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Life Balance:
Rejuvenate, Rehabilitate, Relax!

Dr. Mona Gupta, an accomplished Raleigh psychiatrist, has a half-dozen key issues of concern for each of her patients—old and new alike—all embraced under the heading of “life balance.”.

Dr. Gupta

“Achieving balance in all parts of our lives is another way of expressing the ideas of rejuvenation, rehabilitation, and relaxation,” she says. “The components of healthy balance include restful sleep, good food, water, proper supplements, appropriate exercise, and a centering, meditative type of practice.”

The Importance of Sleep

“When a new patient comes to see me,” says Dr. Gupta, “the first fundamental issue we address is quality of sleep. I know I speak about this frequently, but it is such an important issue that it deserves ongoing consideration. So I ask of a new patient: How are they sleeping? How many hours are they sleeping? Through the night or intermittent? Bothered by bad dreams or nightmares? Do they need and use sleep aids? Do they snore? Do they believe they have a breathing issue during the night?

“Quality of sleep affects all parts of our lives. With poor quality of sleep, a patient is likely to become anxious and irritable, and even experience auditory or visual hallucinations. The patient experiencing poor quality of sleep can look like he or she is schizophrenic or even bipolar.

“I’m probably one of the few psychiatrists that lean heavily on sleep studies. I did my psychiatric residency at Wake Forest University, and the chairman of the department, Dr. Ron Bacall, was sleep-certified. He did research on sleep, and conducted sleep studies—and in one of his studies he diagnosed my husband with sleep apnea, which changed his life immeasurably for the better. It is a condition that can be the root cause of anxiety, depression, heart problems and other serious health conditions, all of which can be and often are treated medically without actually getting to the underlying issue: the presence of sleep apnea.”

The Importance of Diet and Exercise

Second of concern to Dr. Gupta with both new and on-going patients is the quality of the food and supplements they ingest and the rigor of their daily exercise.

“Vitamin B12 is strikingly deficient in many of the patients I see,” she says. “I had a new patient come in recently who is experiencing a lot of cognitive issues as well as mood issues, and in checking her B12 level we found that it was very low. Some people come to me believing they simply need some Prozac or some other medication to boost their mood, when in fact they need to address the food and supplements they take in—or fail to take in!

“So I do a lot of work with my patients around supplements and nutrition generally. Blood testing provides good information. Vitamin D deficiency is quite common, because we are such indoor people who are being instructed to stay out of the sun. Balance is the key word. Too much sun exposure is clearly risky. So is too little.

“And as I’ve said in these pages before, I encourage all of my clients—just as I encourage myself—to engage in a regular, well-designed exercise program. The simple truth is that many of the patients who come to me with fairly significant mood disorders do extremely well by getting good quality sleep, getting enough of the right supplements, eating good healthy foods, especially fresh vegetables, and getting a good amount of regular exercise.

Osteopathic Training

The daughter of two physicians both still practicing in Florida—her father is a gastroenterologist, her mother a psychiatrist—Dr. Gupta felt destined at an early age to be in the healing arts. She was still uncertain of her path even as she completed her studies at Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine, in Florida, emerging as a fully credentialed osteopathic physician.

It was after her Nova training that Dr. Gupta completed her four-year residency in psychiatry at the Baptist Medical Center at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, NC.

“I prescribe these choices not only for my patients, but for myself and my family. I see the benefits of these simple changes profoundly. Personally, I don’t want to be on medications for any reason, and for the sake of my work and my family, I need to keep myself healthy.

“I feel the same way about my patients. I tell them, ‘Go run, go walk, exercise, do weight training, take a good hard look at your diet. Are you eating a lot of processed foods? Perhaps it’s time to start cleaning up your diet. I find that talking about this with people is often very helpful—and in many instances, it leads to a real sense of rehabilitation and rejuvenation.”

Eating Disorders

It’s true, Dr. Gupta observes, “that we are witnessing a significant increase in eating disorders both in women and men. Too many of the women I see have an idealized, unrealistic image of who they need to be in order to be successful and loved. I have women coming to me complaining about being greatly overweight and while they may not have an eating disorder, they are on the path. We talk about preventing that, about heading that outcome off, and about setting realistic goals and loving your body as it is, not about how it would be in some fantasy scenario.

“Some of these people who have unhealthy eating habits also exercise too much. I have patients come to me who are exercising two or three hours every day. Together, from the point of view of their body, we talk about what is good and normal and healthy in terms of the intake of food and movement of the body. We keep monitoring this over time, looking for clear signs of understanding, compliance, and commitment.”

Adjusting Hormones

And there are instances, Dr. Gupta says, “when patients, for the sake of rejuvenation, are well advised to consider hormone replacement therapy (HRT). For women who are perimenopausal or menopausal, I almost always encourage them to work with their ob-gyn doctor if they are considering dealing with these change-of-life events. Sometimes simply going on a birth control pill can be of great help in relieving a variety of perimenopausal issues, or simply help in regulating their menstrual cycles more predictably. I have myself used an IUD with hormones in it, with great success. Typically, I had a kind of moodiness around my time of the month, and this approach was very helpful for me.”

The Benefit of Calm

Finally Dr. Gupta observes that calming mind and body is a critical component of healthy balance in living. “Given that I’m Hindu,” she says with a smile, “and we’re supposed to be expert meditators, and at the same time I’m a psychiatrist who clearly has a lot of experience and expertise in administering medications, you could infer that I have a foot in two worlds. It’s an interesting combination: meditating and medicating.

“Clearly a lot of people do rely on medicines to help clear their minds and help them focus on the here and now. Others achieve similar results with meditation. For me, running has become my meditative practice. When I run, I really am just concentrating on my next stride, my next breath, of being mindful of my next step and not falling. When I run, I’m not thinking about or worrying about my work or my kids or my husband. It’s me time; very focused;  just like good meditation.”