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7 Natural Ways to Heal Stress

Stresshacker Recommends In my recent post I discussed how, “With so many (stress management programs) to choose from, it has become just about impossible to review them in depth and determine which stress management programs actually help people, in what ways, and how well.” Part of the answer may come from this week’s Stresshacker Recommended book selection. French physician, neuroscientist and author David Servan-Schreiber who is a clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, a lecturer in the Faculty of Medicine of Lyon University, and the co-founder and then director of the Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has written The Instinct to Heal: Curing Stress, Anxiety, and Depression Without Drugs and Without Talk Therapy, published by Rodale Press.

41gRvdz0izL._SL160_ The seven natural treatment approaches described in this book make use of the mind and the brain’s own healing mechanisms for recovering from depression, anxiety, and stress. Dr. Servan-Schreiber has selected only those stress management methods that have received enough scientific attention to make him comfortable in using them with patients and in recommending them to his colleagues.

The methods presented are: eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (see Stresshacker’s post on EMDR), heart rate coherence training, synchronization of chronobiological rhythms with artificial dawn (which should replace the alarm clock), acupuncture, nutrition, exercise, emotional communication, and cultivating your connection to something larger than yourself.

Servan-Schreiber, D. (2004). The Instinct to Heal: Curing Depression, Anxiety and Stress Without Drugs and Without Talk Therapy. ISBN-10: 1594861587 ASIN: B000GYI1RO

Research News: PTSD, Attachment and Healing

Leutze_1851_WashCrossDelaware The number of suicides reported by the Army has risen to the highest level since record-keeping began three decades ago. Last year, there were 192 among active-duty soldiers and soldiers on inactive reserve status, twice as many as in 2003, when the war began. (Five more suspected suicides are still being investigated.) This year’s figure is likely to be even higher: from January to mid-July, 129 suicides were confirmed or suspected, more than the number of American soldiers who died in combat during the same period. The New York Times

What Is PTSD?

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after the trauma of experiencing or witnessing  threatened or actual death or serious injury, or other serious threat to the physical integrity of self or others, such as assault. This type of trauma is usually accompanied by intense fear, helplessness, or horror at the time of the event. Symptoms of reliving the trauma and avoiding any reminder of it often create significant distress and negatively affect the individual’s  interpersonal and occupational functioning. In the acute phase, PTSD symptoms can last up to three months after the event. When the symptoms persist longer, PTSD is said to be chronic. Often, symptoms do not begin immediately and they can be delayed for six months or more after the event. When inadequately treated, PTSD can have fatal consequences such as homicide and suicide.

Who Is Affected?

It is estimated[i] that 50%–90% of all people are exposed to at least one serious traumatic event during their lifetimes. However, only about 6%-8% develop PTSD and a third of those suffer a severe form of the condition.

What Are the Causes?

The mechanism by which some individuals are vulnerable to PTSD and not others has been variously hypothesized. The most prominent theories are:

  1. The biological model
    Information about external stimuli and their assessment is processed by the amygdala. Traumatic stressors produce an emotional reaction of fight, flight or freeze and significant increases in stress hormones. The hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex mediate the final response of the individual in trying to cope with the traumatic event. This theory suggests that posttraumatic stress disorder occurs when there is a failure to regulate the activity of the amygdala, which results in hyper-reactivity to threat (what is often referred to as the amygdala hijack).
  2. The early childhood experiences model
    Most researchers have found that childhood trauma, chronic adversity, and family stressors increase the risk for PTSD in adulthood.
  3. The traumatic memory model 
    A theory that has gained prominence in recent years, it distinguishes between memories that are easily recalled and are associated with emotions related to the trauma and repressed memories that cannot be deliberately accessed and are associated with typical PTSD symptoms such as nightmares and flashbacks.
How Is It Treated?

Most treatments for PTSD consist of techniques that expose the individuals to imagined re-experiencing of the trauma under safe therapeutic conditions, an approach that dates back to the treatment of World War II veterans. This type of treatment includes extensive emotional processing and narrative reconstruction of traumatic events in psychotherapy session, and may also include daily home review of audiotaped sessions.

Other efficacious treatments are cognitive behavioral psychotherapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). These treatments also induce patients to consciously review (and thus reprocess) painful details of their traumatic experience in a therapeutically safe environment.

PTSD and Childhood Attachment

A recent study[ii] by Columbia and Cornell researchers suggests that childhood attachment problems may play a crucial role in the development of adult PTSD and that exposure treatment may not be the sole important treatment mechanism.

According to attachment theory, secure and insecure childhood attachment to the primary caregiver (most often the mother) has important consequences for adult functioning and psychopathology. The theory, developed by British psychologist, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst John Bolwby, suggested that the innate human drive to form attachments that elicit protective, caretaking behaviors from adults is a crucial aspect of healthy infant development. When the caregivers are available and responsive, the infant develops a secure attachment “base” that facilitates the child’s exploration of the world and relationships. When the caregivers are absent or uncaring, an insecure attachment style results, with consequences for adult self-esteem, perceived safety and interpersonal functioning.
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Stresshack #6: EMDR Yourself

The technique of bilateral brain stimulation has an immediate effect on the mood, acting as a powerful and almost instantaneous relaxant.

It is easy to do on yourself. Whenever bothered by distressing thoughts that do not seem to go away, find a quiet spot and move your eyes alternatively from the leftmost spot of your field of vision to the rightmost, for about 20 cycles and then pause. Repeat the sequence for 6 or seven times and see if anything happens to your thought patterns. You may be quite amazed at the resulting change in your mood.

How Does It Work?

One day in the early 90’s, Dr. Francine Shapiro took a walk in the woods while trying to deal with distressing thoughts that did not seem to go away. Quite casually, she started to move her eyes alternatively to the far left and to the far right of her field of vision, without moving her head. She soon realized that her mood was changing and she decided on a hunch to increase the speed at which she was moving her eyes from side to side. Within a relatively short time, her emotional state had changed enough for her to know that she was onto something. That something turned out to be eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, EMDR. Read more