Phillip J. Watt, Contributor
There’s no doubt an increasing amount of anxiety and depression in our modern world. This is partly because the standard combination of pharmaceutical drugs and mainstream psychology struggles to work. Fortunately, there are other ways though.
Before I get into how, let’s discuss why the drugs and psychs aren’t doing what they say they will. To use a pharmacological example, the anti-depressant drugs that the corporate-based, medical-industrial complex prescribes for society are designed to increase the levels of serotonin in the body. Yet as discussed in this Huffington Post article, that entire theory might be invalid:
Andrews surveyed 50 years’ worth of research supporting the serotonin theory of depression, which suggests that the disease is caused by low levels of the “happiness” neurotransmitter, serotonin.
But Andrews argues that depression may actually be caused by elevated levels of serotonin. And this fundamental misunderstanding may be responsible for inappropriate treatment.
Even if increasing serotonin was the right approach, it’s only a temporary support mechanism whilst psycho-social and physiological measures are put into place to actually resolve the problem permanently. In other words, these drugs don’t cure anything. What will cure it is holistically addressing the issues in our neurological, digestive, environmental and philosophical realms. This in turn can emancipate us from our depression, anxiety and an array of other mental and emotional ills.
For example, anxiety and depression appear to be linked to poor gut health. This is definitely not the only reason why people feel stressed and sad, yet it is basic instinct to recognize that a toxic diet which causes a toxic digestive system certainly makes it more challenging to feel good.
As stated in this article:
Micro-organisms in our gut secrete a profound number of chemicals, and researchers like Lyte have found that among those chemicals are the same substances used by our neurons to communicate and regulate mood, like dopamine, serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). These, in turn, appear to play a function in intestinal disorders, which coincide with high levels of major depression and anxiety.
And as explained in this article:
Depression is often found alongside gastrointestinal inflammations and autoimmune diseases as well as with cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases, type 2-diabetes and also cancer, in which chronic low-grade inflammation is a significant contributing factor. Thus researchers suggested “depression may be a neuropsychiatric manifestation of a chronic inflammatory syndrome.”
The addictive and health-deteriorating substance called sugar has also been linked to depressive psychological states. It’s no wonder either when it has been scientifically shown to light up the same regions of the brain as cocaine and heroin. As expressed in the same article:
It’s become increasingly clear that one route by which sugar is so detrimental to your mental health is because sugar consumption triggers a cascade of chemical reactions in your body that promote chronic inflammation. Further, excess sugar and fructose will distort the ratio of good to bad bacteria in your gut, which also plays an integral role in your mental health. Sugar does this by serving as a fertilizer/fuel for pathogenic bacteria, yeast and fungi that negatively inhibit the beneficial bacteria in your gut.
On a positive side-note, this article indicates how to make our digestive system healthier:
A new study from England found that supplements that boost “good” bacteria in the gut (called “prebiotics”) may alter the way people process emotional information, suggesting that changes in gut bacteria may have anti-anxiety effects.
In terms of our environmental stimuli, our external circumstances are highly influential when it comes to our sense of well-being and the way we behave. When discussed in the context of addiction, the old idea that ‘drugs cause addiction’ dissolves and the new approach becomes ‘challenging environments amplify addictive behavior’. One such study with rats reinforces this idea here:
The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.
But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?
In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.
The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.
There is no doubt that an unhealthy environment – including poor parental, interpersonal, financial and societal circumstances – all contribute to our state of being, but why can some people exposed to poverty and other harsh realities still manage to be relatively happy?
Moreover, why aren’t all people with unhealthy guts experiencing depression and/or anxiety? What are the other reasons why so many people are subjected to these ongoing states of suffering?
It’s not just the outside of us which comprises our environment, our inner realm is just as much as part of it too. This includes our physical design, such as our neurology, and our mental design, such as our beliefs and philosophies.
That’s why if we truly want to overcome our states of suffering, we need to go back to the way we’re wired neurologically and the way we’re constructed conceptually. The wiring in our body-brain is an interconnected network that not just moves through our cerebral, digestive and heart brains, but also throughout our body in terms of cellular, molecular and atomic information-sharing and processing. These pathways and reference points are the physiological basis of our past – our memory – which in effect influences our present and future.
In other words, our traumas and other dysfunctions are hardwired through this network, leading to the continuation of past habits, including depressive and anxious responses to our world. So if we want to change a habit of say, poor resilience, we need to change ourselves on a physical level to ensure sustained behavioral change.
So then, how exactly do we do that? Enter philosophy and action. The way we conceptualize reality, including our lives in detail, as well as the choices we make which determine our behavior, directly impacts the neurological pathways and connections in our body, especially over time.
I can’t emphasize how important this point is. Just like our physical layer influences our mental experience, the way we construct our internal world of ideas, concepts and beliefs inevitably has an impact on our body-brain. If we consistently and repeatedly force a new way of thinking and feeling onto our bodily system, it will respond and adapt accordingly without fail.
A good analogy I like to use when describing this is when you create a new path through the forest. The old walkway is obvious and therefore easy to navigate through, but a new one isn’t. Over considerable time walking the new path it will inescapably become as easy to navigate as the original one.
Therefore, when we change our internal dialogue, our neurology and other physiology changes with it.
That’s why it’s seriously important to consciously design our philosophies and actions i.e. what we believe, how we think, the decisions we make, which ways we behave etc. We should always be asking ourselves: is our internal design beneficial to our mental and emotional health? Does it translate into productive, functional and beneficial behaviors? Is our conscious and subconscious awareness healthy for our physical apparatus, or does it impact negatively on our body-brain?
If you’re personally stuck in a rut with anxiety, depression or other forms of mental and physical health issues, taking a holistic approach to resolving them is the only way. Just changing what we eat, or just thinking more positively, isn’t going to cut it; it needs to a full spectrum response over a significant course of time if we really want to redesign our mind/body connection in a more productive and desirable way.
To do so, we must face ourselves on every level. This includes our interpersonal, physical, emotional, philosophical, psychological, behavioral, sexual and spiritual health, as well as how they all interrelate and dance with each other.
And we also need to respect the emotional roller-coaster we call life and navigate our way through the happiness and sadness with as much peace and contentment as we can can.
Ultimately, keep your chin up; we’ve all had not-so wise influences throughout our upbringing and within society in general, so we all need to go through various phases of unlearning and relearning. It might take a while to implement hard-wired, habitual and sustained changes that are valuable for our overall health, but with enough commitment, courage and creativity, it’s achievable for all of us.
About the Author
This article (The Secret to Overcoming Anxiety and Depression) was originally created by Phillip J. Watt and is re-posted here with permission.
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