Our emotional, psychological and social well-being plays an important role in how we think, feel, act and assess different situations in life. Truth be told, a poor mental health condition can set off other health issues.
A study conducted by the World Health Organization in 2015 showed that one in five Indians may suffer from depression in their lifetime, equivalent to 200 million people. India being home to an estimated 1.4 billion people, even a small percentage of people facing mental health issues is a big number.
Apart from allopathic treatments, holistic therapy has seen a massive growth as a treatment option for mental health disorders. Many specialists vouch for a healthy diet as a mood booster. Exercises, too, have shown a positive effect on mental health in general.
What is holistic therapy?
Holistic therapy involves treating for one’s overall well-being – mind, body and soul. A healthy diet, exercises and therapies are some of the recourses individuals could take to overcome their mental health issues.
Right from the environment that we live in, to what we eat, and from our professional activities to hobbies, the practitioner of holistic healing aims to touch and enhance virtually every aspect of our lives.
How aware are we?
In recent years, India as a society has become more aware of mental health issues than ever before. In a study titled ‘How India Perceives Mental Health: TLLLF National Survey Report 2018’, 87 percent of respondents were found to be aware of different mental health conditions.
“No one is exempt from mental health issues. It is essential that we prioritise our mental health by creating awareness, having more open conversations without inhibitions, and reducing stigmas. Ultimately, there is no health without mental health,” says Dr Gautami Nagabhirava, consultant neuropsychiatrist, Kamineni Hospital, Hyderabad.
The four prongs
Here are the four main elements of holistic health that add to the all-round wellbeing of an individual.
- Physical: This includes body-related activities like massage, yoga and exercises that also improve our emotional and social well-being.
- Emotional: Talk therapy and music therapy contribute to emotional stability.
- Mindful: Consciously performed activities like breathing exercises and meditation induce the mind to heal.
- Spiritual: Practices such as meditation and prayers act at a deeper level towards improving one’s mental health.
The physical mode
Exercises have been known to benefit our physical health, but many studies have been conducted on the role of aerobic exercises for mental health wellness. A study published in Psychiatria Polska in 2004 found that aerobic exercises, including jogging, swimming, cycling, walking, gardening and dancing, reduced anxiety and depression.
Focused physical activities release mood-enhancing neurotransmitters or ‘happy hormones’ such as endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. Endorphins help to relieve pain and stress. Dopamine makes the individual feel pleasure and satisfaction, while serotonin helps to boost the individual’s overall mood and well-being.
People who are in depression lack serotonin and are often prescribed what are called SNRIs or serotonin norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors. Lack of dopamine is also linked to schizophrenia and Parkinson’s Disease. Doing basis aerobic exercises will naturally boost one’s sense of physical and mental wellbeing at the same time.
Massages are known to reduce stress levels and anxiety. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, massage therapy has shown positive signs in relieving depression. In a pilot study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, it was found that Ayurvedic abhyanga massage showed significant reduction in stress.
One can choose from a variety of them, such as hot stone massage, shiatsu, or the Swedish massage, all of which provide a feeling of comfort and connection arising out of physical contact.
A healthy, balanced diet is another way of boosting one’s mental and physical well-being. In a systematic review of 12 different studies, published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2014, it was found that there was positive co-relation between high-quality diet and good mental health outcomes. The much-acclaimed Mediterranean diet, with its high proteins, healthy fats and whole grains, has been found to lower the risk of depression, Parkinson’s Disease and stroke.
Another study published in Nutrients in 2020, found that dark and leafy green vegetables, black beans, soybeans, legumes and other foods rich in fibre, folate, potassium, and vitamin A lower psychological distress and depression.
Fruits, too, have abundant antioxidants and vitamins which combat stress-induced psychiatric disorders, said a study published in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry in 2012.
- Sleep: Experts vouch that there is nothing like a good night’s sleep of seven to nine hours for the heart, besides the body and the mind. It has been found that people suffering from different mental illnesses often complained of lack of sleep. And a study published in Current Psychiatry Reports in 2015 found that lack of sleep can influence the mood and emotional response to different things and even induce suicidal thoughts in such individuals.
A different meta-study of 21 different studies, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2011, found that people who have insomnia are at double the risk of depression compared to those who get a good night’s sleep.
- Talk therapy: With an unbiased pair of ears listening to you, you can sort out your thoughts and emotions. “Working on one’s mental health issues with a trained psychologist or psychiatrist can bring about positive changes in the way one thinks, feels and acts. The right therapist will help them to understand that they can do something which in turn improves their quality of life,” says Sushmita Roy, senior counsellor and psychotherapist, Medall Mind.
- Music therapy: Who would not agree that listening to music soothes our emotions? In a review of nine studies, it was found that music therapy has a short-term benefit for people who are in depression. The Global Council on Brain Health, too, said that music has a critical role to play in preserving and enhancing brain health.
- Prayers: Many of us believe that there is a supreme power that governs our mundane lives. And prayer is one way to connect with that force. A 2009 study published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine found that attending church sessions lowered depression, anxiety and raised the morale of affected persons.
- Meditation: This practice, too, has been known to calm the mind and bring about a positive change in the person. From depression to anxiety and from stress to pain, meditation can help one to deal with traumas as well. In a systematic review published in Depression and Anxiety in 2012, the researchers figured that meditation helped to some extent in reducing symptoms of anxiety.
- Breathing exercises: As with meditation, breathing exercises, too, have been found to calm the mind, help one to focus on tasks and cope with discomfort. A study of a psychological co-relation to breathing exercises found that relaxation and alertness increased in persons practicing breathing exercises while symptoms of anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion in them decreased.