What to do when you hit rock bottom - the naturopathic way
In April 2014 I was lucky enough to have one of my articles published by Wild Sister Magazine.
The article is all about supporting and looking after yourself when you find yourself hanging on for dear life right at the very end of your rope.
The article included a list of nine things you can do to help you regain your balance .
In my practice I use this list quite a lot, rock bottom being a place where most people at one time or another in their lives seem to end up spending some time at.
Although very helpful, this list certainly isn’t always enough.
Being no stranger to rock bottom I know how hard it can be to muster enough energy to do even just one of the things on the list.
As soon as you’ve managed to stand up and start looking out, this becomes easier, but when you’re lying flat on your back on hard, cold rock bottom, help is needed.
This is where a naturopath can be of great assistance.
Actually, what is a naturopath?
A naturopath is a natural health care consultant who can advise you on many aspects of health and wellbeing.
Naturopaths can have different specialties, but ultimately they all follow the same naturopathic principles.
These principles are that, first of all, we seek to do no harm. We choose to educate our clients in their own health, to use nature's abundance of natural remedies, to trust in the wisdom of the body and to always treat our client as the individual they are.
The way I look at it in every consultation is: how can I best support this person to move towards wellbeing- whether this is physical, mental or emotional?
So, for this article, I have re-written “What to do when you hit rock bottom”, this time from a naturopathic viewpoint.
For the purpose of this article, I will assume that the clients has hit rock bottom because of non-medical factors.
If someone is seriously ill, this might need a different approach and you need to be especially aware of the interaction of any supplements with prescribed medications.
What to do when you hit rock bottom.
First things first.
If you’re overtired and not sleeping, this is not helping anything.
You’ll be too tired and miserable to even consider contemplating that this too shall pass, so let’s sleep on it first.
We’ll go on to such things as meditation, relaxation exercises, breathing exercises and coaching when you’re feeling a bit more human again, but for now, let’s just sleep.
Here’s what you can try: Valerian (Valeriana officinalis) tablets/drops (they can work especially well in combination with St. John’s Wort), L-tryptophan(not to be used if you’re taking anti-depressants or MAO-inhibitors),and in addition a drop of pure lavender oil on your pillow.
Instead of Valerian you can also try Withania (Withania somnifera) or Melatonin.
A good “sleepy time” herbal tea is another gentle way to help you find some rest.
Next, go out.
You can certainly and understandably hide under your duvet for a day or two, but then it is time to get out; some gentle exercise will help you let of some steam.
I know it’s probably the last thing you feel like doing right now, but it really does help.
Start small, you really don’t have to hit the gym for two hours solid, but go for a bike-ride, a run, a walk in the woods or your local park, a swim in the sea if it’s close by (and not too cold) or the swimming pool.
Passiflora drops or tablets can also help to take the edge of your anxiety.
A quick breathing exercise (couldn’t resist, but don’t worry it’s an easy one, we’ll do slightly more involved ones later on when you’re feeling a little better): breath in to the count of 4, breath out to the count of six.
Do this at least 3 times in a row whenever you think of it.
By making your out-breath longer than your in-breath, you’re giving your body a signal that you want it to calm down.
Don’t pretend you’re okay when you’re not. Don’t hold back your emotions or fight your feelings. Cry when you need to. Get angry. Punch a pillow.
Hug your cat/dog/pillow/appropriate close-by person.
Remember that you do not have to do it all alone. Talk to friends, neighbors, family, coach, therapist, like-minded souls on internet forums. People like to help. Ask for help. Accept help.
Going to see your naturopath for support is also a great start.
I know that it’s hard to come up with bright ideas right now, so let someone else help you with this. Get the support you need.
Ok, now that you’re a bit more aware of your surroundings we can look at how you got there and how you’re going to leave again.
Tell me about what happened, what caused your crash? A good talk to someone who really listens will help you get things straight in your head.
Did you see this coming or was it a sudden stop and drop?
Has this happened to you before? What did you do then that helped? And what did you do that didn’t help?
Is there anything that you know that makes you feel a little better at the moment? What makes you feel worse?
How much alcohol do you drink at the moment? Do you smoke? Do you use recreational drugs? Do you take any (newly) prescribed medications? What kind of foodstuffs are you eating at the moment. Do you feel lethargic or more like you are a ball of pent-up energy that just doesn’t release?
All this will help your naturopath to get a good idea about your situation and how to better support you.
Many naturopaths are also (life)coaches.
A coach will aim to help you to gain clarity and insight and the confidence to work through issues that are holding you back.
Together you will look at where you are now and where you want to be and then you take it from there.
Share your story about what happened, how you ended up on rock bottom, but remember that coaching is first and foremost about looking forward.
Yes. The past can give us valuable information as to why we are the way we are.
Why we might do certain things in a certain way. Why we react the way we do.
Why we self-sabotage. Why you struggle with the question if you are actually good enough and why you now find yourself on rock bottom.
You’ll probably already have a very good idea of where “things went wrong” .
It’s all old news though. Past tense. Dead weight. Finished. Not to be forgotten, but to be given its proper resting place in the past.
What a life coach will help you to talk about is how you can change the way you feel now.
By accepting the past for what it was. By taking responsibility for the here and now.
By working towards a better, brighter future.
As a life coach I will try to help you to come up with your plan B, to find your own creative solutions through supportive and honest talks and exercises.
Here are some questions a life coach might ask:
What can you do to rebuild your life? What would you like your life it to look like?
What do you need in order to start? What baby-steps can you take?
What do you think you’ll need further down the line? How can you get that?
But a good naturopath is has a few more tricks up her/his sleeve.
Rather than focusing on one angle of approach, my favorite thing about being a naturopath in situations like this is that I get to throw everything at you that works.
The multi-pronged approach; let’s get this sorted by using all possible means.
So, along with some much needed coaching, a naturopath might recommend that you continue taking Passionflower drops (as suggested in the acute phase above) to help you keep your anxiety under control.
Or they might suggest a herbal formula that is a bit stronger; maybe a combination of St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum), Damiana (Turnera diffusa) and lavender (Lavendula angustifolia)
They’ll likely also teach you some relaxation techniques, such as breathing exercises and meditation.
They might introduce you to guided visualizations.
They might recommend that you take up yoga or Tai Chi if they feel that could be beneficial to you. (They might even teach you how to do a sun salutation if it’s your lucky day!).
They might refer you to a grief-counselor, assertiveness-trainer or acupuncturist.
They’ll certainly encourage you to eat a healthy diet.
The link between feeling rotten and eating awful food has been exhaustively proven and to start feeling better you need to start eating better. This includes lots of fruit & veg, nuts & seeds.
Especially recommended in the case of rock bottom are foods high in magnesium (examples are: dark leafy vegetables, nuts & seeds, fish (especially mackerel), whole grains, avocados, bananas, dried fruits and dark chocolate)
Also foods high in B-vitamins (such as shellfish, mackerel, crab, low-fat diary, fortified cereals, eggs, beef, liver, bananas) and lastly foods that are high in Tryptophan (this is an essential amino acid which helps your body to produce serotonin, which helps you to sleep well and balances your mood. Examples of foods high in tryptophan are: seeds and nuts, fish and shellfish, meat and poultry, beans & lentils, eggs and soy products).
I know that at this stage you’ll most likely crave comfort food and will want to go for mac & cheese or microwave noodles and pizza; things that take no effort and don’t require you to get out of the house.
But taking a long, hot shower, getting dressed and walking to the supermarket to pick up some healthy things (ok, along with the odd bar of (dark)chocolate maybe…) will help you to shift your energy a bit, lighten it a little.
Go choose some lovely fresh berries and pick up a pot of greek yoghurt, some juicy plum tomatoes and basil to make into a quick but tasty spaghetti sauce, get some mackerel, spinach and fresh garlic with whole grain rice, a big bag of mixed seeds and nuts and while you’re at it, try that funny looking fruit you haven’t tasted before.
Avoid alcohol and refined and processed foods, they’re very likely to make you feel worse at the best of times, and since you’re decidedly not at your best right now, be kind to yourself by choosing healthy foods that will help you to get your bounce back.
One of my personal favorites in a Naturopath’s arsenal is aromatherapy.
What could be easier than lying back and thoroughly enjoying a lovely, relaxing massage helping you body and mind to unwind, while all the while the gorgeous smelling oils do their thing?
Essential oils are fragrant, highly concentrated oils that are naturally found in plants. They are what give the plant its characteristic smell and contain the healing power of the plant from which it was extracted (among other things they can be (steam) distilled or cold-pressed or macerated).
They can be found in different parts of the plant; lavender oil for example is distilled from the flower tops, rose oil from the petals, orange and lemon from the zest of the fruit, cedar from the wood, frankincense from the resin, to name but a few).
When used correctly, essential oils can bring a wide range of health benefits and unlike a lot of prescribed medications, they have no side-effects.
In the case of rock bottom I love oils such as clary sage (Salvia sclarea), neroli (Citrus aurantium), bergamot (Citrus bergamia), marjoram (Origanum majorana) and benzoin (Styrax benzoin).
They can be used in massage oils, bath oils, in a vaporizer, in a pulse-point roller, they can be incorporated in shower gels and body creams, the possibilities are endless!
There are some contra-indications for some of the oils, so please make sure you get the advice of your aromatherapist or naturopath before you start using them.
The use of essential oils for spiritual growth and comfort is another aspect of aromatherapy that greatly interests me. Spiritual aromatherapy doesn’t so much look at the benefits on the body and mind, but focuses on soothing and working with your soul.
As a place to start when it comes to using an oil for spiritual purposes, one of the easiest ways is this:
You need to be more grounded? Roots! (for example: ginger, vetivert)
You need protection, a thicker skin, to not let this get to you so much? Bark, branches & resin! (for example: benzoin, petitgrain, frankincense)
Want a lift to help things unfold beautifully? Flowers! (for example: neroli, lavender, rose, ylang ylang)
Need core strength? The whole herb! (for example: basil, sweet marjoram, lemongrass, peppermint).
Want to go to a happy place, a feeling of accomplishment? Fruit! (for example: bergamot, mandarin, lemon)
Need to expand, get new ideas, grow in a new direction? Seeds! (for example: carrotseed, rosehipseed)
For support, unfolding your creativity and ideas? Leaves and needles! (for example: eucalypt, tea tree, cypress)
Some ways you can use the oils spiritually is by making a blend for a ritual bath, or you can blend oils for a specific purpose, a “goal oil” (an example: For when you feel out of balance, a bit fragile, a bit fearful and would like to feel stronger: 30 mls sweet almond oil, 5 drops sweet marjoram (supporter), 5 drops clary sage (warm blanket), 5 drops benzoin (warmth).
Using a vaporizer to let the scent of the oil gently envelop you and work with you is also a easy way to let the oils help and support you.
As I come to the end of this article, I hope that I have managed to show you that naturopathy is a wonderful, holistic way of looking after your body, mind and soul in a gentle but effective way.
Lastly I would like you to please remember that one of the most important things you can do for yourself when you find yourself at rock bottom is to stop agonizing over what you think you or someone else could have or should have done differently.
You are here now; decide where you want to go from here.
Decide to come out stronger on the other end.
You can do this. You are strong enough!
“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life” – J.K. Rowling
Article written by Bea Abrahamse (all rights reserved)
Case studies for complementary therapists – Kelly Galvin and Madelaine Bishop (ISBN 978-0-7295-3955-5)
Clinical Naturopathy 2e – Jerome Sarris and Jon Wardle (ISBN 978-0-7295-4173-2)
De supplementenwijzer – Juglen Zwaan (ISBN 9-789079-872695)
The fragrant heavens – Valerie Anne Worwood (ISBN 0-553-50579-3)
The optimum nutrition bible – Patrick Holford (ISBN 0-7499-1748-2)