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Anxiety, Depression, and Trauma ~ The Holistic Perspective

This is such a huge topic and I've been wanting to write about this for a long time. I have been blessed to work with many conditions like this in my practice. First, I want to express how much I love sharing this information and that this is a safe place to share. As a practitioner, we hold space for every human, as a whole person. No one is considered "less" because of a condition. In fact, the respect for the condition is held so deeply that it sets the stage to invite the person back to "wholeness," just with that intention.

So let's talk about anxiety first. Anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand, but not always.

At this very moment, nearly 1 out of 5 Americans is living with an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in the United States, affecting 40 million U.S. adults (ADAA, n.d.). That's not including teenage and childhood anxiety. Given this statistic, there’s a good chance that each one of us will encounter someone with anxiety and, or depression.

Knowing the difference between everyday anxiety and anxiety disorders can help us understand what others may be experiencing. Anxiety is among the many emotions we experience as we navigate through life. We may fear an upcoming life change, or be worried sick about a family member, or not sure how to handle a breakup. We might get anxious about a deadline at work, or an important exam. At some point, many of us will worry about health concerns (our own or those of a loved one), parenting challenges, career challenges and financial challenges.

While its normal to feel anxious sometimes, our level of anxiety is relative to our tolerance for distress. Distress is the extreme state of anxiety, grief, or pain. Our perception of how well we believe we can manage the situation at hand, is also a factor. In other words, there's a big range of what is normal/manageable stress, vs. extreme/unmanageable stress. It's all relative to how each one of us views stress and how the individual chooses to handle it. The fact is that our perception is our reality. What we think, we become, just like we are what we eat. For some people, anxiety doesn’t feel manageable at all. It feels overwhelming. When worry, fear and uncomfortable thoughts and emotions don’t go away, get worse over time, or interfere with daily activities, job performance or relationships, it could be the sign of an anxiety disorder, as opposed to feeling anxious about an unknown outcome of a particular situation.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychological Association (2013), categorizes anxiety into different types of anxiety-related disorders. (The DSM-5 is the diagnostic handbook used by healthcare professionals in the United States and much of the world to define mental health disorders, listing symptoms and criteria to standardize care and consistency in diagnosis.) One of the most common anxiety-related disorders listed in the DSM-5 is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population (ADAA n.d.).

According to the ADAA, anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including possible genetics, brain chemistry, personality traits and life events. Behavioral and lifestyle choices, serious medical conditions and chronic unrelenting stress can also increase a person’s risk of developing an anxiety disorder (ADAA, n.d.).

Currently, effective treatments for anxiety disorders include conventional treatment options, alternative therapies and holistic approaches. Some of the alternative and holistic approaches to managing anxiety and depression include, exercise, yoga, stress reduction, meditation, aromatherapy, health coaching and so much more. In a study conducted by Smits et al. (2008), participants with heightened levels of anxiety were randomly placed in a 2-week exercise intervention group, a 2-week exercise plus cognitive restructuring intervention group or a control group. Both of the exercise groups showed significant anxiety reduction compared with the control group. (Interestingly, the addition of the cognitive component “did not facilitate the effects of the exercise intervention.”) While research into exercise and mental health—including anxiety and anxiety-related disorders—is still ongoing, the data is showing that movement combined with some sort of support system, is getting positive improvements with mental health.

In another study, Weinberg & Gould (2018) put out a report of their research on exercise and anxiety which focused on reduction of state anxiety. State anxiety is a reflection of behavior or mood in response to a situation in the moment (it's acute or short-term anxiety), whereas trait anxiety is a reflection of personality, a disposition that influences behavior (refers to a long-term or chronic condition). The results of this study revealed greater reductions of anxiety in exercise groups than in groups receiving other forms of anxiety-reducing treatment. This study is showing, that we feel better when we are in groups that are uplifting. Humans are not meant for isolation, not adults and not children.

The studies on depression are similar to the ones for anxiety. The range of these conditions is extreme. It can be from very mild and situational, to very extreme and constant. I can provide studies and statistics all day long about these topics. I'm especially excited to see how science and quantum physics are supporting what eastern medicine has been teaching and practicing.

It's also exciting to see that the research being done on Trauma is reaching new levels. Statistics tell us that approximately 70% of the US adult population is living with some sort of trauma. Again, science is finally recognizing that trauma is not just stored in the brain, it's stored in the body. This explains the sudden sick feeling when you hear a person speak with a certain tone, or a particular noise. Those unexplainable reactions to things are indications that there's trauma stored in the body. These reactions are often referred to as "triggers." For example, let's take a situation where a person is used to living with someone that screams all the time. The brain rationalizes the situation, because what the brain does. Remember, brain is just a computer. It collects information, processes it, then files it. The brain also works directly with the nervous system. They send signals to each other all the time. The missing link in this equation is the heart. I will explain what I mean by that in another post, but it's important to mention here.

So, after years of being around the screaming person, we adapt and function, as if we aren't affected by it. The brain and the nervous system do a wonderful job of protecting us, but at what expense to the body? We often adapt to situations for the sake of survival, or because we don't know what else to do. So now years have past, and the screaming person hasn't been in your life, but then you hear a scream that sends you into a tailspin. All of a sudden your body freezes up, or tears starts flowing, or your heart starts pounding, or we have to run to the bathroom. If we are just our brain, do you think these reactions would happen to the body? The brain may have processed and filed the situation, so it feels like it's been addressed. Then this unexplainable body reaction happened. So, what does this tell us? Well, the first thing it tells us is that we are so much bigger than our brain, in fact we are not our brain at all. Our brain is just a database, compiling information as it perceives it, and sends messages to the body, based how the information is processed. The the body's intelligence is far greater than the brain. Our Body systems are all connected and constantly communicating all day long. I'm trying not to get too technical here. Also, keep in mind that I'm using a hypothetical scenario as an example to explain how this works.

So let's take this information and apply it to the anxiety study, where the group that had movement therapy and supportive group, had better results than the group that just had talk therapy.

Can we start to see the brain and body connection? What's happening here? Anxiety, depression, and trauma, are being moved in the brain as well as the body. We feel better when we move, because not only did we move our mental and physical body, but we moved things on a cellular level too. Remember, the body is all connected. Ayurveda and Yoga teach us that there are layers to human beings. These layers are called Koshas. One example of our connection is that it's impossible to work a muscle without working all the other body systems. This is because everything is connected and we are multidimensional beings. This concept goes back to my personal training days. Every single exercise course I ever took, talked about muscle memory. Well, if muscles have memory and can make changes, isn't it possible that our cells, tissues, and organs also have memory too?

Ok, so let's tie this all together and try to look at anxiety, depression and trauma from a holistic perspective. Just the word "holistic" tells us a lot. Here's where eastern and western wellness platforms really differ. The western side, takes the symptoms presented, and gives a diagnosis. Then they formulate a treatment plan to alleviate the symptoms. Once, the symptoms have been alleviated, western care sees this as cured or healed.

The eastern wellness system views this process differently. They view the person as a "whole." This is where the word "holistic" comes from. They don't focus on just the symptom, or the diagnosis, they see the whole person, and they treat the whole person. The goal from as eastern perspective is to bring the person back to "Wholeness." This goes beyond the treatment of symptoms. This is where Ayurveda Yoga Therapy can help. While Ayurveda is a complete medical system, Yoga and Yoga Therapy are a fundamental part of ayurvedic treatments. These practices don't separate the mental body from the physical body. Everything gets treated together.

A common occurrence is that humans are conditioned to accept some level of sickness, pain, or unmanageable disease, either physical, mental or both. While living in a material world definitely has its challenges, we do have an opportunity every day to change our perspective on our health, no matter how severe the condition. This is where Holistic Health Practitioners can help. These trained professionals can provide education and care with unconditional love for each individual.

The increasing number of mental health patients, and the increasing workload of mental health professionals has tipped the scales in terms of how treatment is handled. This is why Health Coaches have now been integrated into the medical paradigm. There is a huge need to alleviate mental health practitioners. Very often, a person will see a clinical practitioner and a holistic practitioner. As we talked about earlier, there are varied degrees of all "disease." Not, every condition requires a diagnosis, or a clinical protocol. However, not every condition should seen by just a Holistic Practitioner either. It all depends on the severity of "disease" and how the person wants to proceed with treatment. It is also up to the professional to work within their scope of practice, and refer to other professionals as needed.

The role of any practitioner, doctor, or health professional should be to serve humans, and to facilitate each person on their journey toward wellness. We all have the ability to heal ourselves at any moment. Keep in mind, that from a holistic perspective, we can heal ourselves and still have a terminal illness. The question is, how do we want to handle that? What do we want? How do we want to live? Are we ok with accepting our current health situation as our fate? We always have a choice.

As always, this is just food for thought.

~ written by Lina Leelah

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