holistic depression treatment centers

Depression continues to be one of the more vexing mental health disorders, keeping mental health professionals continually seeking out new treatment methods, clinical study results, and brain imaging research to better understand how to tackle it. While the standard treatment protocol for the 16 million individuals diagnosed each year with depression continues to revolve around antidepressant drug therapy, disappointing results with SSRIs has inspired alternative approaches.

Holistic depression treatment centers are becoming more desirable in the wake of some questioning of the efficacy of antidepressants as the primary method of treating this complex mental health disorder. A number of adverse side effects make these drugs difficult to tolerate, and may only add to the individual’s distress. Now mental health practitioners are embracing holistic therapies and experiential activities, as well as alternative treatment methods, to compliment the traditional treatment interventions.

Who Is Likely to Suffer From Depressive Disorder?

Depression is the second most prevalent mental health disorder affecting Americans, second only to anxiety disorders. While depression can impact people of both genders and all ages, women are predominantly affected. Women experience depressive disorders at a rate of nearly double that of men, according to the National Institute on Mental Health, with rates of 8.5% for women versus 4.8% for men.

It is thought that the role of hormones is a factor in the much higher rates of depression among women. The hormone estrogen seems to play a significant role in some women developing depression. In fact, there are specific depressive disorders that are specific to hormonal functioning, including:

  • Premenstrual Depressive Disorder
  • Postpartum Depressive Disorder
  • Post-menopausal Depression

Other interesting facts about depression include that the highest prevalence of depression is among the young adult demographic, between the ages of 18-25, and is surprisingly high among adolescents, with 9% of all teens aged 12-17 experiencing a depressive episode.

How is Depression Diagnosed?

The DSM-5 has listed specific symptoms related to depressive disorder, and stipulates that a cluster of 5 or more symptoms that persist for more than two weeks. These include:

  • Sadness that persists for most of the time
  • Loss of interest in pleasure or activities once enjoyed
  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Feelings of hopelessness or despair
  • Slowed cognitive and motor functions
  • Sudden weight gain or loss
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Irritability
  • Unable to concentrate or make decisions
  • Thoughts of suicide

The psychiatrist may use an assessment or screening tools to help in diagnosing the depression, such as the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAM-D) or the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9). A physical exam can help rule out a medical condition or medications as the cause of the depression symptoms.

About Holistic Depression Treatment Centers

Holistic depression treatment centers place an emphasis on treating more than the diagnosis. Where the traditional response to treating major depressive disorder might be through antidepressants and psychotherapy, a holistic approach will be more focused on overall wellness using integrative therapies that can enhance the traditional methods. The idea is that the human being is composed of mind, body, and spirit, and when one of those aspects of our being is out of balance or has unaddressed needs, no amount of medication is going to provide wellness.

Going hand-in-hand with this holistic treatment approach is a focus on nutrition and exercise. A diet that contributes to optimum brain health will include plant-based foods such as fresh vegetables and fruits, seeds, nuts, legumes, and whole grains. Lean proteins, such as fish, lean beef, and turkey, omega-3 fish oil, eggs, and fermented foods are also beneficial to brain health.

Getting regular exercise helps elevate the production of endorphins, the “feel good” brain chemical that can lift mood, improve sleep quality, energy level, and concentration. An array of physical health benefits contributes to general wellbeing, or the “body” component of mind, body, and spirit.

The spiritual component is addressed through a variety of holistic activities that can lead to introspection and inner peace, which can result in new emotional breakthroughs in the treatment of the depression.

Integrated Treatment for Depression

Holistic depression treatment centers utilize a comprehensive blend of both traditional evidence-based therapies as well as experiential and holistic activities. Treatment elements include:

  • Psychotherapy. Individual talk therapy sessions allow the therapist to guide the individual toward resolving unaddressed emotional issues that may be contributing to the depression. These may involve past trauma, childhood abuse, grief and loss, divorce, and other painful life events.
  • Group sessions. Small groups discuss topics introduced by the therapist and engage in sharing their personal feelings and experiences. This provides a sense of connection with others who are also struggling with depression.
  • Medication. Because antidepressants do help about half of the patients with depression antidepressant drug therapy is still a core treatment element.
  • Adjunctive therapies. If past trauma is a contributing factor to the depression the patient may benefit from eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), an exposure therapy that involves the patient following a stimulus back and forth while discussing the trauma with the therapist. TMS therapy is a brain stimulation therapy that has shown to be helpful in correcting neurotransmitter imbalances in the brain and improving depression symptoms. TMS is often used when antidepressants stop working or do not work for an individual.
  • Holistic activities. A variety of holistic and experiential activities are found to enhance relaxation and reduce stress. These include yoga, mindfulness training, massage therapy, acupuncture, equine therapy, deep breathing exercises, art or music therapy, journaling, guided imagery, gardening therapy, and sound therapy.

Lifestyle Changes that can Help Depression

Improving sleep quality has a positive effect on mood. To achieve sounder sleep the individual should attempt to keep a regular sleep schedule, avoid alcohol after 6pm, avoid caffeine after 3pm, avoid meals after 7pm, avoid exercise after 6pm, and avoid screen time (cell phones, tablets, laptops, television) one hour before bedtime.

Elevation Behavioral Health Los Angeles Holistic Depression Treatment Centers

Elevation Behavioral Health is a full-spectrum mental health center providing diagnostic services, residential mental health treatment, transitional housing, and outpatient services. Elevation Behavioral Health believes in a holistic approach to treating depression, and offers core evidence-based therapies, medication management, and holistic activities for a well-rounded program. For more details about our depression treatment program, please reach out to Elevation Behavioral Health today at (888) 561-0868.

childhood trauma ptsd

Children deserve to feel safe and loved while they are growing up. A stable, supportive, and loving environment allows a child to develop trust bonds with their family members, knowing their loved ones have their back as they navigate childhood. For far too many children, this nurturing family life is not their reality. According to the National Children’s Alliance, almost 700,000 children suffer abuse each year in the U.S., with a large percentage of those experiencing neglect.

Childhood trauma can take many forms. Physical or sexual abuse, sudden death of a loved one, witnessing domestic abuse, experiencing a natural disaster, surviving a serious car accident, and other intense emotional experiences all constitute trauma. When a child is exposed to a traumatic event it leaves an indelible scar on their psyche, especially when it is a repeated trauma as in ongoing physical or sexual assault.

Eventually the child grows up and incorporates the lingering emotional fallout from having been traumatized in their younger years into their adult behaviors and psyche. Childhood trauma PTSD is often the result of unresolved psychological harm. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating condition that results in maladaptive behaviors in order to cope with the residual pain. Getting to the bottom of the childhood trauma and working through the emotional scars provides the roadmap toward resolving adult dysfunctional behaviors.

About Childhood Trauma

When a child experiences a traumatic event, or continuing trauma, their ability to process and cope becomes overwhelmed by the sense of danger and fear of injury. A child has not yet formed the coping mechanisms needed and becomes unable to process the threat or emotional pain psychologically. Instead, many children who have been exposed to trauma develop certain symptoms of PTSD, including:

  • Fear of dying
  • Bad dreams, nightmares, night terrors
  • Wetting the bed although formerly potty trained
  • Expressing emotional reactions when exposed to triggers or reminders
  • Irritability, agitation
  • Angry outbursts, violent behavior
  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Extreme emotional reactivity
  • Loss of interests in activities once enjoyed
  • Physical complaints, such as stomach distress and headaches
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Clingy behavior
  • Regressing to younger age

In response to trauma, children adapt certain methods of coping with its after affects.  Depending on the degree of the threat or harm, the developmental state of the child when it happened, the child’s innate ability to cope with adversity, and the child’s support system, PTSD will develop or not.

Childhood Trauma PTSD Connection

If the child does retain the emotional damage caused by a traumatic event(s) in childhood they will likely carry the residual effects into adulthood. This can result in interpersonal problems and general impairment in daily functioning.

Signs of PTSD in Adults

  • Emotional detachment
  • Alcoholism or drug abuse
  • Depression
  • Sexual promiscuity, early initiation of sexual activity, STDs
  • Higher incidence of smoking
  • Hyper-vigilance
  • Hyper-arousal
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Withdraw socially
  • Irritability, hostility
  • Guilt
  • Loneliness
  • Trouble in relationships
  • Trust issues
  • Experience flashbacks
  • Avoids triggering situations, places, people

Adults with childhood trauma-related PTSD may seek out dysfunctional relationships where past childhood experiences are recreated because that is what feels familiar to them. They may have such a low self-esteem as a result of unresolved trauma that they believe they do not deserve happiness. They may develop a serious substance use disorder as a means of self-medicating their emotional pain. Until the adult with childhood-related PTSD works through their emotional pain with a therapist the disorder will continue to infect their quality of life.

Treatment for Childhood Trauma PTSD

When initially seeking help for treating PTSD, the individual may select either outpatient treatment through a private physician or an outpatient mental health program, or a residential treatment program. Often this decision as to where to obtain treatment for PTSD will be determined by the severity of the symptoms, whether there is a co-occurring disorder such as depression or addiction, and personal resources.

In treatment for PTSD the individual will engage in psychotherapy. The type of psychotherapy utilized will depend on the features of the PTSD, so it may be psychodynamic therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, or exposure therapies, or a combination of these modalities. Therapy will likely involve both individual one-on-one sessions and group therapy sessions where the issues related to the PTSD can be discussed and shared with others.

In addition, some individuals may benefit from medication, such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications. Holistic activities are helpful as well, assisting with stress-reduction and relaxation.

Elevation Behavioral Health Provides Residential Treatment for PTSD

Elevation Behavioral Health is a residential mental health center in Los Angeles, California that offers intensive treatment for adult survivors of childhood PTSD. The comprehensive program allows individuals struggling with trauma maladaptation to examine the pain sources and process the disturbing childhood events under the expert care of our compassionate psychiatric staff. Treatment includes intensive psychotherapy, group therapy, holistic and experiential activities, and medication management if applicable. For more information about our treatment program for childhood trauma PTSD, please connect with Elevation Behavioral Health today at (888) 561-0868.

trauma counseling

A traumatic experience can remain deeply troubling for a period of time, impacting daily life and overall wellness. Having witnessed or personally experienced a traumatic event may leave psychological wounds and a heightened sense of emotional arousal that can cause impaired functioning, ill health, or relationship problems. While most people who experience trauma will eventually process the fallout, some may go on to develop pot-traumatic stress disorder, a prolonged and more severe form of trauma disorder.

Trauma counseling is a key element in the process of healing after experiencing a shocking or distressing event. A trauma therapist is trained to use specialized therapies that help take the edge off the traumatic memory, allowing the individual to become less sensitive to the memories of it, or the people, places, or situations that may trigger the memories. Trauma counseling, and adjunctive therapies that compliment the counseling, allow the individual to gradually move forward in their lives.

Trauma Defined

So how is a trauma different from any other upsetting event? A traumatic event tends to cause an intense psychological response when the individual feels they are in a dangerous or life-threatening situation. Traumatic events might include a natural disaster, military combat, a serious car accident, a violent physical or sexual assault, or the sudden unexpected death of a close loved one. Trauma often makes the individual feel a loss of control over their safety.

Signs of Trauma Disorder

Living through a traumatic event can shake someone to the core. Trauma symptoms include:

  • Shock
  • Anger
  • Denial
  • Mood swings
  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbance
  • Persistent feelings of sadness and despair
  • Headache, intestinal problems
  • Feelings of guilt or shame
  • Emotional detachment
  • Feeling isolated
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Trust issues
  • Loss of interest in usual sources of enjoyment, withdrawing from friends and family
  • Substance abuse

What Is Trauma Counseling and How Does It Work?

When an individual is struggling to overcome the effects of the trauma to a point where it is negatively impacting daily functioning and quality of life, it is appropriate to seek treatment. Goals of overcoming trauma include reclaiming one’s personal power, to shift focus from the past to the present, and to reduce the impact that the trauma has on one moving forward.

Mental health professionals use a variety of modalities to help individuals overcome the intense effects of the trauma. These might include:

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  TFCBT is designed for helping individuals overcome trauma by reshaping the thoughts associated with the trauma that led to the negative emotions and behaviors. By helping the trauma victim express their feelings about the experience, the therapist will show them how those thoughts have led to withdrawal, guilt, loneliness, anxiety, etc. By encouraging the individual to examine the negative thoughts and reframe them in a more productive manner, the trauma loses potency.

Psychodynamic Therapy. This is a longer-term therapy that delves into childhood experiences and how they may relate to issues in their adult life. The insights gained during psychodynamic therapy can help the individual develop a new perspective on those childhood experiences, as well as dysfunctional adult interpersonal relationships, how to rise above them and not allow them to negatively impact their present daily life anymore.

Exposure Therapy. This is a short-term behavioral therapy that helps individuals become less sensitive to the memories or triggers of the trauma. By encouraging discussion of the event and gradually exposing them to the triggers within a safe environment, the impact is gradually reduced over time. This helps with the avoidance behaviors they may have acquired following the trauma.

Adjunctive Therapies for Treating Trauma

In addition to the various traditional psychotherapies used, there are some excellent alternative therapies that compliment and augment those therapies. These include:

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR is a type of therapy that helps individuals by desensitizing them to the disturbing memories of the trauma. EMDR is an 8-phase program that focuses on the past, present, and future. The therapist will have the client follow an object or finger back and forth with their eyes while discussing the disturbing memory, the related emotions and beliefs, which has the effect of reducing the impact of the trauma over the course of the sessions.

Neurofeedback. Neurofeedback is a type of biofeedback where the individual’s brain wave patterns and activity can be modified through a computer software program, training the individual to be calmer when thoughts of the trauma arise.

Holistic Activities. Holistic practices can help promote relaxation while reducing stress, which can help in the response to thoughts of the trauma. Managing stress through deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, guided imagery, yoga, massage therapy, and acupuncture can benefit the individual as they heal from the trauma.

When a Higher Level of Care is Appropriate for Trauma Disorder

When efforts to relieve the symptoms of trauma are not successful using outpatient services, it may be necessary to consider a higher level of care. Individuals whose trauma disorder is seriously impacting their daily life and their relationships may benefit from a more focused approach at a residential treatment center. This safe, supportive setting allows the individual to fully focus on getting better without the daily distractions and triggers that have so far impeded that effort. Customized treatment plans will provide the most tailored, intensive treatment approach to healing from the traumatic event and getting one’s life back.

Elevation Behavioral Health Provides Trauma Counseling in a Residential Setting

Elevation Behavioral Health is a residential mental health program in Los Angeles, California. Trauma victims who have not yet been able to move through the residual emotional pain find that the safe, supportive setting of a residential program helps them heal. Leaving the reminders or triggers of the trauma by residing at Elevation Behavioral Health for a period, patients find much needed solace. Individualized treatment plans incorporate a combination of relevant interventions to allow patients to move past the painful memories and regain control over their lives within a compassionate environment. For more information about trauma counseling and treatment options, please reach out to Elevation Behavioral Health today at (888) 561-0868.

symptoms of severe ptsd

Anyone who has suffered through a traumatic event knows the lasting impact it can have on your mental state and your daily life. When a trauma occurs, such as the sudden death of a loved one, a serious accident, physical or sexual assault, living through a natural disaster, or a trauma related to combat, it imprints deeply on the memory and the soul. While most people will eventually process the painful emotions and move forward, others may remain stuck in the distressing memories and pain of the trauma.

As a result, some of these individuals may find themselves turning to alcohol or drugs to help them relieve the emotional pain, depression, and anxiety that they live with. Some may find that they struggle to function at work or struggle socially due to the lingering effects of the trauma. These individuals are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Thankfully, there are highly effect treatment strategies that can help manage the symptoms of severe PTSD.

About Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a mental health disorder within the anxiety disorders spectrum. It can result after experiencing or witnessing a deeply traumatizing event. After being exposed to the trauma, those with PTSD continue to experience troubling after effects for a period lasting more than a month afterward, or will experience the symptoms of PTSD as a delayed response, sometimes months later.

For many years, it was thought that PTSD only pertained to veterans who had experienced horrific events in combat, coming back emotionally scarred. While veterans have higher rates of PTSD, with rates ranging between 10-30% depending on the war itself, PTSD is an anxiety disorder than impacts about 8% of the population at large, according to the National Institute of Health.

Symptoms of Severe PTSD

Symptoms of severe PTSD generally include four categories:

  • Intrusive memories. Unwanted thoughts or memories of the trauma are experienced repeatedly thought flashbacks, vivid memories, or nightmares.
  • Avoidance. In order not to trigger the distressing emotions of a past trauma, someone with PTSD will avoid any people, situations, or places that might trigger the disturbing memories. They will avoid discussing the trauma as well.
  • Hyper-arousal. The individual will be jumpy, easily irritated, is quick to anger, easily frightened, has an exaggerated startle response, and may suffer from insomnia. Substance abuse may be used to self-medicate these anxiety symptoms.
  • Negative thoughts. People suffering from PTSD may display a sense of hopelessness and negativity in their demeanor, and talk down about themselves. They may exhibit negative emotions such as anger, guilt, shame, and fear. They may struggle with relationships.
  • PTSD and a Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorder

    A dual diagnosis is present when the PTSD, as a stand alone mental health disorder, is coexisting with a substance use disorder. The use of alcohol and benzodiazepines is a common method of self-medicating the distressing symptoms of severe PTSD. Unfortunately, as tolerance to the effects of the substance increase and consumption increases with it, addiction can develop. This only creates a more complicated treatment picture for individuals who are already struggling with PTSD.

    When a dual diagnosis exists, it is important to seek the professional help of a treatment provider that specializes in dual diagnosis. Both the PTSD and the substance use disorder should be treated simultaneously to effectively treat the individual and obtain a successful recovery result.

    How is Severe PTSD Treated?

    PTSD is treated with a combination of medication and psychotherapy. Antidepressants or anti-anxiety drugs can help mitigate the intensity of the PTSD symptoms. These drugs can ease the fight-or-flight response that is so common in PTSD as well as allow for more restful sleep. Antidepressants used to treat PTSD include Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, and Effexor. Anti-anxiety medications are from the benzodiazepine group of drugs and may include Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin, or Valium.

    Psychotherapy can be very effective in helping individuals with PTSD, especially cognitive processing therapy (CPT), cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and prolonged exposure therapy. These types of therapy help the individual systematically process the traumatic event over a course of treatments while also working through the associated emotions and fears that are present.

    Adjunctive therapies have also proven effective in enhancing the effects of the psychotherapy. Eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) involves the individual following a moving object with their eyes while discussing the traumatic event is discussed and processed. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a brain stimulation technique that has demonstrated promising results for treating people with TMS. Some experiential therapies, such as equine therapy, mindfulness exercises, or guided meditation have also been helpful for those with PTSD.

    How Lifestyle Changes Can Help PTSD

    Lifestyle changes can also be effective in helping individuals with PTSD. Reducing stress by making a career change or moving on from a dysfunctional relationship can help with the anxiety symptoms. It is important to recognize what areas in one’s life are contributing to excessive stress or anxiety, and to make a change.

    Getting regular exercise, especially cardio workouts, can help reduce stress and induce relaxation and improved sleep quality. These might involve a brisk daily walk, hiking, a spin class, dance cardio workouts, jogging or running, swimming, or cycling.

    Practicing stress-reducing activities, such as taking yoga classes or enjoying massage therapy, can also help improve overall mood and wellness. Eating a nutritious diet is also important in PTSD recovery. Limiting caffeine, sugar, and starchy foods can help regulate blood sugar and jittery behaviors. Eating a diet rich in lean proteins, green leafy vegetables, whole grain breads and pasta, and nuts and seeds will provide the body and brain with essential nutrients for optimum mental health.

    Elevation Behavioral Health Provides Effective Treatment for PTSD

    Elevation Behavioral Health is a leading dual diagnosis and mental health treatment provider in Los Angeles, California. Elevation Behavioral Health is an inpatient, private treatment facility overlooking the beautiful Agoura Hills landscape. In this luxury, intimate setting, individuals with PTSD or a dual diagnosis will receive the most effective therapeutic interventions within a compassionate, nurturing environment. For more information about how Elevation Behavioral Health can help you overcome PTSD, please call us today at (888) 561-0868.

    Holistic Wellness Programs for Treating Addiction and Mental Illness

    Philosophers often discuss the difference between “being” and “well-being.” In order to simply “be,” a person or thing must have certain qualities or attributes that define its core essence. These features describe the subject’s basic existence, but they do not address what is necessary to thrive or flourish.

    Many treatment facilities tout the core treatments that provide clients with the means to attain sobriety. But there are additional components necessary to help someone achieve the benefits of a happy, healthy life experience.

    These benefits address much more than the cessation of problems that led them to treatment in the first place. Instead, they address the broader considerations that make up a fulfilled life and contribute to the person’s “well-being” and not just their “being.”

    It is essential for people in recovery to understand and improve all the different parts of their existence, so they can consciously build better lives.

    Understanding and Defining Holistic Wellness

    “Wellness” is a term that comes up frequently in certain circles, and the term can be used in many ways. Although there are multiple views on exactly what the concept encompasses, the National Wellness Institute, in conjunction with leaders of varying health and wellness fields, has suggested that most models of wellness agree upon the following principles:

    • Wellness is a conscious, self-directed and evolving process of achieving full potential.
    • Wellness is multidimensional and holistic, encompassing lifestyle, mental and spiritual aspects and the environment.
    • Wellness is positive and affirming.

    With these principles in mind, the NWI proposes that, “Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of and make choices toward a more successful existence.”1

    Wellness is an active process through which people become aware of and make choices toward a more successful existence.

    Wrapping all of this together, we can define “holistic wellness” as the condition of being in optimum overall health, which is a blend of physical, mental and spiritual well-being. The condition is the result of consciously choosing to live a quality life; it doesn’t happen by accident. It’s a day-to-day choice involving an active process of increasing self-awareness, as well as community-supported, self-directed action.

    What Are Holistic Wellness Programs?

    The goal of holistic health is to achieve maximum well-being, where everything is functioning in the best way possible. The path of holistic wellness is a life-long journey that emphasizes personal responsibility and commitment.

    The path of holistic wellness is a life-long journey that emphasizes personal responsibility and commitment.

    Without specific ways to work toward this goal, people would flounder without any ability to truly make progress. That’s where holistic wellness programs come in.

    Holistic wellness programs are an essential part of any well-rounded recovery program. These programs comprise the methods that give people the tools to feel more whole as human beings. The features of holistic wellness programs are designed to take into account the entire person as they move forward in their quest for optimal health and wholeness.

    Specific program components may include things like individual therapy, meditation, mindfulness and yoga, which promote positive attitudes and teach practical methods for coping with stressful situations. One may also learn about healthy nutrition, the importance of regular physical exercise and other helpful life practices, such as journaling.

    Yoga – Posing for Wellness

    Yoga is a technique that uses physical postures and controlled breathing to develop many mental and physical benefits.2The postures used in yoga practice are sometimes difficult to achieve or hold, but the purpose goes far beyond merely becoming a human pretzel.

    The challenging poses and movements of yoga help create flexibility and strength as they elongate the spine, improve muscle elasticity, reduce stiffness in the joints and increase overall mobility. The focus required during practice also calms the mind, improves concentration and promotes patience. Regular practice is needed to fully experience these benefits.

    For those in recovery, yoga offers some specific advantages. For example, many addictions begin as a coping mechanism or a way of filling an emotional or spiritual void. As a result, people in treatment for addiction must learn to deal with their emotions and environment in healthier ways.

    Studies of the biological impact of yoga have noted a correlation between yoga and inhibiting the dopamine surge that typically results from using drugs. The studies found that intense breathing patterns in certain forms of yoga release the body’s natural pleasure-producing endorphins. A healthy yoga practice can help suppress addictive behaviors while restoring the brain’s dopamine functions to healthier levels.

    Those in recovery know full well that stressful situations can trigger addictive behavior and cravings. The very process of adjusting to sober living can be stressful. Since yoga emphasizes willpower and stress reduction, those in recovery can learn to combat that stress, better resist temptation and regain control over their bodies.

    Since yoga emphasizes willpower and stress reduction, those in recovery can learn to combat that stress, better resist temptation and regain control over their bodies.

    Meditation – Doing Something Good for Yourself

    Meditation is not an esoteric, mystical exercise best left for ascetic monks. Although there are numerous forms of meditation practice arising from various historic traditions, most of them share a simple common principle: intentionally setting aside time to do something good for yourself.

    Meditation involves intentionally setting aside time to do something good for yourself.

    That may seem like an oversimplification, but it accurately describes the underlying purpose of meditative practices. Whether the form of meditation incorporates bodily movement or is stationary, both emphasize the good that results from quietness of the mind.

    The primary goal of developing a sense of inner calm, sometimes called detachment, enables meditation to fit well within the recovery process. This is because overcoming substance abuse disorders often involves a person establishing distance between themselves and their desire to use.

    Meditation encourages the practitioner to view their own impulses from a third-person perspective, as they observe and examine their own thoughts and motivations. This is not always easy, but the skill will enable them to gain a psychological detachment from their cravings, along with the ability to properly understand such desires. This helps cultivate contentedness without the need to resort to alcohol or drug abuse.

    While the full benefits from meditation may take time, neuroscientists have found that even short-term meditation can have profoundly positive effects on the brain. In one study, after just five 20-minute sessions of meditative technique, participants had increased blood flow to an area of the brain vital to self-control. After 11 hours of accumulated practice, the scientists found actual physical changes in the brain around this same area.3

    By building a stronger awareness of themselves and their environment, people in recovery can realize the impact drugs and alcohol have had on their lives and start to discover their triggers. Meditation fosters an appreciation for the mind and body, which builds motivation to treat oneself with respect.

    Meditation fosters an appreciation for the mind and body, which builds motivation to treat oneself with respect.

    Mindfulness – Moment-by-Moment Awareness

    Mindfulness can be a form of meditation, but it is worth distinguishing here in our overview of holistic wellness. Mindfulness-based interventions have shown compelling evidence of significant benefit for people in recovery from addictive disorders.

    Though it has roots in Buddhist meditation, the common secular practice of mindfulness was established through the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, which was launched at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979.

    In its most basic definition, mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment. It also involves acceptance of thoughts and feelings without judging them. By removing the tendency to determine what is “right” or “wrong” with a certain thought or feeling, a person is more able to concentrate on what they’re sensing in the moment, rather than comparing it with the past or imagining the future.

    Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and surrounding environment.

    Thousands of studies have documented the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness. Because the practice promotes nonjudgmental acceptance of moment-to-moment thoughts, mindfulness has been shown to interrupt the tendency to respond to experiences using harmful behaviors, such as substance use. As the individual learns to respond with awareness and not to react automatically, they are also more likely to resist cravings.4

    For individuals in recovery, the struggle with temptations toward drugs or alcohol is inevitable. Mindfulness meditation is one way to gain awareness of these thoughts, accept them without feelings of guilt or shame and learn how to cope in healthier ways.

    Physical Fitness – Strong Body and Mind

    It’s no secret that regular exercise is good for the body. But physical exercise is also one of the most effective ways to improve mental health. Exercise has a profound and positive impact upon symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADHD and more. In addition to boosting overall mood, exercise relieves stress, improves memory and helps people sleep better.

    In addition to boosting overall mood, exercise relieves stress, improves memory and helps people sleep better.

    But don’t worry, there’s no need to become a hardcore fitness devotee. Research indicates that even modest amounts of exercise can make a real difference, as evidenced by the popularity of such things as the scientific 7-minute workout.5

    No matter what fitness plan or routine one may settle into, there are definitely worthwhile rewards for the efforts. Here are some outstanding examples of the mental health benefits of exercise:6

    • Reduce Stress. Working out can relieve physical and mental tension and increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. Regular exercise keeps energy flowing throughout the body, which enhances its stress reducing properties.
    • Boost Happy Chemicals. Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among people suffering from depression or anxiety due to increased levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin.
    • Improve Self-Confidence. Physical fitness boosts self-esteem and improves self-image. Regardless of a person’s particular physique, even moderate exercise can quickly elevate self-perception and self-worth. Engaging in a competitive sport, or just setting your own fitness goals leads to feelings of accomplishment, which also improve feelings of self-confidence.
    • Prevent Cognitive Decline. While it won’t stop the aging process, exercise boosts the chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning. Science has found that people who exercise have sharper cognitive functioning and better ability to concentrate.
    • Alleviate Anxiety. During and after exercise, chemicals released in the body can help people with anxiety disorders calm down even more effectively than a 20-minute soak in the hot tub. The anxiety-reducing effects of even just a brisk daily walk can be highly beneficial to individuals in recovery.
    • Boost Brainpower. More than merely preventing decline, studies have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells and improve overall brain performance. Some studies show that the brain volume in those who exercise regularly is greater than in those who do not.
    • Regular workouts increase levels of a protein known as BDNF. This is believed to help with the executive functions of the brain, such as decision making, higher thinking and learning.
    • Sharpen Memory. Regular physical activity enhances the ability to learn new things. Research has linked brain development with levels of physical fitness, and one study showed that running sprints improved vocabulary retention among healthy adults.
    • Help Control Addiction. Dopamine, which is known as the brain’s “reward chemical,” is released in response to any form of pleasure, including sex, drugs, alcohol or food. One aspect of addiction involves dependency on the substances that produce dopamine. But exercise can help in recovery, since working out can effectively diminish and distract from cravings, while providing a new, healthy reward pathway.
    • Increase Relaxation and Improve Sleep. Often those in recovery find their body processes are interrupted, including circadian or sleep rhythms. Exercise can help reboot the body clock, enabling people to relax and have more regular sleep cycles. Those who get a higher quality of sleep tend to function better during their daytime activities, have a more positive frame of mind, and have better emotional self-regulation.
    • Get More Done. Those who exercise regularly have been shown to have higher energy levels, which leads to greater productivity. Sedentary people tire more easily and quickly, leaving less mojo for work and play. Exercise increases stamina and strength, increasing energy levels that benefit the individual throughout the day.

    Journaling – Insights for Life

    Journaling is an effective tool with widespread use among those recovering from an addiction. It has been called the least expensive, most accessible form of therapy, and it can produce meaningful results for those who take advantage of it for gaining insights into their own life.

    Keeping a journal is straightforward; it requires writing down brief thoughts, ideas, observations, stories, important events, successes during recovery or even a simple record of an exercise routine.

    There are numerous methods and styles of journaling, and each person can adopt an approach that fits their personality and schedule. There’s no need to be verbose; even a single word that captures a feeling or mood can provide powerful insights, which lead to better understanding and discernment.

    Writing in a journal encourages people to think critically and examine their thoughts and assumptions. Clearer thinking helps overcome negativity, reduces stress and may even lower the risk of relapse. Journaling is also a way to track progress and increase motivation. Journals are private expressions, recorded without fear of judgment.

    Journaling also helps with stress relief. Just putting down on paper the emotions being experienced in recovery can give them a place to reside, other than rattling around in one’s head. Think of journaling as a repository for thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, and goals. A place to safely unload all the things that might be taking up too much space in one’s head.

    Writing in a journal encourages people to think critically and examine their thoughts and assumptions.

    The point is not the subject of the writing or the amount of writing. Instead, it’s about taking the time to write and engage in personal introspection. After journaling for a few months, many are amazed when they look back to see where they were and where they are now. In some cases, they are encouraged by how far they’ve come. Other times they may be surprised to find they’re revisiting old habits.7

    Holistic Individual Therapy – Building Skills for the Future

    Recovery and rehabilitation frequently involves therapy. Holistic therapy takes an integrated approach and pays attention to the connections between a person’s mind, body and spirit.

    Unlike some forms of therapy, which seek to treat the symptoms, holistic therapy sessions try to uncover the underlying causes that led to substance abuse or contributed to other unhealthy behaviors. Holistic therapists use multiple approaches to address issues and encourage self-awareness and self-acceptance in those in recovery.

    One such therapy is mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). This is a type of CBT that utilizes the mindfulness training so important in cultivating a healthy mind-body connection. MBCT is based on Jon Kabat-Zinn’s mindfulness stress reduction program, and has been found useful in treating individuals in addiction recovery. MBCT combines the concepts of CBT, which involve reframing dysfunctional thought patterns that lead to self-destructive behaviors, with meditative practices.

    Holistic therapists use multiple approaches to address issues and encourage self-awareness and self-acceptance in those in recovery.

    Counselors or therapists typically provide a variety of services to people in treatment for substance use disorders, including assessment, treatment planning and counseling. Individual counseling often focuses on reducing or stopping substance use, skill building, adherence to a recovery plan and social, family and professional/educational outcomes.8

    Nutrition Education – Fueling the Healing Process

    Improper nutrition can severely hinder the normal functioning of the body, including its ability to heal and overcome illness. Drugs and alcohol can further amplify the disruptive effects of a poor diet. Improving nutrition is essential for diminishing and correcting some of the biochemical and digestive problems often developed during addiction.9

    Improving nutrition is essential for diminishing and correcting some of the biochemical and digestive problems often developed during addiction.

    Proper nutrition helps those in recovery (and everyone else) feel better because nutrients give the body energy, help build and repair organ tissue and strengthen the immune system. Many people experience damage to vital organs, as well as nutritional deficiencies, during the course of their drug or alcohol abuse. Establishing good nutrition provides them with the crucial building blocks needed to begin restoring the damage to the brain and the body.

    Mood and attitude are also affected by nutrition. Changes in the diet can alter brain structure both chemically and physiologically, thus influencing behavior. Certain foods have been connected to increased production of brain chemicals like serotonin, which enhances a person’s mood.

    Using healthy food and regular meals to fuel the healing process is an important strategy for reaching optimal well-being and energizing the recovery process. In many cases, just feeling better due to proper diet can even reduce the risk of relapse, since the temptations may have less appeal.

    Examples of nutritious meal options that enhance both psychological and physical healing and wellbeing include:

    • Lean protein sources
    • Omega 3 fatty acids
    • Whole grains
    • Fresh vegetables and fruits
    • Nuts, seeds, and legumes

    Limiting caffeine, sugary beverages, sugary treats, and processed foods will also improve overall health.

    Other Holistic Activities

    Any activity that fosters feelings of serenity will benefit someone in recovery. Adding these activities into the weekly or daily wellness routine can augment the effects of psychotherapy and other recovery activities. Holistic activities help to cement the positive effects of sobriety by providing ongoing coping tools that can be accessed as needed.

    Other holistic activities or therapies might include:

    • Massage therapy. A relaxation massage helps muscles release the toxins that build up in the body due to daily stress and worry
    • Acupuncture. The use of tiny needles on specific areas of the body help open up blocked energy, leading to stress reduction and reduced cravings
    • Equine therapy. Being involved in the care, feeding, and exercising of a horse is an excellent source of accountability, leading to improved self-confidence. Bonding with a horse is also deeply satisfying on an emotional level
    • Gardening therapy. Being outdoors provides sun exposure that translates to increased vitamin D, which benefits mood. The process of cultivating plants, vegetables, or flowers is rewarding, giving one a sense of accomplishment
    • Aromatherapy. Essential oils can be used topically or inhaled through vapors to induce relaxation and reduce stress
    • Hypnotherapy. A hypnotherapist can guide the individual toward changing negative thoughts and replacing them with affirming thoughts and behaviors
    • Guided meditation. These audio files are available on apps or downloads and offer a soothing voice to guide one into a meditative state, which induces relaxation.

    Bringing It All Together

    Hopefully, this overview of holistic wellness programs was encouraging and highlighted the many benefits of such an approach to recovery. But more than as just a means to recovery, programs focused on holistic wellness bring together the tools and knowledge for lifelong preventative and restorative health solutions. This provides the essentials for achieving a healthy body and mind, allowing each person to take responsibility for their own well-being as they progress in their recovery journey.

    Sources:

    1. Six Dimensions of Wellness. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.nationalwellness.org
    2. Pizer, A. (2016, April). What is Yoga? Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/what-is-yoga-3566739
    3. Tang, Y.; Lu, Q.; Geng, X.; Stein, E. A.; Yang, Y. and Posner, M. I. (2010, August). Short-term Meditation Induces White Matter Changes in the Anterior Cingulate. Retrieved from http://www.pnas.org/content/107/35/15649.full
    4. Marcus, M. T. and Zgierska, A. (2009). Mindfulness-Based Therapies for Substance Use Disorders: Part 1. Substance Abuse, 30(4), 263. Retrieved from http://doi.org/10.1080/08897070903250027
    5. Reynolds, G. (2013, May). The Scientific 7-Minute Workout. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/05/09/the-scientific-7-minute-workout
    6. Breene, S. (2013, March). 13 Mental Health Benefits of Exercise. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/mental-health-benefits-exercise_n_2956099.html
    7. Howes, R. (2011, January). Journaling in Therapy. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-therapy/201101/journaling-in-therapy
    8. Treatment for Substance Abuse Disorders. (2015, September). Retrieved from http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment/substance-use-disorders
    9. Miller, R. (2010, May). Nutrition in Addiction Recovery. Retrieved from http://mhof.net/sites/default/files/Addiction%20and%20Recovery%20Report.pdf