Anita Kemp Ph.D. Blog

Ideas for a healthy body, mind and spirit.


Here is a new concept for our times – EMOTIONAL INFLAMMATION. Lise Van Sustern MD, a psychiatrists, has written this book before the COVID-19 and how relevant it is. She discusses all the stressors present in our world now- hunger, homelessness, drug use, crime, federal budget deficit, poor health care, environmental crisis, income inequality, too many guns, poor race relations. Now we can add more. The result is anxiety, preoccupation with threats, rumination, fears. Even worse is that emotions are contagious. We have mirror neurons that pick up other’s emotions and help us resonate with these. All very good if the emotions are positive. Not so good in our current environment.

Given this contagious effect, she counsels that you may need to disengage from some friends, redirect conversations to less stressful topics, using positive visualizations and other stress management tools. She then outlines types of reactors: nervous reactor, revved-up reactor, molten reactor and retreating reactor. Then she delineates all the negative impacts of reactivity on us before she helps with ideas to “steady your body’s natural rhythms.” Then she presents ideas for managing distressful thoughts. Then the last part of her program for well-being is to “reclaim the gifts of nature.”  Here is the beautiful concept of forest bathing.

The last section presents some ideas for action. This includes smaller and larger steps. Action reduces depression and anxiety. It empowers us and as we all take action, big changes can happen. Let us all move forward in a positive way and heal our world.

Many will find comfort in the recognition Van Sustern gives to the distress we are feeling living in this world.





June 3, 2020 Posted by | anxiety, Depression, Emotional Well Being | Leave a comment


We are all being asked to Zoom, Skype, text, email instead of talking face-to-face. What are the implications for our humanity? The June Psychology Today issue addressed this in the article “Face Value.”

Here is a brief summary. Stephen Porges, neurocientist, sees our bodies as polygraph machines. Our autonomic nervous system picks up signals from people when we are with them. Are they safe? Are they dangerous? This process is beyond the words being said and beyond our conscious control. Our bodies know.  If we sense safety, we begin to synchronize and mirror each other. The mirroring allows empathy and as the process continues oxytocin gets released and we bond. We pick up subtle fluctuations in facial muscles that convey emotions. None of this can happen online or with text. A study looked into texting versus in person conversations between mothers and daughters. Bonding did not happen in the texting group. There are also nonverbal vocal cues that we pick up. Think of how many ways “I am happy to see you” can be expressed vocally with very different undertones.

These are things we inherently know but have been forgetting as our society becomes more tech and less in person. Even more concerning as we don’t use our in person skills, circuits and pathways in the brain atrophy. We lose the ability of reading people’s faces, empathy and bonding. I am reminded about a recent experience as National Park officer was prepping a group of us for our backpack. He was talking about the dangers and potential emergency situations. One young man had a question – “If I see someone hurt, should I stop and check on them?” This astounded me. Quoting from the Psychology Today article – ” When we move through the world with a level-headed gaze, we see others and feel responsible for those in distress. In our digital lives, it’s easier to turn away, but each time we do, we risk losing the capacity for empathy.

Perhaps this stopping due to Covid  19 will help us reassess our priorities.

April 30, 2020 Posted by | Emotional Well Being, Uncategorized | , | Leave a comment

Amazing Benefits of Exercise

You will want to read Kelly McGonigal’s new book THE JOY OF MOVEMENT for a strong dose of motivation. Exercise releases endocannabinoids which reduces the stress response, stimulates the release of dopamine which fuels optimism and good feelings.  Regular exercise increases the brain’s sensitivity to this chemical. Therefore, exercise becomes more enjoyable the more you do it.

The exercise only has to be moderately difficult for you and for at least 20 minutes to get the high from endocannabinoids. It takes about 6 weeks from starting an exercise plan to get pleasure at its peak. Once it does, the motivation to keep exercising is there.

Exercise reduces anxiety, rumination and depression. The lactate produced by the muscles alters the brain neurochemistry to have these good effects.

Even more good news! Muscles are an endocrine organ and produce proteins called myokines that have multiple benefits. One such protein is Irisin which may prevent neurodegenerative  disorders like Alzheimer’s. It helps burn fat and stimulates the brain’s reward system.Thirty-five helpful myokines are released by the quadriceps during one hour of bicycle riding. These regulate blood sugar, reduce body and brain inflammation, kill cancer cells, help muscles get stronger.

Every step contracts over two hundred myokine-releasing muscles and the chemicals released benefit every area of your body and mind.




February 20, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Yoga for Anxiety and Depression

I have attended a yoga class for many years and have noted the benefits – feeling great at the end of class. Now I am finding out that there is a whole trend toward using Hatha Yoga and Pranayama for anxiety, depression and trauma.

You may want to explore this as well. Check out Amy Weintraub’s books – YOGA FOR DEPRESSION and YOGA SKILLS FOR THERAPISTS.  I especially like the sections on breathing techniques. She teaches breathing for balancing, relaxation, energizing and cleansing. Why does it help the emotional state? Amy cites the work of Dharma Singh Khalsa MD who stated that Yoga stimulates the pituitary to release endorphin and the glandular system to release adrenaline and norepinephrin compounds. The end result is to have a balance of relaxation and stimulation.

Another book that may be of interest is David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper’s OVERCOMING TRAUMA THROUGH YOGA: Reclaiming Your Body. I haven’t yet started this one. However, Bessel Van der Kolk, the premier researcher on trauma,  has been endorsing yoga and body-based treatments for PTSD. If you have had any trauma, do read his latest book – THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE. 

Whether you want to alleviate anxiety or depression or just want to feel great, check out a yoga class.

January 5, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Dangers of Antidepressants

Information has been out there for many years now that antidepressants have no more than a placebo effect. People do benefit if they believe the drugs will help, for sure. The problems with antidepressants are becoming clearer and everyone should consider  the use of this drug carefully. Unfortunately getting off an antidepressant is very difficult and can take months of tapering off along with nutritional support. Most medical practitioners are not knowledgeable about this process. There is withdrawal in coming off an antidepressant and the physical/emotional effects can be very difficult.

I am working through a course in nutritional and herbal treatment for mental health by Leslie Korn PHD that has been approved by the American Psychological Association. She recommends a three month plan at least and gradual reduction of antidepressant in this time period. Why does she recommend getting off these drugs? She notes that antidepressants increase vulnerability to chronic depression, increase suicide risk, contribute to mitochondrial dysfunction and lead to higher all-cause mortality.

Another resource to check out is Kelly Brogan MD and her new book “OWN YOURSELF”. her argument against antidepressants:

  1. They are ineffective
  2. They can induce psychosis and violence
  3. They are addictive and withdrawal is difficult

There can also be many side effects: anxiety, indigestion, insomnia, low sex drive, weight gain, heart rhythm problems etc.

So what can you do for depression? You probably already know – healthy diet, detox, exercise, manage stress, and live your life purpose.  Integrative medicine professionals also have an arsenal of herbal and nutritional support.  Dr. Brogan also recommends meditation, yoga, Qigong, breathwork, ecstatic dance.


November 27, 2019 Posted by | Depression | | Leave a comment

CBD for Anxiety/Depression?

CBD (cannabiol) is now getting a lot of press and increasing use by indivduals wanting relief from anxiety and depression as well as physical ailments. CBD does not produce the high that THC does and therefore is not addictive. Please note that we produce a similar chemical in our bodies (endocannabioid) and this has an impact on a lot of processes in our body and mind. If you also take it in externally, it will impact our natural system and perhaps lower our ability to produce this.

That said CBD is increasing being prescribed to quell anxiety and PTSD symptoms by mental health professionals. Studies that have looked at this use large amounts from 400 mg to 1000 mg and the typical available capsule is between 10-25 mg.  Also the products available vary in the amount of CBD actually in the capsule despite what they say and may have various contaminants like pesticides, since this is not well regulated yet.

Little evidence has yet been produced for benefit for depression. Limited research shows  some improvement for insomnia at low doses but increased wakefulness at higher doses.

So the bottom line is  BE CAREFUL and use non-drug means to handle anxiety before you start any drug.



September 28, 2019 Posted by | anxiety, Depression, Emotional Well Being, health | | Leave a comment

Healing Your Body from Autoimmune Problems

If you have autoimmune problems, take a look at this new book – BRAVE NEW MEDICINE: A Doctor’s Unconventional Path to Healing Her Autoimmune Illness by Cynthia Li MD.

She had a very disabling thyroid condition that she suffered from for years. At first being an internist and believing in Western medicine, she worked with doctors to no avail. Then she began exploring using her intuition and body wisdom. This led her to functional medicine and chi gong. Then she presents from her experience practical steps anyone can take to heal. The approach of ancient wisdom and intuition leads to healing the cause and not to just covering up the symptoms.

Dr. Li presents a gripping and brutally honest story of her illness and gradual healing.



September 22, 2019 Posted by | health | , | Leave a comment

Mindfulness Continues To Surprise

Another study using mindfulness meditation that increases the support for its amazing benefits. This study was summarized in Mindful April 2019. Adrienne Taren, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon, studied the size of the amygdala in people with stress and mindfulness. The amygdala is part of the limbic system and involved in emotional responses including fear, anxiety and aggression. It can react with anxiety even when there is no danger but there is a learned pattern.

Taren’s first study looked at people who were not meditators but had mindfulness as a personality trait. She compared them with people who had high stress levels.The mindfulness group had smaller amygdalas that the high stress group. The assumption is that with smaller amygdala you are less stress reactive.

Now comes the amazing study – Taren had a group of high stress unemployed people and enrolled them in a three day retreat. Half of the group practiced Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and the other half were given relaxation practice. The mindfulness group after three days had smaller amygdalas. If this can be replicated, it is truly revolutionary. How quickly we can change and rewire our brains!

May 10, 2019 Posted by | Emotional Well Being, meditation, mindfulness | , , | Leave a comment

The Mind-Gut Connection

Another good book on the mind-gut connection, The Mind-Gut Connection by Emeran Mayer MD. Here is a summary of some of the points that are most critical for mental health. The lining of the gut has specialized cells that can release up to 20 different hormones and this is greater that any other endocrine organ. 95% of the serotonin is stored here and its release is impacted by what we eat, by the chemicals released from gut microbes and from signals of the brain. Ninety percent of the signals between the gut-brain go from the gut to the brain through the vagus nerve and only 10% from the brain to the gut. With more than 100 trillion microbes n the gut, who is in charge?

Excessive dietary fat and reduced fiber compromise the intestinal barrier leading to inflammation with subsequent decreased energy, increased pain sensitivity and increased likelihood of depression. There is a growing link between this and Alzheimer’s. Maybe ice cream feels better in the short term but then what? Interesting that patients can be classified as having depression just be examining their gut microbes.

Sobering news is that the gut microbes that play such an important role in mental and physical health are mainly set by age 3. Various probiotics and diets do not alter the gut microbes much but they do impact the metabolites produced by the microbes. So yes eat yogurt. However, diet alone is not an answer. Anxiety, anger and stress need to be reduced to have healthy gut microbes.

The bottom line is to eat healthy while reducing stress and know that our thinking brain is only a small part of our mental health.

January 1, 2019 Posted by | Depression, Emotional Well Being | , , | Leave a comment

Evidence Based Nutritional Strategies for the Aging Brain

I recently had a training from Michael Lara MD on nutrition and healthy brain. Here are a few tidbits from that training.

The brain ages due to chronic stress which up regulates inflammation, increases cortisol, increases free radicals and synaptic glutamate. Depression also increases inflammation. So both stress and depression are killers for the brain. The brain under these stresses has reduction of the hippocampus with the consequence of short-term memory reduction among other changes.

Chronic low level inflammation is related to dementia but also cancer, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and depression.

Dr. Lara recommends anti-inflammatory nutrients of Omega 3 Fatty Acids and polyphenols (green tea, berries, turmeric, cinnamon, green vegetables). The Mediterranean Diet is also anti-inflammatory. He shares a recipe for Smart Coffee which has 1/2 TB of coconut oil and cinnamon. Also noted were intermittent fasting (12 hours without food on 3 non-consecutive days), aerobic exercise and resistance training.

Mainly good healthy habits for food and exercise should keep our brains in shape.

December 8, 2018 Posted by | Depression, health | , , | Leave a comment