As the horror of April 15th recedes from the national news, we in Boston are still in shock from the senseless results of evil. It seems as if everyone in this city and surrounding areas is joined in a caring network of personal connections and we are all feeling a kind of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), similar to warfighters back from combat. Continue reading
Category Archives: mental health
I heard a fascinating radio interview today with Dr. Ester Sternberg, a rheumatologist, researcher, and author of “The Balance Within,” a book about the ways in which the brain, mind, and body interact. I completely agree that our minds, brains,and bodies are intimately connected: When the mind perceives something as stressful, a cascade of hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, are released. This is useful when you need to slam on your brakes to avoid a collision, but harmful if these hormones are not “switched off” when the stressful situation is over. Stress hormones flooding your body for days or weeks at a time depress your immune system, leaving you more open to disease. In the interview, Dr. Sternberg clearly explained the biochemistry underlying the connection between stress and disease.
All the more reason to practice yoga, Tai chi, and meditation and try to reduce the sources of stress in our lives! I must always add, of course, that if one is ill, it is important to recognize that certain diseases are simply beyond our control, and NOT to feel a sense of “failure” about somehow having the “wrong” state of mind. At the same time, there is always hope and the possibility of becoming whole, and living fully in every moment.
This is an excerpt from an article that Dr. Sternberg wrote on the subject with Philip W. Gold.
The brain and the immune system continuously signal each other, often along the same pathways, which may explain how state of mind influences health The belief that the mind plays an important role in physical illness goes back to the earliest days of medicine. From the time of the ancient Greeks to the beginning of the 20th century, it was generally accepted by both physician and patient that the mind can affect the course of illness, and it seemed natural to apply this concept in medical treatments of disease. After the discovery of antibiotics, a new assumption arose that treatment of infectious or inflammatory disease requires only the elimination of the foreign organism or agent that triggers the illness. In the rush to discover antibiotics and drugs that cure specific infections and diseases, the fact that the body’s own responses can influence susceptibility to disease and its course was largely ignored by medical researchers.
This is the beginning of an interesting post about the Alexander Technique as a treatment for depression and mental illness: “In our culture today the connection between physical and emotional problems is gaining currency. Surprisingly, the best answer to coping with the stresses of life is by using a hands-on approach that straightens the body. This technique can help in balancing moods, changing behavioural patterns and managing life’s challenges.”
I have studied the Alexander Technique for years and found it useful for body alignment and functioning without pain. The beneficial effect on depression and psychological problems is news to me, but I can certainly believe it. Here is a link to the post. And here is a link for more information about the Technique.
How progressive of the US military to use yoga as a treatment for soldiers returning from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder. As reported in the May 6 Washington Post, the Specialized Care Program at Walter Reed Army Medical Center focuses on helping service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan cope with the flashbacks and nightmares typical of post-traumatic stress disorder, which affects 20 percent of the approximately 1.6 million U.S. military personnel who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to a Rand study released last month. The program uses a guided meditation technique called yoga nidra, which I know from personal experience to create a profound state of relaxation.
While we are talking about mental health, I have just read an amazing story of Duane Sherry’s intervention to help his son recover from a frightening psychotic disorder that he reports was caused by psychiatric medication. The story appears in an article on Bloomberg.cm, about overuse of psychiatric medicines for children. Mr. Sherry replaced the drugs with alternative methods and now, two years later, his son is free of all symptoms and medication. In an e-mail, Mr. Sherry commented to me that “I simply believe in the body’s own ability to heal, and that in the case of ‘mental illness’ there may be something that is out of balance in the body and not functioning correctly. This might be the thyroid, a candida or yeast infection, food absorption difficulties, lyme disease, sensitivities or allergies to various foodsor chemicals.. Whatever it is, it may be getting in the way of healthy mental function. In addition, of course there is abuse and neglect and trauma which may need to be taken into account in the treatment of mental illness. But, any sane person can see that locking people up against their will, and/or forcing them to take large amounts of mind-altering drugs is not the solution. If we had done this with my son, I believe we would have lost him.”
Today’s Boston Globe cites several studies demonstrating the effectiveness of exercise in the treatment of depression and other mental health problems. Dr. James A. Blumenthal–a professor of medical psychology at Duke University and the principal investigator of several of these studies–is quoted in the Globe as saying, “There is growing evidence that exercise may be comparable to other established treatments such as antidepressant medications.” He also found that depressed patients who were helped by exercise were less likely to relapse after 10 months than those helped by antidepressants, according to the article. In consultation with your doctor, experts cited in the Globe suggest 20-40 minutes of exercise, including weightlifting and aerobics, 3 times a week, at a level that “makes you break a sweat,” for treatment of depression, anxiety, ADHD, addiction, stress, and aggression.
We have already seen evidence that exercise can help prevent chronic disease and hospitals around the country now have “boot camp” programs for chronic back pain. Now, there is evidence that exercise is also “medicine for the brain,” in the words of Cambridge psychiatrist and author, John Ratey, MD. So let’s get out and move our bodies! Here is the link to the article.