Dealing with Anxiety and Depression


I am not a medically qualified professional, but I have had to deal with both of these issues in my own life. The following is personal opinion and experience only and should not be taken as medical advice.

Many years ago, a psychiatrist of my acquaintance told me that my anxiety and depression was not a chronic imbalance in my system, but a necessary and perfectly normal response to difficult circumstances. What would not be normal, he said, was to simply sail through those circumstances with no emotion at all. Depression and anxiety are part of the tapestry of normal life experience, and the medicalization of this as some sort of syndrome, does no-one any good at all. As Freud might say “Eeet iss all in ze head”. Imagine if we decided someone needed medication because they were unfailingly optimistic! I know many people who are naturally gloomy, some who are sunny, and most of us oscillate between the two depending on our circumstances.

Knowing the process is normal doesn’t make it any easier though when you are right in the middle of it. There’s often an element of grief in anxiety and depression, which makes it all the more difficult to create a magic bullet that will fix it. However, in my opinion, fixing it isn’t really what you need to be aiming for. Being able to function while you process that issue that caused the problem is really what most people will settle for.

I’m not a big fan of anti depressants. I’ve seen close family become addicted, and lose social functioning because of it. What these drugs do is suppress emotion, and therefore empathy. And if you can’t cry or laugh with someone, how do you build a relationship? I appreciate that they get people through some hard times, but what is the value of a medicine which doesn’t cure you, but you have to keep taking for periods as long as ten years or more?

SOME NATURAL ALTERNATIVES TO ANTI DEPRESSANTS.

1. Walking

2. Cutting toxic people out of your life

3. Checking in with your friends

4. Talking to someone independent

5. Herbal medicine – St John’s Wort

6. Acceptance therapy

1. Walking – as I understand it, walking naturally increases your dopamine levels and can act just like an antidepressant. The only problem is that it can take up to six weeks to really kick in. For myself it took less time than that before I started seeing improvements. An important element of walking as therapy I found is to go by yourself. If you have a dog with you on a lead, you will be getting pulled here and there, as dogs do their doggy stuff, and you won’t work up a good rhythm. Walking freely with a dog not on a leash, such as in the woods or the bush, does work as the dog becomes a non verbal companion, always available for a quick cuddle, lick or pat. If you go with another person, you’ll end up talking the whole way and not have space for sorting stuff out in your head. I like to try to go to somewhere with a good clear view such as the top of a hill. Subconciously, I am trying to get clarity and therefore see further. Another tip which I was given, was not to walk looking at my feet, but to lift my head and look up. When we are depressed, we often don’t physically look up, and so even this simple act will lift your spirits. The sky is unbounded, and even if we have no space in our lives, the sky still has infinite room.

2. Cutting toxic people out of your life - yes, even near relatives. There’s a picture doing the rounds on Facebook, which says something like “before you get depressed, check that you are not in fact surrounded by assholes”. The trouble with depression is that you lose perspective on these things and have trouble seeing toxic people for who they are. The closer they are to you, the worse your vision becomes. This is where the next bit comes in.

3. Check in with your friends – do not think, “oh they won’t want to see me when I’m miserable”. Yes they do. A true and trusted friend will open their door and their heart to you when you are down. What would you do for someone else who was going through a hard time? Well, then, what makes you so special that you can’t lean on someone else occasionally?

4. Talk to someone independent of the situation – In Australia there are a number of free counselling services such as Lifeline, Kids Help Line, and many corporations now have free personal counselling sessions as part of their benefits to employees. Your GP can also refer you to a psychologist or counsellor. I find that in contrast to friends, who will allow you to cry on their shoulder, a good counsellor will force you to explain the whole situation and then give you an outside perspective such as – “well if your job makes you unhappy, why not make a change?”, or “did you realise that for the past half an hour you have been repeating things your mother has said to you? Do you think she might be part of the problem?”

5. St John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum) ¬– This is a herbal alternative to anti depressants and has been used for centuries for this purpose. It may interfere with other medications including the oral contraceptive pill, so check with your doctor first. The link to Wikipedia is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_John%27s_Wort. Personally I find that it is very useful to get me through stressful periods and is non-addictive with few side effects.

6. Acceptance and commitment therapy – This is a kind of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy which I have found to be very useful personally in treating anxiety attacks. Anxiety is something which is self re-inforcing, so what happens is that you feel an attack coming on, you get afraid of it, which increases your anxiety levels, which makes the attack worse than the last one, which further increases your anxiety and so on in an ever decreasing spiral! The Wikipedia entry is here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acceptance_and_commitment_therapy but in simple terms it works like this: when you feel an attack coming on, you simply allow the feeling to wash over you. It’s only fear, it’s not a heart attack, although it might feel like one if you’ve never had it before! (Get your heart checked anyway, just to be on the safe side) If you embrace the fear and anxiety, effectively saying ‘bring it on, I can handle this’, the self reinforcing side of the attack is diminished. When you next have an attack, it will be less, and gradually they will fade away altogether. It really works.

So there you are, six options to try as alternatives to more traditional medicine based treatments. Above all, be kind to yourself, and remember ‘This, too, shall pass’.

Love and light, Anna