Is Mental The New Normal?
According to NAMI - National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. (which corresponds to 43.8 million or 18.5%) experiences mental illness in a given year; and approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. (corresponding to 10 million or 4.2%) experiences a serious mental illness in a given year that substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities (for more numbers, please see link under References). That means a staggering amount of people with some level of mental health challenge. Considering that a whole lot of people don’t seek help and go undiagnosed, the real numbers are likely to be even scarier.
No wonder words like OCD, OCPD, bipolar, borderline personality disorder, schizophrenia, PTSD, chronic depression, etc, have become commonplace. Look around yourself. How many friends or family members display behavior that has been qualified as (or suggested to be) a mental health disorder of some kind? Or look in the mirror. When was the last time you’ve felt emotionally, mentally and physically (not to mention spiritually) healthy and balanced? Have you or someone you know been diagnosed with a mental health challenge, or do you suspect you or someone you know might have such a challenge?
The even bigger question is: are we all going mental, at least to some degree? And where is it coming from? Being out of touch with ourselves and our innermost needs? The stress and lack of balance of modern living, along with excessive exposure to technology and information overload? Unhealthy foods? Contaminated water? Polluted air? Probably all of the above and more. But one thing is certain: when a system says that a big chunk of the population has some type of mental health issue that requires medication, maybe it’s time to change a lot of things in that system. Mere common sense dictates that something is seriously wrong with that picture.
Antidepressants vs. Placebo
To top it all, in the past few years there have been plenty of studies which show that certain drugs have no more benefits than placebos for many health issues. One example: antidepressants. Although they can help people suffering from extreme depression, their effectiveness for mild to moderate depression is about the same as placebos, with a minimal difference considered to be clinically insignificant (please see some of these studies under References). So the people who are feeling better by taking these drugs are doing so largely due to the placebo effect, not the chemicals in the drug. However, a lot of people with mild to moderate depression are still being prescribed antidepressants on a regular basis, notwithstanding the facts that their effectiveness has become questionable, they often cause many bad side effects and have high potential risks which include addiction. In addition, they mostly serve to cover up the deeper causes of depression.
What to do?
On a personal level, we really need to take a good look into what we’ve made of our lives and try to make better, healthier choices in relation to work, career, life path, people we choose to be in relationships with, forms of entertainment, etc. Looking at the bigger picture, we also need to intensify efforts to stop further contamination and destruction of our environment, and expedite damage control and sustainable solutions.
We can start by trying alternatives to prescription drugs for issues such as anxiety and depression, among others, as follows:
1) Mind-body therapies (if we can change our mind, we can change our body; if we can change our thoughts, we can change our lives): CBT - Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Hypnotherapy, Biofeedback, Creative Arts, Meditation, Prayer, Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, etc.
2) Exercise, along with proper rest and sleep
3) Massage, Acupuncture, Reflexology, Energy Healing, etc.
4) Light Therapy or Sun Gazing
5) Vitamins, supplements and natural antidepressants such as St. John’s wort
6) Aromatherapy, Flower Essences, Homeopathy, etc.
7) Anything that brings us true peace and joy rather than an artificially induced high, including spiritual faith and practices that uplift our souls; love and light; smiles and laugh; music and dance; hopes and dreams; inspiration and passion...
8) Gratitude for everything we have or partake in, including loving family and friends we can be ourselves with; our animal companions and other living beings who share this beautiful planet with us; etc. In short, gratitude for life!
10 Chillaxing some more.
Final Thought: The Placebo Effect serves as a reminder of how powerful the mind is. Let’s put it to good use, and make the choice to be happy!
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 5/26/16
NOTE: This blog article was published on the June 2016 issues of Natural Awakenings - Central Florida/Orlando Edition (link below)
Natural Awakenings CF - June 2016
Article: Antidepressants vs. Placebo: And The Winner Is…; pgs. 26-27
Photo by The Tonik on Unsplash
10 Antidepressant Alternatives Proven to Work
Popular Drugs May Help Only Severe Depression
Anti Depressant Drug Effects and Depression Severity
Treating Depression: Is There a Placebo Effect? (60 Minutes video)
The Challenge (or One of Them)
We live in a time period when a lot is expected and even demanded of anyone who's on their way to awareness (or trying to get there). And it doesn't make any difference where on our paths we might be; we are not being cut any slack. A lot of us can't help but feeling overwhelmingly pressured to perform, to become someone many of us don't feel quite ready to be (even assuming we know for sure who we want to become or what we want to do).
Everyone and everything around are inspiring (or rather, urging) us to take major action, and immediately. Something about the fact that we don't have a lot of time left. The news. The prophets. New Age books. Movies such as An Inconvenient Truth, Fast Food Nation, Supersize Me, Sicko, etc. Everywhere you turn, it's doomsday approaching by the minute. It's do or die. Although all that information is very necessary and fulfilling a vital service by educating us, one of its common side effects is that of creating a state of paranoia and panic, and freezing a lot of well-meaning but overwhelmed people into depression and inaction (not to mention that, according to the law of attraction, it can actually reinforce this very reality we want so much to change). The current political (and socio-economical) climate doesn’t help one bit.
Like so many, for a long time I had also felt that I should be doing something about it. I went through a period of confusion during which I desperately tried to figure out what, how, which, when. And, more specifically, who I had to become to participate, to contribute. "Become" being the operative word. I did not believe that I could just choose to do something, to participate, to create without becoming somebody else first. As in, becoming better; improving myself as a person. Not that I have anything against the idea that we all should put an effort into connecting with and expressing our best selves. I believe that's one of the reasons we come here: to remember who we really are, and ultimately make that choice. It's just that, in my mind, I often felt I was not even worthy of initiating any change process because I was not good enough. I didn't believe that if I just followed my heart, chose something I care about and made it happen, even if it were on a small scale, that I would really be making a difference. As I was influenced by our modern culture, which is filled with so many amazing people doing things in the grandest possible styles, I thought that whatever changes I made, they would have to be on a much larger scale. It seemed like hard footsteps to follow. Just too much for little ol' me.
And so I read all about how to build an organic garden and do composting and save water and energy, etc, etc, etc. And then I watched movies and documentaries about the environment and felt inspired (or shamed) into doing something about it. And then I saved all the web site links and their huge lists of things to do. At first, my intention was to go all out; but then, for lack of time or money or energy or simply for being lazy, all I managed to do in the end was to neatly organize bookmarks of informative websites for future use... and buy a few eco-friendly light bulbs.
Until I decided to stop trying to become someone I'm not, and find my own small way to help by doing something I enjoy, am good at and can have fun with: becoming a wellness practitioner, and writing articles to hopefully help break it down for other people like me.
What's Next, Then?
Here are 11 steps I suggest you consider if you’re feeling lost and confused about your studies, work, career, calling, life path, etc, and trying to figure out a way to contribute to positive change while following your bliss:
1) Chillax.* Take a deep breath, take a walk, meditate, give yourself a break.
(*This slang made up of the contraction between “chill” and “relax” used to be a thing. Then older adults started overusing it, so it’s considered lame and even archaic now; but I still like it and I think it works here. So, there.)
2) Chillax some more.
3) Realize that you are the only one who can decide what works for you. There's no wrong way or right way. There's only your way, my way, and everyone else's infinite own ways.
4) Decide to have fun in your life. This is very important: first thing you do when you wake up is to ask to have fun and prepare to be surprised. Expect it. Believe it. Pursue it. And watch it happen. Everything else falls into place.
5) Understand that you don't have to be or become perfect (whatever your perception of perfection happens to be) to deserve that good things happen to you, and to decide to participate in this amazing shift that's happening in our world right now. In other words:
You don't “gotta” become anything.
You just gotta be.
You be, and in the being the best you can manage to be at this very moment in your life, you'll eventually find yourself and your way.
6) Whichever way it goes, it's all good. Sure, human civilization as we know it might end in this planet if we don't act quickly enough. However, there are also a lot of people out there already working to make a difference, as we speak. And in the end, as my yoga teacher said, whichever way it goes it's all good. And it's certainly not going to do us any good to constantly worry about it....
7) So, go at your own pace. Your timing is just right for you. Just because your favorite guru or your next-door neighbor already got enlightened and found their mission, it doesn't mean you have to rush out and try to get a bigger one for yourself. I mean, the pressure to keep up!!! Just try to do what you can, without worrying if you're doing enough, or doing it quickly enough and, most importantly, without worrying about what anybody else is doing or not doing.
8) There's no such thing as missing your opportunity to do anything in life. There’s always another opportunity where that one came from.
9) Think baby steps. In the end, it's the little things, the tiny steps, the small ways that make a difference. Every single, minute action counts. You are here and now to take only one step to begin with.
10) And finally, but most importantly: enjoy yourself in the process. If you are not enjoying yourself, try something else. In the end, it's all about You. Yes, You. So, be gentle with yourself, and be merry!
11) In case you start following the steps above and get busy, tired, sick, overwhelmed, overworked, disheartened, discouraged, fed up, lazy, etc, and then give up, step # 11 is here just to remind you to give yourself a break. When you are ready again, just go back to step #1 and start over!
Choosing Your Step
Just think of something that you would like to be doing to help. Look around your home, or think about your family, friends, school, work, hobbies, community, or whatever you connect the most with. The choices are virtually limitless. If there's anything that draws your attention, some area where you feel you can make a difference, even if in very small ways, go for it! You can start by simply picking one action to follow and putting it into practice, until you feel ready to add more to your list. Try not to overwhelm yourself. Unless you do feel like choosing several things and starting to change the world right away; then, by all means, go ahead and follow your instincts. If at any point you become overwhelmed, try not to get discouraged and drop everything; instead, remember you can always cut back and/or change your choices.
C’mon, Can One Small Step Really Make A Difference?
YES!!! Think about the proverbial small pebble creating the ripple effect when tossed in the lake. Think about any other frequently used metaphor in relation to the huge power of small actions; or create your own! Whatever it takes to get you going. But take that step. And then another, and another, and another. Just try it and see.
Final Thought: Remember that even a tiny step is better than doing nothing. And don't forget to HAVE FUN!
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 05/18/2016
Image by Ulrike Mai from Pixabay
What Hypnosis Is and Isn't
As a hypnotherapist, part of my work with clients involves explaining how hypnotherapy works and playing the role of “myth buster.” That has become necessary because of the great amount of mistaken notions about hypnosis that’s out there, mostly due to misrepresentation on TV shows, movies, etc. It doesn’t help that hypnotherapy is often compared to and confused with stage hypnosis and other entertainment-driven practices such as mentalism, street magic, etc. It’s been my experience that a lot of people, including other practitioners and healthcare professionals, share at least a few misconceptions about hypnosis.
One recent example came from a client of mine. After a few sessions, she started noticing marked positive change. This client happens to be someone who goes easily and deeply into trance, and hardly ever remembers much about the session on a conscious level. As it often happens in these situations, she couldn’t believe that something as seemingly simple and easy as a hypnosis session (which she often felt as if she’d slept through and couldn’t even remember), could start making such a big difference in her life. So, every time we’d meet, she would question me about how hypnotherapy works. I was only too glad to answer all her questions to help her feel as comfortable as possible with the process. One of those times, however, she mentioned that she had spoken about it to someone she knew, a massage therapist who claimed to also be trained in hypnotherapy. She had told this person that she was mostly zoned out during her sessions and couldn’t remember almost anything. The well-intentioned but ill-informed practitioner told her that it was not working, then; and added that she needed to be alert and engaged for it to work. So I had to explain to my client that this is one of the most common misconceptions about hypnotherapy. I told her that, although it might feel like being asleep during session sometimes, she’s really not completely asleep or unconscious. She’s actually in a sleep-like state or somnambulism, which is between awake and asleep (in the Alpha/Theta zones), and not in deep sleep (Delta zone); in that state, she might lose conscious awareness but her subconscious is still engaged, listening to the sound of my voice in the background and duly recording the message. That’s how she always knows when I’m counting her back up (which is referred to as “awakening”). As my client was still looking a bit unsure, and also wondering about the content of the scripts I had been using, I offered to show her the script I had used in our last session, explaining that it would give her a good idea of what we had covered but it wouldn’t be exact, since I customize it for each client. Well, the moment my client started looking at the script, she cried out in instant recognition: “Oh, I remember this! I remember the door and the key and everything!” Merely glancing at the script was enough for her conscious mind to get triggered into remembering what her subconscious had already recorded. She was quite surprised about it, and was finally convinced that the therapy was working as it should, and her subconscious was doing its job.
Light or Deep Trance? Trance levels vary for countless reasons. For instance, some scripts are more interactive than others, so you might be more alert during those. Or you might be curious about the process or a bit nervous during your first session, which could also cause you to stay more alert. Or your levels of stress might be higher than usual that day; or unexpected background noises might pull you out of your relaxation mode; or your mind might be distracted by your to-do list; etc. Or you might simply feel more comfortable staying alert through the process. Of course, the therapist will do the best to help you stay relaxed and engaged in spite of distractions. But, in general, your own subconscious will do whatever is best for you at the time. If there’s something you need to remember on a conscious level, you will be more alert during the session; or go in and out (in for the part you need to remember consciously and out for the part that you will retain more on a subconscious level). If your subconscious needs your conscious mind out of the way for some deep healing and change, you are likely to zone out for most of it. As illustrated above, if you do go into a deep hypnotic state (or sleep-like state), you might not remember everything (or anything) on a conscious level, once you are awake. And that’s OK; your subconscious mind still records the message. You can actually train your mind to stay conscious and aware during a deep trance, but that’s not necessary for the hypnotic suggestion to work. On the other hand, it is possible for a client to get completely detached from the environment and go into the Delta zone (deep sleep). However, the tell-tale signs are clear, and at that point the hypnotherapist can bring the client out of hypnosis a bit, making the trance lighter.
IN SHORT: Hypnotherapy works through subliminal suggestion, regardless of how deep the state of hypnosis. The hypnotic trance achieved by the client can be light, deep and everything in between; and significant change can happen at any level of trance. The only exception I’m aware of is medical hypnosis for pain management or control. In this case, the client needs to reach a deeper trance for best results. You can learn more about the science behind Hypnotherapy (including studies proving its effectiveness and theories discussing why it works) by exploring the sources under References.
OTHER HYPNOSIS AND HYPNOTHERAPY FACTS:
1) About Hypnosis and Hypnotherapy. Hypnosis is a trance or altered state of consciousness that's between waking and sleep, and is characterized by increased suggestibility, relaxation and heightened imagination. It's a natural state which we achieve many times throughout the day, without even realizing it (for instance, when we become so involved driving, watching TV or a movie, or reading a book, etc, that we lose awareness of where we are). We just don’t refer to it as going into a hypnotic trance; we call it “zoning out.” Hypnotherapy is a therapeutic method of healing by using hypnosis.
2) Hypnotherapy is completely different from stage hypnotism, mentalism, street magic, etc. What entertainers seek to accomplish is to distract your conscious mind through rapid induction and confusion techniques, so that they can get you to temporarily believe certain things and act in certain ways for the purpose of entertainment. But for that to work, you still need to be a willing participant. And even when it does work, it will be short-lived, as your subconscious will seek to go back to normal (and “normal” is certainly not clucking like a chicken!). This process is called homeostasis, or a natural state of balance, and it will soon occur even without suggestion removal by the entertainer. A hypnotherapist, on the other hand, discusses goals with you before the session so that you are aware of and in agreement with the positive suggestions that will be made to the subconscious during the session. Then the hypnotherapist intentionally induces a trance to help bring you into a relaxed and focused state, which makes the positive suggestions much more effective. And even in such planned circumstances, if you have too much resistance or mixed feelings about the goals you are trying to accomplish, your subconscious might not accept the positive suggestions, or just accept them to a certain degree. The bottom line is: the more motivated you are, the better it works.
3) Hypnotherapy is not mind control. Nobody can force you to do anything you don’t want to do through hypnosis. You have to be willing to accept the suggestions. As I mentioned above, even in the case of stage hypnosis, the participants need to be willing to play the game.
4) Hypnosis is not dangerous. There has never been a documented case of harmful results from the therapeutic use of hypnosis. It is easy to be brought back from a hypnotic trance; there has never been a documented case of someone unable to come out of it.
5) All hypnosis is a form of self hypnosis. Different techniques can be used, either on your own or with a hypnotherapist as your guide. But even when you engage the help of a hypnotherapist, it’s your subconscious doing the work of opening up to and accepting suggestions for positive change. As I mentioned before, the more motivated you are, the better it works. Most people are capable of reaching a hypnotic state, as long as they are motivated to do so.
6) Hypnotherapy does not work better on weaker minds. In fact, the stronger the will and imagination of a person, the more likely they are to achieve success in hypnosis. This is because people are most influenced by their own suggestions and, in actuality, put themselves in a hypnotic state. A therapist's role is to guide them in this process. Hypnotherapy will only be effective if you want to be helped and want to resolve your problem. In a hypnotic state you will either accept or refuse a suggestion.
7) Potential Issues with Hypnotherapy. There are some issues which can potentially decrease the effectiveness of hypnotherapy by impeding or slowing down progress, such as resistance (often caused by the client being of two minds about a goal; having fear of symptom removal; trying too hard; being over analytical; having lack of rapport with the therapist; suffering from extreme anxiety or other mental health issues; etc). The hypnotherapist should be able to help the client through some of these issues, at least to a certain degree; however, the client needs to be willing and open to change. The combination of hypnotherapy with counseling or other behavior modification practices can be beneficial in such cases.
There are also potential risks involving hypnosis; some of these are: abreaction (a strong emotional reaction to a memory); physical reactions (especially if the client has epilepsy, lung or respiratory disease, etc); recollection of blocked memories (which can cause an abreaction); and false memories. It is important to remember that such occurrences can be great opportunities for a client to remove, resolve and release past issues or trauma. It’s also important to understand that recollected “memories” might be real; but they could be distorted and embellished, much like being in a dream state. Such recollections could also be just a symbolic representation of what the client felt during a hurtful or traumatic moment. A qualified hypnotherapist should be prepared for and able to handle such issues, and also know when to call for additional professional help or refer the client.
8) Hypnotherapy is a safe, natural and non-invasive way to guide you through positive change. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Hypnosis that's conducted by a trained therapist or health care professional is considered a safe, complementary and alternative medical treatment.” It can be of great use in the treatment of many behavioral, physical and psychological conditions, such as stress, anxiety and panic, fears and phobias, pain, fatigue, health issues, sleep distress, self esteem and motivation, loss and separation, depression, learning disabilities, bed-wetting and many others. It is often used for weight loss, smoking cessation, athletic performance, natural child birth, regression, etc.
BOTTOM LINE: So, once you choose a qualified professional or learn how to practice self-hypnosis, how do you get the most out of your sessions? Simply put: motivation... and an open mind.
© Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 05/12/2016
Image by the 33D Animation Production Company from Pixabay
Clinical Hypnotherapy: A Transpersonal Approach, by Allen S. Chips, DCH, PhD
Hypnosis for Change, by Josie Hadley and Carol Staudacher
On The Hypnotic Induction
Scientific Theories of Hypnosis
Various research, training and educational materials supplied by SWIHA - Southwest Institute of Healing Arts