Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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PEACE...CALM... HAPPINESS

PEACE... CALM... HAPPINESS

 

Your June quiz: Does the Stress Monster like peace, calm or happiness? Readers, you just scored an A+. The Monster knows that you can't be peaceful, calm or happy when you're stressed out. We're living in the Age of Anxiety; you know this in your gut. (And if your gut is calm right now, you probably haven't been attending to the news.) Although depression and anxiety are classified as different disorders, they are inextricably connected. Today we will be discussing some of the many paths you can use toward a peaceful body and mind. And please don't give the Stress Monster a copy of this article so he can't conjure up a fiendish plot to disrupt this good news.

 

I want to continue to introduce more resources into our battle for peace and happiness. (And as you may know, all my previous articles about these topics can be found in the Reading Room or Advice Line sections of my website.) A useful resource is a new book by Henry Emmons, M.D., The Chemistry of Calm (Touchstone, Simon and Schuster, 2010.) I first encountered Dr. Emmons while reading about his work in a Life Extension Foundation publication. If you haven't been introduced to this foundation, you can investigate it at www.LEF.org. This nonprofit research-based foundation contains up-to-date health information for adults and manufactures high quality supplements to promote health and well-being.

 

Dr. Emmons presents a multifaceted approach to reduce stress and anxiety. You may not know the latest research into "neuroplasticity" and "neurogenesis", but this book describes the exciting information that we can repair and increase healthy brain cells even into our senior years. Emmons' book describes mind-body techniques to promote healthy new brain growth. He describes nutrition and nutritional supplements to balance and optimize brain chemistry. As one example, he discusses the use of L.-theanine, an amino acid supplement derived from tea, as one of the best resources to reduce harmful stress. You may want to try this supplement yourself as it is known to be very safe and effective. Please note however, that you can't drink enough tea to provide you with the calming effects of this supplement. Dr. Emmons provides a useful perspective on medications for anxiety, discussing how they manipulate brain chemistry rather than promote normal brain functioning and frequently cause withdrawal symptoms worse than the original problem.

 

Emmons discusses the importance of restoring our body and mind to enable us to experience peaceful days and restful sleep at night, describing helpful practices as well as strategies to reduce the major forces interfering with body energy and resilience: oxidative stress, blood sugar dysregulation and inflammation.

 

Our thinking mind also must be a part of our anti--stress program. Emmons describes a fascinating study which found that conventional piano practice and practice only with the mind (no actual finger work) produced similar results in learning the piano piece! The message is that our thoughts are powerful in producing positive changes in our life. As we practice positive thinking, we must be careful not to focus on gripes, complaints and negativism. As the old saying admonishes, "Be careful what you wish for." Emmons also describes meditative and heart-based techniques to achieve peace of mind. I was pleased to see that he included loving kindness and compassion meditation in this section of the book, citing research that even novice meditators can strengthen positive parts of the brain and shut down brain areas causing stressful and unpleasant feelings. The Reading Room of my website contains a comprehensive article on this type of meditation.

 

Don't hope that Emmons ignores exercise. We can't remain couch potatoes. Our bodies were meant to move, not just sit in offices or in front of the boob tube. Emmons presents his recommendation for two - three hours each week of moderate exercise and other movement techniques.

 

If you like Dr. Emmons approach, you can consult his earlier book, The Chemistry of Joy, Fireside, 2005, which focused on techniques to reduce depression. It is notable that Emmons devotes an entire chapter in that book to the significant problems incurred using prescription medications to treat depression.

 

If it seems like the Stress Monster is ruling the world today, just remember that we can keep the Monster from ruling our bodies and our minds!