All posts in mental health

From my TCM nutrition book: Treating anxiety with food

treating anxiety naturally with food Vancouver nutritionStill working on it…my TCM nutrition book. One whole section of it will contain food suggestions for various health conditions. Because so many suffer from anxiety, I thought that would be a good section to share with all of you now.

Treating anxiety with food

Though there are several different types of anxiety—including panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and phobias—and a wide range in severity of anxiety symptoms, the general symptoms include feeling panicked or uneasy, palpitations, shortness of breath, dry mouth, cold or sweaty hands or feet, muscle tension, dizziness, nausea, and problems sleeping.

TCM usually looks to the Water and Earth elements when addressing anxiety, as it is a combination of fear and worry. The Water element is related to the Kidneys and adrenal glands that pump out stress hormones. Some salty flavoured foods address this issue. The Earth element is fed by whole sweet foods, including complex carbohydrates. Unrefined complex carbohydrates maximize the presence of L-tryptophan in the brain which aids in the formation of the neurotransmitter serotonin.  Serotonin is required for calming the mind and promoting sound sleep.  L-tryptophan is found in most foods, but other amino acids in high-protein foods compete with its use in the formation of serotonin, so carbohydrates are your best source.

Of course you shouldn’t go overboard on the salty or sweet foods, and you may notice you crave these foods when you’re stressed, anxious, or depressed. But, look to find a healthy balance of whole foods that include these flavours.

Whole grains fit this category, as they are rich in B vitamins. They also contain some essential fatty acids, like the omega-3s you’ve probably heard about time and again as a thing you should make sure you eat. When the germ and bran of a grain is kept, you get these nutrients, and the bitter flavour of the whole grain supports the TCM Heart, helping to calm the mind. The interesting thing is that TCM and Ayurveda both use whole grains like wheat and barley (both gluten grains) as herbs and foods to help calm the mind and even improve digestion. That is, if your digestive system is not completely out of balance.

Foods rich in essential fatty acids and magnesium are also key to addressing anxiety. Essential fatty acids help improve brain function. Magnesium has been called “the original chill pill,” as it can help decrease an overactive stress response through a number of hormonal and brain mechanisms.

Put it all together, and these are foods that can help treat and decrease your anxiety.

  • Avocado
  • Chamomile tea is calming and ideal for the evening
  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, mustard greens
  • Green tea contains L-theanine which helps release chemicals in the brain that promote a feeling of alertness with calmness during the day
  • Magnesium-rich foods, including beans (black, kidney, lima, navy, pinto, white, etc.), halibut, tuna, artichoke, dates, figs, barley, oat bran, brown rice, almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds, chickpeas, lentils, broccoli, beet greens, okra, parsnips, peas, pumpkin, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes
  • Omega-3 essential fatty acid foods, including wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, and herring; also chia seeds, flax seeds (ground), and walnuts
  • Seaweeds such as dulse, kelp, kombu, nori, wakame

Foods that are best avoided or limited include stimulants like caffeine-containing food and beverages and processed or concentrated sugary foods.

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The Unicorn: #1 requested acupuncture point

vancouver acupuncture unicorn calm stressI don’t get the Starbucks Unicorn drink craze. It doesn’t look edible, it’s full of junk, and it contains a whopping 59g of sugar! It’s not just the calories. That’s almost 15 tsp of sugar. Inflammatory sugar. 

I get that it’s only available for a short time and people just want to try it because others are trying it. I’m curious too. But I know that that drink, for me, is a recipe for a headache–even if I only have a portion of it. So, instead I propose a new unicorn craze. I’d love to start an #acupunctureunicorn trend!

Ok, so the acupuncture point is not called The Unicorn. But I do nickname it the “#1 requested acupuncture point” and the “aren’t you going to do that point” point. The acupuncture point name is actually Yintang, and the benefits are many!

The main reason people request that point from me? Because it helps calm our overactive minds. We want to be mindful, but instead we find we’re “mind full.” Who amongst us couldn’t use a bit more calm? Unicorn acupuncture to the rescue.

What about sleep? Are you able to relax well and enjoy a deep, restful sleep? No? Then perhaps you could use some “acupuncture unicorn.”

Stuffy or runny nose? Allergic rhinitis? Congested sinuses? Become an acupuncture unicorn.

Headache? Perhaps it’s because you had a Starbucks unicorn drink? Or maybe it could be from eye strain, sinus congestion, stress, or other. Some unicorn acupuncture can help with that too.

Are you in? Are you ready to make a new unicorn craze–a healthy one? Take a picture of you getting acupuncture at Yintang and share it with the hashtag #acupunctureunicorn ! That would be a trend worth sharing.

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Cheat Your Way Into Meditation with Acupuncture

meditation with acupuncture“I don’t think I was asleep, but I don’t feel like I was ‘here’,” he said when I came back into the treatment room. This is a common theme for people getting acupuncture—though they do often sleep too. So, “where” was he? In a meditative zone.

That’s right. You can cheat your way into meditation with acupuncture! In fact, studies using a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine to measure the activity level of different areas of the brain during acupuncture have found that “acupuncture needle manipulation modulates the activity of the limbic system and subcortical structures.” What does that mean, you ask?

These areas contain structures that help you experience and respond to emotions and potential threats, attention, memory, and more. One of these areas—the amygdala—triggers feelings of fear, anxiety, and stress. Studies on meditation show a decrease in brain cell volume in this structure after just a couple of months of regular meditation. A common description by people after both acupuncture and meditation is that they feel calmer and more relaxed.

I know many of you say that you can’t meditate. I get it. It can be difficult. But meditation, like everything, takes practice. Here are some tips on meditation.

Start Small

I made a commitment to just one minute daily. That’s a stupid small number, but I chose it because it would be ridiculous for me to say I don’t have time. Sixty seconds is simple. I always choose more than one minute, but I know that I can still be successful with just that tiny bit of time.

Find Mindfulness in the Mundane

One of my patients gave me a copy of an article about practicing mindfulness while peeling a mandarin orange. This small task takes two hands and involves the sensations of sight, touch, smell, and eventually—once you’ve unpeeled it—taste. Even the citrus smell itself is mood lifting aromatherapy.

You can practice mindfulness while brushing your teeth, walking your dog, or even just waiting for the bus. It’s true–you can put down your phone and just be.

Tune Out to Tune In

Have you ever tried a float? No, not a root beer float. What I mean is the now popular sensory deprivation float tanks. Because it’s completely dark, you wear earplugs, and you are floating in body temperature water, you get to experience nothing. When I’ve done it, I’ve sometimes felt my mind firing up, trying to make up for the lack of other sensory stimulus. But eventually, my mind got bored and I “disappeared.” One time I even felt very clearly like I was floating in space, tiny in a vast void. It was liberating.

Practice Daily

The key to the benefits of meditation is regular practice. Once a week for 20 minutes is not as good as 5 minutes every day. Consistency, habits, routines–that’s what prevails.

Find Meditation with Acupuncture

Another of my patients pays specific attention to how she feels when she gets acupuncture. She focuses on the sensations, pays mind to where and how she feels relaxed, and then makes sure to store that in her body memory so she can recall it later. She told me that she can even “experience acupuncture” when she’s sitting on a busy bus.

Our minds are designed to more easily recall the things we pay attention to. Perhaps you are like me, thinking you don’t have a good memory for names. But what happens when you are introduced?  When your new friend told you their name, were you really listening or were you thinking about what you were going to respond? Problems with memory are often actually problems of attention.

So, the next time you get acupuncture, pay attention to how it feels to relax when I leave the room. Pay attention to that feeling of calm as you get off the table. Then practice recalling those sensations later on. ‘Cause, guess what?

Acupuncture can help you cheat your way into meditation.

 

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Courage to Come Back Award Winner Answers My Questions

Courage to come back inspiration pain management chronic illnessPain, fatigue, depression, anxiety, disabilities, injuries, and chronic illness. Every day I work with people who are suffering. And the question that sometimes comes up is, “Will I get better?”

I believe that our bodies are designed to heal, so yes, I do reply that things will get better. Does that mean 100%? Sometimes, against all odds, yes. Sometimes not 100%, but better.

Courage to Come Back

I was recently honoured to get to watch someone I know well received a prestigious award, the Courage to Come Back Award. Tom is a man who doesn’t do things for awards or accolades. In fact, in this video, you can see that he says he doesn’t know if he was a good social worker (I’m sure he was!), but that he felt he could do his best to do little things to help others. 
 

He has many major health challenges—legally blind, kidney transplant (twice), chronic pain, and more—but despite them, is one of the more active people I know. He curls, does yoga, and walks everywhere. He travels, he volunteers, he writes articles, he advocates for people in need, and his home is a regular gathering place for parties. 

So, what does Tom have to say about overcoming and dealing with challenges? I interviewed him for his perspective a week after receiving the Courage to Come Back Award.

Support of others

Tom was born with severe vision problems. Nearly blind, he could see the blackboard at school, but couldn’t see the words on it. He asked his teachers to read aloud what they wrote on the board. In university, his friends read his textbooks to him.

So, it’s no surprise that when I asked Tom to name some of the things that have helped him through his life, despite his health challenges, he said that support is the most important. Find people you trust, respect, and can rely upon. And know that it’s a two-way street, so be trustworthy, respectful, and reliable to them.

But then I asked him how to ask for help. Because sometimes it’s hard to ask. He said that his experience is that most people want to help. And that when people care for you, they don’t want to worry about you. It’s more of an impediment to worry than to be able to help. And sometimes people don’t simply offer to help without you asking because they don’t want to intrude.

Coping management

Sometimes pain continues. Sometimes things don’t get better or more challenges arise. So, how do you manage? What do you do?

Tom’s suggestions? “Pain is something you may not always be able to get rid of, but you can work on reducing it. Your body and mind can adjust to pain. If you can just get better bit by bit, even chronic pain can feel less painful. And remember, it usually took a long time to get to where you are now, so it takes effort, commitment, conviction, and hope to make changes for the better.”

Though this phrase may not work for all, Tom remembers with a chuckle, a time that he was really struggling and a friend said to him, “It’s better to be above ground than below.” For him, that was motivation to push forward.

Positivity

If you get to meet Tom, you’ll find out he has a great sense of humour. He says he’s always perceived things in a “zany way,” and that has helped.

One of the main messages he’d like to share is that it takes courage. It’s no surprise that the award is called Courage to Come Back. “Everyone suffers some type of adversity, struggles in their life. And the most important thing is to take steps forward, one at a time, and keep trying. Don’t give up. Stay positive, even when it’s hard.”

What you can do to help someone in need

What if you’re on the other side of the equation? You may know someone with chronic health issues, and perhaps you want to help, but you don’t want to mistakenly offend. Tom told me that a simple question to ask is, “Can I help?” That way a person can say yes or no to assistance.

Also, try to avoid saying, “you should…” as that can come across as overbearing. But, Tom says that it’s important for all of us to remember not to take things too personally. Most of us are well-meaning and are just trying to help.

Additionally, sometimes it’s better to just listen instead of offering soothing words, suggestions, or a pep talk. “Silence is very important. It shows you are listening and thinking,” Tom says.

And, when you do talk, Tom told me of advice he received from one of his mentors, “It’s not always what you say, but how you say it.”

One more quote

One more bit from Tom, “Healing is not a sprint; it’s a marathon.” And he would know. Tom has been beating the odds for more than 70 years.

For more about the winners of the Courage to Come Back Award, check out their site here.

 

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5 Healthy things to do in Vancouver on Bonus Day

This is a leap year, so February 29th is kind of like a bonus day. 

Do you often think that you don’t have enough time to do the things you need to do or want to do? Well, this year you have an extra 24 hours, so what will you do? Here are some healthy things to do in Vancouver on “bonus day” (or any day, if today’s already booked up).

5 Healthy Things to Do in Vancouver 

healthy things to do in Vancouver acupunctureTake a hike. Sometimes when we’re stressed to the point of wanting to tell someone to “take a hike,” the best thing we can do is take our own advice and take that hike ourselves. Of course Vancouver is close to many wonderful hikes, including those on Cypress, Seymour, and Grouse mountains. If those seem too challenging or you just don’t have the time for those ones, there are several more local (and flatter) walking options, including of course the Stanley Park seawall, Pacific Spirit Park, Lighthouse Park, Burnaby Mountain trails, and one of my fave nearby ones, the False Creek seawall. Some of those are also great cycling options.

Shop for healthy ingredients. If you want to be healthy–and really, why wouldn’t you want that–then you’ll need to make some healthy food choices. First, you’ll need to figure out what you want to make. For some healthy recipes, check out my blog (search “recipe” when you go to my blog) or recipe page, my chef friend’s blog Cooking Journeys, web search what type of nutritious food you’d like to make, or dig out your recipe books or magazines. Right now I love my slow cooker. Doesn’t take too long to make delicious food, and I usually have lots of leftovers. We have so many places in Vancouver to buy healthy food, from Choices and Whole Foods to small markets and local stores like Greens Market and Pomme Market. Even our big chain grocery stores are recognizing our wish for organic, local, and healthy food options. And then there are the farmers markets–gotta love those! 

healthy things to do in Vancouver acupunctureEat out right. Don’t have time to make a healthy meal? No problem, there are a ton of healthy eat-out food options. I don’t eat out much, so perhaps you can chime in via the comments section to list your faves. I like Heirloom, Nuba, and The Naam. I also like to get a pick-me-up from The Juicery Co. 

Do something helpful. If you’ve volunteered for a worthy cause, you know that you feel good about it. But did you know that the benefits may go beyond a simple temporary “I done good” sensation? Studies have shown that donating our time through volunteering helps us ward off loneliness and depression, allowing us to feel more socially connected. Another potential benefit is a lower likelihood of having high blood pressure. That’s huge because hypertension contribute to heart disease, stroke, and premature death. So, giving your time away actually may help you have more time! There are many worthy causes in Vancouver and surrounding areas. I love animals, so I volunteer for Furbearer Defenders. I’ve worked with my friend’s wonderful organization, Beauty Night. And, I’ve done talks for the David Suzuki Foundation. If you’re not sure what you would like to do or how to find out how you can help, check out this online resource Go Volunteer.

Treat yourself well. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is based on the foundation of wellness care and illness prevention. If you are not well, it’s important to address those aspects of your health to get to the source, not just mask them with medications or ignore them. If you are well, it’s important to do what you can to stay well. I recommend seasonal tune-up treatments or monthly treatments (depending on your particular needs) to help you limit the amount of time you spend in pain, tired, depressed or anxious, bloated, or struggling with other health issues. Come in for a TCM and acupuncture tune-up!

What do you recommend for healthy things to do in Vancouver (or anywhere, for that matter)?

 

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Seriously, Laughter is Medicine

Still on my monthly habit building, last month I completed #jokeadayJuly. I committed to share a joke (at least one, sometimes more) every day for 31 days. I shared it on my Facebook page (Dr.Melissa Carr) and told it to various people around me throughout the day. 

It’s harder than you might think to find 31 decent (with both meanings of “not dirty” and also “okay”) jokes. But it was fun to search for jokes, and even to laugh at the ones that were truly bad (again, in both senses of the word). And, my favourite part was that friends also shared their jokes with me. 

paddleboardPurposefully seeking humour every day is a powerful medicine, even if it only produces a small smile or groaning giggle. Trying to tickle your funny bone means you are intentionally bringing positive into your life, and that bounces into the lives of others around you, and continuously comes back to you. It’s kind of like that paddle ball on an elastic band that you might have played with when you were a kid–but with the plus of not actually whacking you in the face when you miss. 

Laughter has been shown to:

  • Reduce feelings of stress
  • Stimulate your heart, lungs, and muscles
  • Burn calories
  • Stimulate blood circulation
  • Relax tight muscles
  • Ease pain
  • Improve immune function
  • Boost mood (duh)
  • Release endorphins

* Acupuncture does a lot of these too, by the way.

No joke, look up laughter on PubMed (a reputable source of research), and you’ll find a number of articles citing the value of laughter as medicine. 

These are some of what I thought were my best jokes of the month. Send me your best jokes!

Mahatma Gandhi, as you know, walked barefoot most of the time, which produced an impressive set of calluses on his feet. He also ate very little, which made him rather frail, and with his odd diet, he suffered from bad breath. This made him…(oh, man, this is so bad, it’s good)…a super calloused fragile mystic hexed by halitosis.

What’s Orange and sounds like a Parrot? ……………..A Carrot.

Why did the hipster burn his mouth on a slice of pizza? He ate it before it was cool.

and lastly…

Two bass drums and a cymbal roll down a hill. Ba dum tssh.

 

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Dear “me”

Beautiful. Heart opening. Profound. 

This is the poetry of Shane Koyczan. You might remember him from the Vancouver 2010 Olympics opening ceremony. His is one of the performances I remember most from those memorable couple of weeks, and that’s saying a lot because a lot happened over that short time–including me getting to carry the Olympic torch, volunteer as part of the medical team at the athletes village, and seeing some of my figure skating heroes in person!

A patient of mine recently reminded me of Shane Koyczan because he was taking his family to see Shane perform in person. They enjoyed it immensely, not a surprise! I decided to check out more of Shane’s work online and I could spend hours watching his YouTube posts.

But back to the reason for this post. If you or someone you know suffers from depression or even just needs a bit of a lift (or a lot of a lift), check this out and share it.  

 

 

 

 

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Treating wintry depression (SAD)

24 Hours logoSeasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs with a specific season. The most common type of SAD occurs during the colder, darker months of fall and winter. While feeling a bit of a pull to hibernate is common, SAD can negatively affect daily living. My article in 24 Hours Vancouver offers solutions, “Natural remedies can lighten the sadness.”

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