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Treatment of depression and anxiety without drugs: part one

Despite the recent arrival of Prozac and other designer drugs, depression is on the rise. Since World War II, rates of depression have doubled in the US, and depression is now the second most disabling disease in the Western world after heart disease. While antidepressants remain the mainstay of depression treatment, 55-65% of people don’t get enough help or can’t handle the side effects, according to a recent New York Times article.

I am one of those people for whom medication was not a good option. As a result, I have developed a holistic program for the prevention and treatment of depression and anxiety. This program can also balance the moods of those who suffer from bipolar disorder.

I have organized this treatment plan into five areas: Physical Self-Care, Mental/Emotional Self-Care, Spiritual Self-Care, People Support, and Lifestyle Habits.

As you read through the material, think of my recommendations as guidelines, not hard and fast prescriptions. Each person’s healing journey is unique. Now let’s get started.

physical self-care
Your physical health is your greatest ally in preventing or overcoming depression. Taking care of the body creates a solid foundation on which to build good emotional health. On the other hand, when the body is out of balance, it can be difficult to maintain emotional serenity. As Thomas Jefferson said centuries ago: “If the body is weak, the mind will not be strong.” That’s why physical self-care is the starting point in your recovery program.

Here are ten basic, common-sense physical self-care habits that will help you achieve a better state of mind.

1) Avoid putting garbage on your body. Start with the obvious toxins like tobacco, alcohol, and hard drugs. Also, cut out processed foods like soda, diet soda, candy, cookies, cakes, entrees made with artificial ingredients, etc. For those sensitive to sugar, refined sugar acts like a drug, wreaking havoc on the brain and body.

2) Give the body enough exercise, at least 20 minutes a day, 5 days a week, so that it sweats. The practice of yoga is particularly helpful in conditioning the body, calming the nervous system, and balancing the emotions.

3) Drink plenty of water, at least 64 ounces a day (one ounce for every two pounds of body weight) and more if you are active. Take water with you to drink between meals. Make sure the water is pure, not city water. The best way to ensure this is to use a good water filter.

4) Meet your body’s need for adequate sleep with a regular and consistent sleep schedule.

5) Eat a diet that contains a wide variety of fresh, unprocessed foods, buying organic whenever possible. Be sure to eat at regular intervals to keep your blood sugar level stable. Also eat enough protein, since neurotransmitters in the brain are made from the essential amino acids in protein.

6) Learn to properly oxygenate your body through deep, diaphragmatic breathing.

7) Get plenty of natural light exposure (morning hours are best), especially if you have SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Light boxes are therapeutic for some people.

8) If you want to explore alternative medicine that directly affects your brain chemistry, whether it involves herbal remedies like St. Johns Wort and Kava Kava or amino acids like 5-HTP or SAMe, find a suitable prescriber or doctor. Nutritionally oriented to work with.

9) Find a way to satisfy your body’s need for contact through hugs or therapeutic massages.

10) Appreciate your body for the wonderful miracle that it is.

Mental/emotional self-care

The new science of psychoneuroimmunology clearly documents the impact of the mind on the nervous system and immune function. Therefore, developing positive thinking habits and feelings is an essential part of your “brain maintenance” program. Since negative thinking can actually create painful feelings, it’s important to become aware of and free yourself from your self-defeating and irrational beliefs. Such beliefs include: “It’s important that everyone loves me all the time,” “I have to be perfect in everything I do,” and “It’s my fault I’m depressed.”

Other painful feelings are often the result of distorted and negative thinking, known as cognitive distortions. Some common distortions are: all-or-nothing thinking (seeing things in black and white categories); mental filter (select a single negative detail and dwell exclusively on it); disqualifying the positive; jumping to conclusions (making a negative interpretation, even though there are no definite facts to support the conclusion); mind reading (arbitrarily concluding that someone else is reacting negatively to you without checking); reasoning (assuming that negative emotional emotions reflect the way things really are, i.e. “sorry, therefore it must be true”, should-be statements); and personalization (seeing yourself as the cause of some negative external event for which you are not responsible). )

Identifying and correcting self-defeating beliefs and thinking errors will improve your mood and help balance your emotions. It is often difficult to do this alone, especially if you experienced trauma or abuse as a child. This is when finding a good therapist becomes an important aspect of your recovery program. There are many types of guides to choose from: psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, pastoral counselors, licensed professional counselors, drug and alcohol counselors, etc. Locating the right therapist means finding the right one, just like in a marriage or business partnership. Take the time you need and trust your instincts. The person you work with will be an indispensable part of your healing process.

The rest of the Mood Enhancement Program is described in Treating Depression and Anxiety Without Medication: Part Two.

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