This is an excerpt from the book Don’t Let Anything Dull Your Sparkle: How to Break Free of Negativity & Drama by Doreen Virtue. The following is from the chapter entitled “Natural Stress, Depression, and Anxiety Relief.” To read more, you can purchase the book on Amazon.
* * *
There’s no doubt that medication helps alleviate symptoms of the trauma-drama cycle. However, the side effects can be severe and can dull your sparkle. That’s why natural remedies are so exciting.
Studies show that stress leads to histamine production, which in turn makes you wide-awake. Indeed, this is one of the reasons for the addiction to stress and drama—because of the stimulating effects of histamine and other neurotransmitters and hormones.
After a stressful day, then, you’ll feel jittery and overly stimulated. That’s when many people reach for sedative substances such as alcohol to relax or fall asleep. Trouble is, alcohol triggers further histamine production and disrupts REM sleep cycles. So alcohol does not yield a refreshing night’s sleep, after all.
In this chapter, we’ll look at flowers, herbs, and other natural remedies to promote rest and lower anxiety. When you have a good night’s sleep, your brain can produce melatonin and convert it to serotonin—a process that helps you enjoy a good mood and naturally high energy. Serotonin also protects you from unhealthful food cravings.
I have personally tried and recommend each of the resources in this chapter. They are backed up by scientific literature, with studies showing that they are effective agents in healing the effects of trauma.
It may seem as if I’m giving you a lot of options in this chapter, so please look upon them as a “buffet” from which you can select what resonates with you. The more of these natural remedies you use, the better. Possible prescription medicine interactions are noted for each description.
There are some scientific studies that show these healing flowers, herbs, and lifestyle choices are just as powerful—or even more powerful—than prescription medication in lowering depression and anxiety. They can also help you feel calm and sleep better.
(Section describing herbs has been omitted.)
Soft, soothing music promotes relaxation, and studies are finding that having it on in the background reduces tension, negative emotions, and other effects of stress.
Here are some of the research findings:
- Soft music provides healing help for post-traumatic stress reactions. Several studies cite significant and measurable benefits derived from listening to soft music for those suffering from the effects of trauma, including alleviating insomnia, better-quality sleep, and a reduction in overall symptoms.
- Listening while you work is beneficial. One study found that people completing a stressful task while listening to music didn’t have an increase in cortisol levels, whereas study participants who engaged in the same stressful task in silence had significant cortisol increases.
- The type of music makes a difference. A comparison of people listening to either classical music, heavy-metal music, or no music found that classical music resulted in measurable calming effects . . . but silence and heavy metal did not. So, be discerning with regard to the music you listen to, as it affects your mood and energy.
- Anxiety is reduced. Studies show that anxiety and blood pressure are significantly reduced in those who listen to classical or meditation music prior to a stressful event (such as surgery).
- Music is heart-healthy. Cardiovascular patients showed so much improvement in heart rate while they listened to relaxing music, according to studies, that researchers recommended playing music bedside while people recover from heart surgery. The lead researcher concluded:
The greatest benefit on health is visible with classical music and meditation music, whereas heavy metal music or techno are not only ineffective but possibly dangerous and can lead to stress and/or life-threatening arrhythmias. The music of many composers most effectively improves quality of life, will increase health and probably prolong life. (Trappe 2010).
Singing and listening are different. An interesting study compared the cortisol and emotional levels in both choir singers and those who were listening to choir music. They found that singing increased cortisol levels, but lowered negative emotions. Those who listened without singing experienced the opposite: their cortisol levels dropped, but their negative emotions increased. The increased cortisol levels in singers were probably due to performance anxiety because of the audience. Most likely those who sing alone would not show the same spike in the stress hormone.
From these studies, you can see the relaxation and health benefits of listening to soft meditative music. The more often you listen to soothing music, the better.
Fortunately, there are online radio stations that you can subscribe to and pay a small monthly fee to eliminate commercials, which can startle you out of your meditative state. YouTube also offers long meditation music videos for free. Use these search words to find soft online music: meditation music, spa music, nature music, and relaxation music.
Massage and Bodywork
Receiving a massage is a relaxing experience for most people, although some who are hyper-vigilant have difficulty dropping their guard during a body-treatment experience.
There’s a difference between massage and bodywork: Massage is a process designed only for relaxation and to help you let go of tension. Bodywork is therapeutic (it’s also known as “massage therapy”) and is used to treat injuries, sore muscles, and emotional pain. Massage therapists and body-workers take extra classes to learn about physiology and specialized healing methods.
As I mentioned earlier, the women’s psychiatric hospital unit that I directed had a bodyworker on staff. During her one-on-one sessions, patients would recover repressed memories, have helpful insights, and experience cathartic release of pent-up emotions.
Massage therapy lowers your cortisol levels and increases the levels of feel-good dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. So, you feel relaxed and a sense of pleasure.
Studies overwhelmingly show that massage significantly reduces depression, anxiety, blood pressure, heart rate, post-traumatic symptoms, and improved sleep cycles.
Researchers studying traumatized National Guard veterans who had been deployed in Iraq reported that therapeutic massage resulted in “significant reductions in ratings of physical pain, physical tension, irritability, anxiety/worry, and depression after massage, and longitudinal analysis suggested declining baseline levels of tension and irritability” (Collinge, Kahn, and Soltysik 2012).
When choosing your massage therapist, look for someone who is experienced with trauma treatment. This therapist will understand if you experience strong emotions during the bodywork session.
Experienced trauma massage therapists will remain neutral in conversations and keep their opinions to themselves to avoid inadvertently triggering the client.
Creating an Optimal Sleep Environment
You can fall asleep, and stay asleep, more easily with a few adjustments to your bedroom and sleeping habits:
- Darken your bedroom. Even a small nightlight will stimulate your brain and keep you from sleeping deeply.
- Cool the room. We sleep better in a bedroom with a cool air temperature. If you’re cold, wear socks, which studies show leads to better sleep.
- Avoid electronics. Turn off your wireless Internet signal at night, and don’t watch television or look at any electronic devices within an hour of your bedtime. Studies show that the “blue light” in technological gadgets (like tablets) disrupts our circadian rhythms.
- Go natural. Natural cotton or bamboo sheets and blankets “breathe,” so you avoid the night sweats from polyester bedding.
- Exercise earlier. Make sure your exercise schedule ends three hours before bedtime.
- Keep the bedroom relaxing. Don’t do work in bed to ensure that the bedroom is associated only with relaxation.
Several experiments have studied the relationship between gratitude and well-being. Some participants wrote daily journal entries about what they were grateful for, and others wrote about difficulties and struggles. The gratitude-journal groups showed significantly higher levels of well-being in all of the studies, including one that focused on veterans who exhibited post-traumatic stress traits (Kashdan, Uswatte, and Julian 2006).
Based upon this research, it’s a good idea to count your blessings daily. Keeping a gratitude journal (either in book-diary form or on the computer) serves as a reminder to view the glass as half-full, instead of half-empty.
Spirituality, Religion, and Prayer
Much research has verified that having a spiritual or religious practice increases well-being. This is not to say that you must be religious or spiritual to be happy—just that those who do have a belief system are happy.
Several studies also found that the more involved someone is in his or her spirituality or religious practices, the less likely he or she is to abuse drugs.
Having a spiritual or religious practice reduces the severity of post-traumatic symptoms, according to the research. A major study conducted upon 532 US veterans found that those who had a spiritual practice fared better in a PTSD treatment program compared to those who did not. The study concluded: “Specifically, veterans who scored higher on adaptive dimensions of spirituality (daily spiritual experiences, forgiveness, spiritual practices, positive religious coping, and organizational religiousness) at intake fared significantly better in this program” (Currier, Holland, and Drescher 2015).
Positive religious coping means that you have a faith-based belief that the trauma had existential meaning, rather than being a random event. Those who exhibit positive religious coping are more likely to seek support from their spiritual or religious community.
Several studies have concluded that people who hold beliefs about a punishing God are more likely to develop post-traumatic symptoms. Those who believe God caused or allowed the trauma to happen were found to have more post-traumatic symptoms. This is attributable to their lacking a sense of control over future crises, since they believe that events are up to the whim of God, Who may choose to punish them at any time.
Most researchers refer to the “protective effect” of spirituality and religion, because these factors seem to safeguard believers from depression, substance abuse, and other post-traumatic symptoms.
Most of us are familiar with the general concept of meditation, as it has been cited in the popular press for decades. Like yoga, the word meditation can seem intimidating, as if it’s reserved for those who practice alternative lifestyles. Meditation can seem irrelevant and airy-fairy until you read the scientific literature supporting its healing effects.
Many studies have been conducted upon war veterans who have post-traumatic symptoms. Measuring the effects of meditation courses on veterans, researchers have shown that “breathing-based meditation” methods lead to significant reduction of hyper-vigilance and anxiety for those who’ve been traumatized.
Diaphragmatic breathing (also known as “belly breathing”) is a conscious way of breathing deeply and rhythmically. You inhale a full breath so that your rib cage and belly expand. Putting your hand on your stomach helps you monitor that you are in fact doing belly breathing instead of shallow breathing. With belly breathing, you inhale a larger amount of oxygen.
Studies of belly breathing show promising results, with these demonstrated benefits:
- Increased oxygen to cells
- Decreased carbon dioxide and other waste products
- Parasympathetic nervous-system activation (calming)Reduced anxiety
- Increased confidence
- Lowered heart rate and blood pressure
The more you practice belly breathing, the more calming benefits you receive. This is a practice that you can do anywhere, including during stressful situations at work.
Another form of meditation called mindfulness also holds promise for reducing post-traumatic symptoms. A Harvard University study discovered that mindfulness meditation decreased activation and volume of gray matter of the amygdala, a region of the brain involved in fear processing (Hölzel et al. 2010).
According to research, meditation can heal the brain and make positive physiological changes to the brain’s structure, processing routines, and chemistry.
Other Calming Experiences
Of course, there are many other ways to calm the mind and body, such as creative arts and spending time in nature. As you are guided, you are the best judge of what calms and soothes you.
A calming method of exercise—yoga—is the subject of the next chapter.
Photo courtesy of Hay House Inc. To read more, you can purchase Don’t Let Anything Dull Your Sparkle on Amazon or in bookstores nationwide.
Doreen Virtue holds B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. degrees in counseling psychology. A former psychotherapist specializing in eating disorders and addictions, Doreen now gives online workshops on topics related to her books and oracle cards. She’s the author of Assertiveness for Earth Angels, The Miracles of Archangel Michael, and Archangel Oracle Cards, among many other works. She has appeared on Oprah, CNN, and Good Morning America, and has been featured in newspapers and magazines worldwide. For information on Doreen’s work, please visit her websites, www.AngelTherapy.com or on Facebook. To enroll in her online video courses, please visit www.EarthAngel.com.