holds a degree in Disability Studies and Certifications in Positive Psychology and Addictions Studies.  She is a leading expert in performance management, work-related rehabilitation and conflict resolution.

Santoshi is the founder of Upward Frog Executive Coaching and Consulting and an avid volunteer. You can contact Santoshi at upwarddfrogyoga@yahoo.ca.

I hope you can join us for what promises to be an informative and exciting conversation. Whether you are a yogi or not, I know you will find nuggets of wisdom to help you self-connect. Just make your way over to www.ctrnetwork.com and click on Listen Live!

What Doctors Don’t Tell Older Adults About Depression

Depression is a serious and debilitating condition for older adults aged 65 years and older. Depression not only exacerbates physical health conditions, but it also reduces quality of life and is a risk factor for suicide and other behavioral health problems such as substance use. There are many evidence-based treatment approaches to treat depression in older adults; however, the one of the most common forms of treatment in primary care settings and nursing homes is psychotropic medication. Psychotropic medication has been show to reduce depression symptoms in older adults, but these medications also have some potentially serious and life threatening side effects that older adults are more vulnerable to than younger age groups.

512px-Folk_dancesWhy are older adults being prescribed medication as the first response to depression when alternative therapies such as physical activity have also been show to reduce depression symptoms in older adults? Is depression treatment really as simple as exercising and encouraging active older adults to maintain current levels of activity?

Physical activity such as yoga, strength training, swimming, and tai chi have consistently been shown to lower depression severity in older adults, not to mention improve cardiorespiratory and muscular fitness, bone and functional health, reduce the risk of chronic diseases, and cognitive decline.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention made the following exercise recommendations for adults aged 65 years or older, who are fit, and have no limiting health conditions. The following are three weekly exercise options for older adults aged 65 years and older.

  • 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., brisk walking) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
  • 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity (i.e., jogging or running) every week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).
  • An equivalent mix of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days a week that work all major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms).

Social workers and other health care professionals such as primary care physicians, nurses, or physical therapists who work with older adults first need to know the signs of depression, and if they detect depression symptoms, include physical activity in their treatment plan as a preventative or early intervention.

If we move away from relying on psychotropic medication as the main option for treating depression in older adults, we can encourage alternative treatments that don’t have potentially serious and life threatening side effects but have also been shown to be effective.

If you like this blog and want more, follow me on Twitter @karenwhiteman

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