“Holistic” is catchy. Is it overused? Is everyone now all of a sudden “holistic”? Yes and no, respectively. Holistic truly embodies all the different and essential components and facets of a persoon. In our Western society, we have done an excellent job compartmentalizing our problems. If you have knee pain, go to the knee doctor. If you have anxiety, you go to a psychologist. Take care of the knee, take care of the brain, put everything in a box. Right?
A reductionistic approach aligns with a more traditional medical model. We are unique organisms with many systems working together simultaneously that are all affecting one another. Anxiety in the brain can be affected by how you take care of your body, what you put into your body, and your lifestyle. It’s much more than just fixing your thought processes.
In this age of moving towards a more holistic approach, we sometimes don’t even want holistic. We may like the idea, but we just want the pill. We just want the diet. We just want the band-aid. As humans, we want the quick fix to get rid of the problem in the short-term instead of seeking out more time-consuming, involved work to actually repair the wound.
I chatted with Dr. Nicole LePera from The Holistic Psychologist. She’s from Philadelphia (where my husband Mike is from also- go Phillies!) and studied at Cornell University in New York. Dr. Nicole experienced anxiety most of her life.You can read her anxiety story here. Coming into her role as a practicing clinical psychologist, she realized there was a gap between what she was taught and problems she was enduring. Dr. Nicole describes an experience of her braining shutting down during one of her sessions with a client. She explained it as not just blanking out, but something completely different, something deeper. She recognized she needed to heal her symptoms and poured herself into researching non-conventional approaches and treatments. Dr. Nicole discovered so many things outside of her conventional psychology training, such as the gut-brain axis, microbiome, inflammation, and more. In her practice now, Dr. Nicole treats the whole person, helps her clients create body balance, teaches subconscious reframing, enables mindfulness practices, promotes gut health, and more. This is the type of true holistic work that takes time, commitment, and awareness. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Nicole for the Burnt Out to Lit Up podcast. Here are some top takeaways from our conversation:
1. MIND-BODY CONNECTION.
Whatever your brain tells you, your body believes it whether it’s actually happening or just imagined. Let’s say you anticipate a stressful event, such as having to give a presentation. Days before the event, you’re stressing out about it. Your brain sends messages to your body, stimulating stress hormones to be released, which causes your palms to sweat, increased heart rate, shortness of breath- and remember, you’re just thinking about it. Your mind and body are connected, whether you like it or not. We can optimize these connections to truly ground us instead of heighten our worrying.
2. GET YOUR POWER BACK
. According to Dr. Nicole, we spend our day 80% living out reactivity. I go into this topic deep in my continuing education course for occupational therapists and assistants. Without having your prefrontal cortex actively on your side, you set yourself up for things to happen to you. In this scenario, you live out reacting to these things. You are a victim to your circumstances. Pausing in your moments and practicing breath work will allow your prefrontal cortex to take the reigns. You see, every little thing (mail, traffic, confronting coworkers) can set out amygdalas off to the races. Dr. Nicole regularly shares her breath work and tips on her Instagram @the.holistic.psychologist!
3. BALANCE THE BODY.
Dr. Nicole talks about balancing the body and listening to what your body needs. From my own personal experiences, I remember going through the height of my anxiety. I would wake up at 5:30 AM to go the gym and do either a HIIT or intense weight lifting session before a stressful 45-minute commute to work and dealing with early signs of burnout. I did this because I thought that’s the only way to get a good workout. Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with those type of workouts, I was putting my body and mind through added, unnecessary stressors during a delicate time in my life. My body was idling in stress the whole day and most of the night- I had poor sleep and nightmares about missing my alarm to go to the gym. I even threw up a few times at the gym- and not from a tough workout, but purely from anxiety. Dr. Nicole talks about balancing the body with proper sleep and nutrition. The things we may feel- brain fog, feeling ‘off,’ anxiety, depression, etc. can be significantly impacted by what we do with our bodies. The mind-body anxiety I was feeling drastically changed when I stopped going to the gym at 5:30AM (I am NOT a morning person and this completely stressed me out). The mornings were stressful enough. By removing the gym in the morning and going in the evening, I felt SO much more relaxed. I implemented more yoga and realized this was the type of movement my body and mind craved. As a result, my sleep quality improved and overall routine energized me instead of depleted me.
Connect with Dr. Nicole LePera here and be sure to get her gut healing freebie: https://yourholisticpsychologist.com/