Negativity, anxiety, anger, stress, trauma, and depression: chances are very high that you or someone you love struggles with these negative emotions. There are many ways to deal with emotional pain. Self-medication with harmful substances or behaviors briefly offers relief, only to make the problem worse in the long run. These include food, drugs, alcohol, risky sexual behavior, shopping, mindless TV, video games or internet surfing.
Christian psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen offers new hope. He says many of us can turn around our negative emotions by changing some of our daily habits. Furthermore, he suggests several coping mechanisms that can make us feel better now and later.
Brain Scans Tell a Tale
Nationwide, his Amen clinics see 4,000 patient visits a month. They have the world's largest database of functional brain scans relating to behavior. He says the SPECT (single-photon emission computed tomography) scan allows doctors to analyze the blood flow and activity inside the brain. Brain scans are so useful, he says, that nearly eight out of ten diagnoses and treatment recommendations were different after the clinicians used the information from the SPECT scans, compared to current diagnostic methods.
"Here at Amen Clinics, we look at people's brains," he told CBN News, "We have a database of 150-thousand scans on people from 120 countries. And when I started looking at the brain, I'm like, 'Oh, we can make it better or we can make it worse.'"
The Line Between Diet and Mood
Many people are amazed to learn that our diet contributes enormously to our mental well-being. Unfortunately, the Standard American Diet is indeed "SAD," because it sabotages our brain.
"We're in a war in our society," he said, "ISIS has nothing on our food industry. The real weapons of mass destruction are highly processed, pesticide sprayed, high glycemic, that means it raises your blood sugar, low-fiber food-like substances stored in plastic containers."
He recommends a whole-food diet complete with lots of plant-based foods and healthy fats.
"If you change your diet add more colorful fruits and vegetables and get rid of sugar and foods that quickly turn to sugar and processed foods, it's been found to be an effective treatment for depression," he said, "Yes, you can go to the antidepressants for depression, they have all these side effects, or you can go with food."
Dr. Amen points out the importance of having enough good bacteria in our gut. He says scientific evidence proves our gut microbiome directly influences the way we think and feel.
He says brain scans even reveal the damage extra body fat can have on our brains.
"As your weight goes up, the actual physical size and function of your brain goes down," he says, "Which should scare the fat off anyone."
Vitamins, Micronutrients and Other Good Stuff
Dr. Amen says too many Americans aren't getting the proper vitamins, minerals and other nutrients necessary for optimal mental health.
For example, he says eighty-percent of Americans are deficient in Vitamin D, often called the "happy vitamin." Vitamin D comes from sun exposure, but since so many of us are indoors most of the time and wear sunscreen when we're outside, he recommends a Vitamin D supplement.
Dr. Amen praises fish oil or similar supplements to feel your best.
"I think everybody should be taking Omega-3 fatty acids every day," he said, "We have a crisis in this country of low levels of Omega 3. Why should you care? Twenty-five percent of your brain is actually made up of Omega-3 fatty acids, so if you're low, you're not thinking right."
There are 16 different brain types according to Dr. Amen. He offers a free, five-minute quiz to learn your brain type and which supplements might be beneficial.
Too Much Screen Time Can Cause Problems
Isolation contributes to mental health problems like depression and stress. Television, social media, and video games can do more harm psychological harm than good.
"Digital addictions-so common," he said, "Things like pornography, looking at things you shouldn't be looking at, even the negative news because the brain pays attention to scary things way before it pays attention to happy things."
Exercise and Sleep
Staring at screens also tends to promote a sedentary lifestyle, which also raises the risk of emotional issues. Dr. Amen recommends regular exercise because it releases endorphins, our brain's feel-good chemicals. Working out also improves the hippocampus, the region of the brain that helps regulate mood.
Exercise also helps us get a good night's sleep, another critical component to mental wellness.
"Sleep is so important," he said, "You should be targeting at least seven hours of sleep a night. When you have a bad day, it's often because you didn't sleep right."
Hits to the Head Really Matter
Dr. Amen was a consultant on the movie Concussion, starring Will Smith, that focused on the work of Dr. Bennet Omalu, who identified the danger of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) among football players.
Dr. Amen said mood issues can often be the result of hits to the head.
"Mild traumatic brain injury is a major cause of psychiatric illness and nobody knows about it," he said, "Do not let your children hit soccer balls with their heads. Do not let them play football because it damages your brain."
Safely Soothe the Senses
Dr. Amen says we all feel emotionally low at times and want something to turn things around right away. The trick, he says, is choosing things that safely appeal to as many senses as possible.
For example, he recommends looking at a picture of loved ones, nature or fractals, which are never-ending patterns. "Vision is so important. because thirty percent of your brain is dedicated to vision," he said.
Listening to the sound of the ocean or your favorite music can instantly improve your mood.
"What are the scents that can help you feel better fast? And lavender has been shown to decrease anxiety and depression," Amen told CBN News.
Anti-oxidant-rich dark chocolate is a healthy taste, as is cinnamon, but watch the sugar content.
When it comes to touch, massage proves beneficial, as does simply holding the hand of a happy person.
"There's actually an interesting study that if you hold the hand of someone you care about, your brain waves begin to sync. So you want to be very careful whose hand you hold," he said.
So while far too many Americans deal with negativity, anxiety, anger, stress, and trauma, some cases, not all, appear to be linked to our food supply and culture. The good news: for certain people, lifestyle changes can help restore joy and peace.