So I have postulated that this blog was going to address alternative, as well as mainstream (but mostly alternative) therapies. But what are we treating? Well it appears that two of the most prevalent mental health issues plaguing our society today are depression and anxiety. But what are these maladies? We throw these terms around rather freely. We worry about the slightest thing and say we are anxious, feel a bit sad and say we are depressed.. So let me start by defining these terms a bit.
Depression in it’s clinical definition, taken straight form the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fourth edition is:
- Depressed mood for most of the day
- poor appetite or overeating
- insomnia or hypersomnia
- low energy or fatigue
- low self-esteem
- poor concentration or difficulty making decisions
- feelings of hopelessness
Of course there are many different types of Depressive disorders, with different durations and severities, but, in a nutshell, the bullet points above sum up the criteria for a clinical diagnosis.
How do we understand depression in layman’s terms then? Simply put, depression is living in the past, not being able to let go of past hurts, past goals that were not attained, dashed hopes. If you are not able to stop constantly looking behind you, life is going to be a difficult road to travel as you are not going to get very far…
Now to address the physical aspects of depression. What is described in the DSM criteria is a constant feeling of lethargy and fatigue. Someone who is experiencing this in their body all the time isn’t going to be very motivated to do much. They may be able to get through their day in terms of the necessities, but once work is done and dinner is out of the way, that’s it, time to crash. That’s not a very fulfilling way to go about searching for happiness and isn’t that what we are all supposed to be doing? Well, if someone who feels depressed isn’t going to get very far and of course it’s vicious cycle, because if they aren’t feeling fulfilled like they are supposed to feel, and aren’t finding happiness, then they aren’t feeling very good about themselves, and this adds to the low self-esteem and the cycle continues… So we have lots of tired, unhappy people trying to right the wrongs of their past and depression is born.
Not that simple, of course! I don’t want to make it sound like all you have to do to deal with depression is to let go of the past. On the level of body chemistry, depression is caused by dips in dopamine and serotonin levels – the “happy” hormones – and an imbalance is a very real thing and can affect a person in very profound ways. BUT, there are also very real, profound ways one can increase these hormones with alternative therapies. More on treatments later, however. For now, on to anxiety..
So while depression is essentially living in the past, anxiety is having a future-oriented view on life. It’s constantly anticipating what is going to happen. And unless one is a psychic that is impossible. And since you don’t what’s going to happen and can’t prepare for it, you are going to be pretty anxious trying to figure out how to deal with something that may or may not, or five million other options..
So the definition of anxiety per the DSM:
- constant and severe anxiety
All the time. Of course there are different types of anxiety, about different things, but that’s just the bottom line.. In clinical terms, an anxiety disorder is diagnosed when a person is very anxious to the point that the anxiety interferes with their functioning.. I can think of multiple people in my life that are affected.
The most prominent (and undertreated feature) of anxiety are the physical symptoms. I am not talking about panic attacks here. I think most people know that when someone is experiencing a panic attack, they have tightness in the chest, rapid heart beat, nausea, an overall sense of being unwell. So in these cases you can’t ignore the physical symptoms as they are primary and in most cases people experiencing them feeling like they are having a heart attack rather than an anxiety attack and treatment focuses on differentiating between the two. But just plain, garden variety, everyday anxiety where you aren’t thinking you might be dying.. We spend our day worrying about the bills, the kids, our jobs.. And we carry all that tension in our necks, backs, shoulders. We get headaches and feel exhausted on a daily basis but don’t connect it with all the worrying we are doing.
As I have treated patients with both of these conditions over the years and as I delved deeper into my exploration of alternative therapies, I have seen some astounding results. The holistic therapy approach, one that accounts for all aspects of the person will always be more effective in addressing the issue. Patients who gain awareness of their bodies and become mindful of this connection can then begin to gain mastery over their minds. But I will have to leave the discussion on treatment for next time. Or times as there are so many options to choose from! Thanks for reading!