Sunday, February 19, 2017

Big Picture Living

by Catherine McLaughlin

The term “holistic” can mean different things to different people. To me, it means looking at your life from a “big picture” viewpoint, and noticing patterns (good and bad) that may have developed. Some of your patterns may be detrimental to your life experience, while others may be supportive and guiding you through. While everyone has unique factors that comprise their “picture”, there are a few common lifestyle factors that work in everyone’s favor. By making small changes in specific areas of your life, you can move from dis-ease to ease.

As a psychotherapist, I see people who are struggling in various aspects of their life. But psychotherapy is only part of the picture. Visiting a medical doctor to rule out any medical conditions that could be interfering with your overall well-being is the first step. You may also be taking prescription medication to address your symptoms. In addition to psychotherapy and medication, assessing your current lifestyle habits could improve how you interact with your symptoms - and your life.

Good [psychotherapists and] psychiatrists most often look not only to medication and talk therapy, but also lifestyle changes, regularizing sleep patterns, daily routines, circadian rhythms, exercise and diet can make an enormous difference. A mind body connection continues to grow in relevance for everyone. Riding the Tiger, PBS Documentary

I love working with people as a “lifestyle detective” to figure out how all the pieces come together and interact. Once we determine your personal lifestyle factors, we can start putting it all together to create a picture of wellness and ease. There are a few lifestyle factors everyone has in common, including exercise, nutrition, and sleep.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression and/or anxiety, exercising may be the last thing you feel like doing. But scientists have proven that not only can make you feel better, it can help prevent symptoms from returning. Exercise helps the brain release chemicals that make you feel good (neurotransmitters, endorphins and endocannabinoids), strengthens your immune system, and raises your body temperature. This combination can have a calming effect on your nervous system, which makes you experience fewer symptoms. Sticking with an exercise plan can positively affect your confidence, connect you more to a social network, and serve as a form of “moving meditation.”

Have you ever noticed how you feel after eating? Do some foods make you feel “different” than others? Foods with high nutrient density - like fresh vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats - provide our bodies with nutrient-packed calories to use as fuel. Eating nutritionally rich foods can leave you feeling energized, alert, and light. Conversely, foods that are high in fat, salt, and sugar can leave you feeling bloated and tired. Foods like doughnuts, chips, and french fries are high in calories, but low in nutritional value. Eating nutritionally sparse foods in excess can make you tired and irritable, then lead into a vicious cycle of overconsumption and a worsening of negative symptoms. Researchers have demonstrated that eating regularly (not skipping meals) and maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet can support holistic well-being and positive mental health. They are even finding that eating certain foods can help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.

In addition to paying attention to the foods we eat, it is important to pay attention to what we’re drinking. Drinks like juice, soda, and alcohol are high in sugar and calories, and low on hydration. While it may feel as if they quench our thirst in the immediate moment, their sugar content dehydrates us. Water is the best drink around: Not only does it lack calories and sugar, it contains nutrients vital to our brain development and maintenance. Appropriate water consumption not only make our brains work better, but enhances our memory and performance.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults need 7-9 hours of sleep every night (while teens need 8-10). As we know, lack of sleep is a factor in poor memory, concentration, performance, and mood. Individuals with insomnia are ten times more likely to suffer from depression. Paying attention to your sleep habits (hours per night, how you feel when you go to bed at night/ wake up in the morning, patterns) may help clue you in to how your symptoms may be connected to your sleep.

In addition to exercise, nutrition, and sleep, there are many other factors that can be considered when using a lifestyle approach. Monitoring media consumption, screen time, and stress levels - and adding in self-care routines, daily habits, hobbies, and alternative therapies, such as Reiki, Rubenfeld Synergy, Qi Gong, mindfulness meditation - can work together in harmony to support your well being. The Resiliency Center offers many of these programs; Check the calendar for times and dates. The most important factor, though, is to discover how it all fits together for you. The holistic picture of your life is yours, and yours alone.

To learn more about Catherine McLaughlin, MA, NCC, LPC, please call 267-800-5073, email, or visit

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