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FEATURE - May 2018

The Integrated Self: Holistic Approaches to Mental Health


by Joanna Brown


In today’s fast-paced world, diagnoses of depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders are rapidly increasing. In a recent study, the Mental Health Association of America, estimated 1 in every 5 adults suffer from some type of mental health concerns which translates to more than 40 million Americans which continues to rise with population increase. Additionally, almost half of those who feel they could be suffering from depression or anxiety don’t see a doctor due to fear of stigma or discrimination that surrounds a diagnosis. 


Modern medicine has been playing a big role in attempting to manage symptoms, improve mood, and maintaining mental function of patients but how sustainable is it? Medical research and application have definitely increased in the field of mental health but many people who need the support find access, cost, and stigma to be major factors that inhibit its use. Many people who live with mental health concerns are starting to explore the use of solid, holistic alternatives. Such approaches insist on a balance between the body and mind, and in the long run, can improve overall well-being. Can you combine conventional and alternative approaches to support overall mental health? It is always recommended to consult with your mental health doctor or counsellor when combining modalities, while it is important to empower yourself with tools and strategies that supports your overall health and wellness. Here are 5 alternative strategies that can be useful in managing mental health:



The link between exercise and the release of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin in the brain is well documented. Exercise helps burn off stress and better equips us to manage it. Walking and Depression research is really intriguing, there was a study that came out of Scotland, with 20,000 adults that showed one single 20-minute walking session a week reduced stress and anxiety while boosting feeling of happiness and energy in all the participants. Walking not only releases our happy endorphins but walking outside in nature can settle the mind, distract us from those persistent worrying thoughts and forces you to pay attention to the sensations our body is feeling (lie the coolness of the breeze on your skin) that can both distract and calm anxious sensations. The practice of Yoga in managing one’s mood is also proving beneficial in the area of mental health with some promising emerging research. 


Talk Therapy

Individual talk therapy or group therapy has for a long time being considered a complementary effort of managing effects and symptoms of various conditions. Sitting in a session with others who can relate to similar struggles not only empowers one to appreciate the journey but also find strength in the journey that those before you have walked. This approach works for both short-term and long-term health conditions and has seen a lot of people get through trauma, addiction, grief and loss, and personality disorders. The first and second step for those going through such programs is to acknowledge how they are feeling and be open to sharing it with those who are offering assistance and support. 



We know that foods can impact how are body functions, such as pregnant women are advised on certain food combinations for a healthy baby but we don’t think about it supporting mental health as much as we should. Being mindful of the food you eat can make a significant difference in both the recovery and management of  one’s mental health. Exciting research exploring the “Gut-Brain Connection” indicates that certain foods can worsen symptoms such as feelings of anxiety, while some foods can lessen the intensity of others symptoms. Did you know that patients with schizophrenia and autism are supposed to reduce certain foods? Some research is showing that wheat and milk proteins have shown to increase the severity of attacks or manifestation of symptomology.  


Although a lot of research still has to be done on the use of traditional medicine to address mental health many nutritionists and herbalists are known to use foods and herbal remedies that are rich in B-complex vitamins to manage depression, hyperactivity and anxiety as a result of mental illness. Increasing feel-good foods that support our bodies ability to manage stress, such as Magnesium, known as the “anti-stress mineral”. Research has found those diagnoses with anxiety often test deficient in this mineral, the signs of magnesium deficiency itself include anxiety, insomnia, and muscle aches. Therefore increasing daily consumption of foods high in these vitamins such as leafy greens, nuts, and seeds can be beneficial.




Our mindset is a powerful tool in how we emotionally, mentally, and physically feel. Taking time for Self-Care and engaging in activities we know bring us joy can have beneficial impacts on or mood, sleep, and energy levels. What bring us joy is unique to each person. Some find meditation, affirmations, yoga, and journaling to be hugely beneficial. If these are new concepts to you, there are a tons of great free Apps that you can download on your phone which walks you through basic meditation and deep breathing exercises at home in a safe place, or if you are open find a local class to join. 


Art therapy

This form of therapy, also known as expressive therapy is founded on the general idea that each and every human being is born creative. Some people do well at drawing but expressive therapy can also involve dancing, singing, and music. Ever realized that some forms of music relax you and even help to relieve stress at an individual level? This is due to the improved blood flow pattern as a result of regulating body functions and the result can only be positive.


In supporting one’s mental health, we often need to take the time to explore what best suits our needs and often what served us once may need to change as our wellness needs evolve. When exploring alternative therapies remember that be kind to yourself as you learn more tools for your toolbox what will sustainable support your overall health and wellness long-term. 

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Joanna Brown, C.H.N.C, NNCP, BCR, R.P., N.W.L.C, C.C.W.S, & Raw Food Chef

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