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UK : Without Freud or Prozac
US :Instinct to heal



Seven Healing Methods


As a physician, clinical professor of psychiatry, and co-director of a cognitive neuroscience laboratory, I published my work for several years in leading scientific journals.

Yet, I progressively discovered that, along side of conventional medicine, a number of natural treatment methods for stress, anxiety and depression had been evaluated and validated in credible scientific studies. These amounted to nothing less than a new medicine of emotions.

This new medicine relies on the fact that we all have two different brains (see figures) : at the surface, a cognitive and rational brain, and deep inside, an emotional brain.

The cognitive brain is the seat of thought and language. It manipulates symbols.

The emotional brain controls the physiology of the body : heart rate, blood pressure, appetite, sleep, sexual drive, and even the immune system.

To heal stress, anxiety and depression it is necessary to act on the emotional brain. It is thus often more effective to act on the body rather than rely only on thought and language.

Case stories from the book

Cognitive Brain
At the surface of the brain, it is the seat of thought and language. In this image, the prefrontal cortex is activated in a subject practicing a complex mental task.

Emotional Brain

Deep inside the brain, the emotional brain controls the body’s physiology. In this image, the emotional brain is selectively activated (in red) in subjects experiencing intense fear.

1) Heart Coherence

The 40,000 neurons of the heart’s semi-autonomous network ("the little brain in the heart") are tightly interconnected with the emotional brain. Together, they form a "heart-brain system" in which the heart itself plays an important role. By taming the heart directly, we can begin to tame our emotions.

The focus of this method is to train our cardiac rhythm to enter a state of "coherence" (enhanced healthy heart rate variability) rather than "chaos" (reduced healthy variability) which is its usual pattern. Chaos and reduced heart rate variability are associated with stress, anxiety and depressive states. It is also a leading predictor of high blood pressure, heart disease, and even mortality from all causes.

Case stories from the book

Heart-Brain System
The semi-autonomous network of neurons that make up "the heart’s little brain" is tightly interconnected with the brain itself. The brain and the heart influence each other at every moment. (Click on this image to make it bigger.)
Chaos
Coherence

In states of stress, anxiety or depression, the heart rate varies irregularly, it becomes "chaotic."

  In states of well-being, gratitude or compassion, the heart rate varies regularly, it becomes "coherent."

2) EMDR : Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

When a traumatic event rips through our life (the death of a loved one, a severe accident, a rape), it leaves a wound in our emotional brain. Yet, our brain has an innate ability to ’digest" difficult events, just like our skin has the ability to close a physical wound.

EMDR appears to stimulate directly the brain’s ability to digest past traumatic events and place them in their proper context. This may be through eye-movements resembling those that take place spontaneously during dreaming, or through other ways of stimulating attention.

To understand EMDR, stories need to be told about how it works for patients in rich western societies who are suffering from stress and depression, but also about children in extreme contexts such as Kosovo just after the war of 1999.

Case stories from the book

Traumatized Brain
Every emotional trauma leaves a scar in the brain. This PET image shows specific areas of activation while traumatized patients listen to the story of the worst thing that happened to them. On top, the emotional brain region specialized in the experience of fear is activated (amygdala and surrounding area). In the middle, the visual cortex is activated, as if patients were looking at the scene again. On the bottom, the area of the expression of language is deactivated, as if fear had put language "off-line."

3) The Energy of Light

The emotional brain is very sensitive to different biological rhythms. Particularly that of light. Thanks to a lamp that simulates the progressive apparition of light with every dawn, it is possible to wake up without any alarm clock. The rise of dawn is the natural wake up signal with which the brain has been programmed to transition from sleep to arousal over millions of years. It turns out to be a remarkably effective treatment for seasonal depression and for the energy loss that many experience between the months of October and March in the northern hemisphere.

Case stories from the book

4) The Control of Qi ("Chi")

For over 2,500 years, traditional Chinese and Tibetan medicine has relieved stress, anxiety and depression with acupuncture. In the last ten years, progress in functional cerebral imaging has demonstrated that stimulation with fine acupuncture needles directly controls key areas of the emotional brain.

Case stories from the book


Acupuncture directly affects the emotional brain
In this Harvard University study, stimulation of the back of the hand with an acupuncture needle triggers a deactivation of emotional brain areas necessary for the experience of pain and fear. The effect is enhanced when the needle is twirled rapidly as in the classical acupuncture method (grey bands).

5) Omega-3 Fatty Acids

There have been two major revolutions in 20th century medicine : prodigious advances in surgical techniques, and the discovery of antibiotics. The third revolution is still in progress : the transformation of the very constituents of the body - and of the brain itself - through nutrition.

20% of the brain is made of essential fatty acids that cannot be manufactured by the body. They need to be drawn entirely from what we eat. For the emotional brain to work optimally, it needs an important supply of omega-3 essential fatty acids found in fish, seaweeds and some green vegetables.

In the last five years, several studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids are powerful antidepressants in addition to their well-established benefits on cardiovascular function.

Case stories from the book

Mood Food
Commonly found in fish oil, Omega-3 fatty acids are essential brain constituents and powerful antidepressants. Because the body does not manufacture them, they must be ingested, either as food or dietary supplements (above).

 
Fluidity of neuronal membranes

The membranes of our neurones are built from what we eat. Saturated fats (butter, meat, etc.) – here in bleu – are rigid. Omega-3 fatty acids – here in green – are polyunsaturated et therefore highly flexible. They confer particular properties to neuronal membranes which help with communication in the brain. (Computer animation by Dr. Scott Feller, Department of Chemistry, Wabash College, USA)

6) Prozac or Puma ?

Physical exercise - even only twenty to thirty minutes three times a week - has powerful effects on anxiety and depression. In two different studies from Duke University of people suffering from depression, physical exercise was as effective as Zoloft, a modern antidepressant comparable to Prozac. Furthermore, after the treatment, patients who recovered through exercise relapsed four times less than those who had recovered through the antidepressant. The effect of exercise on stress and anxiety is even more striking. A few simple tips are enough to help people get started, even when they have never exercised before and have no motivation.

Case stories from the book

7) Emotional Communication

The emotional brain of mammals evolved to guarantee that a mother would stay very close and connected to its offspring for several weeks, or several years in the case of humans (because human infants are not self-sufficient for at least several years, unlike most other mammals). Affective connectedness regulates emotions and most physiological functions of the body. We now know that love is a biological need, on a level comparable to food and protection against cold temperatures. Several studies even show that the love of a dog or a cat has powerful effects on mood, and can reduce our responses to stress.
Love is a Biological Need

In the few hours following separation from its mother, the physiology of a rat pup becomes literally unglued. In a normal state, the different body functions displayed on this graph are aligned with each other and remain centered close the mid-line. But after separation from the mother, the tightly woven balance of the entire system is shattered as each function comes apart.

A number of truly simple methods exist that help bring more harmony to our emotional bonds. The first one can be summarized in six points that facilitate conflict resolution - at work, with our partner, with our chidren, with our parents. It is the beginning of a totally different way to conduct one’s life.

To deepen our relationships, we must also learn to more emotionally present with those around us, while learning how to set meaningful limits. A simple four point method that is commonly taught in medical schools and residency programs can facilitate this connection of one emotional brain to another, in less than 15 minutes. I experienced its effectiveness in family medicine clinics in the US as well as in makeshift clinics in Kosovo, but it also applies to the difficult relationship we may have all our lives with our mothers or other close relatives.

Committing to the community

Life has no meaning if we live focused on our own selves. In order to be happy, we must give of ourselves to others. This has been emphasized by all great religions and all great traditions of philosophy. Scientific studies now confirm that tenet : the happiest people among us are those who feel that they belong to a larger community of human beings among which they play a meaningful role. Committing to volunteer work through a local organization is often an excellent way to get started.

Case stories from the book






 

© David Servan-Schreiber

Disclaimer : The object of this site is to accompany the information contained in the book "The Instinct to Heal." Its content is absolutely not meant as a substitute to the advice of a trained therapist or medical doctor. This site does not pretend to diagnose medical conditions, and it makes no recomendations regarding medical treatments for such conditions.
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