Middleway Medicine Blog

Stress Reduction

by Ann Zimmerman, LAc.

Most of us can attest to the fact that stress is reaching epidemic proportions in modern society. Balancing work, family, health, money, etc. is a challenge that many of us feel ill equipped to face. Eighty percent of the doctor visits in our country are stress related. Our quality of life and health is largely determined by how we adapt and relate to daily stressors. Excessive stress not only takes its toll on our bodies, but strips the joy out of life and suppresses our creative instincts. Dissolving stress is certainly possible, but takes a commitment to making lifestyle choices that create balance throughout our lives. Here are a few ancient techniques for eliminating stress, increasing energy, and creating emotional balance. These are some of the most powerful tools we have for achieving optimal health and preventing future disease.

1) Meditation: Practiced for thousands of years in many Asian cultures, meditation has long been recognized as one of the most powerful tools we have for cultivating peace of mind and balance. Numerous studies have proven the incredibly positive effect that meditation has on stress reduction. There are literally hundreds of meditation techniques taught around the world. For beginners, the most helpful approach is to start with basic mindfulness techniques that develop both relaxation and alertness. Once a basic ground of awareness has been stabilized, then more advanced meditation practices can be undertaken. Meditation is a practice that helps us identify with stillness and silence. It cultivates intuition and surrender. It can deeply help just about anybody, but is truly a miraculous practice for reducing stress and anxiety.

2) Yoga: This ancient practice has also been utilized by millions of people throughout history. Yoga is typically considered a form of meditation that involves putting the body into a variety of poses in combination with deep breathing to induce mental clarity, increased energy, and physical strength and flexibility. The healing benefits of yoga have been repeatedly documented by a variety of clinical studies. There are many forms of yoga and it is best to experiment to determine which form feels the most suited for your needs. 

3) Acupuncture: One of the pillars of traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture has been practiced for at least 2,500 years. Perhaps one of the last truly holistic forms of healthcare remaining on the planet, acupuncture works with the Qi (life force ) of the body in order to induce a variety of therapeutic effects. The safety and efficacy of this practice are well documented which accounts for its incredible surge in popularity in the Western world. Acupuncture is considered one of the most powerful treatment options for stress reduction. 

4) Herbal medicine: There are a variety of both Chinese and Western herbal formulas that have been clinically proven to reduce stress and create emotional balance. Herbs are much less concentrated than pharmaceuticals, which is why they have far less side effects (but can still be as effective). If you are interested in using herbal medicine we recommend consulting an herbalist.  It can be quite overwhelming trying to self diagnose accurately in the supplement aisle.

5) Nutrition: Eating a diet high in antioxidants, essential fatty acids, and low glycemic carbohydrates can go a long way toward healing stress. The standard American diet (high in processed foods, saturated fat, sugar, and trans-fats) has been linked to anxiety, depression, and increased stress in numerous studies. Change your diet to an organic, whole foods approach and both your body and mind will reward you beyond measure. Poor adaptability to stress is often a sign that our brains are starving for nutrients that we aren’t getting from our standard American diets.

Making these lifestyle changes may not be easy in the initial phases. It is often helpful to seek out the support of a health care practitioner to guide you through these transitions. Once you start feeling the enormous payoff of making such changes, there truly is no turning back. Your stress will dissolve, your weight will decrease, and your energy will skyrocket, not to mention the preventative measures you are taking for heart health. Isn’t that enough to warrant making a few changes?

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Recycling and Awareness

by Clark Zimmerman, LAc.

Like most people, I was surprised to hear that some big changes were coming to recycling in the Rogue valley.   After years of taking most of our recyclable materials, China has decided that it no longer can fill the role of Americas recycling center.  It appears that they are awash in tons of our old packaging and containers.  What was once a marginally profitable industry has now begun to steadily lose money.  I must admit that surprise is not the only thing I experienced:  I found myself annoyed, then saddened, then ashamed and ultimately hopeful.  I was annoyed that a convenience that I had taken for granted was being taken away. I was saddened to think of all the extra plastic and paper would be going to the landfill.  I was ashamed to think how I had become increasingly unconscious of all of the unnecessary packaging that I had accepted as part of life.  Finally, I became hopeful that this was the sort of event that bring more awareness to an issue that needs more action and less complacency.

We live in a world that is increasingly inundated by plastic and other waste.  I read an article about the “great pacific garbage patch” last week that said there is a collection of plastic in the pacific ocean that is twice the size of Texas…That’s really BIG.  Unfortunately the problem is getting worse.  We have become so accustomed to buying things that are made of, packaged in, or disposed of in plastic.  Many of the places that were pristine just a decade or two ago, are all showing signs of plastic pollution.  The stuff just doesn’t break down very quickly.  There are many negative consequences to this plastic problem.  They pollute the water we drink, leaching synthetic estrogens in the water that have been linked to many different types cancer. They collects in nooks and crannies everyone, making beautiful places ugly.  They ensnare animals of all types, killing or maiming birds, turtles and insects.  They are making us all sick in so many ways.  So, what to do about it?

I believe that the best medicine is consciousness.  If we cultivate awareness of a problem it is easier to begin exploring and implementing real solutions.  In the case of plastics or other waste, we can all ask ourselves what is the benefit of buying something that has a real and lasting negative impact on the world around us?  Is the benefit only that we save a little money or have a little more convenience?  If so what would it take to choose another option.  For instance the idea of using reusable bags to take our groceries or other items home.  So instead of relying on paper or plastic that then has to be thrown away or recycled, you can use a sturdier option.  All it takes is getting in the habit and remembering to bring the bag along.  My wife and I leave a few bags in the car just in case we need to stop and pick up a few groceries. We also recently looked at all of the packaged goods we buy at the store and are looking at ways that we can reduce the amount of things we purchase in packages.  For instance, we love to drink kombucha, but the bottles collect quickly, so we started brewing our own again.  It takes a little time in the beginning, but it saves us time and the hassle in disposing/recycling all of those bottles.  It also saves us money. Speaking of money, the way we spend our money is another way to help change the amount of waste we create.  

When I take the time to consider all of the things I consume, I am always a little shocked to notice all of the choices that I make with my money.  Though it seems that we are unable to control so many things in our lives, we have control over what we buy.  Companies make choices about what they produce, how they package, and how they market.  Consumers make their preferences know to the producers with their purchases.  You can see this when you go shopping.  Twenty years ago if you went into the supermarket, you would have found few “green” cleaning products or gluten free items.  This has changed now as the customer has changed the way they shop.  We can all buy things from companies that value the health of  the environment as much as profit.  

We are all living parts of the web of life on planet earth.  The more awareness we bring to the impact our decisions have on our lives, and the lives of those around us, the better health we all get to enjoy for the present day and tomorrow as well.

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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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