Do you eat a lot of packaged and processed food? Do you sleep less than eight hours a night? Do you get little exercise? Do you feel trapped by job or family stresses? Do you interact more with electronic gadgets than with friends and family?
Many of us would answer yes to one or more of those questions.
Together, these aspects of modern life slowly wear down resilience and make us more susceptible to depression, anxiety and other mood disorders, said holistic psychiatrist Henry Emmons, MD, of the Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing.
In the past six years, Emmons and his colleagues have helped more than 500 people boost the “inborn ability everyone has to face what’s in front of them with some degree of equanimity and skill.” That is his definition of resilience, and the Penny George Institute program is called Resilience Training.
The program starts with a whole-person assessment with an integrative psychiatrist, who often prescribes supplements that can help patients reduce the need for depression or anxiety medicine. Participants meet twice with a nutritionist, three times with an exercise physiologist and join an eight-week mindfulness group program that helps people become more aware of their own thinking and feel more connected to others. The program’s foundation is Emmons’ book The Chemistry of Joy.
Jennifer Fallon, PhD, a psychologist with Allina Health Isles Clinic and Allina Health Uptown Clinic, agrees that healthful eating, exercise and strong social connections can help you stay mentally healthy. If you do think you have a problem with anxiety or depression, or feel that life is a struggle, it’s a good idea to see your family doctor or a mental health professional.
“Some doctors may not be quite as familiar with mental health, but they can rule out physical reasons for how you feel,” Fallon said. “If chronic pain or illness is involved, you can get into a vicious cycle where you withdraw, isolate yourself and then feel worse. You need to get the pattern going in the other direction.”
Melanie and resilience
Melanie Groves of Minneapolis, who enrolled in Resilience Training three years ago, has experienced a return to joy and calm in her life after struggling with depression, anxiety and hospitalizations.
“I’d get well until some extra stress came along in my life,” Groves recalled. “I had been on so many different medicines and therapies. I had read and tried to incorporate pieces of The Chemistry of Joy into my life, and it helped. Then, when I was hospitalized in 2010, I learned about Resilience Training.”
Since going through Resilience Training, she has been “really stable,” even providing hospice care for both her grandfather, who died in 2012, and more recently for her father-in-law. Groves believes that “everything you put in your body is medicine.”
A Penny George Institute nutritionist helped her identify food sensitivities and eliminate corn and milk from her diet. She added nutritional supplements and now takes less anxiety medicine.
“I feel so much better,” Groves said. Her “prescriptions” for herself include getting outside and being in nature, daily meditation and spending time every week with her grandmother, niece and nephew.
Groves called Resilience Training “a wonderful set of tools” that you need to keep using after you have learned about them.
“We can all be healthy, and our brains are not set in stone,” she said. “You can change the way your brain thinks. I feel like a boxer in training; I can’t wait to see the challenges ahead.”
Resilience results and therapy
Research shows that almost all Resilience Training participants’ symptoms improve. Many have been able to reduce their medicines and many reach complete recovery.
“We’ve found that one of the most important factors for healing is to be connected with a community,” Emmons said. “Most people need to feel some larger sense of purpose in their lives.”
Therapists can help people who have anxiety or depression, Fallon said, because people don’t always realize how negatively they are talking to themselves. She sometimes uses yoga therapy, which relies on breath work to help clients feel calm and present.
“Every person has far more strength than they realize,” Fallon said. “We try to use times of struggle to help them grow and recognize their areas of strength.”