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Emotional distress is as old as humankind itself and has been treated naturally for millennia. Emotional balance, and a subsequently healthy body, can be regained through simple and natural approaches.
We are all human, and one aspect of our humanity is we feel different emotions. Emotions help define us as individuals. Emotions are part of our normal fabric of everyday life. Obviously, people experiencing the normal gamut of emotions that attend daily life do not need any support such as counselling. It is only when anger morphs into hatred, violence or rage; sadness into depression; love into infatuation; or anxiety into fear or panic, that we have a problem. Uncontrolled emotion damages ourselves, our families, our community; or becomes so intense, as in a severely depressed person, that it encourages the development of diseases such as migraine, blood pressure problems and even cancer.
WHAT IS EMOTIONAL HEALTH?Emotional health is about being in control of our emotions and personal behaviour. It describes our overall mental well-being, and how balanced and flexible our mental state is. Emotional health indicates how positive we feel about ourselves, and how we relate to family, friends and colleagues. It assesses how we deal with life’s stresses, and how successful we are in sorting out routine daily difficulties. It expresses itself in how much zest for life we have, and how contented we are with it. It also expresses itself in how we rate our self-confidence and self-esteem.
Good emotional health allows us to take part in life’s myriad activities to the full. We work better, think more clearly, are more sociable, and develop stronger personal affinities. Our capacity to sort out the many problems facing us is enhanced.
… AND EMOTIONAL DISORDER?In the society in which we live, situations that lead to one or other emotional disorder are not too far away: depression; domestic, marital and job problems; stress, and its accomplice anxiety; alcohol and drug (both legal and street) abuse; simmering anger; chronic illness and pain; grief from bereavement . . . the list is endless.
SIGNS OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESSHere are some common pointers to emotional disharmony:■ Sleeping problems■ Feeling down and depressed, overly pessimistic, helpless■ Uncharacteristic use of alcohol and drugs, and binge eating■ Intruding thoughts of suicide or death.
NOT A RECENT PROBLEMWe tend to assume that we live in a time of greater emotional turmoil, due to stress at every level of existence. Not so: challenges to emotional health have confronted people like us since the dawn of history. Hippocrates, the poster-child of natural medicine, identified the need for good emotional health as one of the ‘Lifestyle Factors’, alongside determinants of physical health such as a good diet, quality sleep, physical exercise, waste elimination and efficient breathing.
HIPPOCRATES AND EMOTIONAL DISORDERSNot only did Hippocrates recognise the close interaction of the mind and the body, and that our physical state of health is closely linked to our emotional state, he also advised on how to improve emotional health:■ Eat and drink properly; select food which suits your temperament■ Get plenty of physical exercise; but also take time out to rest■ Get enough sleep; but not too much■ Take a walk in the sunshine; but do not overdo it.■ If he were alive today, Hippocrates would include: Control or give up alcohol, tobacco or drugs.
HOW TO IMPROVE EMOTIONAL HEALTHA positive step we can take towards emotional health is taking good care of our bodies, especially through the avoidance of unwarranted stress. As the body and mind are linked, a healthier body boosts emotional well-being. As we are all unique, the route chosen differs from one temperament to another. However, everything comes at a price – just as we need considerable time, effort and inconvenient changes to our life patterns to reach and maintain good physical shape, the same applies to emotional health.
MANAGING DESTRUCTIVE STRESS Step one is to identify the source of our unrelenting stress, and act where we can. It may be our excessive or poorly managed workloads, lack of assertiveness, an unbalanced lifestyle, domestic or sexual function problems, or alcohol and drug-related issues.
Step two is for us to adopt measures to oppose stress, taking our temperament into account. Most of these involve changes to our lifestyles. Exercising regularly helps, but it has to be balanced by reasonable resting. What we eat is equally important. A better food intake rules out eating ‘comfort foods’ overmuch, as they are invariably loaded with sugar, fructose syrup and processed fats. We should focus instead on lean meats, whole grains, fruit and veggies. Improving sleep hygiene is a well-known way of eliminating persistent stress.
Step three puts our behaviour under the spotlight. Are we spending too much time on social media and the Internet? Are we meeting our friends and family face-to-face often enough? Shouldn’t we be doing more volunteering at, for instance, the local hospital or library? Maybe we should join a special interest group – a service club, conservation, archaeology; hobbies, etc.
NATURAL TECHNIQUESThese target the lack of inner harmony that largely underlies most cases of emotional disturbance. This varies according to which particular form of natural medicine is chosen. For Ayurveda, it is a lack of coordination of the senses. For Chinese traditional medicine it is a disruption to the internal organs. For Tibb it is an imbalance in the body’s humours or qualities. The techniques for dealing with emotional disorders are:■ Contemplation – prayer, meditation, tai chi and yoga are age-old ways that can become part of our everyday lives. They lead us into a state of mental quietness and repose. There are additional de-stressing behaviours which help.■ Chromotherapy – also called colour therapy, is the use of different coloured lights to correct specific emotional imbalances.■ Aromatherapy – the use of essential oils from specific plants for healing and cosmetic purposes.■ Acupuncture – fine metal needles are inserted into the skin at specific points to relieve pain and heal physical and emotional disorders.■ Acupressure – regularly applying pressure with the fingertips to the formal acupuncture points to achieve pain relief and healing.
HERBAL THERAPYSt John’s wort is widely used to treat depression. It seems to be equally effective as conventional antidepressants, but with fewer side effects. Even so, it should be used with caution if conventional antidepressants are being taken as well, as drug interactions can happen. Kava has a calming effect and is often taken to relieve anxiety.
CONVENTIONAL TECHNIQUESThere are numerous options open to those with emotional problems. They range from individual psychoanalysis and cognitive and behaviour therapy, to group therapy and family and marriage counselling. Then there is a whole arsenal of antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications and mood enhancers. These are often effective, but pose a dilemma regarding side effects, habituation and long-term effects.
EMOTIONAL HEALTH BOOSTS PHYSICAL WELL-BEINGMany factors influence our state of mental health. Some are within our control, but many are not. Making personal lifestyle and behaviour changes may help, or they may not. If we feel all our efforts have been in vain, and sound emotional health evades us, then perhaps it is time for us to seek professional help.
PROF Rashid Bhikha,
PhD (UWC), BSc (Pharm) PhD
He is a qualified pharmacist with a PhD in Education, pioneered the establishment of Unani-Tibb medicine in South Africa, and established the Ibn Sina Institute of Tibb in 1997. He is the Chairman of Be-Tabs Pharmaceuticals, the Ibn Sina Institute of Tibb, and the South African Tibb Association, and a member of the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa. Dr Bhikha also heads the training of Unani-Tibb at the University of the Western Cape. In addition to the many papers he has presented locally and internationally, he is the author of Tibb – Traditional Roots of Medicine in Modern Routes to Health.
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