by Cameron Butler Wooten, LPC, LMFT
Most people have heard that the best treatment for mental health disorders includes counseling/psychiatric treatment and medication. While this is true, there are other aids to help in healing those who suffer from mental illness, particularly anxiety and depression. As humans, we are not only made up of our mind, but also our body and spirit. It is important to consider the whole person when treating the mind.
According to The Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Anxiety Disorders are the most common mental illness in te U.S., affecting 40 million adults, or 18.1% of the population every year. Nearly one half of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
The good news is, we know these mood disorders are highly treatable. Along with counseling/medication/psychiatric treatment, people can aid in healing their minds by taking care of their bodies. There is most certainly a Mind-Body Connection.
One helpful & less known way to heal depression/anxiety is food intake. There is a strong connection between the brain and “gut”. Research shows that approximately 95% of serotonin is produced within the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps in regulating mood and behavior. Neurotransmitters are the chemicals that relay messages between nerves, and the neurotransmitters in your gut are almost identical to those in your brain (Dana Korn, “Living Gluten Free for Dummies”). Due to this gut-brain connection, it makes sense that the type food we eat will help nourish our gastrointestinal tract…thus impacting our brain. Adopting a healthy diet promotes the health of the gastrointestinal tract, and according to Jessica Black, author of “The Anti-Inflammation Diet and Recipe Book,”a better-functioning gastrointestinal tract improves serotonin secretion, which improves sleep and mood.
So what does a healthy diet look like? There are all kinds of popular diets these days, so it can be confusing to know which diet is best. The answer is that everyone is different, but some of the rules apply to everyone. Eating a balanced diet of meat, poultry, eggs, nuts and seeds, veggies, fruit, and healthy fats is a great start. Limiting foods high in sugar, carbohydrates, alcohol, and caffeine, can help alleviate stress on the body.
Another way to aid in the treatment of anxiety and depression is getting enough sleep and exercise. Sleep is the body’s way of rejuvenating itself. According to the National Sleep Foundation, the recommended sleep for adults 26-64 years of age is 7-9 hours. Our bodies require long periods of sleep to restore and repair tissues, process memories, synthesize hormones, etc (www.sleepfoundation.org). Poor sleep is directly related to anxiety and depression. Sleep aid techniques can include shutting off technology 1 hour before bed, sleeping in a completely dark room, meditation, & deep breathing. Daily exercise is also a great way to aid in sleep and take care of one’s body. Exercise relieves stress, improves memory & mood, and reduces symptoms of mood disorders.
With the high levels of anxiety and depression in our culture, it is encouraging to hear that there are some natural approaches to aid in healing (along with counseling and potentially medication), as simple as eating, sleeping, and exercising. After all, the mind, body, and spirit are all connected. Remember the mind-body connection and take care of yours.
Cameron is a Licensed Professional Counselor who enjoys working with individuals, teens, and families in the Marietta & Kennesaw area. Learn more about her and other therapists at Foundation Counseling here.