There continues to be a concerning lack of implementation of effective and agreed-upon mental health interventions to help society cope with the excessive stress, challenges, turmoil, and trauma of 2020. (R) Most disturbing, is that the young are getting exceptionally hard hit (R, R). New evidence is reporting that many children are now exhibiting signs of PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). This syndrome is typically associated with experiencing intense adverse events such as wars, abuse, and natural disasters.
Previously, I discussed how the strain on the mind from chronic stress leads to downstream physical and mental health effects. Furthermore, when the brain is constantly being triggered by stressful events, rational, productive response patterns from efficient cognitive processing are overridden by the survival instincts. As a result, the body and mind are reactive, rather than receptive. When the brain is still developing, the effects can be even more dramatic.
In a recent article, “The Stressed Brain- A Clinician’s Perspective,” the author uses the stress vulnerability model to explore this effect on our executive functioning in more detail: (bold emphasis mine)
These brain areas work in a collaborative manner when something is perceived as stressful (i.e., threatening) or even meaningful. This circuitry involves the amygdala and hippocampus – i.e., limbic brain structures – “that process experiences by interfacing with lower vegetative brain areas (such as the hypothalamus and brainstem) and higher cortical areas, particularly the prefrontal cortex” (p.434).11 So there are top-down mechanisms whereby the PFC attempts to exert some measure of control over limbic brain structures, and there are bottom-up mechanisms whereby limbic brain structures exert some measure of control over the PFC. Of particular importance is that the projections from the amygdala to the PFC are greater than those projections coming from the PFC to the amygdala.12 As a result, our emotions can sometimes take over and control behavior because our amygdala, when triggered by fear, exerts more influence over how the PFC operates.12 As one well respected researcher noted, “this hostile takeover of consciousness by emotion” happens because emotions “monopolize consciousness, at least in the domain of fear, when the amygdala comes to dominate working memory” (p.226).13
All of this information has relevance to the pathways described earlier because when something is deemed chronically stressful by context-driven emotional experience, for which there was an initial strong reaction by the amygdala, the hippocampus undergoes specific neuroplastic changes that result in diminished coupling with the PFC. This results in increased stress-vulnerability to life experiences and consequently less top-down control.15 Stated another way, diminished hippocampal functionality impairs the PFC’s inhibitory control over the amygdala.16 Diminished hippocampal functionality from chronic stress will further undermine an “individual’s ability to process information in new situations and to make decisions about how to deal with new challenges or stressors” (p.435).11(source)
Translation: Long-term, chronic stress literally rewires the brain by downregulating neural pathways to the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and enhancing connections to the limbic, emotional brain (amygdala and hippocampus). This can change one’s ability to cope effectively and result in physical, mental, and relationship disorders. For those already with preexisting psychiatric conditions, the impact can be more profound.
According to the article cited, common stressors that can cause these changes include: “prenatal and postnatal early life experiences; social isolation, loneliness, and socioeconomic status; personality factors; medical diseases; and psychiatric illness (mental disorders).” (source) Today, many are being bombarded by a combination of these factors at a higher intensity, and this is compounded by the overwhelming uncertainty of the world.
For these reasons, I am determined to continue to advocate for self-care and being mindful of mental health. I believe that naturopathic doctors (NDs) can offer their expertise in personalized and mind-body medicine to assist with alleviating the intense emotional suffering and psychological health symptoms that are a result of current events. This approach can be combined with conventional psychiatry in order to enhance positive outcomes.*
I just launched a two-part video series on how to regain emotional and hormonal harmony with naturopathic medicine and essential oils. You can access it here. You are also welcome to explore the other self-care resources below.
Naturopathic Doctors for Personalized, Integrative Mind and Body Support
Recently my article, Mind-Body Support with Naturopathic Medicine, was published on Natural Path. In it, I dive deeper into the topic of NDs as agents of change for holistic mental health care.
In the excerpt below, I provide an example of how naturopathic doctors can empower individuals in the care of their body and mind. I highlight how NDs view the therapeutic relationship is one of the most important aspects of healing. I also explore how they can assist their clients with forming a peaceful relationship with food, while offering personalized nutrition, in a gentle way:
A naturopathic doctor who also incorporates Health at Every Size and intuitive eating would help their clients incorporate brain foods that may be missing from their diet, while avoiding creating more stress and unnecessary food and body shame. Physicians who listen, understand the harms of stigma, and who incorporate diversity, can use food as a healing tool; whereas it can be utilized in a harmful way based on how it is presented in diet-culture.
Honoring of the body’s innate ability to heal and the physician’s role in empowering and educating the patient in the care and treatment of their body, mind, and soul is most important for achieving wellness goals. The modality chosen is third, as there are many means to get to the same objective.
Other topics include:
- The sad state of the world
- Naturopathic doctors as mind-body support experts
- Why the therapeutic relationship is one of the most important aspects for healing
- Naturopathic modalities used for supporting brain and emotional health, including utilizing nourishing foods and nutrients without promoting stigma or orthorexia
- Naturopathic psychiatry as the next specialty in holistic mental health care
You can access the full article here.
To get a better idea of how naturopathic doctors are educated, and their in-depth knowledge of holistic and mind-body health, please read my article review of the Annual Association for Naturopathic Physician’s conference on NDNR.
*Note: If you are experiencing suicidal ideation or need urgent attention, it is important to consult with a licensed mental health provider. You can find information at the end of this article.
Mental Health Resources
*If you are experiencing a mental health crisis and/or are suicidal, please seek professional mental health support:
- The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (U.S.) — Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor
- Lifeline Crisis Chat — Chat online with a specialist who can provide emotional support, crisis intervention and suicide prevention services at www.crisischat.org
Other Helpful Resources
Below are some of the highlights of the many free resources on this website:
- Four Essential Oils Blends for Supporting the Mind-Body and Easing Tension
- VIDEO: How Your Brain and Body Suffer with Too Much Stress & Naturopathic Medicine Tips for Calming the Mind and Relieving Overwhelm
- Video Recap: Essential Oils to Ease the Stress & Anxiety of Back to School
- The Importance of Fun, Music, & Play for Mental Health
- Video Recap: Essential Oils for Brain and Mental Health & Soothing Stress
- 10 Natural Ways to Relieve Stress and Calm the Mind-Body During Trying Times
- Video: A Naturopathic Doctor’s Approach to Thyroid Health Using Essential Oils: Video Recap & Additional Resources
Additional Supportive Techniques & Tools
- The Tapping Solution, A Technique to Lower Cortisol and Reduce Stress- Podcast interview by Dr. Kara Fitzgerald with Nick Ortner.
- Stress management tips and resources
Disclaimer: This material is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any illness. You should check with your doctor regarding implementing any new strategies into your wellness regime. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. (Affiliation link.)
According to experts and the World Health Organization (WHO), there is no approved standard of care treatment, cure, or preventative for COVID-19. Supportive measures and containment are in full force as a result. Please see the CDC website and your state’s website for more information and updates. They also state when to contact your physician related to symptoms and travel history, exposures. Please read my more detailed article on this subject here.
This information is applicable ONLY for therapeutic quality essential oils. This information DOES NOT apply to essential oils that have not been tested for purity and standardized constituents. There is no quality control in the United States, and oils labeled as “100% pure” need only to contain 5% of the actual oil. The rest of the bottle can be filled with fillers and sometimes toxic ingredients that can irritate the skin. The studies are not based solely on a specific brand of an essential oil, unless stated. Please read the full study for more information.
Thanks Pixabay and Canva.