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The Best Holistic Approaches To Mental Wellness

In this article: Incorporating mind, body, spirit and lifestyle habits for a better you…

Many people think of illness as defining disease of the body, and mental illness as defining disease of the mind. More and more however we are viewing the person from a holistic perspective, or from a “biopsychosocial” viewpoint, to use a more “scientific” language. (Bio for life, psycho for mind, social for society and social environment). Therefore, “mind” and “body” are not separate. One affects the other. They are interrelated and part of the same whole being. 

To extend the notion of this meaning, through the term biopsychosocial, for example, is to include the social environment as integral to the concept of a person. One is not separate from one’s environment. Thus, “holistic” approaches include looking at ways to better one’s environment, including one’s social environment, in order to increase feelings of well-being. 

Counselling psychologist, Elizabeth Morelle, says that “In order to understand the idea of a social environment being an integral part of one’s holistic make-up, imagine a child growing up in an abusive home. Let us pretend the father is a violent alcoholic and beats the child’s mother when he is drunk. The child witnesses this and other horrors and lives in an environment where yelling and verbal abuse are a daily occurrence. 

This child develops her concept of self via her early home experiences. Thus, she believes “normal” everyday life is scary and not safe. She goes through life in a state of hypervigilance and constant fear as this is the only way she knows how to be. She responds to her environment accordingly and her environment treats her in kind. Thus, she finds herself bullied at school, sexually abused as a young woman and eventually in a domestic situation, which is even more violent than her childhood.

Now imagine a different child who grows up in a kind hearted and child-centric home. This child receives love, nurturing touch, care, compassion, kind and gentle words and compliments on a consistent, daily basis. This child grows up feeling heard, honored, respected, and loved. She is self-confident. She believes in herself. She feels safe. She knows she can accomplish much and nothing holds her back. She believes the world is a safe and comfortable place and the world treats her accordingly. Opportunities come her way. She wins accolades and awards. She goes from strength to strength and becomes successful and happy.

To extend the analogy to holistic health, consider the following: The successful girl grew up with positive interactions with and support from her family members, in a safe environment. Her concept of self is stable and she has developed some fundamentally healthy core beliefs about herself. 

For example, she believes she is okay, that she can succeed in the world, and that the world will accept her and shower praise upon her, which it accordingly does. She is able to cope well with stress and rarely gets sick. Her lifestyle habits are quite healthy and she feels good most of the time. She is able to enjoy her life and has a great social circle.

Now consider again the child from the unhappy home. She has developed a poor self-image. She holds some very negative core beliefs: that she is not good enough, she is hideous, she is unloved; she is nervous, anxious, fearful and finds it very hard to make friends.

She subsequently feels more and more isolated and she starts to suffer from severe depression. In order to cope she turns to drink and finally she too, becomes an alcoholic and addicted to cigarettes. Her health suffers and she ends up with emphysema and liver problems.

These are rather extreme stories and grossly oversimplified for the purposes of illustrating a point, but they show the interconnectedness of body, mind and environment and how each one can affect the other.

If you are looking for ways to balance your mental health, or for that matter your physical or spiritual health, the following practices and suggestions will help you take control of your life and make steps towards a healthier, and “wholer” you.

Mind

Meditation

Meditation is an ancient practice spanning history and different cultures around the globe. It is a tool to help one experience inner stillness. The goal is not to eliminate thoughts but rather to observe them and increase awareness. A typical practice is to focus on the breath, and once the practitioner becomes aware that she has lost her attention, the idea is to gently, without judgment, bring the awareness back to the focus on the breath. That’s it, in a nutshell. 

Mindfulness is a form of meditation practiced in Buddhism, but you don’t need to subscribe to any religious or philosophical belief system in order to practice it and gain the benefits. Essentially, mindfulness is the art of staying in the present moment, without worrying about the future or obsessing over the past. 

Some aids to helping you stay centered in the present moment include focusing on the breath, the experience and sensation of breathing gently in and out, or using the five senses to keep you rooted in your present moment experience.

Relaxation

Relaxation focuses on letting go of physical stress and tension. This in turn leads to the mind letting go and becoming more still. Deep relaxation is very beneficial to the overall health of the body and the mind. Progressive muscle relaxation is a simple exercise that can help you relax. Start at the head and work your way through all the muscles or muscle groups of the body. Tell yourself that with each outbreath you are letting go and releasing all the muscle tension.

Positive Affirmations

 Positive affirmations are first person (“I”) statements in the present tense, which affirm that something is so. For example, if you desire to lose weight, you can say, “I am now at my ideal weight”; if you want to move house, you could say, “My perfect home is coming to me now.” And so on. The idea is that you repeat these statements over and over again. 

You can write them on post-its and stick them up around the house, so you will be reminded of them throughout the day. Eventually, the theory goes, you will start to believe in these statements and act accordingly. This change in behavior will bring about the desired result. Another benefit is that they are designed to boost your self-esteem, your sense of self-worth and your belief in your self-efficacy.

Changing Core Beliefs

This is an important key to overcoming self-sabotage and negative thought processes that can lead to anxiety, depression, and worry. Without weeding out some of the more persistent core beliefs, it is hard to move on and move forward, and live a life of happiness and contentment. Morelle explains: “We tend to stay stuck in the same subconscious patterns. Once we learn how to change our negative beliefs, however, it can have massive and far-reaching positive repercussions on our lives. 

It is a good idea to find a skilled therapist to help you do this, preferably one who uses a body-centered approach, as previous traumas become stuck and show up either as physical symptoms from muscular tension to headaches, bowel dysfunction and nervous tics, or as mental and emotional symptoms such as depression, anxiety and low self-esteem.” 

Morelle continues, “It is possible to discover and release very early childhood wounds with this process. Once we recognize that old coping mechanisms no longer serve us, we can instruct the subconscious mind to let go of old belief patterns, and replace those with newer, more empowering and healthful ones. This can have a very beneficial effect on our overall health and well-being.”

Visualization

Some people picture a palace where they keep all the things they want to remember. They have different rooms for different topics and that way they know where to find what they are looking for when they need to remember facts or retrieve important information from their memory. Science now shows us evidence that visualization does actually work; it is used by Olympic athletes to increase performance and successful business people have used it to increase their potential.

Visualization can be used for many reasons: Perhaps you want to see yourself successful, or more self-confident, or more loving or generous. Maybe you want to see yourself living in wealth and luxury. Perhaps you long for a new boat, or a motorcycle. Whatever it is, focus on it in as much detail as you possibly can. 

Try to become aware of sights, sounds, smells, textures and tastes, associated with your dream. Picture how you will feel once you have reached your goal. Say you want to attract love. Imagine how happy you feel, imagine the blissful joy of being in a safe, loving relationship with a kind and gentle person you can trust. 

Imagine what it will feel like to have someone by your side. Imagine what this person will look like, how the quality of their touch feels to you, how they smell when you breathe in, and the kinds of activities you will do together, and so on and so on.

Body

Nutrition

Nutrition is an obvious foundation for a healthy body. Science is showing us how excellent nutrition can increase mental well-being as well. Often mental distress can be linked to a nutritional deficiency. Sugar, for example, is known to be more addictive than cocaine and is responsible for an emotional rollercoaster of sudden highs followed by intense lows as the body attempts to regulate itself in the aftermath of a sudden spike in blood sugar. 

A lack of the B vitamins is known to be associated with depression and low mood. Consulting a holistic nutritionist is a good choice. Cheryl Prince, holistic nutritionist and nurse, has a record of accomplishment in combatting mental disharmony through diet.

Exercise

Scientific findings have shown that exercise improves mental health. Regular aerobic activity can help combat the symptoms of depression and anxiety. The overwhelming evidence of research today suggests that exercise is crucial in ensuring successful brain functioning. Walking at a brisk pace is a good, moderate form of exercise, which helps increase bone density. 

What’s more, it costs you nothing and can easily be incorporated into your daily routine. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Start at 10 minutes and build it up gradually until you are comfortably able to walk for 30 minutes, 3-5 times per week. You can keep increasing your limit over time. 

Weight training or resistance training builds muscle strength and since your body uses protein to build muscle, this in turn can help boost your metabolism, since you will burn more calories as your muscle mass increases.

Stretching

A simple daily routine of stretching will help keep your body supple, will increase your flexibility and therefore reduce your risk of injury. Stretching helps you relax and reduce tension. It increases the blood flow to your muscles and cartilage. Because stretching increases blood flow to the muscles, more oxygen and nutrients are sent to the muscles via the bloodstream. 

Therefore, if you feel sluggish or lethargic, stretching can act as a great “pick me up.” Increased blood circulation will help promote cell growth and organ function. The heart rate will lower since it doesn’t have to work as hard; blood pressure will become more consistent.

Yoga

Yoga is very helpful in calming the mind. In fact, one of the main aims of the stretching poses of yoga is to prepare the mind for meditation. Yoga uses rhythmic breathing in synchronization with each movement. This has the effect of slowing the mind down. 

Studies have found that those who practice yoga regularly have higher levels of the hormone GABA in their bodies. People with low levels of GABA are more prone to depression and anxiety and the constantly whirling soup of negative thoughts associated with both of these disorders.

Nature Walks

The benefits to your mental health of walking in nature are many, including decreased symptoms of depression and negative mood, stress reduction and an increase in well-being. Nature walks may put you into a meditative state. It is helpful if you join a group to do your nature walks as this too has positive repercussions on your mental health and feelings of well-being.

Massage

There are a number of different kinds of massage and studies show all of them to have powerful healing powers, including stress reduction, release of muscle tension, boosting relaxation, elevating mood, and stimulating circulation of lymph and blood. Thus, massage can be beneficial for improving cardiovascular health, may be good for depression, and is known to detoxify the system. With massage, you need regular sessions to experience ongoing results and to greatly boost your mental wellness.

Spirit 

Higher Power

An understanding of a higher power, however you perceive that to be, can bring benefits in many ways. You have something you can rely on. No human being can ever be fully reliable, all of the time. Eventually you are going to be disappointed with your friend or loved one. Your higher power will always be there for you. Developing a relationship with your higher power means that you need never feel alone. There will always be someone (or something) to lean upon. If a problem is too big, you can give it to your higher power and trust it will all sort out for the best. 

Finding Meaning

Finding a purpose in life can bring about a sense of deep inner satisfaction and lead to feelings of contentment and joy. However, finding purpose is not necessarily as simple as it sounds. Many people feel chronically dissatisfied with their life, stuck in a job that frustrates them and keeps them from expressing themselves fully.

One clue to finding a meaningful life is to consider what you would be doing if all your problems were solved and you could do anything you wanted. Now you may answer, “Well, I’d be on cruises around the world 6 months of the year and the rest of the time I’d be riding camels across the desert.”

Think about it: how long would this lifestyle really satisfy you? Would having a bigger house or better car ultimately make you happier? More and more people are realizing that there has to be more than life than this. 

The above exercise helps you to identify what you love to do. Now, combine this with the question, “How can I help?” and then find ways to combine the two answers, and you have come a long way towards identifying something which will give your life a sense of deeper meaning and purpose, and bring you the inner peace you are looking for. So for the second question, let’s say that your answer is “I can help by cleaning up ocean plastic pollution,” then you could maybe turn the camel trek into a fundraising event so you could create cruises that cleaned up as they went! Just brainstorming some wild ideas here but you get the idea. 

Now you have identified your purpose and your goal. If you then commit to the goal and take it step by step, you will have created for yourself a consuming passion and sense of direction that will not only change you for the better but also will then help you by helping others in the process.

Gratitude

The practice of gratitude has many positive benefits, including increasing feelings of happiness and contentment. It is a powerful tool to aid in your mental well-being when you incorporate it into your day-to-day living. When you focus on the feeling of gratitude, it can have a truly transformational effect on your experience of life. Your perspective becomes one of abundance, joy, and contentment when you feel grateful for each little thing that comes your way. 

From a beautiful sunset to a delicious home-cooked meal, from a roof over your head to a place to lay your head, when you are grateful for all the things some may take for granted, you will experience a truly blessed life. 

Your attitude will change and you will feel more ease and harmony, resulting in much greater peace of mind.

Service To Others

Service to others is a wonderful way to create a sense of purpose in your life. You feel you are a useful member of society and you have something worthwhile to contribute. You get to meet others, support them, connect with them, laugh, and enjoy the company of others all while doing something meaningful. This increases your self-confidence and your feelings of self-worth, boosts your self-esteem, diminishes feelings of isolation, and increases your sense of connectedness to others. All of this helps to uplift your spirit, and if you let it, helps you feel connected to something greater than yourself.

Surrender

In all the great spiritual traditions of the world, the concept of surrender is a common thread. Surrender is a difficult practice but brings with it a level of acceptance and serenity that increases your sense of mental well-being. 

When you surrender to the divine, or surrender to what is, you cease resisting what is. In that moment of surrender, you experience acceptance. You know the outcome is beyond your control. It is in the hands of your higher power. It is a curious thing that in that moment of relinquishing all desire for a particular outcome, very often the outcome you had wanted is given to you. Eckhart Tolle says it well:

“Always say “yes” to the present moment. What could be more futile, more insane, than to create inner resistance to what already is? What could be more insane than to oppose life itself, which is now and always now? 

Surrender to what is. Say “yes” to life — and see how life suddenly starts working for you rather than against you.” 

Here is a wonderful poem for you to contemplate:

Tripping Over Joy

What is the difference
Between your experience of Existence
And that of a saint?

The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God

And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move

That the saint is now continually
Tripping over Joy
And bursting out in Laughter
And saying, “I Surrender!”

Whereas, my dear,
I am afraid you still think
You have a thousand serious moves.” 

― Hafez, I Heard God Laughing: Poems of Hope and Joy

Lifestyle Habits

Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

As you’ve probably heard, it’s all small stuff. If we remember to break things down into smaller chunks, they are less likely to overwhelm us and we are able to cope with them better. If we remember to look for the positive in any situation, find the lesson to be learned, act with kindness and compassion, see life through a positive lens, we can recognize any situation as just one fleeting moment in a string of moments. Staying present to each moment allows us to avoid getting stuck in the past or obsessing over the future.

Here are some quotes from the book of the same name by author Richard Carlson…

“…when you let go of your expectations, when you accept life as it is, you’re free. To hold on is to be serious and uptight. To let go is to lighten up.”

 “True happiness comes not when we get rid of all of our problems, but when we change our relationship to them, when we see our problems as a potential source of awakening, opportunities to practice, and to learn.”

 “Life is a process–just one thing after another. When you lose it, just start again.” 

― Richard Carlson, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff … and it’s all small stuff: Simple Ways to Keep the Little Things from Taking Over Your Life

How Important Is It? 

How important is it that you vacuum the house today? Is this something you can let go of in favor of something more inspiring, empowering or fun today? Writing out your priorities and listing them in order of importance is a great way of getting a handle on what you can let go of for now, or for good. Considering what to do now, to do next, to do later, or to not do at all, is another trick that can help you get things in perspective and see that the thing that is worrying you will not kill you if you let it go…

Think about this: how important will this be in a year from now? If the answer is, “Not at all,” then this should go some way towards helping you to let go of it right now.

Surround Yourself With Positive People

Think about the people you surround yourself with. Do they pull you down? Do they complain a lot or talk about negative stuff a lot? Are they kind or mean? Think about the quality of your relationships. Do people drain you or uplift you? Support you or criticize you? If they aren’t good for you, they aren’t good friends! 

And if it is time to move on, just send them love and blessings and release them from your lives, knowing that you will attract kinder, more loving friends in their place, when you make that your intention. You will feel more peace, more ease, and more well-being when you know you can connect with friends who really have your back.

Let Yourself Have Fun

The more you can find ways to have fun in your life, the better you will feel, in both mind and body. Fun is a great distraction. Your anxiety, your fears, your depression, your aches and pains, your fatigue, will all miraculously disappear when you can find ways to have fun. What makes you smile? What makes you laugh? Jokes, comedies, a funny pet move? 

There is a reason they are so popular, anything that brings a smile to your heart or a warm glow to your heart counts as fun. Outright laughter is absolutely great therapy! If you can’t remember the last time you  had a really good belly laugh, try laughter yoga! It’s a great ab workout! Happiness endorphins are released, your relaxation response kicks in and stress dissolves…

Put Yourself First

This may be something different from what you were taught. Maybe you believe it is selfish to put yourself first? That always putting others before yourself is the right way to go? However, when you take this philosophy, unless you are truly a saint, what tends to happen is that over time, unspoken resentments tend to build up, even if you are not consciously aware of them. 

The “what about me?” voice slowly but surely makes itself felt in subtle, potentially negative ways. 

Maybe you feel moody and down, or unhappy, without knowing why?

When you learn how to put yourself first, you naturally become a happier person. When you learn how to get your needs met, (in healthy ways that are not to the detriment of others, of course), when you place yourself higher up on the pecking order, you automatically feel better. 

Then, by default, your cup will be full and you will have more to offer others, more to give others, and you will feel the enjoyment and satisfaction of doing so. 

When your cup is empty from giving to others at the expense of your own well –being, you feel exhausted, burnt out and resentful and then when you keep on giving the negative downward spiral only worsens. 

So put yourself first, it really is in everybody’s best interest.

Final Thoughts

Mental health and well-being is inextricably bound up with the health of the body, with your emotions, your thoughts, and your overall lifestyle and environment. There are many ways you can work to improve your mental health, from a holistic standpoint. 

Working on the mind through meditation, affirmations, thought changing, relaxation, and visualization not only calms the mind and brings about a reduction in symptoms of anxiety, worry, and depression, but also has a knock-on effect of calming and relaxing the body. The two are indivisible and you cannot work on one without working on the other. 

Nutrition, exercise, stretching, yoga, nature walks, and massage are all body-focused self-care activities that have positive repercussions on your mental well-being!

Finding spiritual meaning in your life can have many benefits on your mental well-being. 

You no longer feel alone, as you deepen your relationship with your higher power. 

You can depend on your higher power in a way you can never rely upon a human being; you can develop faith and trust that you will be looked after; you can learn to surrender, and consequently experience a level of serenity you never knew before. 

Service to others brings you a sense of fulfilment and feelings of self-worth.

Lastly, making lifestyle changes such as prioritizing, breaking problems down into smaller, manageable chunks, having fun with positive people, and learning how to put yourself first, will all have far-reaching repercussions on your mental health.