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STRESS HELP

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Mind Body Medicine


"An holistic overview is vital as we evaluate
the complex interacting elements involved
in the causation and maintenance of many
health problems." (Leon Chaitow)

Orthodox medicine has undoubtedly provided us with many tremendous life saving and life enhancing benefits. It has eradicated the infectious diseases that used to cause so much premature death and suffering in childhood and adulthood such as tuberculosis, diphtheria, scarlet fever, cholera, typhoid etc. Antibiotics have vastly reduced the number of women dying in childbirth and saved millions of lives. Before the advent of antibiotics, 50% of people who developed pneumonia died. The down side is that these diseases have been replaced by more chronic, degenerative diseases like arthritis, heart disease, strokes, asthma, diabetes, anxiety, depression, etc which are far harder to cure and far more expensive to treat compared to infectious diseases.

One of the weaknesses of orthodox medicine is that it can appear mechanistic, clinical, cold, impersonal and remote, it doesn't harness the power of the individual into helping restore health. It separates the mind from the body and treats symptoms of a disease instead of trying to remove the cause, treat the individual and not the disease.

It is vital to treat both body and mind as one, which is what they are. The brain doesn't live in isolation to the rest of the body. The brain influences the body and the body influences the brain. For example, research has shown that exercise can improve mood, yet exercise is rarely used as a standard therapuetic intervention for anxiety and depression even though research has indicated its therapeutic value in helping to manage psychological health problems.

A combined mind-body treatment programme used in the management of stress, anxiety and depression offers the best chance of recovery. In this twin track approach we combine the strengths of orthodox and complementary medicine like ear acupuncture, massage, t'ai chi, nutrition etc.

This combined mind-body approach has been pioneered by orthodox physicians like Cardiologist Professor Herbert Benson and others, who acheives great success in the treatment of health problems like pain, anxiety and insomnia using this approach at the Mind-Body Institute in Boston, Masschusetts, USA.

Research has indicated that when mind-body techniques like nutrition, relaxation, stress management, cognitive behavioural therapy, exercise, acupuncture, massage, etc., are used in conjunction with orthodox treatments, the results for the patient are superior than when either approach is used in isolation.

In the UK we spend nearly 45 billion pounds a year on the NHS. In the USA they spend 1 trillion dollars a year on their healthcare system, yet despite this vast financial expenditure they are no more healthy than we are; they are just sicker in alot more comfort. So pumping increasing amounts of money into our health care system isn't the sole answer to dealing with our health problems.

This vast financial expenditure which increases year on year shows no signs of abating. Healthcare is going to cost more and more and as a result there is talk of having to ration it. Orthodox medicine doesn't take into account every facet of a person's life and without finding out about a person's diet, lifestyle, alcohol intake, exercise, stress, caffeine intake etc., they will not be as effective as they otherwise could be.

For example, take the management of high blood pressure. Medication is the main approach and very little attention is paid to rectifying lifestyle factors like stress, diet and exercise. As a consequence this approach is expensive, there are potentially side effects for the patient, and although the patient may have their blood pressure under control, they can develop another western lifestyle related health problem.

Research indicates that two-thirds of the diseases we suffer in the west are caused by lifestyle related factors, like poor diet and lack of exercise, so if we educate about diet and lifestyle not only could we reduce the number of people with high blood pressure but also reduce people's risk of appendicitis, stroke, heart attack, angina, bowel cancer, diverticulitis, constipation, diabetes, insomnia and stress related health problems.

Mind-body therapies like acupuncture and massage can be of great value when used along with psychological treatments in helping us to manage health problems like stress, anxiety and depression. On the other hand we must take great care when using complementary therapies to help manage complex diseases like anxiety and depression. There can be a tendency to see complementary medicine as having all the answers and believing that orthodox medicine is harmful. Untreated or partly treated depression can also be harmful.

Nobody should use complementary therapies on their own. Its absolutely vital to also receive orthodox psychological treatments. The first action to take when you think you are suffering a pscyhological health problem is to see your GP because sometimes anxiety and depression can be caused by a physical disease that may need treating.

One of the major tenents of the Mind-Body medicine approach is getting the individuals involved in their own recovery. Research indicates that the treatment is more effective than when the person isn't involved. We cannot leave the whole of the responsibility for recovery to others.

There are millions of people in the UK alone suffering with psychological health problems like anxiety and depression. Professor Issac Marks from the Institute of Psychiatry in London has said that if every person with a psychological health problem like anxiety disorder went to their GP for treatment the system would collapse.

The modern health care system is under great pressure with too few resources and too many patients. Consequently many patients believe they are not getting the treatment they need. The average GP has approximately 6 minutes per consultation and one of the most common complaints patients have is that GPs don't have enough time to spend with each patient. So we cannot just rely on our GP to help to restore our health we have to enter into a partnership with them.

The late Norman Cousins once said about the role of patients in the partnership between the doctor and the patient that:

"Any battle with serious illness, involves
two elements. One was represented by the ability
of the phsycicans to make available to patients
the best that medical science has to offer. The
other element was represented by the ability of
patients to summon all their physical and spiritual
resources in fighting illness."
(Ref Cousins N. The Biology of Hope)

REFERENCES

1. Benson H. and Stuart E.M. (1992) The Wellness Book, Carol Publishing.

2. Diamond J (1995) Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide, Future Medicine Publishing.

3. Kabat Zinn J (1996) Full Catastrophe Living, Piatkus.

4. Sobel D. (1996) The Healthy Mind Healthy Body Handbook, Rx Publishing.

5. Vickers A (1996) Complementary Medicine in Mental Healthcare, Psychiatry in Practice (Summer 1996).

6. Wallcraft J (1998) Healing Minds: A report on current research, policy and practice concerning the use of complementary and alternative therapies for a wide range of mental health problems, The Mental Health Foundation.

7. Watkins A (1997) Mind Body Medicine: A Clinicians Guide to Psychoneuroimmunology, Churchill Livingstone.