Numbers are rising of those who are diagnosed each year with clinical anxiety and/or depression. I recently wrote a book called RENEWED: A Mind, Body, Spirit Approach to Self-Renewal that talks about how anxiety and depression develops over time as a result of unmanaged stress. In this book I explain how stress impacts the brain and triggers the fight, flight or freeze response. You see, when we encounter stress, our brains process the stress as a threat which naturally triggers the fight, flight or freeze response to danger otherwise known as survival. Those responses can include verbal arguments, physical altercations, shutting down and isolating from people, places or things, avoiding stress by numbing ourselves with drugs, alcohol and/or food and avoiding work, school, friends, social events, etc. Let’s face it…our lives are full of constant stress which means we are in constant survival. And because our brains are constantly processing our stress as danger, then we are constantly fighting, flighting and/or freezing. As a result of this need to constantly survive the threats our brains interpret, we can become physically, emotionally, mentally and even spiritually depleted over time. This combination and depletion physically changes the amount of dopamine, serotonin, melatonin and cortisol our bodies produce among many other chemicals needed to balance our mood.
I’ve always struggled with anxiety and depression, especially during the winter months. I work with many people whose moods seem to dip in November and they don’t find relief until April/May when it gets lighter outside later and they are able to get outside and be exposed to sunshine. This seems to be a common pattern I tend to come across and attribute it to many factors including a decrease in vitamin D from lack of sunlight, a decrease in getting fresh air from being outside and a decrease in movement from being cooped up during the winter months. We also eat less fruits and vegetables in the winter because they are not in season and less available. I often find that stress can also occur from an increase in stress due to greater expectations and demands at either work, school or family activities during winter months. As a culture, we take more time off from work and routine during the summer months. Do you see where I am going with this?
My family recently experienced a very stressful winter. We are a very busy family to begin with. Both my husband and I own businesses. My husband works long, steady hours and I work part-time aside from being the primary caretaker at home. We have 3 children who are actively involved in school and sports. They participate in band, student council and peer mentoring activities. My oldest son is involved in martial arts and my two younger children are both involved in hockey. If you know anything about the sport of hockey, then you know it is year around and an intense commitment both economically and time wise. Lastly, my family is very active in our church. Our children participate in youth group regularly and both my husband and I volunteer and lead in church activities. So you can see that just like you, we live very busy lives. We have little free time and struggle to sit down as a family to eat dinner.
I am often asked how I manage to do all of the things I am doing. The answer is very clear to me. I make self-care my priority. Not my husband. Not my children. Not my work. I make sure that I am fully cared for, balanced and recharged and as a result I am able to provide way more than I ever could not only for my immediate family, but for more and more people in my circle. I am able to give more to my church. I am able to give more to my clients. I am able to give more to my family.
So let me get to the real answer to the question above: what is the number one all natural medicine that a doctor should prescribe to treat anxiety and/or depression?
A VACATION. That’s right! A vacation. I strategically planned a vacation for the time when I knew I would need it most. Throughout my many years learning about the benefit of self-care through my own personal practice, I came to the conclusion that I struggle most during February/March. So I strategically planned a family getaway for February, then a self-renewal weekend retreat for myself in March and another family getaway in April. I know what you are thinking, “Boy, don’t you have the life.” I am not going to feel bad about it. We work hard and that is what we’ve decided to put our money into, our family vacations and time off from work. I also know what else you are thinking, “I can’t possibly take time off in February/March…my kids are in school or that is the busiest time of the year at work or my kids sports schedules won’t allow for it, etc”. Trust me, I get it. February is not the ideal time to get away in my line of work either and my kids play hockey so its not the ideal time for them and they are also in school. But isn’t that exactly why it is so important to go away during that time?
That is exactly what I discovered and now prescribe to clients now; a vacation during the time when you know it is going to be the most busy and chaotic. Why? Because that is when you are most likely to fall into survival mode and get trapped in the cycle of fight, flight or freeze. That is the time when you are most likely to shut down and isolate because you are exhausted and that is the time when you are most likely to get more unfocused at work and more sloppy as well. That is the most likely time that you will go back to old habits such as emotional eating or using drugs or alcohol to get you through. So be proactive like I was this year and plan your VACATION. It doesn’t need to be extravagant. But it does need to require you to get away from the daily life you are living; away from the cell phones, computers, drama at school or work, and every day busy schedules that you are living right now. And if you are like me and live in a dark, cold, snowy area during the winter months, then yes, I highly recommend you consider planning a vacation to a warm, sunny place. And yes, you may need to let go of some comforts during the year in order to include this vacation into your self-care practice. And you will most likely find it helpful to plan it during a time of year that is least convenient and most stressful to take the time off.
This year I put my money into a VACATION during the month that was the least convenient for me and my family to get away. And guess what! I did not get depressed this winter. I did not struggle with chronic clinical anxiety this winter and I did more things this year to serve in my home, work and community than I’ve ever done before. Why? Because I made self-care a priority and took time off to renew, rejuvenate and rebalance my body, mind and soul. This has allowed me to stay focused throughout the year, especially during the months where I struggle most. The number one natural medicine that all doctors need to prescribe is a vacation. Consider this today. You won’t be sorry.
If you are interested in learning more about how you can make self-care a priority, take a look at my RENEWED Program and visit my website at renewedmindbodyspirit.wordpress.com.