Stress, Anxiety and Depression

We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t have some periods in our lives when we weren’t stressed, feeling anxious or down. It’s a part of normal life.

Indeed some stress is useful to keep us motivated and achieving what we want in life.

There is a big difference though if anxiety becomes everyday and irrational fears and panic attacks occur, if stress becomes chronic and affects our immune systems and energy levels, and if depression takes us over so we can’t seem to get from under a black cloud.

More often than not, people assume their feelings are the result of psychological causes, and certainly that is always a factor somewhere. BUT my view nowadays is that we have to address both the subconscious and biochemical aspects of mood disorders to get truly well. And, that’s what I hope this page is all about.

Nutrient Tests

Biochemical Imbalances

Pretty often in-clinic, I have seen anxiety, depression, mood swings and behavioural issues disappear as if by magic when a food intolerance is identified or zinc and copper imbalance corrected (best for this is a hair test). We all know from the media stories how much omega 3 fatty acids are known to affect children’s behaviour so why not in the rest of the population, and what other issues are there? You can check how to test for both of these in the Nutrient Tests section here.

Adrenal fatigue can cause chronic anxiety, as can a thyroid issue. And that’s let alone neurotransmitter issues like low serotonin, which is the one mechanism that orthodox medicine concentrates a lot on, hence all the SSRI type anti-depressants like Prozac and Seroxat. You can achieve the same results sometimes by making sure the body has the raw materials to make the serotonin rather than artificially affecting its metabolism in the brain. See the factsheet on Adrenal Fatigue here.

So, consider the biochemical as well as psychological elements of mood and combine a programme to address both factors to get the best results.

Chronic Stress can lead to fatigue, poor immunity, digestive problems etc and is really bad for our long term health. It is vital that you bring it to a level that you feel you can cope with. There are several things that can help: regular aromatherapy massage or facials, reiki, reflexology or hypnotherapy sessions are all great.

Take up some exercise (use a personal trainer or the 10 Minute Exercise book if you need help and inspiration), eat properly and regularly, take a supplement programme to support your adrenal glands and nervous system, drink lots of pure water and sort out the causes of your stress if possible.

Seeing a lifecoach or even chatting to an objective friend can help come up with solutions and change your mindset towards seemingly impossible problems.

Anxiety is often irrational and linked to something that is going on in your subconscious mind. We find hypnotherapy is the best approach, and counselling, nutrition and homeopathy are also excellent.

Depression, especially if moderate or severe, should always be discussed with your GP.

However, if you want to take an alternative approach, there is a lot that can be done. Depression is often exacerbated by nutrient deficiency and body toxicity. It occurs very often as the result of chronic constipation, suppressed skin disorders, food intolerance or liver overload. In these cases, a proper gut and liver biochemical detox can really help.

Consider whether neurotransmitter problems, food intolerance, high histamine levels, underactive thyroid, blood sugar, kryptopyrrole syndrome (pyroluria) or other factors may be affecting you. You can check many of these easily – see Tests. Also, do check the factsheets in this section on Histamine imbalance and Pyroluria.

You might particularly want to look at Dr William Walsh’s work in this field. He concentrates on the methylation and metabolic causes of mood disorders including pyrrole levels, histamine, copper and zinc balance and has been doing some wonderful work. For more on Dr Walsh’s work, read his book Nutrient Power and watch these useful videos. The first is a 10 minute overview:

This second one is a much more technical 2 hour presentation. There are now practitioners in the UK who specialise in this area and can do the testing for you too. You can find a worldwide list of practitioners here. 

Remember: if you feel suicidal or out of control, it is vital you get help from your GP immediately.

SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) affects many people from September onwards. Light therapy can be really useful so check out the SAD factsheet.

Lab Test Request

An Overall Starter Test

If you’re not sure where to start with looking for biochemical things that might not be helping you, here’s an excellent all-rounder test, which looks for the key neurotransmitters, adrenal and hormone status: NeuroHormone Complete Plus. 

I’d probably combine that with identifying any Pyroluria and nutrient levels for a really comprehensive look.

Change Your Brain!

Whilst we know there are tons of biochemical causes of anxiety and depression, we must not ignore the brain and subconscious in all this too. I did that at my own peril during my own illness.

There is a reason that techniques such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and other so-called ‘talking therapies’ are used: because they help.

However, for me anyway, I think it goes a lot deeper than that. My view nowadays is that we need to practice neuroplasticity techniques – brain retraining, if you like – to hardwire happiness back into our heads and hearts.

This is not woolly stuff or ‘just’ positive thinking. This is brain training, much like a stroke victim would use to regain the use of a limb, or that’s how I think of it anyway. It’s repetitive positive messages given in such a way that they will stick over time, almost without you noticing, or that’s what happened for me anyway. I suddenly realised how much less out of control I was, how the fear wasn’t gripping me in the same way – it’s very subtle. Clever.

You need to overcome what have often become sort-of warped subconscious loops going round and round in your head. I found it was like a Pavlovian dog thing; that certain things triggered feelings like anxiety and fear (for me, of food, going out, life generally) and the fear became self- fulfilling. It was only when I started practicing brain techniques and had subconscious help with clinical hypnotherapy, that this truly turned around.

Sure, it’s a lot more time-consuming than taking an anti-depressant pill or having a couple of counselling sessions, but ultimately, it makes you much more grounded, stronger than you’ve ever felt in your life and, well, happier. And that’s the point of it.

So, just how do you do that?

Two Steps To Happiness

My recommendation for you basically is two-fold. I found this kind of combination therapy is the best approach as they work in different ways. The sum of the combo is much stronger than doing one of them, for me.

Hypnotherapy and CBT

First, seek out therapists who will help you. Preferably find someone who will do a mix of CBT and clinical hypnotherapy so you are really getting to the nub of what’s going on and can release any underlying subconscious and therefore hidden keys.

Go the DIY route to start with at least until you feel ready for more. Download maybe a  self-hypnosis audio and do it every day for a month, then see where you go from there.

Retraining the Brain

Next, follow some kind of brain training programme. Here, I have two options for you:

The Healing Plan

This is the book I wrote about my own experiences and recovery path using brain training, hypnotherapy and a raft of other techniques; it sets out what worked for me out of about 40 different methods I tried! You can buy it in paperback or for Kindle. I’ve given you a ton of information, lots of links to stuff and used my own journey with PTSD, panic attacks, sensitivities (to food, chemicals, life!) etc to help show you it can be overcome! Trust me, it works!

Or, try a more hand-holding approach:

Foundations of Wellbeing Programme

I recommend this Foundations of Wellbeing Programme. It’s written by Dr Rick Hanson, who actually wrote Hardwiring Happiness and Buddha’s Brain.  His latest book is Resilient. I don’t actually like his written stuff that much, but this programme is fantastic.

Here’s Rick talking about it…

Using the science of positive neuroplasticity, Rick teaches you effective, quick, and authentic ways to literally change your brain, making it easier to find calm strength, contentment, and confidence.

It’s essentially a year-long programme that you work through to help un-do habitual ways of thinking and, most importantly, develop strength, joy and resilience instead of the negative bias our brains are primed for.

I know you think you’re not doing that: that’s what I thought! But, trust me, the subconscious has you by the short and curlies and part of the process is that you don’t know it – it’s subconscious, not at the conscious level, so why would you?! Took me ages to admit it.

Anyway, it is a brain science-based programme with talks and lectures from some of the best in the field, exercises for you to do and loads of stuff. I did it and found it excellent. I recall actually being astounded and crying at some of the content even in the first talk. I thought: blimey, these people have just described me. It made me feel less alone with it.

In essence, if you feel sad, anxious, flat, wobbly, lost or out of control in any area of your life, do this. It works.

Read all about it here. Rick is definitely NOT in this for the money; he actually refunded mine as a gift for the work I do to help others, which he really didn’t need to do. That is a kind person.

As Rick says: it is time to rip off the Velcro:

Our brains are like Velcro for bad experiences but Teflon for good ones—making us more stressed, worried, tired, and blue than we truly deserve to be.

Ok, more help for you now – natural remedies for anxiety..

A Run Down of Natural Anxiety Alternatives

Here’s part of a really useful article from Food For The Brain on natural alternatives to drug therapy for anxiety and sleep problems. An excellent run-down I thought. I’ve included the references for you too in case they are useful.

Anxious about tranquillisers? There are alternatives

One in twelve people in Britain suffer from anxiety, a quarter of which receive treatment [1]. When a person is in a state of anxiety and unable to sleep, far too often tranquillisers, also called ‘hypnotics’, are prescribed. The most potent are the benzodiazapines such as valium, librium and temazepam. These are, however, highly addictive and certainly not recommended for more than a couple of week’s use. Despite this, prescriptions increase and a report by the National Addiction Centre, Kings College London, for prescriptions up to 2009, found that a third of prescriptions were for more than eight weeks. It is estimated that 1.5 million people in Britain are addicted [2].

More commonly prescribed these days are the non-benzodiazepines such as zolpidem, espopiclone and zaleplon on the apparent basis that they are safer.

However, even leaving the addictive nature of these drugs aside a recent study in the British Medical Journal reports that patients prescribed zolpidem, temazepam and other hypnotics suffered four times the mortality compared to matched patients not prescribed hypnotics [3].

“Even patients prescribed fewer than 18 hypnotic doses per year experienced increased mortality, with greater mortality associated with greater dosage prescribed” reports the author Dr Scripps, an expert in insomnia from California. There was also a 35 per cent overall increase in incidence of cancer among those prescribed high doses.

There are several psychological and nutritional alternatives for combatting anxiety and associated insomnia which carry none of these risks, either for addiction or increased mortality of other adverse effects.

These include:

5-HTP, the precursor of serotonin, from which the sleep hormone melatonin is made. Supplementing 100– 200mg one hour before you go to bed helps you to get a good night’s sleep [4]. It’s also been shown to reduce sleep terrors in children when given before bed [5]. It also reduces susceptibility to panic attacks [6].

Melatonin is also highly effective for aiding sleep. In controlled trials, it’s about a third as effective as the commonly prescribed sleeping pills, but has a fraction of the side effects [7]. If you have difficulty getting to sleep, perhaps only going to sleep very late, and you are prone to feeling low, it’s particularly effective both for helping you sleep and for improving your mood [8]. Melatonin can be prescribed by a GP. It is available over the counter in some countries including the US.

Magnesium calms the nervous system and has been reported to help reduce restless legs and insomnia [9].

GABA is both an amino acid and a neurotransmitter that turns off adrenalin. Doses of 1-2 grams have an immediate anti-anxiety effect. The combination of GABA and 5-HTP is even better. In a placebo- controlled trial this combination cut time taken to fall asleep from 32 minutes to 19 minutes and extended sleep from five to almost seven hours [10]. Taking 1,000mg of GABA, plus 100mg of 5-HTP is a recipe for a good night’s sleep. It is available over the counter in some countries, including the US.

Valerian is the most potent GABA-promoting herb and, as such, can also promote daytime drowsiness, so it’s best to take it only in the evening if you have anxiety or insomnia and an inability to ‘switch off’. It is more effective for insomnia than anxiety. It can interact with alcohol and other sedative drugs and should therefore be taken in combination with them only under careful medical supervision. It seems to work in two ways: by promoting the body’s release of GABA and by providing the amino acid glutamine, from which the brain can make GABA. Neither of these mechanisms makes it addictive [11].

One double-blind study in which participants took 60mg of valerian 30 minutes before bedtime for 28 days found it to be as effective as oxazepam, a drug used to treat anxiety [12]. Another found it to be highly effective in reducing insomnia compared with placebos [13]. A review of studies cites six studies that show a significant benefit [14]. To help you sleep, take 150–300mg about 45 minutes before bedtime.

From a diet point of view following a low sugar low GL (glycemic load) diet, and avoiding caffeine, helps to stabilize blood sugar levels and adrenal hormones, thus reducing anxiety.

Buteyko breathing is a highly effective breathing technique, especially good for those who hyperventilate and have panic attacks, which can be exacerbated by the lack of CO2 induced by over-breathing [15].

Psychotherapy helps to deal with the underlying causes of anxiety. Most researched is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Developing mindfulness, a more meditative form of therapy, known as mindfulness behavioural therapy (MBT), can be very effective in helping you to find your way back to a calmer state by allowing you to witness your thoughts, feelings and physical sensations, thereby allowing them to transform. There’s growing evidence, not only that this approach is highly effective [16] but also that developing mindfulness actually changes brainwave patterns towards alpha and theta waves, which are consistent with a more relaxed and creative way of being [17].

Heart Math refers to some simple exercises designed to improve ‘heart rate variability (HRV)’ monitored using a simple device called the EMWave. In a number of studies these techniques have been shown to reduce anxiety. One unpublished study reported substantially reduced levels of anxiety among stressed graduate students [18].

Alpha-wave inducing music is designed to switch the brainwaves from beta waves, associated with adrenalin and excitation, to alpha waves, which is a prerequisite for relaxation and sleep. In a study of patients going to the dentist, this was found to induce less anxiety [19]. A CD called Silence of Peace, composed by John Levine, can be very effective for those unable to relax or go to sleep.

Patrick Holford, CEO, Food for the Brain Foundation

I have long used Patrick Holford’s recommendations for mental health – it is one of his really strong areas of research. The aptly named Chill Food (as above) is a good one if you’re not sure where to start looking.

I also like Balance For Nerves, which I think he also designed. As always, check contraindications and with your health professional before starting something new, especially if you are already on a type of drug.

(Please use my name Micki Rose when registering and ordering if you wish to help me pay for all this free info time, ta)

Phew, that’s a lot of info, isn’t it?! I’m off for some meditation! I truly hope it helps you.