Created by the Center for Spirituality & Healing and Charlson Meadows.

Anxiety & Depression

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health concerns in our society. They are often experienced as a complex set of emotional and functional challenges.  

The science of mind-body medicine helps us understand the ongoing connection between the mind and body and see how anxiety and depression may be triggered by a variety of factors. These can include nutritional, psychological, physical, emotional, environmental, social, and spiritual factors, as well as genetic tendencies or brain disease. While we often hear about a biochemical cause, meaning that certain chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters are out of balance, it is not clear if the level of neurotransmitters is the actual cause of anxiety and depression, or simply a symptom that a person is anxious or depressed.

Anxiety and depression are not the same, but they often occur together. It is not uncommon for people with depression to experience anxiety and people with anxiety to become depressed. There is also overlap in some of the treatments, so it is beneficial to learn about both conditions.

Depression

Depression is a common disorder, affecting over 350 million people worldwide. It is a disabling condition that adversely affects a person's family, work, or school life; sleeping and eating habits; and general health. In the United States, the incidence of depression has increased every year in the past century, and now, according to the Centers for Disease Control, one out of ten people report experiencing a depressive episode.  

Depression is typically characterized by low energy and mood, low self-esteem, and loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. Symptoms include:

  • Sleep disorders (too much or too little)
  • Shifts in appetite and weight (too much or too little)
  • Irritability or anxiety
  • Chronic physical symptoms, including pain, gastrointestinal disturbances, headaches, etc.
  • Loss of energy and fatigue
  • Feelings of persistent sadness, guilt, hopelessness, or loss of self-worth
  • Thinking difficulties, such as memory loss, challenges concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Some more facts about depression:

  • Women are 70% more likely than men to experience depression in their lifetime.
  • Men and women experience depression differently—while women tend to experience sadness and guilt, men often feel restless or angry and are more likely to turn to alcohol and drugs to cope.
  • Only 50% of people actively seek conventional treatment for depression, although a majority of people do find some relief through treatment.
  • Depression causes unnecessary suffering and is a risk factor for suicide.
  • Women and adults between the ages of 45 and 64 are most likely to meet the criteria for major depression; however, over 3% of youth ages 13-18 have also experienced a debilitating depressive episode.

Anxiety

Anxiety may be a normal reaction to stress, and it can serve as a prompt to deal with difficult situations. However, when anxiety becomes excessive, it may fall under the classification of an anxiety disorder. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates that almost one out of five people suffer from an anxiety disorder, making it the most common mental disorder in the United States.

Anxiety disorder is characterized by emotional, physical, and behavioral symptoms that create an unpleasant feeling that is typically described as uneasiness, fear, or worry. The worry is frequently accompanied by physical symptoms, especially fatigue, headaches, muscle tension, muscle aches, difficulty swallowing, trembling, twitching, irritability, sweating, and hot flashes. Emotional symptoms include fear, racing thoughts, and a feeling of impending doom. People suffering from anxiety often withdraw and seek to avoid people or certain places.

While generalized anxiety disorder is the most common, there are other anxiety disorders, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Using an Integrated Approach

The recommendations in this article take an integrative mental health approach, which incorporates health-promoting lifestyle changes; evidence-based integrative therapies and healing practices; and mainstream interventions, including psychosocial therapies and the judicious use of medication. We cover each of these areas in detail--click the links or see the menu on the left at the top of this page.

The relatively new field of integrative mental health is a holistic model that provides a useful perspective on brain health and the treatment of depression and anxiety. Integrative mental health looks at the physical, psychological, social, and spiritual health of the individual and uses evidence-based treatments from both traditional healing systems and modern scientific practices. For more information, see The International Network of Integrative Mental Health.

Optimizing Brain Health

While depression and anxiety are usually categorized as mental illnesses, we find it more useful to think of them as disruptions in brain health, which is directly related to the physical makeup and mechanisms of the brain, as well as emotional and relational issues.

This perspective highlights the need to take care of the brain, which, like other organs in the body, is impacted by our lifestyle. As such, what we eat, how we move, and the quality of our sleep impact the functioning of our brain. In addition, how we handle stress and other emotions, the quality of our relationships, and our sense of purpose all play a role in brain/mental health.

A new concept of the brain is emerging. Instead of being a static organ that doesn’t change after adolescence, the brain is now seen as having a lifelong dynamic ability to change in response to its environment. Neuroplasticity is the term used to explain the brain’s ability to change (from small cellular changes to complete remapping) in response to new learning, experience, or injury. This new understanding underlines the importance of paying attention to our brain health and development. The brain as an organ (like the heart) needs to experience a “brain-healthy” lifestyle that includes the lifestyle guidelines in this website.

Working with Your Provider Team

When suffering from moderate to severe symptoms of depression or anxiety, it is critical to have a working relationship with a provider, or team of providers, who can help you choose your treatment approach and evaluate its effectiveness. An integrative approach includes psychosocial therapies and the judicious use of medication, as well as evidence-based complementary therapies and health-promoting lifestyle changes. The providers may include a primary care physician, nurse practitioner, psychotherapist, or other professional who is philosophically aligned with you, as well as integrative therapy providers.

If you are taking any oral natural supplements in combination with conventional prescription medications, it is critical for both the prescriber and the pharmacist to be aware which supplements you are taking.

If there are any thoughts of or plans for suicide, a conventional therapist, psychiatrist, or physician must be involved immediately, even if that necessitates the use of emergency medicine services. If someone doesn’t willingly request help, the family or other supportive members of that person’s social sphere may need to intervene and engage services. The risk for suicide often increases after early improvement induced by either medications or supplements, as the individual finds more energy and a sense of self-control. Support during this time of treatment is critical.

Suggestions to Begin

Ways to start to take care of your brain (and the rest of your body).

1)      Breathe………..slow exhalation helps relax the body

2)      Move your body

3)      Spend time in nature

4)      Get regular, replenishing sleep

5)      Spend time with supportive friends/family

6)      Accept imperfection

7)      Eat real/functional foods and drink lots of water

8)      Meditate (sitting or moving) or take regular time for self-awareness practice

9)      Practice forgiveness

10)    Practice gratitude daily

 

DISCLAIMER: The information in this website page is not to be used in place of medical treatment by a health or mental health provider.

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