How Do YOU Take Care of Your Mental Health?

With the ongoing pandemic, hustle and bustle of the 24/7 news cycle, family, and work/school responsibilities seemingly adding more to our to-do lists than there are hours in the day – we thought we would compile some of AANMC’s favorite ways to recharge and unplug from day-to-day stresses.

Laugh

Laughter sometimes IS the best medicine, so let yourself enjoy a good belly laugh! Watch a comedy show, have a virtual call with your friends, or enjoy a family board game night. When social distancing guidelines have ended, enjoy those experiences in person…or do whatever tickles your funny bone!

Exercise

Move that body! Walk, dance, play a team sport, swim. The ‘what’ doesn’t matter as much as long as you are making it happen. Shoot for at least 30 minutes daily.

Meditate

People often associate meditation with a long and intricate process. It can be as easy as practicing clearing your mind of active thoughts before bed. Letting whatever does come to mind quietly float away. It doesn’t need to be complicated. Start out small and work your way up.

Unplug

Literally. If you are constantly tethered to a mobile device or screen, free yourself by spending some time away and ‘off–the-grid.’ Try to do this for 1-2 hours before bed at a minimum, and if you can – schedule a weekend a month and a week a year, completely tech free!

Spend Time in Nature

Unable to go outdoors due to social distancing guidelines? Bring the outside, in. Open a window or try to work where you can see the beauty of your natural surroundings. Invest in a houseplant. Grow window herbs. And when you can, and as often as you can, make an effort to walk, hike, play, or swim to realign yourself with nature.

Socialize

When was the last time you had a heart to heart with a loved one? Are your personal relationships filling or emptying your cup? If more are emptying – then it may be time to reassess who you allow in your sacred circle of friends. Social support is a vital component in the ability to adapt to stressors. Make sure you take time to nurture your relationships.

Spend Time with Pets

Pets are often responsible for filling their owner’s heart with love, but studies have also demonstrated that pet ownership can positively impact your overall health.

Get Organized

Sometimes being a little proactive and cleaning your space or organizing the day can help minimize the stress that comes with clutter of both your mind and surroundings. While cleaning may not be everyone’s favorite activity – there is a good amount of satisfaction that comes with a tidy and organized space. Pencil it in on the calendar if you have trouble making it a regular habit.

Sleep

How long has it been since you slept like a baby? Sleep is an important factor in supporting overall balanced mental, emotional, and physical health. Getting too few hours of sleep can contribute to any number of health crises. Practicing good sleep hygiene can get you back to catching those restful Zzzzs.

Eat Well

The foods we eat on a daily basis can have important effects related to disease susceptibility, proper physical, mental, and intellectual development, inflammation and immunity. Whether these effects are taking us in a positive or a negative direction depends on the choices we make.

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How Nature Can Impact Your Health – A Naturopathic Perspective

Nature is a relationship. These words, spoken by Leah Hollon, ND, MPH capture the true impact nature has on our health. From the Japanese-inspired preventive healthcare measure known as shinrin yoku (which means “forest bathing” or “taking in the forest atmosphere”) to the contaminants such as lead found in our drinking water, there is little doubt of the enormous role our natural setting plays in our well-being. We talked with several naturopathic doctors and environmental medicine specialists to learn more about the good (and not so good) ways in which nature impacts our health.

Connecting with Nature in the Big Apple

“It’s impossible and most often detrimental to understand optimal health without considering how each patient interacts with nature in their daily lives. While we’re working on ways to better understand genetics in a clinically relevant way, changing the person’s environment is our most important tool. It is very important to make sure that people fit a relationship with nature into their regular schedule. Working in New York City often makes that more difficult than when I’m seeing patients in Connecticut. However, even getting my patients to walk home from work instead of taking the subway (extra points for walking through Central Park!) has been a positive incremental change.”

Robert Kachko, ND, LAc

AANP President; Graduate, University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine

Contributing to Chronic Illness

“More and more medical science is showing us that the chemicals and metals we accumulate from our environment – air, food, water – can be major contributors to chronic illness, be it cardiovascular, neurologic, immune, hormonal, renal, and so on. I teach the Environmental Medicine competencies and supervise Bastyr University‘s specialty clinics for patients with these problems, and I’m excited to report that most of our patients benefit tremendously from this care, and that the most effective treatments for patients with chemical or metal-related illness are the most natural ones – diet, exercise, and sweating – because the body really does know how to heal itself!”

John Hibbs, ND

Graduate and Clinical Supervisor, Bastyr University

Use Nature to Meditate

“Have you ever been driving on the highway, only to miss your exit? Not even sure you saw it pass? Nature and our surroundings can give us the opportunity to be mindful and go inside to our most insightful of places if we let it. Watching waves roll in and out, clouds move across the sky or a gentle wind through trees can inspire us to be mindful and slow down enough to make a place for deeper thoughts and consciousness.”

JoAnn Yanez, ND, MPH, CAE

AANMC Executive Director; Graduate, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine

The Nature Cure

“Until very recently in human history we have had an intimate, direct and almost-constant relationship with the natural environment. This has led most people to have an inherent affinity with nature, and is the reason walking on the beach, hiking in the mountains, or digging in the garden are so enjoyable. Within the last few decades, research has demonstrated that the beneficial effects of nature-exposure can be quite substantial and has positive impacts beyond just “feeling good.” Evidence from fields such as stress physiology, environmental psychology, and psychoneuroimmunology show that contact with nature can lower blood pressure, improve brain function, and increase immune system response. This has led some doctors and experts, such as those mentioned here to prescribe time in nature as a way to reduce conditions such as heart disease, obesity, and depression.”

Kurt Beil, ND, LAc, MPH

Graduate, National University of Naturopathic Medicine

Nature Reminds Us That We’re Not Alone

“Nature reminds us that we are not alone, that there is a pulse, and reliability that exists in each day and within the seasons regardless of what is going on in our internal world. Why is it that nature serves as such a reset button? Part of this is evolutionary due to the fact that humans are supposed to be part of nature. I believe this is also supposed to be a symbiotic relationship. Science shows us that there are atoms released from the earth called negative ions that serve to supercharge our systems. These negative ions can assist with depression, anxiety, and even assist with the immune system. Even going for a walk in a dense forest can increase the function of our immune system by activating our natural killer cells. The take home is that nature is our playground of healing.”

Leah Hollon, ND, MPH

Graduate, National University of Natural Medicine

Decompress in Nature

“Pumpkin vines encircle my fire pit. Immersing myself in the process, hands in the dirt, weeding, watering, nurturing, part of the circle, from flower to fruit, is an excellent way to decompress.”

Heidi Weinhold, ND

PANP Legislative Chair; Graduate, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine

Nature is Curious

“Nature is curious, and I believe more curious of us humans than we are of it. Curious, since as a population we seem to ignore nature, or in the very least, take it quite for granted, and the perpetuation of such sentiment, to me, appears to be the reason for the chronicity and magnitude of illness in America. Adoption of a more nature-centric approach, embracing the healing power of nature, the precepts of naturopathic medicine, usually lead to a more profitable movement towards health.”

Dan Rubin, ND, FABNO

OncANP Founding President; Graduate, Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine

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Dr. Lily Stokely – Bastyr

“Before discovering naturopathic medicine, I felt a hunger for more information about the human body in both physical and emotional states. I felt torn between more mental/emotional healthcare fields and the physical. It seemed confusing that they were separated in conventional medicine. Naturopathic medicine is the only healthcare profession that I know of that has the ability to fully support all aspects of health. I wanted a profession that I knew I wouldn’t be bored with. I wanted to feel inspired and to have a foundation of tools that I could continue to learn from.”

Laying the groundwork to become an ND

“I always had an interest in health and medicine. Much of my life I knew I wanted to become a doctor. In college at the University of California, Berkeley, I studied dietetics hoping it would provide a more comprehensive view of health than simply diagnosing and prescribing medications. I knew I wanted to support people from a more holistic perspective and I didn’t feel that medical doctors had all the information. After studying dietetics, I graduated and was reminded again that this field also was only one piece to the holistic health puzzle. I wanted to support people with all determinants of health, not just one through nutrition. At this time, I didn’t know naturopathic medicine existed. I took two gap years and lived in Australia and South East Asia studying and teaching yoga while waitressing and deciding my next career moves. I found naturopathic medicine through the yoga community. After learning more about the naturopathic medical field it felt like everything that had been lacking in other health professions was miraculously combined in one provider. I applied to Bastyr from a beach in Thailand and quickly returned home to interview.”

Bastyr as a springboard

“After traveling through many countries, living in the Bay Area, and growing up in Northern California, I felt slightly ungrounded from a sense of where ‘home’ was. Seattle and the surrounding areas of Bastyr felt like home before I even moved there. In touring the school, the idea of taking breaks to walk on trails and being surrounded by gardens and fresh air felt supportive and needed amongst the intense course load I was about to embark on. The emphasis on research-based medicine and Bastyr’s reputation within the natural healthcare field was also important in my decision. Bastyr was the foundation to the therapeutic tools and philosophy that inspire me in practice. I gained a solid science background and exposure to many healing therapies.

After graduating I finished a two-year naturopathic residency with Emerald City Clinic in Seattle with an emphasis in primary care. In the last six months of residency, I started the process of starting my own clinic, opening a week after finishing my residency. I was fortunate to be able to have the majority of my patients have continuity of care from residency to private practice and opened my doors with a full schedule.

My private practice got busier than expected in the first year. I hired a full-time resident to join me one year into practice with two administrative staff. My husband also joined the practice as a naturopathic doctor. I leave work most days feeling fulfilled. Work days are long, however I’m working with a personal coach to find ways to improve work-life balance and walk the talk of foundations of health.”

Finding fulfillment as an ND

“Life is full, busy, wonderful, and challenging. The aspects I love most about being a naturopathic doctor are the vast amount of tools we have to support individuals. We never have to practice by a ‘one size fits all model.’ Bodies are diverse and naturopathic medicine provides tools to support and respect this diversity. One of my favorite experiences as an ND is when a patient may not tolerate or like the original suggestion of treatment that I provide and I then get to use creativity to provide an option that feels supportive to them individually. I am passionate about supporting people who are underserved in healthcare and providing a compassionate approach to aid in both physical healing, but also trust in the healthcare field.”

Advice for aspiring NDs

“It is important to go in clear on why you are choosing naturopathic medicine. The training and practice is hard, but it is rewarding work. If you are not connected with the why of what you are doing, it will lead to burn out.

I attribute much of my career success to developing skills to remain adaptable, while finding the aspects of the profession that allowed my innate skills to shine. I found a few skills that I knew I wanted to hone in on including eating disorder treatment and physical medicine early in my learning at Bastyr. At the time I may not have known that these would be my ‘specialties’ however in hindsight getting specific with skill development helped me develop a niche that has allowed my practice to thrive. I practice from a concept of Health at Every Size with all of my patients which embraces the idea that people’s bodies can be healthy at any size if given the support needed to respect hunger/fullness cues and step away from a diet centered approach to health. This concept partners with intuitive eating and includes dismantling of weight bias amongst individuals and our culture. These concepts are also the foundation of eating disorder prevention and treatment that I provide in my practice.”

Join Dr. Stokely for a free webinar – Eating Disorders, Naturopathic Care Can Help

“Naturopathic medicine matches every aspect of care that someone with an eating disorder may need such as counseling, nutritional support, treating digestive sequelae, lab analysis, and elongated visits. Although naturopathic doctors are well suited to provide eating disorder care, direct training in eating disorder treatment is limited in the medical field as a whole.”

Join Dr. Stokely for an informative webinar to learn about the need for eating disorder professionals, where to start if interested in becoming an eating disorder provider, and how the support of naturopathic physicians can be essential in eating disorder care. Click here to register.

Learn more about Dr. Stokely:

Website

Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Bodypersonal excerpts about body image

Continued education courses on eating disorder treatment

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Naturopathic Approaches to Anxiety and Depression

Naturopathic Approaches to Anxiety and Depression

Millions of people experience depression and anxiety, and often feel their only option is to take medications that may not completely resolve the issues. Studies show that anxiety and depression are related both to our genetic tendencies and our exposure to various stresses in life. We can address our genetic tendencies and help our bodies recover from stress using natural approaches such as mindfulness, dietary changes, nutrients, amino acid therapy, as well as optimizing hormones, blood sugar, and gut bacteria. Join Dr. Doni Wilson and the AANMC to learn how naturopathic doctors can serve this population and help people resolve mood-related issues once and for all.

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Positive Psychology and Health

From a naturopathic perspective, the ultimate health care goal is to promote optimal wellness for individuals and the greater community at large.  While it can be tempting to think of creating “health” primarily on the physical level, it is equally important to consider a person’s mental and emotional state and how to best support the whole person.

Many aspects of life are necessary to promote psychological health, including meaningful relationships with family and/or friends, adequate sleep and movement/exercise, strategies for stress management, recreation, and a healthy diet.1  Another important consideration for optimal mental, emotional, and even physical well-being, is one’s attitude toward life.  Whether you are an optimist, a pessimist or have a predominantly positive or negative view of life can determine the quality of your health on all levels.

What is Positive Psychology?

When many people think of psychology/psychiatry, the following clinical aspects of mental health often come to mind, such as emotional pain/trauma, PTSD, mental illness, depression, anxiety and the treatment of these conditions. Within the past two decades, research has developed regarding  happiness, well-being, and the traits that encourage positive mental health. These attributes are now viewed as a gateway to improving psychological and physical health, rather than merely managing the things about a patient’s life that are “wrong.”  It may appear to be a subtle distinction, but the preventive front end focus on mental health is an important one to note.

The concept of Positive Psychology was officially described in a groundbreaking paper by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the year 2000. 2 These  prominent researchers and clinicians had become dissatisfied with the predominant view of focusing on the reduction of clients’ negative thoughts and behaviors as the best way to improve mental health.  They suggested that “building up the good in life, rather than just repairing the bad”, may be a better approach.” 3 Generally speaking, positive psychology focuses on the positive aspects in life, such as happiness, gratitude, resilience, compassion, and love.

According to an article reviewing Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi’s seminal work, the primary purpose of Positive Psychology, “is to measure, understand, and then build human strengths and civic virtues, including hope, wisdom, creativity, courage, spirituality, responsibility, perseverance, and satisfaction.”4 It is important to note however, that positive psychology does not seek to ignore or deny negative experiences, but to help reframe one’s perspective on them.

Health Benefits of Positive Psychology

Research shows that concentrating on the positive qualities of life experiences and cultivating a positive mindset results in mental, emotional, and physical health benefits. Positive attitudes, such as expressing gratitude, are associated with a person’s overall sense of well-being, It is also shown to relieve depression, improve relationships, work-performance, and even result in fewer trips to the doctor! 5, 6, 7, 8

It makes sense that maintaining a positive attitude will benefit mental and emotional health, but it may also improve physical health. It is well-established that a positive mood impacts immune function, and negativity is depressive to the immune system. For example, positivity has been shown to decrease susceptibility to the common cold. 9  In a series of studies involving HIV patients, those who were more optimistic about their lives and future exhibited significantly reduced disease progression compared to those who were not. 10

In addition, coronary heart disease (CAD) patients who presented with a positive attitude exhibited improved heart function over those with depressed moods. The researchers suggested that maintaining an optimistic outlook on life may help prevent heart disease. 11

Accentuate the Positive

Naturopathic physicians have considerable training in counseling and in assisting with mental/emotional health issues. NDs often employ techniques found in the Positive Psychology movement, and provide tools for patients to practically implement this into their lives.

Examples of ways to increase positive meaning in your life:

  • Create a gratitude journal – Take time on a regular basis to write down 3-5 things for which you are grateful. Just saying them out loud before bed or when you are feeling critical is another option.
  • Perform a gratitude visit – Think about someone who has affected your life in a positive way or has inspired you, and then tell them! This can be in person, or written in a letter.
  • Carry out a random act of kindness – Do something helpful or thoughtful for someone that may be above and beyond how you normally behave. Acts of kindness contribute to the giver’s and the receiver’s happiness!

Having a positive outlook on life can help you achieve optimal health on all levels, physical, mental, and emotional.

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