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Anxiety & Depression: What Sufferers & Those Who Love Them Should Know

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Anxiety and Depression can be caused primarily by biological and genetic factors, psychological and trauma issues, environmental issues, or a combination of these.

  • Reflect On:

    Consider that due to A&D’s popular stigma, a narrow-visioned belief system, and the severity of these conditions, it’s wise to keep an open mind and learn more in order to be more compassionate and helpful to those suffering.

Clinical anxiety and depression (“A&D”) are often terrifying experiences, especially when we don’t know what’s happening to us and don’t have support. An overview and relatively comprehensive information guide to self-treatment and professional support can be invaluable and what I will try to share with you here. When I was caught in the vortex of A&D, I searched long and hard for insider information to help me. I couldn’t find very much and the therapists I initially saw didn’t help much either, until I found the right kind of therapists with experience in A&D.

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This article shares some of what I learned on my successful journey through A&D out to the other side (which at one time I thought I’d never see). It contains much of what I wish I had known when I was in the midst of that storm. I also share some facts and commonly misunderstood aspects of these conditions. Part of the reason for much of the conflicting information out there is the many ideologies and limited understanding perpetuated by people who had mild events, who haven’t been through serious A&D themselves, and who have not been in close contact with others who have A&D.

I have been through extreme anxiety and depression myself, had A&D sufferers as patients, and lived intimately with sufferers while I was in treatment. With this said, I am a Chinese medicine physician, not a psychotherapist, and this article is not intended to substitute for professional psychotherapy or psychiatry help, which I think are crucial for anyone in severe A&D.

So, I speak both personally and objectively about these extremely challenging conditions. My hope is that you will be saved some of the grief I suffered and this writing will help wisely inform your choices.

The Stigma

The most common mental illness in America is anxiety; this is followed by depression, the latter which affects more people worldwide than any other mental illness. I call A&D “evil twins” because they were nothing short of hell to get through, more so than any experience I’ve ever had, including massive grief and nearly becoming paralyzed as a teenager.

The stigma—a societally perpetuated fear, attack, and mischaracterization—on mental illness has developed because of a lack of understanding, fear, and perpetuating false perceptions that serve no one, especially not the sufferers. When your brain goes out on you, as your knee or hip might, it’s devastating because you no longer can guide your life in the way you once did. Except our brains affect every aspect of our lives, not just gait and movement. When we lose our inner world to A&D, we simultaneously lose our outer world because nothing makes much sense anymore and it can become impossible to navigate the simplest tasks.

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Most recover from mental illness, just as we do from other illnesses. In fact, between 70 and 90 percent of the individuals who are treated for their illness have a reduction in symptoms and improved quality of life. So, getting proper and prompt treatment is crucial.

We have a long way to go in our understanding, acceptance, and treatment of these disorders, all of which will undoubtedly help the victims of these hellish diseases receive more compassionate care and financial assistance.

Mental illness is not usually some scary monster that makes us “crazy.” And no, mental illness is not well-correlated with mass shootings; this false meme only increases the stigma on mental illness; insightful and revelatory articles on the subject are here and here.

It’s also helpful not to describe mental illness sufferers with pejorative, vague terms like “crazy” that offer little meaningful information and are more judgmental than anything else. Mental illness is a disease process, like the flu or diabetes. The latter affect the lungs and pancreas, respectively, and mental illness affects primarily the brain, endocrine and nervous system, also parts of the body.

While we can learn from A&D, and important “messages” and psychological growth can be gleaned from them, this may not be the best perspective to take when afflicted. Sometimes we just have to get through them, as we would the flu, and get our physiology balanced again, encompassing both psychological and physiological treatment (mind and body). Most often, some combination of both cognitive and emotional learning, as well as good old-fashioned biomedical help, are in order.

Because of the stigma, we might resist identifying, admitting, and therefore seeking help for mental illness for fear of being marginalized, embarrassed, or ridiculed. But, as with most other disease processes, the sooner we get treatment the better for recovery. So, if you or a loved one is suffering from mental illness, try to cut through the misinformation and fears that sabotage healing and get help. Usually those who have suffered mental illness are able to understand and empathize with other sufferers, as can an experienced therapist.

Yin & Yang ‘Evil’ Twins

There are different types of anxiety, just as there are different types of depression.

In this article, I refer to anxiety primarily as severe anxiety that is more than everyday worry or anxiousness that comes and goes. Clinical anxiety is persistent anxiety that is considered an “anxiety disorder.” It usually doesn’t go away on its own, can get worse without proper treatment, and can be accompanied by anxiety or panic attacks.

I discuss depression primarily in the context of severe depression which is known as clinical depression, or major depressive disorder (MDD). Depression is more than low mood and normal sadness. It’s more than being bummed out that it’s raining or  that you missed a movie date, or feeling “off.” In fact, depression causes us to perceive extreme negativity in things that would normally cause us only mild discomfort. This is consistent with the well-known adage among sufferers that “depression lies.” Well, anxiety also causes us to believe the worst, and it also lies. Both evil twins distort our beliefs about most of reality that we otherwise wouldn’t when we are regulated (“normal” and manageable) in mind and body.

Depression and anxiety are neurological partners and often co-occur, just like Yin and Yang. Anxiety is Yang (outward, activating) and depression is Yin (inward, quiescent). True to the interdependence of Yin and Yang, depression gives rise to anxiety. And anxiety can give rise to depression, especially when it begins to exhaust our resources. Both usually affect normal sleep patterns and cause insomnia. In atypical depression, one may actually sleep longer than usual. In either case, these evil twins are a menace and in my own battle with them some years ago I could hardly determine which was worse.

Depression and anxiety also often affect relationships, ability to make even the simplest decisions, ability to work and carry out once ordinary daily tasks, and otherwise live a normal life. Suicidal ideation and suicidal plans are also common symptoms. A&D can become utterly crippling and can totally consume us, especially without proper treatment. Again, the sooner they are treated, usually leads to quicker and better recovery. A more complete list of symptoms for depression can be found here and for anxiety here.

Not Necessarily A Reason

If you are anxious or depressed, you might think there is a reason for this beyond genetics and physiological imbalance, and that this reason can be identified. Like many, you might think there is a psychodynamic reason for this, which refers to some aspect of your psyche beyond its mere physiology. Examples include past trauma, lifestyle circumstances, childhood issues, unconscious forces, or other inter-relational events that affects your state of mind. This is not always the case, and it can be impossible to determine what caused your downfall.

In most cases, focusing on what is going on rather than why it’s happening is more helpful for recovery. In other words, first just try to get better by any means and leave any inquiry into why for later. An exception to this is if your A or D has actually been precipitated by a cause, which I address just below. With this said, recovering from depression often takes action, not a lot of thinking, except to trust what others in the know encourage you to “reframe” (think about from a different perspective). As one good therapist said to me, “Jack you won’t be able to think your way out of this.” Boy, did I learn the truth of that as time went on.

Anxiety and depression, like other mental illnesses, often have a genetic component, meaning you inherit the predisposition (called a “diathesis”). If any, or several, family members suffer, you might carry the genetics, making you more likely to sustain either. Often, a stressful life event can trigger genetic predispositions and even epigenetically activate (alter genetic expression of) these syndromes. Many stressful factors and physiological changes acting together and compounding one another can precipitate A&D episodes.

Once we are more regulated (balanced and homeostatic), we will likely have a clearer perspective on our condition. We may then understand more of the why. With this said, sometimes the primary reason we fall into anxiety or depression is due to an identifiable cause, and learning about and working through the issue(s) can help us recover. It’s best to talk to a good therapist with A&D experience to determine the best course of treatment.

If we are very anxious or depressed, it’s only logical to think that something is making us anxious or depressed. In other words, if I am depressed I might think that I must be depressed about something. After all, our emotions are signals of something, right? Well, sometimes yes and sometimes no, and often some of both. Feeling of anxiety or depression often have no meaning and value other than to make us suffer, so it’s helpful during either to not take our feelings or thoughts too much to heart.

Clinical depression and anxiety are disorders, and there is not necessarily a psychodynamic cause behind them. In fact, depression is thought to be some 50% attributable to genetics, according to studies at Stanford. This means that in many cases it’s truly not your fault (not that it is anyway), and depression is not easy to control or navigate on our own, any more than we would be able to heal from cancer or a heart attack on our own.

We need help, and in a fiercely independent culture where we think we are supposed to be able to manage everything on our own, we might try to go it on our own, which can compound our distress. It’s especially important to have support through mental illness, not only from professionals but from supportive family and friends. This necessity poses a bit of a catch-22 because depression and some forms of anxiety cause us to want to retreat and isolate ourselves. While this can feel good in the short-term it’s often not advisable, which is why in A&D we often have to act counter-intuitively…to go against what feels good in the moment in service of what is going to help us heal little by little for the long run.

Feeling understood, accepted, and genuinely supported are crucial for healing from A&D. It’s just as important that we treat ourselves with ultimate kindness, that we become our own best friend.

Recovery

Very often, and more commonly among some popular online psychology gurus, unconditional acceptance is offered as a way out of any troubling psychological dynamic. Some even promote shadow work as the proper psychological medicine for such ails. While I consider shadow work crucial for becoming a human being of integrity, it’s not necessarily the best way through clinical anxiety and depression, or at least not initially.

Some degree of unconditional acceptance is helpful in any therapeutic process, but it must also be carefully integrated with tough love when it comes to healing from mental illness. This is because healing from mental illness often requires what’s called opposite action: that we do the opposite of what seems intuitively right, that we do what we don’t feel like doing. Opposite action is usually what is counter-intuitive. Opposite action is doing what we don’t feel like doing, or don’t think will help, but which indeed is helpful. For example, unconditionally accepting that a depressed person doesn’t feel like exercising, and therefore won’t, may not help him get better. This is because exercise is considered important medicine for recovery from anxiety and depression and it’s usually best to get some, any, exercise even though a depressed person—and less frequently, an anxious one—doesn’t feel like it.

Weaving compassion and tough love together, we might respond this way, in a compassionate yet clear tone, to someone who is depressed: “I hear you don’t want to exercise and you feel that you can’t do it, but it’s important that you try to move around, even for a few minutes.” We can also speak to ourselves (self-talk) this way if we have depression. If anxiety is predominant, we might legitimately need to rest (possibly in addition to exercise), because anxiety taxes our resources and tires us out. So does depression. Please remember to speak gently and kindly, even when firm, to anyone with A&D; you just can’t imagine how horrendous it is if you haven’t suffered it yourself.

Curiously, and contrary to popular belief, stress hormones are usually raging inside someone who can’t seem to get off the couch. Because depression causes real biological fatigue, a person with severe depression may truly not be able to exercise at all. In this case, pure unconditional understanding is helpful.  Maybe the next day, encouragement to walk even a few steps is a good idea, and the next hour or day, a few more. When I was in recovery, I began with 3 minutes of walking, which I increased from there. Prior to falling ill, I was exercising every day and could hike for hours. When I feel into depression, 3 minutes seemed like a marathon. Often, a depressed person needs to override real or perceived inertia in order to feel better in the long run, while not overdoing it. Slow and steady usually wins this race.

While anxiety or depression might cause us to feel like we’re going to die, it’s not a good idea to freak out about this feeling, which is to become “anxious about being anxious.” Feeling as if you’re going to die is how the brain automatically interprets intense fear. Again, these diseases “lie,” making us believe a reality that is not real except in our temporary perception of it. And this is key: the perceptions and imaginations we have while ill are temporary, just like it can feel like we will never get better, or that we will be forever bedridden, if we have the flu. We can and do get better. Life can turn around on a dime, and we need others to hold this hope and reasonable reality for us if we are unable to, which is often the case because it’s very, very difficult to believe this when in the midst of severe anxiety or depression.

While empathy can be generated, only those who have been through the gauntlet of A&D truly know what it’s like. If you have not experienced them, trust me, it’s virtually impossible to fathom, and it’s worse than you can imagine. Prior to my bout, I worked in a medical clinic treating people with these disorders. While I sensed their distress, as I do with anyone suffering, in hindsight I see that I could never have truly understood their experience. After having passed through them, I am back at work in the clinic and my empathy and compassion are much deeper, and I can relate on all levels to the utter confusion and terror of these states. While I can never know precisely what another is feeling, suffering from the same disorder gives a new order of relatability.

When clinically depressed and anxious, I responded best to those who spoke slowly and gently and who actually heard what I was saying and were able to understand me. Even if you don’t understand what it’s like to have clinical anxiety or depression, you can still empathize to a degree by remembering times you have suffered greatly. Indeed, part of why I have written this article is to give an outside’s perspective if a loved one of yours is suffering.

Disclaimer: while I have written about the dangers of the happiness and positivity craze and not ignoring our difficult thoughts and feelings, this approach is usually not helpful during the distorted experience of A&D , anymore than it’s helpful to give too much weight and attention to our difficult thoughts and intense feelings when we are upset or melancholy due to a bad night’s sleep, an argument, feeling excessively stressed, being hungry and having low blood sugar, or being sick with the flu, as examples. Hint: Getting poor sleep, common during A&D, can make depression feel worse. So, when I didn’t sleep well, I would remind myself throughout the day, “Don’t take anything you think or feel today too seriously.” I was already not taking things too seriously, and when I wouldn’t sleep well, this was especially the case.

A&D are distorted states and a Catch-22: it’s virtually impossible to think clearly about anything in these states because the very brain we think with is imbalanced, and this imbalance affects the quality of our thinking. But it’s not black and white: there are usually some thoughts and moments of intuition or revelation that you can recognize as more sane than others, that more resemble “the old you.” Attach to these, trust these, even if they are short-lived; use them as anchors.

It’s crucial to leverage any positive experience, any foothold we have, to regain regulation and better functioning, so we spiral upward and not downward. This leverage might be the hope someone else holds for us, the part of our thinking that does realize we are distorted and can let go of these distortions more easily, the ability to exercise, to laugh, to quiet our mind, to do anything rewarding and fulfilling, a medication or supplement that helps us feel and/or think better. Whatever. We use any leverage we can to gain more of ourselves back. During A&D, we try to invest our attention in the things that help us recover in the same way we would invest money wisely in order to grow our profits. Sometimes we don’t have any leverage, which is just one more reason it’s valuable to have others who can hold us (up) and remind us when we can’t.

Meditation & Mindfulness

I have been a meditator for years. However, I found that sitting meditation with eyes closed (mindfulness style) was not helpful for me during A&D. My mind was so disturbed and distorted that I couldn’t help but get stuck ruminating on my negative automatic thoughts and perceptions. Such rumination made me feel worse and is actually contraindicated in depression and anxiety. What I needed was a break from these thoughts, and sorry, but while suffering anxiety and depression I did not have the regulation and mental resiliency to just “let the bad thoughts go.”

Indeed, the vaunted capacity and quality for “awareness” is not constant and immutable; it varies with physiological and neurochemical changes. I was not in a place to be any closer to my negative thinking and feeling; I needed a break from them, as far away as I could get from them actually, so that my psyche could begin to find its balance again by way of the “mind healing the mind,” as I discuss below. For me this meant letting my mind get a break from itself.

So, silent, eyes-closed, sitting meditation just wasn’t my medicine. But it might be yours, especially if you are suffering from mild depression, also known as “subthreshold depression,” and anxiety. Therefore, disregard what I say if it doesn’t fit for you for whatever reason. I just want those who suffer from meditating during A&D to know they are not alone and to feel empowered to ditch it if they want to and not suffer more than they have to.

In researching this topic I came across a bold and helpful article by Therese Borchard, echoing my sentiments about mindfulness meditation. She quotes the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the “Dalai Lama” of the mindfulness meditation world, who says in his book:

“It may be wise to not undertake the entire program while in the midst of an episode of clinical depression. Current evidence suggests that it may be prudent to wait until you have gotten the necessary help in climbing out of the depths and are able to approach this new work of working with your thoughts and feelings, with your mind and spirit unburdened by the crushing weight of acute depression.”

In response to this statement, and how her depression wasn’t really helped by mindfulness meditation, she reflects:

In hindsight, I wish there was more than one paragraph in Zinn’s book about when mindfulness isn’t the solution, about when it’s better to swim laps or ride your bike into town or call a friend you haven’t talked to in a while. I still would have taken the course — and I do feel like I benefited immensely from it — but I would have been more forgiving of myself that it didn’t “work” like everyone else’s magic.

And in response to her meditation teacher finally agreeing with her, she goes on to say:

He confirmed what I was thinking during that moment and what has been my experience: mindfulness is better at keeping a person from getting depressed than from pulling a person out of depression.”

Indeed, this is the result of a study that found this to be true: that MBCT (Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy), which “revolves around mindfulness meditation,” can help to prevent a depressive relapse. And anxiety too.

We now know that via neuroplasticity (re-wiring the brain) we can use our minds to heal our minds; this happens because the quality of our thoughts affects the biological functioning of our brains to, among other functions, produce a more balanced flow of neurochemicals. The trick in A&D, however, is to have enough good mind (mental leverage) to be mindful enough to affect our impoverished mind back into balance. This is one way that CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) therapy is crucially helpful in A&D. It’s this good thinking that helps us do the right things for ourselves (self care), such as distraction to give ourselves a break from the onslaught of negative thoughts and feelings that are both symptoms of A&D and causes for it worsening.

Thinking positive thoughts actually has a corresponding positive physiological effect. So does smiling, even if we don’t feel happy. In other words, merely by thinking positive thoughts (very tough during severe depression and/or anxiety) can make us feel and think better. Similarly, the mere act of smiling can make us feel happier by changing our neurophysiology.So, it’s generally a good idea to try to smile during depression, and to do so counter-inuitively and in opposite action to what we feel like doing—namely, not smiling.

Many meditation practitioners might tell you it’s fine to feel worse and this is part of the “meditation process.” When I was not ill (and presently), I agree, sitting with distressing thoughts and feelings is difficult yet still helpful. But not during A&D. I also remember feeling worse about myself because meditation would bring me intimately closer to my distorted thinking (including suicidal thoughts), which was tough to get away from even with eyes open and active. This was not okay, and when I finally gave up trying to meditate my way to health, I felt relieved and fared better.

What I did find helpful, however, was ordinary mindfulness: being mindful of my distorted negative and anxious thoughts. And, I didn’t need to sit with my eyes closed for this. As alluded to above, this is the basis of CBT therapy, which helped immensely. I found it easier to let go of distressing thoughts (“thought defusion“) and feelings (“emotional defusion“) while active. To do this, I practiced not spinning stories or buying into the apparent importance and truth of my thoughts and emotions, which are distorted during A&D. “Distraction,” which I mentioned also helped, is a DBT technique. As for Therese Borchard, walking with friends, exercising, writing, watching TV and listening to music, reading, playing games—anything that took me away from ruminating—was helpful. By giving my mind a break from itself, after some time my physiology and neurochemistry became more balanced and I could see my disturbing thoughts and feelings more accurately for what they were: distorted, unhelpful, and largely meaningless.

In sum, be as mindful as you can and let go of beating yourself up if you can’t or don’t want to sit and meditate—it’s okay. Ironically, this can help your mind heal your mind, which is supposed to be a benefit from mindfulness meditation.

Medicine

I am a holistic physician practicing Chinese medicine. I and many of my colleagues, even M.Ds, try to stay away from pharmaceuticals. When I was in the early days of A&D, I never imagined I would need to be on anti-depressants. I was mortified by the thought of it and resisted them for months, until it got so bad that I welcomed anything that would help. Lesson: just as Western medicine is helpful for many conditions that holistic therapy cannot tackle, such as surgery and life support, pharmaceuticals can be life-saving to those with A&D. And, yes, I tried just about every holistic treatment available. So did a wise and now level-headed elder friend of mine who said this to me during a recent discussion:

I tried all the alternative prescriptions for A&D recovery . . . like diet and herbs and acupuncture and supplements and exercise and massage etc., etc . . . and I tried them with enormous commitment and dedication, and yet I STILL had to end up taking antidepressants. Im sure the other stuff helped . . . but alone it was NOT enough to save my life . . . it was ‘Big Pharma’ and a couple of awesome Psychiatrists who saved my life.

In the end, I don’t know if the medication helped me, and I don’t regret taking the pills. Just like Western medicine generally, pharmaceutical companies gets a bad rap, and often for good reason. We therefore might conclude that all their medications are unnecessary and useless. This is not only unfair, but unwise. While many more people are on antidepressants than should be, for many sufferers these drugs offer relief from an illness as debilitating as any around. You can listen to what world-renowned professor and depression survivor Robert Sapolosky has to say about depression. Adding insult to injury, many who take antidepressants are further shamed or stigmatized in addition to the stigmatization they already endure. Alternative medicine’s propaganda and stigmatizing of pharma medications likely causes more damage and additional suffering than necessary.

With this said, I tried every means possible to relieve my symptoms by natural means and none worked well enough, not even close. I felt like a failure for this, which added (unnecessarily) to my distress. Finally—and too late in the game—I had to go to the big guns. So, by all means, give the natural remedies a try. In the case of severe A&D, this decision should be made with the aid of your health care professional/s. But if nothing works well enough, don’t be afraid to consult with a psychiatrist for meds. Antidepressant and other medications, even with their potential side-effects, can provide much-needed relief. Yes, it can get so bad that any relief is desired as soon as possible.

With this said, anti-depressant medications don’t always work the first time around. In fact, for moderate to severe depression, they are effective about 50% of the time. A period of trial and error is often needed to find medication that works best for any individual, and they usually take between 4 and 8 weeks to take effect. I encourage you to partner closely with your doctor and mental health professionals. You are the expert on your symptoms and you doctor needs to hear what you’re experiencing. This will help you work together to find the right medication, or combination of medications.

For some, and by no means all, anxiolytics (anti-anxiety meds) and antidepressants help resolve anxiety and depression, respectively. Remember, there isn’t always a psychodynamic reason why we get anxious or depressed. Medication can also be helpful to help us get a foothold and begin to dig ourselves out of the trenches. They can help regulate us so that our prefrontal cortex (the rational, self-reflective part of the brain that shuts down in depression) comes “back on line” enough that we can absorb, remember, and comprehend crucial information and gain necessary perspective on our illness to be able to navigate it in ways that support our recovery. In these cases, medication does not mask mental illness or act as a harmful crutch, but helps us recover from it. Once we make strides and are able to exercise and function more normally, we may not need the medication. The choice to come off or get on medication, however, should be made with the help of a doctor.

Even if a person’s depression or anxiety is due to psychodynamic issues, medication can help to regulate the mind so that any identifiable issues that precipitated the illness can be productively worked through. Again, in acute A&D it’s difficult, to say the least, to perceive anything clearly enough to make strides. But again, it can be helpful to do so, especially with the help of a good therapist. Indeed, medication in combination with psychotherapy has been shown to be more helpful than medication alone for recovery from major depression (which often presents with its evil twin sister, anxiety).

Again, antidepressants are not for everyone, and the research literature clearly states this. But for some, they are an invaluable component to recovery. Since suicidality is a symptom of depression, medication literally saves lives. With this said, and ironically, antidepressants have been shown to increase suicidal ideation and behaviors in a “small number of children and teens,” so specific precaution and monitoring is needed for this age group. These are specifics to discuss with a qualified health professional.And, if you’ve been severely clinically anxious or depressed, you likely know the desperation to do anything to get out from the dark shroud of severe depression and the relentless inferno of anxiety. From my own experience, witnessing others go through the gauntlet, as well as from researching the subject, I endorse whatever helps someone get through without creating a bigger problem.

Psychoterapy

Two of the most helpful therapies for depression and anxiety are CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy). Here’s the classic DBT handbook authored by its developer, though my experience is that the book is not a substitute for working with a therapist, even a DBT-trained therapist. Part of this reason, is that in severe A&D, it can be tough to read a single line, much less a chapter or a book, make any sense of them, identify the proper advice for you and then, after all that, put the suggestions into action.

As mentioned previously, acting counter-intuitively, or what is called “opposite action” in DBT terms, can make a big difference. This includes not listening to our warped feelings and cognitive distortions (faulty perceptions and bad ideas). This is also why “intuition” and “trusting our feelings” as guides for how to act during A&D can be counter-productive and outright disastrous. An ordinary example we can all relate to is not wanting to get outside or get out of bed to take a shower or go for a walk. But once we do we feel better. Same for depression, unless we truly can’t get up for physiological reasons not due to an apparent lack of motivation.

As mentioned, psychological depth work is not usually appropriate in severe depression unless a significant cause of the disorder is due to these psychodynamic causes and one is regulated (functional) enough to undergo the process of hashing through past hurts and the emotional upheaval this causes. In severe A&D, depth work is usually not a recipe for success because bringing up more dysregulation and intense emotion when balance and stability are needed can sabotage recovery. Again, it’s difficult to see any issue accurately during A&D. Getting counsel from a good therapist with experience treating these conditions is invaluable and usually best to help assess what is appropriate to guide treatment.

Lastly, I want to mention that when medication and talk therapy don’t help enough, other treatments for depression you can consider include: ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) and rTMS (repetitive Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation). Even psilocybin mushrooms seem to have helped some, but opinions vary and the evidence is yet scant.

Other Factors

Biochemistry shifts with age, stress, diet, hormonal changes, environmental factors, genetic/epigenetic expression, and anomalous brain wiring. All these can cause significant mood changes. So, if you are anxious or depressed, it might not be due to something you are doing or have control over—that you can put your finger on and fix. It might be largely genetic and triggered by a stressful life event. OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), for example, is an anxiety disorder that causes anxiety for no logical reason (other than anxiety!). OCD and other anxiety disorders amplify usually mild issues or events and make them seem multiple times worse than for a person with more common responses to everyday anxiety.

OCD, GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) and depression cause us to think that events themselves are causing our distress and they are responsible for our feelings and perceptions. It’s actually more our highly distorted response to events that causes our suffering. Anxiety and depression latch onto whatever we might think about. Our mind is “latches onto” and spins tornadoes from what would otherwise be mildly distressing events. This is why therapy in general, and specifically being able to witness and be aware of our reactions (a key tenet of CBT), is so helpful to recovery; it allows a more regulated and balanced version of us to guide our responses to disturbing thoughts and feelings, rather than being so caught up in our negatively-generated and alarming thoughts and feelings that they take over and own us.

Psychodynamic triggers can indeed trigger unpleasant emotional states but are not the cause of all, or even most, of anxiety, depression, and other mood changes. With this said, sometimes our anxiety and low moods are signals for real-life issues, past or present trauma, lifestyle, coping, and other unhelpful dynamics that need to be addressed. Often, it’s some combination of both real-life events and underlying anxious or dysthymic (low mood) tendencies to which we are genetically predisposed and/or triggered into that cause anxiety and depression.

In cases of mild and even moderate A&D that have their source in life issues, sorting out the impacts of such dynamics with a trained and sympathetic therapist and/or psychiatrist is a good way to learn more. When psychodynamic issues are at the root of depression or anxiety and go unaddressed, chances are that suffering will continue, even if temporarily masked by medication. Again, skillful timing and personalized treatment are key here. If the cause is more biological in nature, medication is a modern miracle that can help recovery.

Anxiety and depression are illnesses like any other biological illness, it’s just that they occur primarily in the brain. We are more familiar with less stigmatized diseases such as diabetes, migraines, or Alzheimer’s and cancer. These are diseases that largely happen to people, just like mental illness. But with mental illness, somehow we have the idea, in whole or in part, that someone with depression or anxiety can just snap out of it and that they have control over their condition. We wouldn’t say this to someone with diabetes or cancer; neither should we address an anxious or depressed person this way. An astute friend recently commented this in response to an on-line post I made about A&D:

“There is a mountain of stigma, judgement, opinionating and misinformation to be overcome by people who are trying to live with and manage their Anxiety and Depression (as though just being afflicted with these dreadful conditions it isn’t hard enough already.) No need to take on the shame or misinformed projections of people who ‘think they know’ what these illnesses are, and where they come from and what you should do to manage them. Beware of rejecting what modern medicine has to offer you, and double beware of people who think they know what is best for you. Take any lifeline that is offered to you, and relinquish your attachments to romantic notions of recovery entirely through excessive self examination and compulsive scab picking of deep emotional wounds (which can be extremely dangerous for people who are very unwell). The causes of your illness might be extremely complex, and your recovery is likely to require a multi-faceted and uniquely personal set of strategies, which may well include medication. Hugs to anyone out there wrestling with A&D.”

—Darielle Bydegrees

Time For Compassion

For all our similarities, we are complex biological organisms with many nuanced differences. Just like other animals have personality types, oddities, seeming imperfections, and unique gifts, so do we. Yet, we seem to think that just because we are conscious and self-reflective creatures that we should be able to fix our anomalies, or even that they are in our control, especially when it comes to the mind. This myth perpetuates suffering, violence, and abuse when we treat others with judgement, condemnation, and meanness according to this flawed perception. People with severe depression and anxiety can’t just snap out of it or get over it, at least not quickly, the way you or I (when well) would normally shift a low mood or worry. Clinical depression and anxiety are different animals and sometimes lifelong events.

If we are significantly anxious or depressed this does not necessarily mean that something is complexly wrong with us, or that we can fix our predicament by digging into our current or past issues or venting our emotions. It might mean we need medicine, just as we would for any other less stigmatized form of physiological illness towards which we are culturally less judgmental. Because mental illness happens in the brain, it effects our thoughts and emotions more than other biological illnesses. Usually it means that we need both medicine (pharma, herbal, and/or nutraceuticals) and the support of caring, informed, and understanding health professionals who aren’t pigeon-holed and attached to a one-size-fits-all approach.

Images and stories of “crazy” and “unpredictable” people with anxiety, or even depression, perpetuate our irrational fears and judgement of these debilitating conditions. Such people are usually not violent unto others. Those who carry unresolved pain and trauma are more likely candidates for this.

Most people with mental illness suffer in shame and silence and are some of the most vulnerable, tender, compassionate and empathic people I know. So, let’s break the mould together, lift the mythic curse of judging mental illness due to our usually innocent ignorance of these menacing and crippling invisible illnesses. We do this in part through opening our minds and humbly learning about them so that our beliefs about these conditions can match reality. This in turn informs how we help sufferers and those who love them.


Some resources for Depression & Anxiety:

Books:

The Upward Spiral by Alex Korb, CBT for healing through depression

The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon, on depression

The Imp of the Mind: on OCD and intrusive, bad thoughts

Videos:

“The Refugees” by Andrew Solomon at The Moth

Depression, Too, Is a Thing with Feathers by Andrew Solomon
Depression Talk at Stanford by Robert Sapolsky
Sam Harris and Robert Sapolsky: from 48.00 minutes to the end

Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to diagnose or treat any disease, or substitute for professional help. It is based on the author’s personal and clinical experience, research, and direct observations. The author is not a psychotherapist.


Jack Adam Weber, L.Ac., MA, is Chinese medicine physician, having graduated valedictorian of his class in 2000. He has authored hundreds of articles, thousands of poems, and several books. Weber is an activist for embodied spirituality and writes extensively on the subjects of holistic medicine, emotional depth work, and mind-body integration, all the while challenging his readers to think and act outside the box. Weber’s latest creation is the Nourish Practice, a deeply restorative, embodied meditation practice as well as an educational guide for healing the wounds of childhood. His work can be found at jackadamweber.com, on Facebook, or Twitter, where he can also be contacted for life-coaching and medical consultations.

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Awareness

How To Clear Seriously Blocked Sinuses Naturally In 1 Minute

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    Three simple steps you can take to clear blocked sinuses that seem to work for many people.

  • Reflect On:

    Are you healthy? What natural things do you do when "flu season" comes around to give your immune system a boost?

Having clogged sinuses isn’t fun. You can’t breath, you can’t smell, your head hurts, and your voice sounds funny. Finding relief when you have clogged sinuses is usually like finding a million dollars on the ground — it’s amazing!

The causes for nasal congestion can range greatly, and you don’t have to be sick to be congested. Many people will experience congestion from allergies, temperatures, dust, smoking, spicy food, and air particles.

Recently I was at Contact in the Desert in California and I found myself having clogged sinuses from the blowing sand and dry air. Within two days, I couldn’t breathe at all out of one side of my nose and my sinuses got blocked up, causing my face and head to hurt. I needed a solution.

After trying to blow my nose over and over again, I turned to the internet for relief. Sure enough, Google came through.

I found a video by Dr. Adam that quickly and easily explained how to clear sinuses in about one minute using just your fingers — and no, they don’t have to go in your nose. Sure enough, I had relief from the pain the blockage was causing, and I could breathe!

Some might be wondering why I didn’t take sinus or cold medication to get relief. The answer is simple: I don’t like taking medication for anything unless I absolutely have to. I know many of you are on the same page and like to do things naturally. Many cold medications just mask symptoms and come with negative side effects that are worth avoiding if possible.

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How to Clear Your Sinuses Fast!

You simply need to sit down and get your hands ready for the following steps. The video below offers a visual demonstration, so I recommend checking that out too.

1. While sitting with your head and body on about a 45 degree angle, turn your head sideways and rub your sternocleidomastoid muscle downward four or five times. You can find the muscle right beneath your ear running down your neck to your collarbone. See image. Do this on both sides of your neck to help relax your neck.

2. Take your index fingers, locate the hard, bony part of the upper sides of your nose, and move downward toward the soft part on the side of your nose where the bone ends. Begin massaging this area in a circular motion with as much pressure as you can for about 20 seconds. Once completed, rub the muscles from the side of your nose down and toward your cheekbones to relax them.

3. Take your index fingers and run them under the inside orbit bone above your eyes until you find a notch in the bone called the super orbital notch. It is usually just above the centre of the eye. Massage that notch in a circular motion with as much pressure as you can handle for about 20 seconds. Once done, massage your forward with both hands starting in the centre of your forehead and pulling outwards towards your temples.

That’s it! Once you have gone through this process you should notice a lot of relief in your sinuses and should be able to blow your nose quite easily. You may have to repeat this process again, but play with it and see what works for you.

Below is a video from Dr. Adam explaining the entire process. I have also included another helpful method that worked well for me as well.

Alternative Method

This method is simpler but may not be as effective for everyone. As always, do what works best for you.

1. Push your tongue flat into the roof of your mouth, with decent pressure, for one second.

2. Then, take your thumb and press the area right between your eyebrows above your nose for one second.

3. Alternate between steps one and two over and over again for about 20-30 seconds. Note: You are not pressing the points at the same time, simply alternating between them.

Repeat this process as necessary to help clear your sinuses.

Prevention

If you’ve had blocked sinuses, you probably don’t want it to happen often, so prevention is the key! Here are a few ways you can avoid blocked sinuses.

Eat a well-balanced diet – Eating healthy foods promotes good health. What you put into your body to digest is what determines your health. If you want your immune system working well, take care with quality food and keep your gut performing well.

Get regular exercise – Regular exercise also helps improve overall health and the immune system.

Quit smoking – It goes without saying, but cigarettes are not good for us and the smoke can irritate sinuses.

Use a humidifier – If you find your house dry, use a humidifier to help dampen the air. You can also hop in a warm shower and breathe in the steam. It’s best to use a chlorine filter on your shower head so you aren’t breathing in toxic chemicals from chlorine.

Cut out antibiotics – Antibiotics don’t do anything for viral infections, which is usually why people get clogged sinuses when they are sick. Antibiotics wreak havoc on your health. Only take them when they are absolutely necessary!

Keep a clean home – Dust and poor air quality can also cause blocked sinuses. Vacuum and wipe down surfaces of your home regularly. Decrease clutter and areas where dust can collect and stay.

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Alternative News

Cannabis Might Reverse Heart Failure, University of Hawaii Study Finds

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In Brief

  • The Facts:

    New research is showing that TRPV1, a cannabinoid receptor found abundantly in the heart may be key in slowing down and potentially even reversing heart failure.

  • Reflect On:

    With so many medical applications and the potential to treat and even cure a wide variety of diseases, why has there been such a lack of research, funding and clinical trials when it comes to medical marijuana?

Cannabis could potentially slow and even reverse heart failure via TRPV1, a cannabinoid receptor. This is according to research led by a team at the University of Hawaiʻi John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM).  Alexander Stokes, a JABSOM assistant professor in cell and molecular biology, said “the potential medical benefits of using cannabis-based therapies for the treatment of heart disease are promising.”

TRPV1 is showing long-term effective reversal of heart failure when the substance is administered orally. The key here is orally, this doesn’t mean that you can smoke cannabis and it will be good for your heart, in fact, it may very well have a negative effect if you do that. “TRPV1 has primarily been studied as a pain receptor,” said Stokes. “The receptors are abundant in the heart, and we are excited to show that if we inhibit its function with oral doses of drugs, we can reverse some effects of heart failure.”

The findings were published in the journal Channels.

A Big Topic Right Now

The topic of medical marijuana is a big one right now, especially in Canada where it was recently legalized. For years, there’s been a negative stigma attached to the substance, and when one dives deep into the subject it’s quite easy to see why. Cannabis, often called marijuana, has potential to treat and possibly even cure a wide range of diseases, but because of prohibition, the studies examining the medicinal aspects of the herb have been very limited. This is very unfortunate, for a number of reasons, and also very suspicious.

If we look at cancer, for example, multiple studies have clearly shown its potential to completely destroy cancer cells, many in vitro studies have clearly demonstrated this potential, without question. They’re not hard to find and have been published in abundance. Here is a video of Dr. Christina Sanchez, a molecular biologist at Compultense University in Madrid, Spain, explaining how THC (the main psychoactive constituent of the cannabis plant) can completely kill cancer cells. THC is simply one constituent of cannabis. It has been shown to be effective for multiple diseases as well, while other diseases are better treated with CBD, another constituent within cannabis. This begs the question, why have there been no, or at least so few, clinical trials set up as a result?

This hasn’t stopped people taking matters into their own hands though. There are numerous examples all over the internet of people claiming that cannabis oil, for example, cured their cancer. But from a scientific perspective this isn’t evidence, it’s simply anecdotal and as a result of a lack of research we cannot officially say cannabis kills cancer. We can only say that it has tremendous potential and that a lot more research is needed.

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Pharma vs Cannabis

When a pharmaceutical drug shows even less than half of the potential that marijuana has shown, clinical trials are set up right away. Just imagine if the same resources that are poured into conventional cancer treatments were given to medical marijuana’s potential to treat cancer, among a wide range of other diseases. If that were to happen, we would know much more. But the lack of research continues. Is it because if scientists were to discover what strain, method of delivery and all of the other factors that require more research that are needed to treat disease, cannabis could become an effective treatment for cancer? What would happen to conventional treatments? Would people have to pay for their treatment if it was disclosed how to, for example, make cannabis oil in the right way for a specific cancer? Maybe this has something to do with it?

Big pharma would lose billions. It’s definitely something to think about.

What’s happening right now with the legalization of marijuana is that components of it are allowed to be studied. It seems that drugs will be developed to synthesize certain components of the plant, and the drugs themselves can then be patented. This is how big pharma will ultimately make money off of medical marijuana.

The Challenge With Government Control Of Cannabis

It’s great to see people with Parkinson’s, Dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Epilepsy, cancer and more have tremendous success with medical marijuana. What’s unfortunate is that mainstream medical marijuana will be in the hands of big pharma, it already is. We will not know how it’s grown, how it’s been manipulated, and what’s been changed. It’s simply being used for profit, because at the end of the day that’s what it’s all about in our current infrastructure. We have a sick care industry, not a health care industry.

A free, open and caring society, a health care industry that truly cares about health could use multiple natural substances to completely wipe out the need for any pharmaceutical drug. There are massive amounts of foods, herbs and plants that, if studied in full, could completely eliminate our dependence on the corporation.

“The medical profession is being bought by the pharmaceutical industry, not only in terms of the practice of medicine, but also in terms of teaching and research. The academic institutions of this country are allowing themselves to be the paid agents of the pharmaceutical industry. I think it’s disgraceful.”

– Arnold Seymour Relman (1923-2014), Harvard professor of medicine and former Editor-in-Chief of The New England Medical Journal  (source)

Important Thoughts To Consider About Cannabis

The other side of the coin is that heavy cannabis use, although not lethal, can be dangerous and potentially damaging to young brains that are not fully developed, and perhaps to those who use it on a regular basis in ways we do not yet understand.

It’s not as harmful as alcohol abuse or smoking cigarettes, but there is still a lot that we don’t know. Legalization in Canada at least have led to the idea that it’s completely safe and beneficial for everybody. This is also, most likely, not true.  We need to get past the idea that it’s something healthy for everybody, and even healthy to smoke cannabis on a regular basis. But when it comes to the medicinal aspects of cannabis, for several diseases, there is a very serious discussion to be had here as it’s again, already helping many people around the world with their cancer, with their epilepsy, etc.

With many people losing trust in the medical industry, it’s easy to see why they are turning to growing their own cannabis, testing doses, and methods of delivery, etc. For some, it’s a shot in the dark but worth a try.

We are not advocating that it’s healthy to use cannabis recreationally and that it will not have any negative effects, we are simply stating that it’s a head scratcher how such a potent medical plant that clearly has multiple medical applications has been ignored and prohibited from research and professionally treating many diseases with it.

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Awareness

America’s Fifty-Fold Increase in Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder – What’s Going On?

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Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), considered a neurobiological condition, is an often “long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions), and behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over.” Although the specific obsessions and compulsions vary widely from person to person, the common denominator is that they “create stress and interfere with daily life.”

U.S. researchers estimate that OCD affects 1%-2% of children and up to 3% of adolescents and adults. The current lifetime prevalence estimate of around 2.7% is 54 times higher than the estimated pre-1980s prevalence (for the U.S. population as a whole) of around 0.05% (1 in 2000). In a retrospective hospital-based study that looked at OCD prevalence over time, researchers who examined psychiatric discharge diagnoses from 1969 to 1990 reported that something changed in the 1980s, with a marked increase in the frequency of OCD diagnoses over the decade.

Reflecting the disorder’s growing prominence, the American Psychiatric Association’s 2013 diagnostic manual revisions eliminated OCD as a subcategory of “anxiety disorders” and gave the diagnosis its own category of “obsessive-compulsive and related disorders.” OCD experts now urge busy neurologists “to be aware of OCD…and to have a high index of suspicion for this disorder.”

OCD is just one of numerous neurodevelopmental disorders that have gone from relatively rare to common since the late 1980s—over the same time frame in which the childhood vaccine schedule exploded. There are at least three reasons to suspect a potential vaccine-OCD link:

  1. Proper brain function depends on a well-regulated immune system.
  2. Vaccination’s acknowledged aim is to “perturb the immune system.”
  3. Immune dysregulation is a documented contributor to OCD and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

As Duke University researchers have stated, “the immune system, both in the central nervous system (CNS) and in the periphery, is crucial in shaping and influencing normal brain functions, and any disruption of immune function could adversely impact the brain too.”

Not only OCD

Studies show that OCD is more severe when it is early-onset; when diagnosed before puberty, children have “a longer duration of illness [and] higher rates of comorbid tics” as well as more frequent compulsions and greater psychosocial difficulties. In addition to comorbid tics, OCD often presents alongside autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other diagnoses that are not only increasingly common in American children but often persist into adulthood. In a study of adults with OCD, three out of four (75%) had one or more other neuropsychiatric diagnoses. Researchers also believe that some types of OCD may be closely related to PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections).

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Compared to girls, boys tend toward a greater neuroinflammatory response, reflecting sex differences in how the brain’s principal immune cells (the microglia) function. This may be one of the reasons why early-onset OCD is two to three times more common in boys. (In early adulthood, however, OCD symptoms appear more frequently in women.) In this respect, OCD is no different from a number of other neurodevelopmental and health conditions, including ASD, that also disproportionately affect boys.

The Yale study

In 2017, researchers from the Yale Child Study Center published a retrospective case-control study in Frontiers in Psychiatry that considered a possible association between prior vaccination and increased incidence of seven neuropsychiatric disorders, including OCD. Recall that at the start of the 1980s, children received three vaccines for seven illnesses (totaling two dozen doses by age 18), whereas fully vaccinated children now get almost six dozen doses for sixteen conditions.

The Yale researchers looked at a national sample of privately insured children and adolescents (ages 6-15) for the six-year period from January 2002 through December 2007. They found that for four diagnoses—OCD, anorexia nervosa, anxiety disorder and tic disorder—the affected children were more likely than matched controls to have received a flu shot in the preceding 12 months. In addition:

  • For OCD, flu shots just three or six months prior also increased the risk.
  • There was an association between OCD and hepatitis A vaccination.
  • Children with OCD, anorexia or a tic disorder were more heavily vaccinated overall compared to children without these disorders.

All three vaccines marketed in the U.S. for hepatitis A—GlaxoSmithKline’s Havrix and Twinrix and Merck’s Vaqta—list anorexia as adverse reactions reported during clinical trials. The Yale authors considered the “high comorbidity rates” between OCD and anorexia significant and also highlighted that OCD and anorexia have a number of “immune-mediated mechanisms” in common.

OCD is also frequently comorbid with a variety of autoimmune diseases. A recent Swedish study reported that individuals with OCD had a 43% increased risk of any autoimmune disease (compared to those without OCD), and “significantly elevated” risks for autoimmune conditions “across all organ systems”:

  • Moisture-producing glands: Sjögren’s syndrome (94% increased risk)
  • Small intestine: Celiac disease (76%)
  • Peripheral nervous system: Guillain-Barré syndrome (71%)
  • Gastrointestinal tract: Crohn’s disease (66%)
  • Thyroid: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (59%)
  • Pancreas: Type 1 diabetes mellitus (56%)
  • Platelets: Idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (51%)
  • Large intestine: Ulcerative colitis (41%)
  • Central nervous system: Multiple sclerosis (41%)
  • Skin: Psoriasis vulgaris (32%)

Beware the adjuvants

Given the extensive overlap between OCD and autoimmunity, the growing body of research that links vaccine adjuvants to autoimmunity is relevant for OCD. In fact, adjuvants—intended to intensify the immune response to a vaccine (immunogenicity)—present vaccine makers with a dilemma: “[I]ncreased vaccine reactogenicity [adverse reactions to vaccination] is the inevitable price for improved immunogenicity.”

Pointing to their influenza vaccination findings, the authors of the Yale study note that six European countries and China linked H1N1 influenza vaccination in 2009 to autoimmune narcolepsy, and some speculated that the H1N1 vaccine’s adjuvant—a squalene-based oil emulsion called AS03—was the culprit. Researchers caution:

A major recurring concern is the potential association between oil emulsion adjuvants and autoimmune disease induction as seen in animal and fish models. A single intradermal injection of a range of oil emulsions, including squalene emulsions, induces adjuvant arthritis in susceptible murine and rat models. […] There is a theoretical risk that any humans who share similar genetic susceptibility features to these models could similarly be prone to develop adjuvant arthritis, lupus, autoimmune hepatitis, uveitis or some other form of autoimmune disease after exposure to oil emulsion adjuvants alone or when combined with other potent innate immune activators [emphasis added].

Aluminum-based vaccine adjuvants—and especially the proprietary AAHS [amorphous aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate] adjuvant that Merck includes in its Gardasil 9, hepatitis A, hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) vaccines—are also a prominent suspect in the autoimmunity epidemic. Researchers who compared AAHS to two other types of aluminum adjuvants found that AAHS was “substantially” different from the other two in revving up the immune system. As Italian researchers have stated, “the specific mechanism of action of each single adjuvant may have different effects on the course of different diseases.”

Hear no evil, see no evil

Pharmacotherapy with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is a “first-line” treatment for OCD; because remission is uncommon, “long-term management is often necessary.” Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline—two of the four companies that lead the U.S. vaccine market—make some of the top-selling SSRIs prescribed for individuals with OCD; the two pharma behemoths completed a joint venture in 2019 to integrate their consumer health care businesses. From their point of view, OCD represents an attractive market.

Meanwhile, earlier this year, the federal government and the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program turned down citizen requests to add asthma, autism, tics and several neuropsychiatric disorders—including PANDAS—to the Program’s Vaccine Injury Table. The feds’ refusal was not terribly surprising: very few new injuries have made it onto the Table since the Program came into being in 1986, despite the large number of vaccines piled onto the childhood schedule after that year. The government’s resolute refusal to conduct needed studies and its denial of even the possibility of vaccine culpability for conditions such as OCD leaves individuals no choice but to ferret out answers on their own.

Sign up for free news and updates from Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and the Children’s Health Defense. CHD is planning many strategies, including legal, in an effort to defend the health of our children and obtain justice for those already injured. Your support is essential to CHD’s successful mission.

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