Living With Anxiety:
Why are We So Anxious and Depressed?
Every country has its defining personality or characteristic. When we think of England, we think of tradition, propriety, and a stiff upper lip. When we think of France, we think of those who love and create rich and delicious foods. Italy? Passionate zest for life. America? Enthusiasm and confidence. Well, that’s how it used to be. Now most Americans are fat, sick, tired, and anxious.[i] Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million of us over the age of 18. Those who struggle with an anxiety disorder are 3-5 times more likely to go to the doctor, and 6 times more likely to be hospitalized for those disorders than those who don’t suffer from anxiety.[ii] Depression is the top cause of disability worldwide and in America. There were 40 thousand suicides in America just last year. Twenty percent of our children now have psychiatric disorders. The use of antidepressants has tripled in the last decade, and 1 in 10 Americans is on at least one antidepressant. These statistics are sobering, not just because of their great number, but because they represent millions of families whose lives have been altered to accommodate their anxious, depressed loved ones, or to deal with the fallout of their condition. They represent broken hearts, broken dreams, and broken lives.
My heart aches as I sit with a patient whose 9-year-old son is threatening to kill himself because he is angry, depressed, and too anxious to go to school. I think of all the hopes and dreams that mother had for this boy — a beautiful boy. Frantically she calls doctors as far as 50 miles away to see if they will see her son and accept her state insurance. The answer is always NO. She has nowhere to turn, and she knows time may be running out. Anxiety disorders can manifest as generalized anxiety, panic attacks, social anxiety, specific phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), major depressive disorder, persistent depressive disorder, and PTSD. So many different labels, but their root is all the same. They all start in the brain. Anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications don’t work long term, because they don’t deal with the root cause of the problem: HPA axis dysfunction (when your brain is stuck in the stress response). If you are reading this and are discouraged, take heart. There is hope for health and healing for you and for your loved ones. We can heal our brains because they are neuroplastic — able to create new neural pathways at any age!
Anxiety? Or Depression?
First let’s talk about the difference between anxiety and depression. They have a great deal of overlap in their symptoms as well as in their causality; but there is a difference. Anxiety causes us to be apprehensive about what’s going to happen, or what could happen in the future. Anxiety makes you feel as if you need to run away or avoid anything that could cause further anxiety.[iii] It is primarily a fear response. Depression is primarily a sadness response, but it looks to the future with fear and hopelessness believing that circumstances will never change. Depression can occur after experiencing anxiety, because dealing with anxiety is exhausting! You are constantly running from a “tiger,” but you never get to stop. You carry the chase with you in your mind. Your HPA axis is on high alert, and it just won’t let you stop and be in the moment. What I find interesting is that anxiety and depression are rooted in regret for the past and fear for the future. Perhaps this is why mindfulness and meditation work so well in treating both these conditions. There is nothing more powerful than being in the “now,” and there is nothing so exhausting as living in the past or the future.
Yesterday is history; tomorrow is mystery; Today is a gift — that’s why it’s called the present!
Steps to Health and Healing
1. It Matters What You Think
Ancient Wisdom Literature tells us that what a man thinks in his heart, that is what he is.[iv] Negative or fearful thoughts can create or worsen anxiety, while healthy thinking can help you prevent or control anxiety.[v] In fact, cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of therapy that helps patients replace negative thoughts with accurate, encouraging ones. The Bible calls this “renewing your mind.”[vi] Take time to write out some personal, positive affirmations to replace the broken soundtrack in your mind. Repeat these affirmations to yourself daily. You will have more energy and less anxiety.
2. It Matters What You Say
Words are powerful! Your subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between what is real and what is perceived. When your words are negative, critical, victimized, and limiting, your mind will feel stressed and your stress response will be activated. The Bible is clear in its message about words. Proverbs 18:21 states, “The tongue has the power of life and death.” In order to experience an abundant and healthy mind and life, you must watch your words carefully. Don’t limit yourself with your complaining, negative, bitter words. Instead, speak words of truth, faith, love, hope, and joy!
3. It Matters What You Eat
Most modern diseases that impact the brain start in the gut. In the human embryo, the gut and brain start out at the same point. Then as the baby develops, one goes up, and the other goes down. That’s how connected your brain and gut are. The gut and the brain are in constant communication with each other in a system that rivals any high-tech communication system we know of today. It is both primal and cutting edge. Low Serotonin levels play a role in both anxiety and depression.[vii] Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is produced in the gut and in the brain. How is it that we have so missed the mark when it comes to one of the most important pieces of this puzzle? We believe that the mind can affect the body in negative ways; so why don’t we believe that the body can affect the mind with depression and anxiety? What you put into your body affects your microbiome (the balance of bacteria in your intestines). And that microbiome directly affects your brain. If you’ve ever gotten the “nervous poops” when you were anxious or getting ready to speak in public, then you are experiencing the gut-brain connection. But it works the other way too! When you ingest artificial colors, artificial flavors, vegetable oils in fried and processed foods, too much sugar, pesticides from non-organic fruits and vegetables, and hormones and antibiotics from conventionally raised meat, your brain reacts with anxiety, depression, brain fog, memory loss, irritability, rage, and confusion. If you have a leaky gut, then you will feel these symptoms more quickly and you will feel them more often. Large protein molecules get through the microscopic tears in your gut lining. From there they circulate in your blood stream and then end up crossing the blood-brain barrier where they can damage brain cells and create anxiety and other mental issues. When people have anxiety, they have an imbalance in their gut flora. When you heal the gut, your anxiety will be quieter. Food triggers a cascade of events in the body and brain — either good or bad. Perceptions, feeling, and even memories of events are all controlled by this communication.
Sugar is Our #1 Recreational Drug of Choice
Eat for Brain Health If your stomach feels sick, you will baby it with foods that are easy to digest — comforting foods that make you feel better. This works with your brain too! It’s important to eat for brain health if you struggle with any brain issues. What foods does the brain like? Good fats. Organic vegetables and fruits of all different colors (eat the rainbow!), and grass-fed, pasture-raised, and wild-caught proteins. What doesn’t the brain like? Artificial flavors and colors cause brain problems. Omega-6 foods like fried and processed, or “fast” foods cause anger, frustration, and depression. Sugar consumption drives up Serotonin, then depletes it in the brain. Our mitochondria (where energy is created in the cells) are made of thousands of tiny drops of fat. They need fat to function — but not just any fat! Good fats — avocados, nuts, seeds, grass-fed meats and butter, and oily fish like salmon. Good quality supplements of Vitamin D3, Omega-3, Magnesium, Sulfur, and adaptogenic herbs like those found in StressRX® all make your brain very happy! In fact, in a randomized trial, patients with mild to moderate depression experienced a lessening in their depression by supplementing with Rhodiola. They have significantly fewer side effects than did those patients taking Sertraline (generic Zoloft), and the herbs were better tolerated than the pharmaceuticals. [viii]
4. It Matters How You Live
Connection is key to managing anxiety and depression. Most people who are anxious or depressed desperately need this connection, but fear makes it hard for them to actually follow through and be intimate. It can be just as satisfying to connect deeply with a dear friend as it is to connect with a sexual partner when you are both sharing your true selves with one another. Sharing your feelings with another human in a non-threatening way is a great way to establish deep emotional connection. When we do this, it stimulates and tones the vagus nerve that connects the gut, the heart, and the brain; and in turn reduces the stress response. Generosity has been repeatedly shown to increase health and wellbeing while reducing anxiety, depression, and loneliness. The laws of physics state that two opposing forces cannot occupy the same space at the same time. That means that you can’t be generous (soaring on faith as an act of love) while at the same time experiencing anxiety (pulling inside oneself because of fear). Generosity is an act of expansion and abundance, while anxiety is contracted, small, and afraid. Stress Management: You cannot rid your life of stress. Stress is a fact of life, and all stress is not bad! You must, however, develop counterbalances to the stress in your life to keep you from getting stuck in that stress response and becoming crippled with anxiety and depression. Entropy is another law of physics. It states that things generally run in this universe from order to disorder — not the other way around. So if you are not tending to your brain, your heart, and your life, they will become fragmented and run to chaos, anxiety, and other less desirable states. Getting adequate sleep is an important way to manage stress, because during high quality sleep, stress hormones are metabolized. Moving more is another way to counterbalance the stress of life. According to some studies, regular exercise works as well as medication to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression. One vigorous session of high intensity exercise can help alleviate symptoms for hours, and exercising regularly may be the key to long-term reduction in those symptoms.[ix]Adaptogens are amphoteric in nature, meaning that when you need to calm down, they calm you down, but when you need energy and focus, they are right there giving you energy and focus. These amazing herbs are grown in the most inhospitable places on earth, and they have developed internal resistance to heat, cold, and drought. When we ingest them, we get the gift of resilience — the best tool for overcoming the pain and difficulty of anxiety and depression.
[i] <a href="https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics">https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics</a> [ii] Ibid. [iii] <a href="https://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/difference-anxiety-depression">https://www.calmclinic.com/anxiety/difference-anxiety-depression</a> [iv] Proverbs 23:7 [v] <a href="https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/anxiety-using-positive-thinking">https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/anxiety-using-positive-thinking</a> [vi] Proverbs 18:21 [vii] <a href="https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/anxiety-using-positive-thinking">https://www.webmd.com/anxiety-panic/anxiety-using-positive-thinking</a> [viii] <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25837277">https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25837277</a> [ix] <a href="https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety">https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety</a>