Although every individual comes into my practice with a unique blueprint of temperament, unique life experiences and family of origin, and perceptions of themselves and others, there are some elements to my treatment plans that are relatively consistent. I’m not talking theoretical perspectives on the counselling process or anything that comes out of a grad school text book, so my list might not be what you expect.
These recommendations help create a basic foundation for health and well being from which our personalized work evolves. Here are just a few of my basic foundational recommendations.
- Sleep. It is the great regulator of the nervous thing and the first issue I address in counselling. Sleep allows for the brain to be washed with cerebrospinal fluid and rest allows your system to maintain resiliency, immune function, and acts as a daily reset button for your mind and body. Good sleep ecology is essential….Dim the lights and remove all backlit devices an hour before bedtime (cell phones, iPods, tablets, computers and TV). This will prevent your pineal gland from inhibiting the release of melatonin that should naturally happen when dusk starts to fall. All of these devices not only emit an electromagnetic charge that is activating to our system but also send light into our brain and inhibit our natural cascade of sleep chemicals to be released. Develop a relaxing bedtime ritual that transitions you into nighttime the same as we do with infants. The more sleep you can get before midnight, the more bang for your buck in rest deposits!
- Exercise. Every day, with whatever you are able (and you’re doctor has approved) for you to do, do it every day. 30 minutes a day of walking, fresh air, sunshine and nature are the single best thing you can do for your overall physical, emotional and mental health. It provides neurogenesis for your brain (read my previous post on this) and is proven to be the best antidote against depression and anxiety. I often recommend yoga as well – it also can help balance the nervous system, as well as improve and deepen the breath. See why yoga can be so good for you here.
- Diet. Are you eating the right kinds of food at the right frequency to maintain blood sugar balance, as well as adequate fuel for your brain and body? Are you eating foods that cause inflammation in the brain and body thereby setting off alarms in your nervous system that there is scarcity of food, reducing cognitive function, and enhancing an anxiety promoting state? Research has pointed to the benefits of an anti-inflammatory diet with low glycemic index foods that are high in good fats and protein and low in simple carbohydrates. Eating fish or taking fish oils or Omega supplements has helped many clients improve mood stability, cognitive function, focus, memory and reduce hyperactivity or increased activation in their nervous system. Eating at regular intervals that include a fat, protein and carbohydrate at every interval helps balance the HPA Axis in the brain and assists with blood sugar balance and overall regulation of the nervous system. This is particularly helpful for people that suffer from anxiety.I recommend The Blood Sugar Solution and Grain Brain books for those wanting more information on how to feed your brain and body properly. Recent research has also pointed to the importance of adding probiotics to your supplement regimen, not just for overall gut health and improved immunity, but also for mental health. Dr. Daniel Amen and Dr. David Perlmutter both have supplements available that are specifically designed to promote health and cognition in your brain specific to any concerns you might have or want to investigate treating this way. I often see improvements from clients who reduce or remove sugars, gluten and other inflammation causing foods.
- Overall Health Check. It is important that clients see their doctors to discuss lifestyle recommendations as well as to assess overall underlying health. Thyroid issues can mimic depression, low iron/anemia can cause symptoms similar to anxiety, and other issues in and out of the endocrine system can sometimes be detected with routine blood workups and often easily treated taking the corresponding symptoms of depression or anxiety with them.
- Self Care. Laugh every day. Search for things that will make you laugh out loud. Surround yourself with positive, bright, uplifting people. Protect your energy. Filter what comes into your mind – remove depressing or horrific TV or movies or books. Censor media and the news for a while. Become conscious about what you allow to enter into your system and your responses to it. Rest when you need to. Stop pushing through so much. Pace yourself. Start a hobby or learn a skill that you’ve always wanted. Take time outs for yourself and tune into what your body and mind are telling you they need. Whether it’s dancing, meditation, a new language, cooking class, or just standing with your feet in the grass. Do it. The question every week in my office is…what did you do for yourself this week?
There are other things that I might recommend on a case by case basis, but these are the foundation basics – for good overall health but also for good mental health.