8 natural therapies for managing mental illness – #IamStigmafree
Two posts in one week?? What’s come over me?
Mental Illness Awareness Week, that’s what!
I really want to embrace this opportunity to share my experience and resources during a time when awareness is high. As a result you’re getting a few extra doses of Seed to Blossom this week.
If you missed yesterday, I recapped my story of struggling with postpartum depression and how I recovered using Bach flower essences.
Today, I’d like to share with you the other resources that helped me find my way to balance after PPD, that I use daily to manage symptoms of PTSD. A lot of time, research, trial and error has gone into finding the right support system for myself. And if I’ve learned one thing along the way, it’s that nothing works for everyone and, usually, managing a mental illness takes more than one modality to really be effective. Especially if you’re going the all natural route.
Speaking of the natural route…
I want to be clear that, although I have never taken prescription medication for my mental illnesses, there is nothing wrong with doing so! The resources I’m listing here are the ones that have worked for me, but they don’t work for everyone. I know in the natural healing community there is a great deal of shame and stigma attached to the use of prescription medication. It’s often looked at as weak, or as failure, to “succumb” to needing traditional medical intervention. Although it does seem that our country is way too reliant on prescription meds to relieve everything from the common cold to indigestion, there are times when prescription medicine is a necessary, life saving intervention. Sometimes the best thing a person can do for themselves is get traditional medical help – and often that means using antidepressants and the like. As an old massage therapist of mine used to say, “No shamin’. No blamin’. You do what you have to do.” Agreed.
There’s also a belief I tend to hear in holistic circles that says embracing a mental illness diagnosis and “labeling” yourself, so to speak, is harmful and can only make matters worse; that it’ll put you into a victim mentality that you’ll never escape from. This was thrown at me a lot during my search for healing practitioners and methods and it did way more harm than good. It often triggered a PTSD episode – the very thing I was trying to get relief from!
Look, I understand the thinking behind this, and to a degree I believe that labeling isn’t always a good thing. It’s easy to get attached to a label and let it become your identity. I’ve seen it happen to clients and it’s happened to me regarding other labels I’ve taken for myself. That said, for me, having and accepting a diagnosis of PDD, and then PTSD, was very different than attaching to a “label” and becoming a victim. Saying out loud “I have PPD (and PTSD) and I need help” were truly life changing moments and to this day stand as my first real steps toward making changes and achieving lasting healing.
My belief is this – PTSD is not my identity. But, PTSD is PART of me. My history is what lead me to the diagnosis, and living with it every day is part of who I am. When I was in denial about having, things were the at their worst for me. Once I accepted the diagnosis and got the help I needed, I truly started living. I believe that we can only become whole when we accept ALL of the parts of ourselves – good and bad. For me, mental illness is part of the whole and accepting that reality has brought about true peace.
Ok, with that out of the way, let’s move on to my eight favorite resources for managing PPD and PTSD (in no particular order). Experience has shown me that these are also effective in managing generalized anxiety, SAD and depression. However, I do not have any experience using these modalities to treat other mental illnesses listed in the DSM.
Belleruth Naparstek: Considered a guided imagery pioneer, Belleruth Naparstek’s guided imagery meditations found at www.HealthJourneys.com have been a true game changer for me. Belleruth offers meditations for everything from weight loss and allergies, to Multiple Sclerosis and trauma. If you can think of it, there’s a meditation for it! I’ve used and benefitted from almost all of her recordings, but Healing from Trauma brought a level of PTSD healing that therapy, yoga and Bach flowers had not been able to accomplish.
She also has a book called Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal, which is all about PTSD. Reading that book changed my views on trauma, PTSD and healing and in turn, changed the way I viewed myself and others suffering with mental illness. I highly recommend it if you or someone you know suffers from trauma related mental illness.
Kundalini yoga and meditation: For over seven years now, I’ve been a dedicated practitioner of Kundalini yoga and highly recommend it for all people, but particularly those dealing with a mental health issue. Don’t be put off by the turbans! (Although I dare you to try Kundalini and not eventually give the ‘ole head covering a try. I swear it’s magic!) Kundalini yoga has helped calm my nervous system, given me tools to stop a PTSD flare in it’s tracks and has shown me how to truly love myself. My early morning Sadhana has provided me with a daily discipline that helps me set my mood and gain focus and perspective for the day. Combined with prayer, this practice has added a solid foundation to my life and healing work which has been a key element in managing PTSD triggers and flares. These days I like practicing with Guru Jagat’s classes at RAMA TV. I have also used Kia Miller’s videos at YogaGlo.com.
Senses of the Soul: Recently I have been working with GuruMeher Khalsa, learning his Senses of the Soul Emotional Liberation method. To me, Senses of the Soul is a groundbreaking work that introduces a profoundly new way of looking at and handling emotions than I’ve ever encountered. Instead of viewing heavy emotions as negative intruders in our lives, SOS encourages us to see emotions as the senses of our soul; messengers that bring lessons and healing. Seeing emotions in the new light, and using the SOS method, has empowered me to connect more deeply with how I feel and why, and has given me tools to take action when emotions overwhelm me. I highly recommend checking out GuruMeher’s website, newsletter and book.
Exercise: This seems like a no brainer, but after I resisted daily exercise for a long time. Before my daughter was born I worked as a personal trainer and was a total gym rat. But once I became a mother, and started doing 2 hours of yoga and meditation a day, I thought that exercise was unnecessary. What I realized though, is that the chemicals released during a nice, sweaty tabata class are integral to keeping my mood balanced and my mind sharp. FitnessGlo is my go to resource for my daily workouts.
Gemmotherapy: It’s not what you think! Gemmotherapy has nothing to do with crystals and gemstones. Instead, gemmotherapy is a cutting edge plant based medicine that works on the organs of the physical body to drain, clean and replenish them. Although the remedies work mostly on physical issues (anything from PMS to heart disease), I have found them very helpful in regulating mood, managing PTSD induced insomnia and keeping panic attacks at bay. They have also helped resolve digestive distress and skin disorders that were also a result of my mood imbalances. I found this method so healing that I’ve spent the last two years studying to become a practitioner and will soon begin offering this service in my practice.
Sleep: Another seeming no brainer, but for a long time I didn’t connect the dots between my lack of sleep and PTSD symptoms. But friends, it’s true. The more tired you are, the more vulnerable you are to stress and triggers. And when you have PTSD keeping your stress cup as empty as possible is extremely important. I imagine it’s the same for other mental health issues as well. Make sleep a priority!
Talk therapy: Although I’m no longer seeing a therapist, I saw two different people for a combined total of almost ten years. The insight, support and healing I gained from these experiences cannot be adequately explained in words. I am forever grateful to my cognitive behavioral therapist and to my more eclectic, Jungian analyst for the hours of listening, witnessing and support they provided.
A support team: A strong support team cannot be underestimated! This will look a bit different for everyone. It can include family, friends, therapists, religious groups, online forums etc… The list goes on. What’s important is that when dealing with mental illness, you get SUPPORT! You’re not alone. Reach out for help. It truly does make all the difference.
Sometimes it feels like it takes a village to keep my PTSD under control. And some days it really does. But the more I can manage my stress, the more likely I am to be able to handle potential triggers, and the happier I am overall.
Certain things like Bach flowers, meditation, yoga and exercise are non-negotiable daily “medicine” for my brain and soul. Other things I use more actuely, as needed. Together though, these therapies provide me with a powerful mental health and well being toolbox that I consider myself grateful and blessed to have.