The world has been through a lot and it doesn’t seem to be fully letting up anytime soon.
This is why psychiatrists have been sounding the alarm for trouble ahead. It is also why I’ve been consistently advocating to be aware and mindful of mental health as much as physical health at this point in time.
In past articles, I shared holistic, naturopathic medicine solutions, natural remedies, and essential oils that can be used to assist with calming the mind-body and supporting physical wellness as society continues to navigate through uncertainty and trepidation. By soothing emotions, our brain can better focus, learn, pay attention, and more easily transition.
I am also a big proponent of mindset as medicine and the power of belief to aid transformation in both psychological and physiological balance. Yet, for those with a mental health diagnosis, living in ambiguous times can be especially problematic. Being “positive” and igniting the power of the mind to heal can produce profound benefits when incorporated into a personalized treatment plan, but it is not a sole effective strategy to treat a psychiatric illness.
Those with mental health disorders have different and distinct brain processing pathways, anatomical features, and neuroimaging patterns. In these cases, mindset and natural therapeutics need to be integrated into conventional therapy methods that assist with mental and emotional processing, reframing, and brain re-patterning.
Mental health disorders are often stigmatized, as a “stuck brain” is much harder to understand than a fractured bone or a diagnosis of a chronic illness. However, if one considers that mental health is the sum of many different brain health factors and cognitive processing differences, (source, source, source, source, source, source) it may lead to less bias and break down barriers to receiving treatment.
In this post, I’m going to review how the aftereffects of trauma can impact long-term physical and mental health. Then, I will introduce the theory on how an “intolerance to uncertainty” is creating havoc on the mental health of the youth and how cognitive behavioral therapy may be supportive. This concept can be applicable to all ages.
Finally, in a future post, I hope to follow up on how a new hope (see the pun) is on the horizon and connect how this, sprinkled in with faith and a dash of heart coherence, can be used to create more comfort with uncertainty.
The Recycling of Trauma
Throughout history, people have had to cope and adjust to shocking world events; however, what many may not realize is that the aftermath of the relentless overwhelm can be just as challenging. Chronic stress is vastly different than an anxiety disorder, but it can lead to anxiety and/or other psychiatric disorders through its consistent rewiring of brain pathways and the resulting biochemical effects.
Traumatic events predispose an individual to this vulnerability and repeated triggers can lead to long-term physical and psychological effects. According to a 2010 article in World Psychiatry:
The gradual emergence of symptoms following exposure to traumatic events has presented a major conceptual challenge to psychiatry. The mechanism that causes the progressive escalation of symptoms with the passage of time leading to delayed onset post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves the process of sensitization and kindling. The development of traumatic memories at the time of stress exposure represents a major vulnerability through repeated environmental triggering of the increasing dysregulation of an individual’s neurobiology. An increasing body of evidence demonstrates how the increased allostatic load associated with PTSD is associated with a significant body of physical morbidity in the form of chronic musculoskeletal pain, hypertension, hyperlipidaemia, obesity and cardiovascular disease. This increasing body of literature suggests that the effects of traumatic stress need to be considered as a major environmental challenge that places individual’s physical and psychological health equally at risk. This broader perspective has important implications for developing treatments that address the underlying dysregulation of cortical arousal and neurohormonal abnormalities following exposure to traumatic stress.
According to the same article:
Hence, in a significant number of individuals, PTSD is a disorder that is not initially manifest in the aftermath of the trauma. Rather, there is a progressive escalation of distress or a later emergence of symptoms, particularly in military and emergency service personnel. A related construct is delayed onset PTSD.
This may be especially relevant for us and our future health and psychiatric care, which are both already overburdened. These past few years’ worldwide events have taken a heavy toll on society’s mental health, especially our children’s. In fact, on October 19, 2021, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) and the Children’s Hospital Association (CHA) declared a national state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health and are calling on policymakers to join them in addressing this urgent matter.
Being Young and Dealing with the Uncertain World
Anxiety in children may go unnoticed or misinterpreted as solely a physical issue. If only the presenting symptoms are treated and a child’s mental health is ignored, additional detrimental emotional and health effects can ensue in the long-term. According to a recent publication in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings:
Although care providers are often unfamiliar with health-related anxieties in young patients, these worries are nonetheless relatively common (Villadsen et al., 2017; Haig-Ferguson et al., 2020). Health-related anxieties involve various physiological, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms (Taylor & Asmundson, 2004; Asmundson et al., 2010; Haig-Ferguson et al., 2020; Rask et al., 2020). The condition occurs when individuals become preoccupied and excessively concerned with benign bodily sensations or physical changes (i.e., coughing, aching muscles) by interpreting them as signs of serious illness (Taylor & Asmundson, 2004; Asmundson et al., 2010). The distorted perception of bodily cues leads to worry and emotional distress as well as various safety-seeking behaviors including social withdrawal, panic purchasing, and high healthcare utilization. Compulsive behaviors such as repetitive cleaning and handwashing can worsen amid the pandemic due to the risk of contracting the virus.
Young patients diagnosed with medical conditions repeatedly experience multiple health-related worries. More specifically, studies show elevated anxiety levels in pediatric populations diagnosed with diabetes (Ducat et al., 2014), functional abdominal pain (Shelby et al., 2013), coronary heart disease (Oliver et al., 2020), and asthma (Pateraki et al., 2018). Therefore, it seems reasonable to suspect that children with comorbid mental health disorders and medical conditions are more at risk for developing health-related anxieties during a pandemic due to contamination fears and worries about exacerbating their illnesses.
The authors graphically illustrate in Fig. 1 of their article how the pandemic is a stressful trigger that feeds IU (intolerance to uncertainty) and can lead to various anxiety disorders. IU and worry, the authors argue, is linked to multiple anxiety disorders such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). They state:
Heightened IU then propels catastrophizing, magnification of threat, hypervigilance, rumination, worry, reassurance-seeking/checking, fears of loss/lack of control, and avoidance. In particular, avoidance, reassurance-seeking, and checking reflect typical safety-seeking behaviors common to health-related anxieties as well as other disorders. Further, many of these behaviors are hallmark symptoms of subthreshold or clinical disorders such as GAD and SAD. Finally, IU acts as both a causal factor by increasing vulnerability to anxiety spectrum symptoms and a maintaining factor by being negatively reinforced via various safety-seeking behaviors (e.g., checking or avoidance).
The authors suggest the use of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), which includes psychoeducation, cognitive restructuring procedures, and exposure/behavioral experiments, as appropriate treatments to help “young patients attain a greater sense of control and mastery.” This link provides examples of the CBT strategies and interventions discussed for the youth.
As a naturopathic doctor, I feel that a combination of both CBT, conventional treatments, and natural remedies can be supportive in assisting with IU and helping to create new neural pathways through neuroplasticity, a “process that involves adaptive structural and functional changes to the brain.” There are various naturopathic and functional medicine modalities that have been shown to assist with cognitive repatterning and brain optimization. I listed several here.
I also feel that using essential oils for emotional health is important. Along with the psychological effects, our biochemistry, neurological signaling, brain patterning, and physiology are also impacted by essential oils. They combine perfectly with the holistic mental health support that naturopathic and integrative doctors can provide.
In the next article, I will go into more detail on how I integrate my naturopathic methods to support my clients with mental health and emotional imbalances. This often includes that they work with someone skilled in CBT or other psychiatric modalities that support one in coping with trauma.
Please share this message with those that are struggling and post your experiences in the comments so that we can reach more people.
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.