This blog is probably my most asked for blog – so thanks to all your DM’s it’s finally here!
DISCLAIMER: this post is not meant to diminish people’s walks with mental disorders, and I am by no means saying all mental illness could be cured through natural remedies. It is imperative that you consult a medical professional before discontinuing any medication (the withdrawals from anti-depressants are SERIOUS and going cold turkey could be detrimental to your health) and it’s important to also ask before adding any supplements into your regimen especially if you are already on medication.
My Struggle With Anxiety And Depression:
On and off since I was a little girl, I have battled with anxiety. When I was in the 7th grade I was put on anti-depressants to help with my extreme lows and panic attacks – after about a year I was weened off of them so my body wouldn’t become dependent, but the depressed feelings still hadn’t seemed to go away.
Throughout my life I have had some intense lows; some that I can remember off the top of my head:
In college I fell into a deep depression during my sophomore year, causing me to have constant panic attacks. I took myself off birth control after speaking to my physician, which seemed to be extremely helpful at that point in my life (If you are experiencing depression and are prescribed birth control I suggest looking into this).
Another time in my life that I struggled immensely was after I lost my father to suicide. My panic attacks began to come back STRONG which pushed me to smoke marijuana heavily. After years of heavy marijuana use I decided to quit smoking which in turn brought back some anxious feelings but at this point in my life the feelings manageable.
Then this past year hit, and I found myself once again in an emotionally fragile place. Between an intense traveling schedule and planning for a wedding, I began to have such bad anxiety that I felt as if I couldn’t eat due to nausea and stomach pains, which then caused me to lose a considerable amount of weight, which in turn made panic EVEN MORE… you get the picture.
At this point I was desperate for a solution that didn’t involve medication – I decided to attend a class on anxiety held at lemon Laine featuring Dr.Motley – a well-known chiropractor and kinesiologist in Nashville. He spoke about healing depression and anxiety naturally and that these feelings could essentially be an indicator of something more internally happening within us. Using some of the tools Dr.Motley spoke about mixed with my own research I decided to dig in. Here’s what I found…
What Is “Depression” and What Causes It?
Depression is rooted in inflammation of the body, not necessarily the brain. Our body is a lot smarter than we give it credit for – it creates symptoms for a REASON. Depression/anxiety are significant symptoms that are indicating something is not matching up; whether it’s your lifestyle, diet, not enough exercise, lack of sunlight, too much medication, an unhealthy environment, too much stress…
Inflammation is the way our body tells us that something is out of balance and that it needs attention. Often we mask these feelings or symptoms with medication, drugs, etc. but that doesn’t get to the ROOT of the problem. Of course, trauma contributes to anxiety and depression as well, but it is what we do to cope with that trauma that matters.
How Can We Start Treating the Symptoms?
In six decades, there has been no concrete evidence that a chemical imbalance in the brain causes depression. Many cases of depression and anxiety can be related to irregularities in the body. Kari Green M.D. put it this way – your toe can hurt, and the cause could be a variety of different things; from infection to stubbing it, or wearing too tight of shoes; the hurting is just giving you a reason to investigate into the cause, so why would depression be any different?
What if you found out your depression is actually a food intolerance? A side effect to medication? Or a thyroid imbalance? In today’s society, we want a QUICK FIX – but at what cost? We need to start looking at depression as an opportunity to figure out what imbalance might be occurring in our body versus covering it up.
As I said in my recent blog post, most of our serotonin is created in our gut, and if we have an unhealthy gut or poor digestion, we are more likely to suffer from mental illnesses.
Have you ever heard the saying “go with your gut instinct?” – For centuries we have used our gut to help give us intuitive signals. Think about it – when we fall in love we get butterflies in our STOMACH, when we get nervous for a big event or performance it can cause diarrhea, and when we are sad or depressed we lose our appetite. These feelings are our gut sending information to our BRAIN, using inflammatory messengers.
Depression is a sign of inflammation – it is our body trying to tell us we need help. So how do we show our body we are safe? You can start by feeding your body WHOLE FOODS, and by attending to your gut health.
So how exactly do we heal our gut? You can read my blog post HERE to get started. Want to know more about Kelly Brogan M.D.’s thoughts on mental illness and the connection to our gut? Check her out HERE.
Exercise is essential for our overall mental and physical wellbeing. If we don’t get up and get our body moving, you can bet our body will take a toll.
So how does exercise help?
- Exercise releases feel-good endorphins and other natural brain chemicals that improve your mood.
- Exercise helps take your mind away from depressive and anxious thoughts. PLUS exercise can help show you that you can accomplish tough things, in turn improving your overall outlook on life.
So how much exercise is needed?
You should aim for at least 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training 4-7 days a week. You can do this type of training on an elliptical, weight training, barre class – the key is getting your blood PUMPING.
Acupuncture is an ancient form of Chinese medicine that has been used to help heal people physically AND mentally for centuries. Treatment for anxiety and depression using acupuncture is unique from person to person because every body’s underlying cause for anxiety can be different.
In most cases you won’t see results for at least 4-6 weeks so remember, we are not looking for a QUICK FIX, slow and steady wins the race. You will need to attend appointments regularly at the beginning (somewhere around two sessions a week), and then after six weeks of treatment, you can gradually taper off to acupuncture once a week.
In my experience acupuncture has HUGELY lessened my anxiety symptoms and contrary to what many people believe, you won’t even feel a majority of the needles being inserted. BONUS: it’s a great way to add some much-needed mediation into your weekly routine!
So many people think of therapy as a “dirty word.” We are embarrassed to share that we’re seeing a therapist out of fear of judgment when in reality most people SHOULD see a therapist. We all have baggage, areas we could improve upon, etc. and sometimes speaking to a third party can be the most beneficial for breaking through the barriers created by anxiety and depression.
Don’t be afraid to “shop around” for a therapist; sometimes it can take a while to find the right fit.
For those who have experienced severe traumas I suggest looking into EMDR therapy, it is incredibly beneficial for those who suffer from illnesses such as PTSD.
Photo Cred: Peyton Fulford
As we talked about above, depression is often a sign of imbalance – in many cases it could be a symptom of a vitamin deficiency. So what sort of supplements can you add into your routine to help combat the symptoms of depression and anxiety:
- 5HTp: 5HTp is a chemical our body makes from L-tryptophan. We can’t find 5HTp in food, but we can eat foods rich in L-tryptophan to help our body produce 5HTp. Foods high in L-tryptophan: seaweed, turkey, chicken, sunflower seeds, pumpkin and more. 5HTp can help raise your brain’s serotonin level, which in turn can help ease symptoms of depression.
- Find my favorite 5HTp supplement HERE.
- Omega 3 fatty acids: Omegas are essential for several different healthy functions of the body, from heart health to neurological health. We can get Omega 3’s specifically through foods including fish, nuts, and seeds. Some studies have found with regular Omega supplementation that patients had reduced depression symptoms.
- Find my favorite Omega 3 supplement HERE.
- B Vitamins: B-Vitamins are necessary for brain health, they produce and control the chemicals that influence mood and other brain functions. Low levels of B-Vitamins have been linked to depression. Get more Vitamin B through high-quality meats, fish, dairy and eggs.
- If you are a vegetarian, it is crucial for you to get a high-quality B supplement OR if you know you have a hard time staying consistent with regular supplementation I suggest looking into getting a B-12 shot once a month.
- find out if you have a vitamin B12 deficiency by testing serum vitamin B12 levels and homocysteine levels
- Find one of my favorite B-Complex supplements HERE
- -Vitamin D: many people who have depression tend to have low vitamin D levels (most Americans struggle to meet their vitamin D needs), adding a vitamin D supplement into your daily routine can ease symptoms of depression. 600 IU is the daily recommended amount but if you are deficient your doctor may advise you take more.
- Find out if you have a Vitamin D deficiency by testing levels of 25OH vitamin D in the blood
- My favorite Vitamin D supplement can be found HERE
Some superfoods I LOVE to help combat anxiety:
- Mucuna Pruriens: is a natural herbal supplement used in Ayurvedic medicine, that lowers stress, reduces anxiety, improves focus, boosts the libido, and elevates mood. I use mucuna pruriens powder in my tea every morning, and I LOVE it! HERE is a less expensive variety of mucuna that is wonderful!
Get Better Sleep
Have you ever noticed after a lousy night of sleep that you wake up feeling out of sorts the next day? Studies show that a lack of proper sleep can affect emotional regulation and thinking which in turn can exasperate feelings of depression and anxiety.
So how do you get better sleep?
- Keep electronics out of the room and move your phone away from the side of your bed. Electromagnetics can have a negative impact on your sleep patterns.
- Keep the air clean in your bedroom. Dust and allergens can affect your sleep if your nasal passage gets congested. Clear the air in your room with an air purifier (this has been a GAME CHANGER for me)
- Get into a sleep routine. Going to bed and waking up at the same time can help regulate your sleep cycle. Consistency is key.
- Encourage better sleep with supplements. Sometimes no matter what you do you still feel like you can’t catch a good night’s sleep. If this is the case, try adding supplements such as CBD oil or Magnesium (or both) to help improve the quality of sleep you get.
Step Away From Social Media
Research shows that those who use 7-11 social media platforms in comparison to those who use 2-0 are three times more likely to have depression and anxiety. It’s hard to know whether it’s because of the extended amount of time on social media or if it’s the negative online experience (mean comments, comparing to online profiles, obsessing over followers and likes) but regardless there is a reliable connection between social media and depression.
Studies show cutting back on social media use helps with diminishing feelings of loneliness – researchers think this has to do with feelings of FOMO – fear of missing out when watching other people’s stories on social media.
Secondly, there is a strong connection between multi-tasking and poorer attention, cognitive abilities and mood; if you are consistently doing two things at once, it is more than likely going to start impacting your overall wellbeing.
- minimize the number of platforms you are on – choose which platforms are most rewarding for you.
- Set screen time limits on your phone – this way you can ensure you don’t waste all your extra time staring at your phone. Balance is vital, try limiting screen time to an hour a day.
Change Your Surrounding Environment
Living in a toxic environment can most definitely affect your mood, so how can you make your space less stressful?
- Turn on the lights and open those blinds! Research shows rooms with bright light can improve symptoms of depression and anxiety.
- de-clutter your home. Research shows having more clutter and objects in our visual field leads to distractions. Get rid of the clutter, and you’ll find yourself more able to focus on the task at hand.
- Let go of things that don’t bring you joy. Marie Kondo – star of “Tidying Up” on Netflix focuses on this principle when deciding whether or not you keep or ditch an item. Using this method will allow you to let go of the things that are no longer serving you.
- Add in REAL plants. Did you know houseplants can drastically improve the air quality inside your home? Invest in some greenery, and you’ll find yourself breathing better in no time.
- Organize. If you always live in chaos, you will find yourself lacking motivation, BUT if you take an extra minute a day to put things back where they belong, you’ll see you’re more likely to impact your overall behavior and motivation to act.
Mediation has a LONG list of benefits – but one of the biggest pluses has to be its ability to help reduce anxiety and stress. Meditation can help diminish physical discomfort and improve concentration while boosting your ability to THINK before reacting.
In today’s society, we are always surrounded by chaos and let’s be real – chaos demands our attention. Meditation will help you learn how to quiet your mind when everything around you might be screaming for your attention.
Meditation takes practice and will not be comfortable right away. Think of it as an exercise for your brain. Start small – think 3-5 min of meditation a day, from there you can build to 15 min or even 30 if that feels good for you! Try using apps to help guide you such as “Simple Habit” or “Insight Timer.”
Whether its caffeine, toxic friends/family/relationship, or a job that no longer serves you – life is too short to keep holding onto the negative. Letting go may be difficult, but if it is saving your sanity, then it’s time to let go of the toxicity.
Photo Cred: cwote.tumblr
Get Comfortable Being Uncomfortable
If you battle anxiety, you’ve probably asked yourself the question “why am I so anxious?” or “How can I get rid of my anxiety?” and the answer is you don’t always need an answer, and it’s not always in your best interest to eliminate anxiety-inducing situations.
I know this might sound crazy, but there is research behind this theory. If you continually avoid the things that cause anxiety, whether it be social anxiety, you’re germaphobic, etc. you give those things more POWER over you. If you keep fighting the fear and feeding the feeling that something terrible is going to happen, then you are only going to create MORE anxiety. You have to accept that you’re anxious, and let the feeling dissipate.
Sure, if a car was heading right for you and your brain tells you that there is danger and to get out of the way – that anxiety is essential. But when we start to have false thoughts that we misinterpret for actual risk, you are training your brain to be more reactive to those negative thoughts. So move towards your anxiety, let yourself feel it, and eventually, you can walk through it.
There are some tests you can do to see if there is an underlying health issue that is causing your mental struggles. Some tests that Kelly Brogan M.D. suggests getting done are:
- Thyroid function tests: TSH, free T3, free T4, thyroid autoantibodies, and reverse T3
- Underlying genetic variant: the MTHFR gene test (the MTHFR gene produces the MTHFR enzyme, methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase, which is essential for several bodily processes that directly tie into mental well-being)
- Levels of inflammation: High-sensitivity C-reactive protein
- Blood sugar balance: Hemoglobin A1C