It’s been four months since society began shutting down. School was closed. Jobs were lost. People were socially isolated. People are scared, confused, and angry. The people or groups that we trusted to look out for our best interests seem woefully inadequate to help us. It’s a time of great uncertainty, unrest, and stress for all of us for a wide variety of reasons. While there are many consequences of all that’s going on around us, one that weighs heavy on my heart is the large increase in anxiety, depression, and suicide. If you or someone you love is experiencing depression or anxiety, there is hope and there is help! I’ve experienced severe depression and anxiety. You can read a little more about my health journey here, which includes some information about the first time I experienced anxiety/depression. About 5 years after the time of that post, I had a return of my symptoms and I was terrified. This post comes from a place of understanding and empathy. And a place of hope. With the help of trusted friends and physicians, and the ideas below, I am symptom-free and living normally again--without the use of any prescription drugs.
I want to be upfront and crystal clear: I am not a doctor. Any course of treatment or change in medication should only be done under the supervision of a trusted physician. The information and ideas I am sharing in this post will hopefully help you rethink anxiety/depression and give you some tools that you may not have had before. There are few side-effects, but as with everything, everyone is different. There are some herbs and supplements that don’t agree with all people, just as there are some foods that don’t agree with all people. It is crucial to remember that our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health are all deeply connected. Rarely is any problem as simple as fixing just one of these things.
First of all, I believe everyone needs to read A Mind of Your Own, by Dr. Kelly Brogan, holistic psychiatrist. This book fueled me with the knowledge and hope I needed to seek out answers and not settle for conventional medicine’s answer of “Here’s a prescription.” (Disclaimer: I am not on the same page regarding spiritual matters as Kelly, but I think she is right on with everything else.) This quote sums up Kelly’s philosophy on mental health:
“...depression is a symptom, a vague surface sign at best that doesn’t tell you anything about its root cause. Consider, for a moment, that your toe hurts. Any number of things can cause a toe to hurt, from physically injuring it to a bunion, blister, or tumor growing inside. The hurting is a sign that something is wrong with the toe, simple as that. Likewise, depression is the hurting; it’s an adaptive response, intelligently communicated by the body, to something not being right within, often because things are also off in our environment.”
In addition to A Mind of Your Own, I recommend you check out Brain Body Diet by Dr. Sara Gottfried. These two books will help you rethink mental health and give you a greater understanding of the capacity our brain has to heal.
I have come to learn through experience and reading that there are many different root causes of anxiety and depression. Some of them include: vitamin deficiencies, gut imbalances, inflammation, thyroid issues, food intolerances, dehydration, hormone imbalances, etc. Ideally anyone who experiences symptoms of depression/anxiety would have the opportunity and the means to see a doctor that will help you identify and resolve the root of your issues. If you are within driving distance of The Institute of Natural Health in St. Louis, I highly recommend them. I saw Nick Bodi at the Institute and he helped me tremendously by finding the root causes of my anxiety. However, if you are unable to see a functional medicine doctor, there are still some really great, safe, and effective things you can do at home to both improve or even eliminate symptoms. The things I’m sharing here are tools that I’ve found helpful and I hope you find helpful as well.
I know this sounds simplistic and you might doubt whether or not this will help. But, I have often found an improvement in mood simply by chugging 2 large glasses of clean water. It turns out there is science to support this!
“As with depression, dehydration rarely causes anxiety as a cause by itself, but not drinking adequate water puts you at risk for increased anxiety symptoms now, and possibly the development of higher anxiety levels in the future. In short, dehydration causes stress, and when your body is stressed, you experience depression and anxiety as a result. Therefore, you want to ensure you are properly hydrated daily, especially if you are naturally anxiety-prone” (source)
2. Change your Diet
For many people, the foods they eat are causing or contributing to their mental health issues. Eat as much real food as possible: meat, fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds. Be sure you are getting a good dose of healthy fat each day. Limit processed foods, gluten, dairy, food dyes, caffeine, alcohol, and sugar. Far too often we discount diet as being one of the largest contributing factors (if not the largest) of every single health issue we deal with. Read more here.
3. Epsom Salt Soak
This is one of my favorite natural remedies for just about everything. You can soak in a warm bath or just do a foot soak. I find a foot soak to be the most convenient. (Does anyone really have time to soak in a bath for an hour?). I can’t count the number of times I’ve done an Epsom salt foot soak, while sitting on the couch watching TV, reading or doing some work after the kids have gone to bed at night. It helps. Every. Single. Time. For your foot soak, fill a large tub or bowl with a few inches of warm water. Add ⅓ cup of Epsom salt. You can also add a few drops of your favorite calming essential oil. I like lavender or frankincense. Be sure to soak for at least 30 minutes for the full benefits. I often soak for up to an hour.
4. Bone broth
Bone broth is healing and calming. It is rich in many vitamins and minerals which your body (and brain) need to function properly. Fill a mug with some warm homemade bone broth (or buy some Kettle and Fire bone broth if you haven’t started making your own yet). Add 1 heaping TBS coconut oil to your broth. Healthy fats are essential for your brain health. Add a pinch of sea salt for some added nutrients. I learned this trick from Tracey and we both attest to the power of bone broth for soothing the body and calming the mind.
Homeopathy is inexpensive, gentle and has no side effects. There are many different homeopathic remedies for dealing with anxiety and depression but for someone who is new to homeopathy it can be overwhelming to try to figure out which is right for you. Luckily, Boiron has some great combo tablets that are easy to take and effective. I recommend Sedalia. It runs about $10 a box and can be found at your local health food store. Sedalia is taken on an as needed basis and is easy to keep in your purse or pocket for times when you feel like the stress is getting to you and you need a little extra help.
6. CBD oil
CBD oil is all the rage these days and for good reason. While many studies are still being done, there is a significant amount of evidence to suggest that CBD oil is effective for anxiety and depression. As with all supplements you want to be sure you are getting a good quality CBD oil without a lot of added ingredients. I like Papa & Berkeley. It’s free of flavoring and other additives and I have found it to make a significant difference within approximately 45 minutes of taking it.
Ashwaghanda is an herb and one of my favorite and most potent treatments for anxiety and depression. Benefits of Ashwaghnda include: relieving stress, boosting energy, lowering cortisol, improving anxiety and depression. You can read more here. I keep Ashwaghnda in my cabinet at all times. You can take it daily or on an as needed basis. I find taking 2 Ashwaghnda to be extremely helpful and fast acting.
L-Theanine is best known for helping people relax. You can read more here. I don’t use it often but we’ve found that it is helpful for my husband when he is under a lot of stress. Not only does it help him relax but it often improves his stress headaches.
9. Cod Liver Oil
I take Carlson’s Cod Liver Oil, about 1 tsp daily. The benefits of Cod Liver Oil are many, including being high in vitamin A and D and reducing inflammation. All important things for mental health. Check out more here.
Magnesium is critical for hundreds of functions in the body yet the majority of the population is deficient in it. There are rarely side effects from taking too much magnesium so you really can’t go wrong. Magnesium also helps the mind and body to relax and sleep. I’ve always heard that you should take Magnesium Citrate if you are prone to constipation and Magnesium Glycinate if you are more prone to diarrhea. Take at least 200 mg in the evening to calm your body and brain and help you sleep.
“Magnesium has been demonstrated to be a rapidly effective intervention for depression, likely related to its role in regulating neuronal function through calcium flux in and out of cells, and potentially its role in optimal thyroid function—an underactive thyroid is a known cause of depression.” - Kelly Brogan, MD (source)
11. B vitamins
B vitamins are great for improving energy, mood and mental health (as well as many other things) check out more here. You want to find a high quality B vitamin that contains folate NOT folic acid. This is the one I take. Also, like magnesium, you can’t take too many B vitamins. Most of the population could benefit from a good B vitamin. As with all things it’s important to remember that not all B vitamins agree with all people.
12. Lower stress
Stress affects our bodies in ways it is difficult to comprehend. Stress can cause or contribute to anxiety/depression both because our thoughts and beliefs affect our mental health directly AND because stress creates physiological changes in us. For example, stress depletes magnesium reserves which are essential for our mental health. Stress also increases cortisol levels which affects our hormones, therefore mental health. Stress affects gut health which affects every aspect of our well-being. There are many ways to lower stress, some of those include: being outside, walking, exercising, meditating, praying, EFT, etc.
I’ve come to realize that all of us could benefit from a good counselor. I sought out counseling the first time I was struggling with anxiety/depression. At the time I had no idea what was going on with me and I was desperate for anyone who might be able to help. I went only wanting to find relief from the anxiety. What I discovered is that I had a lot of stress and built up emotions that I had never dealt with. Although, it was the diet changes and supplements that caused the most immediate improvement for me, the counseling was also a significant part of my healing journey. We must never discount the effect that stress, trauma, and life experiences have on our physical and mental health.
14. 4-7-8 breathing
This is a tool I don’t use as often but I have friends who find it incredibly effective. It’s easy to do and it’s free. Take a breath in through your nose for the count of 4. Hold it for a count of 7. Blow the air out through your mouth with lips close together so that you make a whooshing sound for a count of 8. Repeat at least 4 times. (source)
15. Liver Pills
We all know that liver is good for us, but I wonder if we realize how very potent it is and how it can flood our bodies with high levels of many nutrients in a short amount of time. I can’t bring myself to eat liver so I take homemade dehydrated liver capsules.
“All animal liver is high in mental health nutrients. The good news for people who haven’t developed a taste for it is that its nutrition is very concentrated. So, a little goes a long ways. Liver is high in protein, iron, potassium, selenium, zinc, niacin, B6, and folate.” (source)
Now I must speak to my Christian brothers and sisters a moment. We MUST stop telling people that “all anxiety comes from a lack of trust in God.” I can’t tell you how many times I have heard something like this in sermons or read it in Christian books. Let me tell you from personal experience that when I was scared, suffering, couldn’t think clearly, and was barely holding on, not only was this “advice” unhelpful, it was downright harmful. It only increased my stress, confusion, and the sense that nobody could help me. It left me feeling utterly confused and helpless because I wasn’t stressed about anything other than how terrible I felt. Yet I was being told both directly and indirectly that depression and anxiety come from not knowing or trusting God. There is undoubtedly stress and anxiety that comes from worrying, and worrying can come from a lack of belief and trust in God for Christians. However, it is entirely possible to be actively trusting God and simultaneously experiencing significant anxiety and depression, because there are many physiological issues that can cause depression and anxiety apart from, or in addition to, worrying. The same is true in non-Christian circles. I hear phrases that are meant to be encouraging like “You just have to trust the universe,” or “You just have to believe everything will be okay,” or “Whatever is going on with the stars and planets is creating these feelings in you.” We need to be careful with our advice and lovingly seek to help others uncover the root cause of their anxiety and depression.
Whether anxiety and depression is new to you or you have struggled with it for years, you CAN overcome it. If your symptoms persist I highly encourage you to seek out a functional medicine doctor who will not just medicate you, but rather investigate WHY you are experiencing your symptoms. Do not be fooled into thinking that it’s genetic, it’s just the way you are, that you have a chemical imbalance, or that you just have to live with it for the rest of your life. These are the half-truths we are told, usually by well-meaning, educated people and doctors who have not yet realized that the entire human body (including the brain) is resilient and can heal when we get what we need to function and remove things that are toxic to us.
With much love,
Disclaimer: Any treatment plan for depression or anxiety, especially the alteration of medications, should only be pursued under the supervision of a medical professional.
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