Finding balance in an unbalanced world
By Dr. Stan Headley, natural health consultant for Cypress Pharmacy
While most of the focus these days is on physical health, these uncertain times are likely having a big impact on our mental health.
Many of us have become familiar with the World Health Organization (WHO) as the source of credible information about the coronavirus. I also like to quote the WHO’s definition of health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” as an important concept, particularly now.
In these times of stress and anxiety, achieving overall wellness requires maintaining a healthy balance between your mind, body and spirit. Good health isn’t just about the physical body. Our body, mind and spirit are interconnected and impact each other both positively and negatively.
The brain controls what your body does throughout the day and also forms thoughts and memories, helps us to learn new tasks and controls our emotions. Thoughts can manifest as physical symptoms, and emotions can be related to hormones produced by the body.
One of the classic connections between mind and body is the stress response itself. How we perceive the stressor and how we respond to it can flood the body with hormones that can increase blood pressure, heart rate, breathing and muscle tenseness. What we perceive as being stressful to us may not seem stressful to someone else.
Spirit can be a major element in balance. People need to check in with their inner self. The spiritual component doesn’t necessarily have to be connected to religion but does relate to our belief system and ability to hope that everything is going to be OK. Spirit can relate to religion, prayer or meditation.
When the three are out of balance, we don’t feel well and are more susceptible to physical illness, stress and anxiety.
Everyone is different, but here are some tips to enhance balance.
- Adopt an attitude of gratitude, which can also relieve stress. Studies show that gratitude relaxes communication between various regions of the brain associated with anxiety. The more you focus on good, the more good you may be able to find.
- Meditate, which has been found to improve memory, attention, mood, immune system function and sleep. A groundbreaking study by Massachusetts General Hospital found as little as eight weeks of meditation not only helped people feel calmer, but also produced changes in various areas of the brain, including growth in the areas associated with memory, empathy, sense of self and stress regulation.
- Practice deep breathing, which has been associated with stress relief, lower blood pressure and sharper focus.
- Exercise boosts your mood by pumping oxygen into the brain and releasing feel-good endorphins. Harvard University research shows physical activity sparks biological changes that increase the brain’s ability to learn, adapt and perform other cognitive tasks. Exercise can reverse the detrimental effects of stress and lift depression.
- A proper diet is as important to mental as it is to physical health. Amino acids boost brain power. Essential branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) found in many healthy protein-rich funds like egg yoks, cheese, quinoa and nuts, can calm and prevent insomnia, anxiety and even depression. Micronutrients, including vitamins and minerals, are essential to our mental health by balancing hormones and creating proper brain function. Studies have shown that a diet in overly processed food and poor in micronutrients can lead to higher levels of anxiety and depression.
- Get plenty of good quality sleep, which allows our mind and muscles to heal and repair. When you’re well-rested, you can approach stressful situations more calmly. If you feel energetic and vibrant when you wake up, you’ve had a restful night sleep. If you feel tired and unenthusiastic when you wake up, you likely haven’t had restful sleep.
- Consider herbs that have been shown to calm the nervous system like valerian root, chamomile, lemon balm and lavender that can be taken as supplements or as essential oils to diffuse or apply to pulse points. Green tea is a great antioxidant. The supplement 5HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan), a naturally occurring amino acid that increases the production of the chemical serotonin, which can elevate mood and treat mild depression. Gamma Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a powerful neural inhibitory transmitter that calms the nervous system. CBD oil has been shown to be fantastic at modulating cortisol that impact moods and depression.
- Research shows that a good social support network has numerous physical and mental health benefits.
- Take time for self-care by pursuing passions like reading or listening to music.
- Laughter is a mind-body phenomenon that reduces the production of stress hormones and boosts the immune system.
- Disconnect from technology. It allows you to be in the moment, pursue social interactions and focus on all of the above.
The goal is to maximize each of the three elements – mind, body and spirit – so they are in balance, a worthy pursuit for finding optimal wellness in these uncertain times.