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Katie wakes up from another night of not nearly enough hours of sleep.

Her life always seems to have such a crazy pace that she feels the need to stay up late to catch up on things she wasn’t able to get to during “normal” working hours. She decides to forsake the gym this morning in exchange for an extra 30 minutes in bed. She grabs a latte and a chocolate pastry from a local coffee shop on her way to work. On her way, she checks Facebook while waiting on the bus. “Wow! I haven’t seen any of these people in forever!” she thinks to herself.

In fact, she hasn’t really seen anyone lately. Her life is consumed by work and she has no energy to pursue friendships or relationships when she gets home (usually later than she would have hoped.)

Work isn’t even that great. Mundane. Boring. Filled with minuscule tasks that keep her incredibly busy, but not engaged. She heads to her weekly therapy appointment — one of the only things besides work she is able to maintain — right after she gets off. Lately, though, she hasn’t really been seeing much benefit. She wonders why. She feels stressed out and stuck.

As you read this vignette, I am you had a few ideas about why Katie isn’t benefiting much from therapy. Her life seems out of balance. She isn’t sleeping or eating right. Her exercise habits and social life seem to be lacking. She isn’t being stimulated or challenged by anything in her life. All of these things are contributing to Katie’s lack of energy, inertia in counseling, and her feeling of being stuck.

New studies in neuroscience show the importance of integrating what some have deemed “therapeutic lifestyle changes” (TLCs) into traditional methods of therapy. These changes enhance therapeutic results, promote wellness, decrease stress, and facilitate the development of new neural connections, which increases brain health. Neuroscientists Allen and Mary Ivey provide a list of the “Big 6” TLCs:

  1. Exercise
  2. Nutrition
  3. Social relationships
  4. Cognitive challenge
  5. Sleep
  6. Meditation

We will look at the first three of the Big 6 in part 1.


Exercise has been proven to have not only healthy physical effects, but also healthy psychological effects by elevating neurotransmitters and releasing endorphins. Responsive psychological challenges include depression, stress, PTSD, anxiety, eating disorders, addictions, and some symptoms of schizophrenia. John Ratey, MD, the author of “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” states, “Exercise is the single most powerful tool you have to optimize your brain function.”


There is an abundance of research showing the positive effect of a healthy diet on the mind and the body. If you wander into the health/diet section of any bookstore, you will find book after book — some based on sound research and many that are not. Rather than following fads, simply putting into practice the nutritional knowledge you already have will get you far. So, in the words of all the moms of the world, “Eat your fruits and veggies!” and “You only get one cookie.” One easy way to do this with a minimal amount of effort is to invest in a blender or juicer. These tools can get a large amount of fruits, veggies, and protein in your system with the least amount of time and effort. For those cooking-challenged among us, this is a great option. Find a method that works for you and stick with it!

Social relationships

We are social creatures. Alone time is important, but we need positive human interaction in order to thrive. The benefits of positive relationships include better immune systems, greater happiness, and cognitive capacity. Love might not be all you need, but it definitely helps. Take some time this week to reconnect with someone you haven’t seen in a while who you enjoy being around. Give someone in your biological family or family of choice (who you have a positive relationship with) a call. Notice how you feel different afterward.

Many of these things are “shoulds” that many people think would be a good idea in some abstract “one day” sense. However, recent research has shown that they are not only helpful, but also necessary, to thrive emotionally and physically.


Psychology World Rena McDaniel, MEd

Walsh, R. (2011, January 17). Lifestyle and Mental Health. American Psychologist. Advance online publication. Doi: 10.1037/a0021769

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