Around this time of year, many of us reflect on the triumphs and tribulations of the past twelve months and begin thinking of what we hope to manifest in the coming year. At the most basic level, I think what a lot of us want falls under the broad headings of good physical health and emotional balance. Thus, I’ve come up with a list of six low-to-no cost complementary medicine strategies for achieving the above. Each approach addresses at least one of the following: mind, body, or spirit.
- Guided Imagery/Hypnotherapy. As I’ve written in previous blogs and elsewhere, guided imagery is a deceptively powerful mind-body tool that is easy to use. Research has found imagery to help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression, decrease perceived pain, reduce the amount of pain medication requested postoperatively, alleviate nausea, decrease blood levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone), and help with weight loss, just to name a few. One of the best things about guided imagery is that it does not require unwavering focus to be effective. Another is that it is relatively inexpensive – usually well under $20 for an imagery CD or download that can be used over and over again. A great resource is www.healthjourneys.com.
Hypnotherapy or clinical hypnosis is very similar to guided imagery in that it involves the use of images and verbal suggestions to help foster improved mental or physical health. Hypnotherapy entails working with a mental health professional that is formally trained in hypnosis. Sessions are tailored to the needs and presenting issue of each person. For more information on hypnosis, visit www.ASCH.net.
- Meditation. As with guided imagery and hypnosis, there is an ever-growing body of research demonstrating benefits linked to regular meditation. One approach, mindfulness, has been associated with improved symptoms related to chronic pain, depression and anxiety, and psoriasis, as well as to enhanced concentration. Dialectical behavior therapy, which emphasizes mindfulness, has been associated with better emotion regulation and decreased binge eating, among other things. Opportunities to learn mindfulness abound, and for very little money, one may buy books or downloads that can serve as useful guides. Two great resources are “Full Catastrophe Living,” and “Wherever You Go, There You Are,” by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn.
- Eating Well. This recommendation may seem both easy and difficult, but it can make a profound difference in health and wellbeing. Some simple strategies for eating better include picking the least refined (and organic when possible) foods available, loading up your plate with colorful vegetables, selecting healthy, unsaturated fats such as olive and fish oils, minimizing consumption of animal products that are high in saturated fats, going meatless at least a few days per week, and generally aiming for moderation with regard to the total amount of food consumed.
- Get Moving. Find an exercise that you like and can stick with. If you have been sedentary, get a doctor’s clearance and start slowly. Chart your progress week to week. Aside from the physical benefits with which most of us are familiar, more evidence is accumulating about the benefits of regular activity on mood. Yoga, walking, or other aerobic exercise can help ease depression and calm the body and mind. The American Psychological Association released an article this week summarizing recent evidence of exercise’s mood soothing benefits: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2011/12/exercise.aspx
- Supplements. Supplements cannot and should not take the place of a healthy diet; however, many people find it challenging to get all of the nutrients they need from diet alone. Those whose diets are restricted due to personal preferences or a medical condition may benefit from consulting either a registered dietitian or a physician who is knowledgeable about this topic. Dr. Andrew Weil’s website provides extensive information about complementary medicine therapies for a wide range of conditions, including those related to mood. Among the supplements he commonly recommends are fish oil capsules or other omega-3 supplements, a multivitamin, and/or B-vitamin supplementation. Another is SAM-e (S-adenosyl-methionine), which has been shown to reduce depression and also help with certain types of pain in several studies. With regard to this supplement, it should not be taken by those who have bipolar disorder. I recommend consulting a mental or physical health professional if your mood or pain symptoms persist, and before beginning a supplement regimen in general. For more information with regard to supplements, visit: www.DrWeil.com . To locate holistically inclined providers, visit the American Holistic Medical Association’s website: http://www.holisticmedicine.org.
- Spirituality. For some, this involves formal participation within a religious community, and for others, private prayer at home. Still others may not endorse specific religious beliefs at all but may feel a sense of spiritual connectedness from spending time in nature, performing acts of service, or focusing on gratitude. Taking time for reflection and giving thanks for what one has can lead to strength in difficult times, foster a sense of purpose and direction, and help us to make meaning of our world, even in the face of what can seem like senseless tragedies.
Engaging in one or more of the above can help one feel like an empowered and active participant in one’s healthcare regimen. For those whose symptoms are severe, interfere with daily functioning, or do not respond sufficiently to the approaches mentioned here, it is important to consult a licensed healthcare professional. The right provider should ideally be open to discussing the potential pros and cons of using various complementary as well as conventional medicine tools.
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© Copyright 2011 by Traci Stein. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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