To Your Health
May, 2012 (Vol. 06, Issue 05)
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How do you see emotions eventually leading to physical problems?

Mind and body are inseparable. While the impact of physical illness on emotional well being has long been recognized, conventional medical research has begun to focus on the interplay between mood disorders and a range of physical illnesses, including heart disease, obesity and autoimmunity.

Most experts now believe that longstanding emotional disturbances can elicit inflammatory changes in the physical body, and chronic inflammation is the root cause of many serious illnesses, especially those related to aging.

Happiness is one of many emotional states we experience. What do you mean by happiness and how can it become "spontaneous?"

Human emotional states vary from extremely negative to extremely positive, but I do not consider happiness to be at the midpoint. The neutral position on the mood spectrum, what I call "emotional sea level," is not happiness, but rather contentment.

Contentment, balance, and resilience help to dampen amplitude of our normally variable emotional oscillations and so constitute a more reasonable alternative to the perpetual happiness demanded in today's society. Lao Tzu said, "One who contains content, remains content." The ability to feel contentment is a key component of emotional well-being. I believe that this midpoint of healthy emotional variability can be cultivated and thus become spontaneous.

You say in your book, "I have a low opinion of all the drugs prescribed for anxiety" and you strongly advise against relying on them, yet the pharmaceutical industry has created a huge ad based market and is now vigorously exporting these messages worldwide; how do mainstream and alternative therapies combat such influence?

Another important factor behind the increased incidence of anxiety and depression is the significant rise in prescription drug use for mood disorders, largely as the result of pervasive marketing by the pharmaceutical industry. Endless advertising has convinced us that all mood disturbances, regardless of severity or duration, are due to biochemical abnormalities that can only be remedied with a pill. Prescribing sedatives or antidepressant drugs is too often an easy, but inadequate substitute for developing treatment plans focusing on diet, lifestyle and other concerns that impact health, including emotional health. Many effective treatment options exist outside of prescription drug therapy for mild to moderate anxiety or depression. Healthcare practitioners need to assume the role of the last line of defense against the endless barrage of drug ads and editorial propaganda, while also remaining open to the appropriate use of pharmaceuticals in the setting of severe mood disturbances.

You call for a new approach to mental health and claim the basic assumptions of mainstream psychiatric medicine are "obsolete and no longer serve us well." What is this approach and how will it encompass Eastern and Western therapies?

The biomedical model explains depression and other mood disturbances on the basis of chemical imbalances in the brain, specifically of neurotransmitters. In light of this, psychiatrists have "evolved" from being facilitators of emotional insight in patients to becoming prescription drug dispensers, all in the hope of modifying brain chemistry.

The integrative model of mental health I espouse neither ignores brain biochemistry nor rejects the potential benefits of appropriate psychopharmacology, but sees emotional disturbances such as depression as multifactorial heath problems rooted in complex interactions of biological, psychological, and social variables. Simply put, my colleagues and I prefer to use other methods first and to use prescription medication for short-term management of crises rather than rely on them as long-term solutions. Chemical imbalances in the brain may indeed correlate with depression, anxiety and other emotional disturbances, but the arrows of cause and effect can point in both directions. Optimum emotional well-being can often occur through a careful combination of diet, lifestyle, mind-body and other therapies that have the potential to optimize brain chemistry, correct deficiencies in neurotransmitters, and enhance emotional balance.