Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting forty million adults in the United States ages 18 and older. That translates to about 18 percent of the population. And while professionals say that anxiety disorders are highly treatable, only about 30 percent of those suffering receive treatment. People who suffer from anxiety also have higher rates of suffering from depression or vice versa. Approximately 50 percent of those diagnosed with depression are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.
An October 2011 report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that the use of antidepressants has gone up 400 percent in the past two decades. With such an increase, we have to ask the important question: Are we medicating or healing?
According to Dr. Thomas Insel, the director of the National Institute of Mental Health, the use of antidepressants has come into serious question over the past decade. Large-scale studies have shown that when all depressed patients are started on the most popular antidepressants—such as Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, or Prozac—they are no more effective than placebo pills (sugar pills), except for the most severely depressed patients.
Insel wrote in 2009, “The unfortunate reality is that current medications help too few people to get better and very few people to get well.”
If you are suffering from these conditions, you might feel like your only option—or the quickest route to relief—is prescription medicine. More than forty million Americans take antidepressants, the frontline medication prescribed to treat both anxiety and depression. Conventional medical wisdom indicates that a combination of medication and psychotherapy remains the most effective form of treatment for anxiety and depression. But a growing body of research shows that alternative, natural treatments are gaining attention for their effectiveness.
Are natural remedies enough to treat anxiety and depression? The answer to this question is not clear-cut. Dr. Daniel Hall-Flavin, board-certified in general psychiatry and addiction psychiatry and an expert for Mayo Clinic, says that natural remedies aren’t a replacement for medical diagnosis and treatment. If you are struggling from anxiety or depression, get help from a medical professional, but discuss your interest in incorporating natural remedies into your treatment plan.
For those who want to supplement a medicinal treatment plan, here are a few stress and relaxation techniques that have proven effective in easing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America identified meditation or prayer as an alternative treatment for the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found forty-seven trials that addressed those issues and met their criteria for well-designed studies. Their findings, published in the March 2014 issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses such as anxiety, depression, and pain. Creating a physical prayer or meditation space in your home is a great way to incorporate this into your daily life. Perhaps you have a comfortable chair accompanied by a picture or image that gives you rest. These can set the mood of relaxation and peace. Designate an area in your home for meditation or prayer, and regularly practice there for stress relief.
Yoga is widely practiced for health and relaxation and is also condoned by the ADAA as an alternative therapy. Borrowing controlled breathing, simple meditation, and stretching from this form of exercise eases tension in the body and mind. Other mind–body exercises that have a similar effect include Pilates and dance. Mayo Clinic also reports that general exercise may ease the symptoms of both depression and anxiety and can prevent them from coming back once a person is feeling better. If this form of exercise is new to you, find a beginning class at your local fitness or community center. A book or video can also teach you basic stretches and breathing techniques to get your blood flowing and your mind relaxing.
Acupuncture, which is a 3,000-year-old Chinese practice of inserting needles into the body at specific points to change the body’s flow of energy, is another accepted alternative treatment that is gaining attention for its proven effectiveness, reports the ADAA. A 2011 research study by Nick Errington-Evans reported in the medical journal CNS Neuroscience & Therapeutics indicated that there is moderate improvement in anxiety and depression through the treatment of acupuncture. When dealing with alternative medicines, it’s important to find a licensed acupuncturist and talk with your professional about what you hope to achieve through treatment.
When feeling uptight or down in the dumps, do you find it hard to cut loose? Give laughter a try. According to Mayo Clinic, laughter has a positive impact on many aspects of your physical well-being as well as mental health. It stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles and increases the endorphins released by your brain. It also stimulates circulation and muscle relaxation, which can reduce stress and anxiety. Laughter, like exercise, stimulates the production of serotonin and endorphins—the feel-good hormones that alleviate and ward off depression and anxiety.
Laughter also has more than short-term benefits. It helps boost our immune system, relieves pain, and boosts our mood. Laughter on your own can be difficult. So surround yourself with friends who bring a smile to your face. Watch an episode of a comedian you like. Read the comics section, or watch a silly cartoon.
Lavender is one of the most popular scents available in soap, bubble bath, bath salts, shampoo, and essential oils. Why? Because lavender essential oil has been shown to reduce anxiety. A study published in the Journal of Research in the Pharmacy Practice showed that dental patients exposed to lavender-scented waiting rooms experienced significantly less anxiety to that of the control group that did not. Try incorporating lavender products into your normal beauty routine. Or try putting a dab of essential lavender oil on your pillow, clothing, briefcase, car, or other home or personal items. See if it improves your mood.
It’s true. We all feel better after a good night’s sleep. Waking refreshed makes a big difference in a person’s general mood and performance. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep. According to the National Sleep Foundation, there is a connection between lack of sleep and anxiety and depression. Sleep loss can worsen both depression and anxiety, and these ailments can cause an interruption in sleep. A vicious cycle can take hold. Getting the recommended number of hours of sleep and sticking to a regular sleep/wake schedule can help you feel better and be able to face each day with more fervor.
Depression and anxiety can be debilitating. Seeking help from a medical professional is the first line of action. While medication combined with talk or psychotherapy remains to be the most effective treatment, finding the treatment combination that works best for the individual takes time. A mental health expert can work with you to help you find relief and feel better. Medication and psychotherapy remain trusted antidotes for depression and anxiety, but if you are struggling to feel better and want to practice natural healing, these nonprescriptive treatments could be just what you need.