According to the National Institute of Mental Health, at least 40 million Americans (18% of the population) aged 18 and above suffer from anxiety disorders.
Even children don’t get spared from this scourge; research shows that one out of every eight children suffers from an anxiety disorder. The prevalence of anxiety disorders in the nation also has its economic costs with research estimating that up to $42 billion is spent on anxiety disorders every year.
According to experts, almost a half of those diagnosed with anxiety disorders get diagnosed with depression.
Research also shows that people with anxiety and depression are up to 5 times more likely to visit a doctor. Unfortunately, when this happens, most doctors often turn to one thing; anti-depressant prescription drugs.
Statistics show that at least 65% of the population takes prescription drugs on a daily basis while at least 43% of the population takes mood-altering drugs such as anti-anxiety drugs, antidepressants, and sedatives.
Between 1999 and 2012, research showed that the use of anti-depressants in the United States increased almost two-fold from 6.8% to 13%. The latest research shows that one out of every six Americans uses one psychiatric drug or the other. The indiscriminate use of medication to treat anxiety and depression is affecting the American society in many negative ways;
- In 2013, research showed that at least 1/3rd of the 23,000 reported deaths from prescription drug overdoses were from benzodiazepines.
- The use of medication to treat depression and anxiety is also associated with an increased tendency for suicidal thoughts.
- Antidepressant use is associated with some psychological and physiological side effects including sexual dysfunction, increased weight gain, nausea, insomnia, irritability, improper bone development, gastrointestinal bleeding and fatigue among others.
- Taking psychiatric medication can also affect the insurability of patients. This is because insurance companies associate “psychiatric” patients with higher levels of risk. They, therefore, charge them higher premiums or even deny them insurance altogether.
Considering all these potential negative effects of taking depression and anxiety drugs, it is more than necessary for people to consider using medication-free methods of treating depression and anxiety. Here are six alternative ways of treating anxiety and depression:
1. Consider the Cause of Depression
Although hormonal imbalances often trigger depression and anxiety, sometimes it is the result of circumstances rather than biochemical imbalances. In this sense, it is important first to understand the cause of the depression and from there, determine an appropriate cause of action. For example, marriage problems, spiritual disconnection, sexual restlessness and even work related pressure are common triggers of depression.
Sometimes even something as simple as ending a bad marriage or even resigning from a high-pressure job can go a long way in treating depression and anxiety. In addition to that, it is important to keep in mind that every search for a solution begins with identifying the cause of the problem.
Research has long established that exercising on a regular basis benefits physical health and is particularly useful in keeping illness down. It is also a well-known fact that the physical body and the mind have a strong connection; a healthy body will ultimately lead to a healthy mind.
Studies indicate that regular exercise may have longer lasting effects than medication when treating depression and anxiety. Physically active people are also less likely to fall prone to depression and anxiety.
Exercise helps in fighting against depression and anxiety in various ways including;
- Enhancing the production of feel-good chemicals such as endorphins (natural painkillers), neurotransmitters and endocannabinoids all of which are useful in easing depression.
- Reducing the levels of negative immune system chemicals (stress hormones) such as cortisol which are released in response to stress.
- Exercise also increases the temperature of the body hence having a calming effect on the body.
- Regular exercise leads to a healthy body which subsequently triggers an increase in self-confidence and self-esteem.
- Exercising is also a healthy distraction from the negative thoughts normally associated with depression and anxiety. To add on that, exercising fosters great opportunities for social interaction which is another important way of tackling depression.
There are some exercises that one can partake in with the purpose of fighting anxiety and depression. These include;
i. Aerobic Exercises
According to scientists, regular participation in aerobic exercises is associated with a decrease in levels of tension, an improvement of mood as well as improved sleep and increased self-confidence. The good news is that even five minutes of aerobic exercise can have significant anti-anxiety and anti-depression effects.
Studies indicate that people who practice Yoga experience a significant decrease in fatigue, depression, feelings of anger, psychoneurotic symptoms and anxiety. Yoga helps to fight depression and anxiety from the inside by focusing on deep breathing exercises and poses meant to instill internal relaxation and calmness. Some effective anti-depression yoga poses include;
- Bow pose
- Cobra pose
- Downward-facing dog pose
- Cat stretch
- Bridge pose
Aside from the yoga poses and deep breathing exercises, the yoga philosophy which encourages contentment, a healthy lifestyle and happiness will go a long way in helping to bring relief for depression and anxiety.
Other good exercises for fighting anxiety and depression include; running, hiking, dancing or even resistance training.
3. Proper Nutrition
While nutrition is not always the trigger for depression and anxiety, the truth is that nutritional decisions and choices can have a significant effect on one’s mood.
In some cases, food cravings for sugars, fats, and carbohydrates arise as a result of stress, anxiety, and depression. These cravings end up worsening anxiety and depression symptoms. According to experts, the types of food people consume affect how people feel. A healthy diet triggers healthy hormonal functioning.
Proper nutrition includes having regular meals. Skipping meals is not recommended as it destabilizes sugar levels hence increasing the probability of mood swings.
People fighting depression and anxiety should avoid certain foods and substances such as;
- Caffeine – it reduces serotonin levels hence fostering stress and depression.
- Fried foods – the human body does not digest these foods easily, and this may contribute to feelings of anxiety and irritability.
- Alcohol – can cause even more depression, particularly when consumed in large quantities. Alcohol also has a dehydrating effect and may cause hormonal imbalances.
Instead, it is important to stick to a nutritional plan that focuses on serotonin-enhancing foods. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps in maintaining mood balance in the body. These include foods such as;
- Fresh fruit – while refined sugar is harmful to the body, natural sugar from fruits is not. The body converts sugar from fruits to much-needed energy.
- Vegetables are a good source of fiber and important vitamins that most people with depression and anxiety lack or have too low levels.
- Water keeps the body well hydrated and this in itself helps to fight against anxiety.
- Foods such as oats, soy, poultry and sesame seeds are a good source of Tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that plays a vital role in maintaining nitrogen balance in adults. It also helps in triggering better sleep, improving mood and also in helping the body to burn more fat. Tryptophan is also associated with reduced carbohydrate cravings and even sugar addiction.
- Healthy fats such as coconut oil.
- Foods rich in Magnesium: Magnesium is a necessary mineral in more than 600 metabolic functions in the body. Some studies have shown that magnesium deficiencies may trigger depression and anxiety.
Magnesium inhibits the release of stress hormones in the body and also blocks them from the brain. Magnesium is also anti-inflammatory and is well known to enhance the neuroplasticity of the brain. Foods rich in magnesium include beans, fish, seeds, nuts, bananas, avocados and yogurt among others.
- Foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids: Recent research has demonstrated that patients with depression also have significantly low levels of omega-3 acids in their bodies.
Research also shows that there is a strong link between Omega-3 deficiency and cognitive and emotional disorders. Wild salmon, herring, and mackerel are examples of fish with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Other foods rich in omega-3 acids include soybeans and spinach.
4. Talk it Out
Depression often features feelings of shame, anger and sometimes even fear. Because of the stigma that surrounds anxiety and depression, people with depression rarely have the courage to disclose their condition to family members, employers, friends and other parties of interest. The subsequent result is that people with depression often lead solitary lives and many a time, bottle up feelings, emotions and unanswered questions. Ultimately, this makes them even more depressed.
It is essential for people with anxiety and depression to find someone they are comfortable talking with about their experiences and feelings. However, sometimes talking to strangers is way much easier than talking to relatives and friends. In such a situation, talk therapy is a great solution.
Therapists give their patients a chance to speak their minds and their hearts out without anyone judging them and best of all, with a guarantee of full confidentiality. While this may not take the problems away, it will go a long way in making them feel “lighter” and happier. Effective talk therapies for anxiety and depression include;
- Interpersonal Therapy – This is specifically designed to treat depression but is also used for other disorders such as bipolar. It attempts to treat depression by addressing an individual’s anxiety and depression symptoms about the individual’s conscious environment i.e. the social relationships and social roles.
The therapist helps the patient to examine current relationships as well as past relationships. Moreover, this method attempts to teach the patient new skills that can diminish the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
This is a hybrid form of talk therapy that combines cognitive therapy and behavioral therapy. The former focuses on the relationship between thoughts and emotions while the second involves attempting to change the patient’s reactions when facing challenging situations.
This kind of therapy is particularly useful in helping the patient eliminate negative thoughts and unhealthy core beliefs. The therapist also helps the patient adopt healthier and more positive behaviors and beliefs.
Successful therapy depends on how strong and healthy a partnership is, how healthy communication between the patient and the therapist is as well as how much the therapist and the patient understand each other. Individuals who show more determination in therapy are also more likely to reap its benefits.
Numerous studies suggest that music therapy is useful in treating anxiety and depression particularly when an individual seeks immediate results. These studies have shown that music is helpful in tackling feelings of stress, reducing pain and improving mood.
According to experts, music can activate different parts of the brain and can, therefore, serve various functions in enhancing mental health and functioning. Intentional music listening for between 10 and 25 minutes every day can have significant effects on mood and emotion.
Listening to music can also help in breathing and subsequently have a calming effect on the brain. It is important to note that music therapy is different for every individual and music that works for one person may not necessarily work for another. In fact, it is more advisable for individuals to listen to their favorite music (irrespective of genre) and possibly even identify different music for different moods.
6. Physical Therapy: Massage and Acupuncture
Research has also shown that therapies which involve physical touches such as massage and acupuncture may reduce anxiety and enhance mental health.
According to experts, massage reduces cortisol levels in the body and triggers the production of mood-regulating chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. This has the effect of reducing anxiety and reducing stress.
Research has also shown that massage therapy decreases Sympathetic Nervous System activity. SNS activity is elevated when people experience stress; it is responsible for increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, slower digestion and a looser bladder. Instead, massage stimulates an increase in Parasympathetic Nervous System activity.
PNS activity has an association with improved blood circulation, improved digestion, a more stable heart rate and an also increased relaxation.
Acupuncture, on the other hand, is an ancient Chinese traditional treatment that involves the therapist sticking fine needles into the body and on specific sites/points known as meridians.
The needles clear the meridians of any congestion and thereby allow the free movement of positive energy. The free flow of energy then triggers a calm and good feeling in the individual receiving the treatment.