The Xanax Equivalency: Translating Medication Into Lifestyle
Back in the 60’s, according to Mick Jagger, Valium was “Mother’s Little Helper.” Other than alcohol, it was probably the number one coping tool. An appropriate dose would relax and calm the recipient, make everything feel ok. Valium is very addicting. By the 90’s it was mostly replaced by Xanax. Although it is even more addicting than Valium, Xanax has its benefits: it’s better at lifting the mood and less likely to accumulate in the body. Both are basically “band aids” to numb the recipient and manage symptoms simply and quickly.
Yesterday I was talking to a patient about the value of her yoga class, her swimming, and her social time. We got into comparing how she felt after these activities, versus how she felt after taking a Xanax. Of course these activities require prioritization, time, and effort. Way easier and faster to take a pill. But it was clear that these activities led to feelings of relaxation, inner peace, and pride in self. These and similar routines also begin to address areas that have been neglected in life.
Are you using chemicals, such as tranquilizers, alcohol, or caffeine, to help manage stress or anxiety? Would you rather use more natural and sustainable methods of regulating your moods? Shifting from chemicals to a healthier lifestyle takes some work but if it’s important to you, then you can modify your routines. Making these changes will not only reduce your need for chemicals, it will also elevate your quality of life to a whole new level!
Many activities and routines can help optimize body and mind. That means that if you prioritize and give these activities special attention you will function at your best, feel better, and live longer. Likewise, ignoring these important activities can cripple you. Here is a partial list:
Nutrition/Diet- Healthy meal planning, shopping, cooking and eating
Exercise- Every other day, stretching, aerobic, cardiovascular, musculoskeletal
Outdoor Recreation- Your doses of sunlight and fresh air
Body/Mind- Yoga, T’ai Chi, others
Sleep- Healthy sleep schedule and routines (look up “Sleep Hygiene”)
Mindfulness practice- Routine practice of being in the moment and disengaging from judging
Self-soothing activities- On a regular basis!
Creativity- Music, art, dance, writing, inventing…
Self-Challenge- Stimulating activities that are challenging but do-able
“No self”- Activities that get you so absorbed you don’t think about yourself
Life Of Values- Living and acting on your values
Love and Compassion- Giving and receiving
Sense of community, belonging- Spending time connecting with others
Working on circles of relations- Improving relationships, getting closer (or more distant and setting boundaries)
Family- Bonding time
Fun with others
Meditation- Doesn’t have to be sitting still!
Contemplation/inquisitive- Asking “Why?”
Contemplation/appreciative- Accepting, gratitude
Which of these areas are working well for you? Which are not?
Living healthier includes examining your values… What’s important and what you consider the “right” way to live. If you’re considering making changes to your life, the best place to start is to examine and solidify your values. Everything will fall into place from there. When you live your values you can be guilt and anxiety free, and feel good about yourself.
When you do review your values, you will find that self-care is up there. That’s what this article is about. Most people can see it would be hard to be depressed or unhappy when living a life that includes these activities on a regular basis. When engaging in these activities, and for a time after, we often forget about our pressures, give our body a chance to unwind and rejuvenate. That includes stabilizing hormones and the immune system.
What gets in your way of making the lifestyle changes necessary in order to be “Optimally well?”
Here are common excuses:
1. “I don’t have enough time”
2. “I feel guilty”
3. “Nothing will change”
4. “No money”
Let’s address these.
1. “I don’t have enough time.”
There are 24 X 7 = 168 hours in a week. Let’s subtract out 8 hours sleep per night (- 56) and let’s consider if you work more than 40 hours, let’s say 70 including travel or if you’re a stay at home parent. 168 – 56 – 70 leaves about 40 hours per week when you are not sleeping or working.
How do you use that time?
-Schedule your time wisely. Little by little learn what you need in order to function optimally, and prioritize those activities.
-Follow through on those activities whether or not you “feel like it.”
-Set boundaries on what you do for others.
If necessary, practice in front of a mirror:
“I’m sorry I can’t do that because if I don’t _________ (exercise, meditate, etc.) then:
a) “I won’t be able to function well.” Or,
b) “You won’t wanna be around me.”
-Combine activities to cross categories and save time. For example;
A walk = Biological and Psychological
A walk with a friend = Biological, Psychological, and Social
A nature walk with a friend = Bio-psycho-socio-spiritual!
2. “I feel guilty.”
This is about self worth, and setting boundaries.
It means that you consider needs of others, and deny your own. Often people say they feel like they don’t “deserve” to put their needs before those of others.
The pros and cons exercise is an eye opener. You could do this with every activity. We’ll do a general practice here:
What are the pros of prioritizing wellness activities? What are the cons?
What are the pros of not prioritizing wellness activities? What are the cons?
|Pros||Prioritizing Wellness Activities||Cons|
|I feel better||Takes effort|
|My body and mind work better||Less time to give others
I have to say “no” more often to people
|I’ll probably live longer, less likely to get ill||People will be mad at me|
|Better quality of life||I have to do things for myself even if I don’t feel like it|
|I feel more in control of my life||I have to plan my day, week and be more deliberate and intentional about my time|
Now we flip it:
|Pros||NOT Prioritizing Wellness Activities||Cons|
|I don’t have to say “no” as much||More stress, anxiety, depression, unhappiness|
|No one gets mad at me||I won’t function that well|
|Just do whatever comes up||Probably have shorter life and get ill more often|
|Easier||Worse quality of life|
|I don’t have to take responsibility for my body||I don’t feel in control of my life|
|I feel resentful|
3. “Nothing will change.”
Everything will change. See #2.
4. “No money.”
Many healthy activities can be done cheaply or at no cost. You can spend a lot of money on a health club, or walk or jog for free. Similarly, you can pay for a meditation class, or many churches, synagogues, and Buddhist centers give free classes. Activities with friends can be expensive or cheap.
It’s very easy to make excuses for not taking care of our basic needs. It’s very easy to take a pill and suck it in. It takes more effort to make lifestyle changes.
Which pills do we need, and which can we potentially get off of?
Most people have a lot of judgments about psychiatric medications, and those who take them. Medications can be useful, even necessary for some. They are not good or bad. Those who take psychiatric meds are not any more “defective” than those of us who don’t, and often they are less “defective” than people who afraid to take meds because of how they’ll be judged. If you are on prescription medications you should work closely with a doctor and potentially a psychotherapist.
I see many people who would suffer less and be more effective if they were on the right meds. I also see many people taking medications who would not need them if they changed their lifestyle, priorities, and learned to be assertive about their needs.
We know what “Illness” is. You are sick, you have symptoms. “Health” is when you are not sick. That does not mean you are well. “Wellness” is when you are actively living your Bio-psycho-socio-spiritual program. Work out your Wellness Program and strive to stick with it!