The Current Mental health crisis

By Clark Zimmerman, LAc.

My mother suffers from mental illness.  For years I simply thought she was sensitive and more prone to the effects of stress than the average person, but after her mother died when I was in college, it became clear that the problem was more serious than any of us had known.  She locked herself in her bedroom for weeks at a time, refusing to eat anything other than sweets or to receive any sort of help from her concerned family.  She had been medicated for years for her tendencies towards anxiety and depression, but she largely hid her issues from her family and friends.  With hindsight as a guide, I now see that while some of her issues were genetic, many of her issues developed slowly and were directly related from her lifestyle and beliefs:  her poor diet, her obsession with gossip and bad news, her tendency to isolate herself. It makes me wonder if her condition would have turned out differently if we as a family and community would have done more to help.

We are in the middle of what many people are calling a mental health crisis.  

Funding has been reduced at the local, state and federal level, leaving many vulnerable people needing help that they are no longer able to receive.  This is leading to greater problems with addiction, overflowing jails, and more homeless on the streets.  It is a puzzle without a quick and easy fix, but one that cannot be ignored away.  

Clinically, we see that like any other health epidemic, mental health issues are not all the same.  They exist on a widely varied continuum, from mildly agitated and uncomfortable, to chemically and emotionally unstable and potentially dangerous.  When we treat mental health issues as an individual failing at best and as a crime at worst, then there is no real possibility of the issue coming to any real resolution.  If someone has a true biochemical imbalance, such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, pharmaceutical intervention may be the best way to address such an issue. This approach, in conjunction with supportive services such as therapy, free and safe housing, and community support, is necessary for a certain portion of the population.  It seems that as a society, we must decide to value human life and help those who are unable to help themselves.  Charities can fill some of this void, but it is also necessary for some government assistance to help the people that need it the most. 

Not all mental health issues are due to an inherent chemical imbalance, however.  Many issues are brought on by living a life that is out of balance.  These could be alleviated or improved simply by encouraging a healthier and more balanced lifestyle.  Proper diet, including healthy fats and proteins and plenty of fruits and veggies, can go a long way to promoting a more balanced and calm mental landscape.  Exercise is another important part of keeping the mind healthy and less effected by anxiety and depression.  Stillness practices, such as meditation, yoga, or breathing exercises can also help calm the mind and help avoid severe and lasting mood swings.  It is also worth noting, that since the introduction and proliferation of smart phones, depression and anxiety rates have steadily climbed.  They are now drawing direct correlations between the increased use of smart phones with depression and suicide rates.  Though it is seemingly so much easier to connect with people on social media or by texting, many studies are finding that more people feel more isolated and alone than any other time in recorded history.  

The combination of poor diet, lack of exercise, overthinking, and isolation all have their roles in the increasing incidences of mental health problems.  All of these issues are things that we have some control over.  So in addition to helping those with severe mental health issues with appropriate professional services, it is also important as families, friends, and communities to work towards living a life of moderation with positive and healthy choices.  If we see someone that is “going down the rabbit hole” of depression, anxiety, and deteriorating mental health, we can help to interrupt the cycle by reaching out and offering help in whatever areas they are struggling with.  After all, it takes an entire village to create healthy minds and communities. 

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The Healing power of Peace

by Clark Zimmerman, LAc.

As the holiday season fades and we all look towards the new year, some aspects of the holidays always seem to linger:  A couple of extra pounds, some fatigue and lethargy, and a warm heart from all the time with friends and family.  In my heart and mind I also feel the reverberation of the phrase “peace on earth and goodwill towards man.”  So often when we think of staying healthy we consider diet and exercise and moderation in our bad habits, but we may not consider the healing power of peace.  By definition, peace can mean two things: First it can mean freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility.  It can also mean freedom from or the cessation of war or violence.  Though the two definitions can stand alone, I believe that we cannot truly have one without the other.

I firmly believe that true peace begins within.  If a persons mental and emotional life is in disarray, than it is impossible for them to bring a peaceful attitude to the world around them.  We can see this by examining our response to stressful situations.  If we are tired or irritable, than the slightest thing can set us off.  A great place to observe this is in traffic.  Driving in traffic when feeling uncentered is certain to result in more anxiety, or anger and impatience.  Many of us are in such a state of inner turmoil.  Unable to still our ragged minds, we find fault with others as a sort of distraction from our own emotional and mental problems.  So we live in a sort of purgatory where we can’t seem to find either internal or external peace.  We can learn so much from studying the lives of great souls:  Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Martin Luther King  Jr., and Nelson Mandela are all people who have lived and taught the old adage that “an eye for an eye makes the world blind.”  They shared with the world the ideals that they personally strove to embody in each moment of their own lives.   In the case of each of these people, peace always started within.  The realization that no-one else can truly bring us peace or make us happy is the first step to developing our own peace of mind.  Since we cannot count on the external world to make our life easy or comfortable, we need to find a way to develop inner peace. 

Regardless of our circumstances, we can all work to develop peace of mind.  Some time tested methods of promoting inner peace include meditation, breathing exercises, mantra/chanting, prayer and positive affirmations.  By practicing these techniques we can improve our ability to stay calm within the face of stress and adversity.  

Any inner peace that we can cultivate is certain to effect world around us.  The world has always had a certain degree of unrest and turmoil.   There is a perception of an ever-present threat of violence, both on a global scale and in our local communities.   Humans find things to disagree on, and we are not always very skilled at disagreeing in a mature way.   Often times such events could be avoided.  If each of us works on quieting the mind, cultivating a less chaotic life, and learning ways to communicate in a non-violent and intentional way, we would be able to diminish a lot of the violence that occurs in our communities and the world in general.  If, when faced with conflict, we could each bring a greater sense of calm and patience and a genuine attempt to diffuse a troubling situation, I think we could pave the way for real peace in the world.  Though there are occasionally violent situations which require some kind of physical response, a lot of violent altercations result from an escalation of a minor disagreement.  Though peace is not always an easy thing to pursue in the short term, I believe that in the long run it is the only real path.  It is the eternal path of the sages and the saints.  It is an essential path for all of us in order to lead a healthy and happy life.  May peace and joy find you in the new year.

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Why Meditate?

By Ann Zimmerman, LAc.

Despite our best efforts, most things in life are beyond our control. If we depend on the the world outside of ourselves to comfort us from our personal sorrows, anxieties, fears, and boredom we will not live a very pleasant life.  Meditation is a tool that allows you to take responsibility for your own state of mind and to change how your mind effects your experience of life.

Commonly people think of meditation as something that you are either good at or not. Many people will say they can’t meditate because their mind is too active. However, meditation is not achieving a completely quiet mind, but the practice of noticing the active mind and learning to not take it seriously. The mind can be compared to the weather. The weather is always changing and we do not expect it to stay the same.  Meditation can teach you to watch your mind like you do the changing weather patterns.  Your mind will continue to change from thought to thought, but you can practice staying unaffected by its weather. 

The practice of watching the mind is not unfamiliar to any of us.  For example…. you have the thought while you are working that you wish you were outside hiking.  Generally there will be a feeling of longing for that hike and wishing you could do it right now. Then the thought passes and you move onto the next thought.  The thought of hiking and not being able to do it did does not have to ruin your work day….it simply came up and left, just like the clouds passing.  Meditation helps give us breathing room in our mind. It is a kind of climate control for keeping your well being running at 75 degrees, allowing for space between the thoughts so you do not lose yourself in one of the passing clouds and spend the day or years in a stuck thought pattern.

Meditation practices are techniques that help you develop concentration, clarity, emotional positivity, and a calmer vision of the nature of life.  Just as we do not expect to be in great physical shape without regular exercise, we cannot expect to have a quieter mind if we do not meditate.  Meditation is an essential practice to help you manage the ups and downs of life.  During the easier times, we will be able to enjoy more of the peace and gratitude of life and during the more challenging times, meditation allows you to breathe deeper into the suffering without losing yourself into a unpleasant thought pattern.

Meditation offers many health benefits and research shows it can be helpful for the following conditions;

• Anxiety

• Asthma

• Cancer

• Chronic pain

• Depression

• Heart disease

• High blood pressure

• Irritable bowel syndrome

• Sleep problems

• Tension headaches

Most meditation techniques include focusing your attention and relaxing your breath and body. There are many different meditation practices. Finding the one that you enjoy and are able to be consistent with is the goal.  Commonly practiced forms of meditation include: guided imagery, sitting meditation, yoga, dancing, qigong, and tai-chi.

I have personally found meditation to be one of the most important things in my life.  I feel like having a regular meditation practice allows me to be a more resilient human. It gives me an anchor in the storminess of world events, personal growth, and relationships, allowing me to keep an open-heart while living in uneasy times.

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