Many individuals live in a constant or recurrent state of depression or anxiety that can grow into full-blown panic attacks, anxiety disorders or clinical depression when the right set of circumstances are met. Given the multifaceted dimension to these issues, a holistic approach that addresses the physical, emotional and spiritual component is required in order to change the pattern and experience real peace and happiness. In this blog post I will examine the physical, emotional, and spiritual components of depression and anxiety while offering suggestions to help you break free and live the life God has for you – a life full of joy and peace.
THE PHYSICAL COMPONENT
If you want to find freedom from depression and anxiety then finding a way to balance a variety of hormones and bio-chemicals in your body, including vitality hormones, stress hormones and brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), is pretty important! This is done by identifying and supporting the needs of your endocrine system, your limbic system, your digestive system and your brain so they can make these substances. Fortunately there are many options available to you today including pharmaceutical drugs and natural remedies. As a Catholic Naturopath my expertise lies in the usage of natural remedies and lifestyle habits so, given this, I will keep my conversation in this arena.
YOUR COMMUNICATION SYSTEM
Manufactured by your various endocrine glands and your gut microbiome, hormones and neurotransmitters are an essential component of your communication system – they are how your cells communicate with each other. Think of them as little chemical messengers sending instructions from one part of your body to another. Your endocrine system consists of many glands including your thyroid and adrenals, which you are probably already aware of. It also includes several other glands such as your pancreas, pituitary, hypothalamus, and gonads (ovaries and testes). Your fat cells also work like a endocrine gland secreting various hormones. These glands produce your vitality hormones including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, DHEA, thyroid hormones, cortisol, and insulin. Keeping them healthy and properly balanced is essential for optimal peace of mind and freedom from depression and anxiety.
Your limbic is also important to keep in mind when addressing depression and anxiety. Your limbic system, which works with your endocrine system, includes those structures of the brain that regulate your emotional responses to stress, including your hypothalamus and amygdala. Your hypothalamus is unique in that it is part of both your limbic system and your endocrine system – it is certainly a busy little gland! Every time you experience a difficult emotional situation your hypothalamus jumps into action.
Lastly, your digestive system has a significant role in addressing depression and anxiety. Medical science has known for quite some time that serotonin, a specific neurotransmitter needed for peace of mind, is found in large quantities in the digestive system. Given this, it’s no wonder that the gut is referred to as “the second brain” in many natural health circles. Inside your gut lives what we call your gut microbiome – colonies of microorganisms. You depend on these little critters to live. Some of these organisms support your health and well-being, while others work against your cells, leading to di-sease.
In order to manufacture healthy levels of neurotransmitters you must have a healthy gut microbiome. Several studies point to a direct correlation between the gut microbiome and depression and anxiety. In a nut shell, it is important to nourish your healthy gut bacteria and take the steps necessary to diminish harmful gut bacteria. I believe it is a good idea to include the proper dietary measures coupled with the correct remedies to support a healthy gut microbiome for individuals suffering from depression and anxiety.
Over the years I have witnessed amazing results in clients suffering from depression and anxiety when they incorporate natural remedies and lifestyle measures. While each client is unique, I find that the starting place for most individuals suffering from depression and anxiety is the adrenal-pituitary-hypothalamus axis. Once we have properly assessed and supported this system then it is good to look into supporting microbiome and digestive system. In short, we need to see how the endocrine and digestive systems are functioning and offer needed natural support so they can work optimally. I have a YouTube video on titled Adrenal Health and Stress that you may find helpful. I invite you to watch it.
In the video I share with you top 5 tips that support your adrenal glands. I also invite you to download my FREE From Fatigued to Fabulous With Jesus Christ Hand-out by clicking here. In this hand-out I offer my favorite wellness tips and remedies for optimal health and vitality.
As you can see, your neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) play a huge role in your emotional health. Keeping your neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and GABA in balance is important if you are to experience peace and happiness. Here is a quick rundown on key neurotransmitters as they relate to different mental states.
- Dopamine: critical to central nervous system functions such as movement, pleasure, attention, mood, and motivation. Strongly resembles noradrenaline.
- Serotonin: serotonin can affect mood and social behavior, appetite and digestion, sleep, memory, and sexual desire and function. Eighty to ninety percent can be found in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Oxytocin: the bonding/attachment hormone that creates feelings of calm and closeness. It is released during breastfeeding and childbirth as well as during intimacy in both sexes.
- Noradrenaline: a stress hormone released during the fight or flight response that increases heart rate and blood pressure, widens air passages in the lungs, and narrows blood vessels in non-essential organs.
- Adrenaline: an adrenal hormone released during acute stress, similar to noradrenaline in its effects.
- GABA: a neurotransmitter that helps with anxiety, fear, insomnia, and an over excited brain.
- Happiness: high and balanced serotonin
- Love: high and balanced levels of dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin
- Anxiety: low dopamine and/or GABA
- Depression: low dopamine, low GABA and/or low serotonin
- Stress (fight or flight): very high noradrenaline and high adrenaline
- Schizophrenia: very high dopamine and/or low GABA
Fortunately there are many natural remedies that I have found helpful in my practice. Remedies including 5-HTP, as well as amino acid preparations designed to support healthy levels of GABA, dopamine, and serotonin can offer solid support. However, until we deal with the deeper emotional and spiritual issues remedies will have their limitations. I recommend that you seek the assistance of a qualified and experienced natural health care practitioner who can properly test and evaluate you. There can be a lot of moving pieces!
THE EMOTIONAL COMPONENT
Did you know that biochemicals released during a “perceived event” are the same ones released when you are actually in the stressful or dangerous situation? Yup, the same physiological pattern that occurs when you are actually in physical danger occurs when you are thinking about danger. If you are thinking thoughts of fear, anxiety or sadness your physical body is in a stressed (and inflamed) state. You are in fight, flight, or freeze! Not good.
CHANGE YOUR PERCEPTION OF DANGER AND ANXIETY
If you perceive danger or if your mind is thinking about something that causes you anxiety, your body is physically responding as if you are actually experiencing the situation in real time. Given this, thinking about the stressful confrontation you had with your spouse produces the same biochemical picture in your body that you experienced during the actual conversation. How many times do you let your mind fret with thoughts of anxiety? Admittedly, I have let my mind drive me crazy from time to time in the past. Sometimes it seemed as if I relished in replaying the harmful mental tapes over and over in my mind.
Additionally, your body does not differentiate between witnessing troublesome events in real time or stimuli that are received as a result of artificial exposure. Violent and suspenseful video games, books, and movies can be dangerous for adults, and especially for children, given their developing brains. Such exposure incites the danger/excitatory hormones and neurotransmitters that are designed to alarm you in the case of danger. Overexposure of these biochemicals contributes to a long list of physical and emotional health issues. Stress is significant, and you have more control over your stress response than you realize. Regaining control begins with limiting your exposure.
To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
—Romans 8:6 (NABRE)
Your brain is not created to exist in a prolonged state of stress. You are created to live in the world God created for you. You were created to relish in the things of God. Yes, God equipped us to deal with immediate danger; however, he did not create us to live in a stressful state for extended periods of time. Rather, he calls us to turn to him and allow his son, Jesus Christ, to carry our pain. God wants us to enjoy internal peace and friendship with him.
Only when the soul has willingly become nothing, our of love of him who is everything, can it find true rest. – Julian of Norwich (1)
In a similar way the experience of depression applies, a person does not necessarily need to be in the middle of a significant loss to experience the physiology of depression. Have you ever watched a sad movie or learned of a heart wrenching real life story and experienced the welling up of tears? If so, your body responded as if you were actually experiencing the event firsthand. My advice is to protect yourself from unhealthy situations as much as possible. Not that all of sad situations are unhealthy for everyone; however, you need to pay attention to your response to difficult situations. Everyone’s threshold is different. If your eyes are a window into your soul then be mindful of what your eyes are allowing into your soul. You can either feed your soul or you can harm it. I invite you to make a conscious decision to introduce happiness, love, and laughter into your life through what you watch, read, and through your relationships with others. Laughter is indeed is good medicine.
Continue to grow in your ability to handle difficult or sad times by uniting your suffering with Jesus’ passion. Not only is he big enough to carry your pain for you, he is already carrying it. The power of your happiness lives in the power of Jesus’ passion – that’s a lot of power! I’ll share with you a bit of “LIVE Language” to help you do this during moments of struggle. When you are suffering I invite you to say the following as you visualize yourself handing your pain of to Jesus: “I unite my pain (name you specific pain if you wish) with the pain of Jesus’ passion, especially the pain he carried for me out of his infinite love for me.”
Through his passion, his dying, and his resurrecting, he makes us one with his own essence. – Julian of Norwich (2)
Undoubtedly you will experience painful, and perhaps even traumatic, events in your life – this is planet earth after all. However, it is not helpful to focus on “what could happen”, rather, focus on what is going on in your life in this current moment. Yes, we need to plan for unexpectant events; however, for the most part life is full of moments that are not life and death situations. Life is full of moments that could be very joyful. Focus on the joyful moments, the love filled moments and practice gratitude for the many good times God gives you. When you reflect on, and give gratitude for, your blessings your body responds by releasing a plethora of “happy” biochemicals! These happy biochemicals help your body to function at its best.
Fortunately, we can take control of our thoughts and re-program our thought patterns so they are conducive to healing. I have a great tip that I highly recommend to properly “program” your subconscious mind – and it’s super easy! During your last 10 waking minutes of each day expose your mind to something positive and life-giving by reading something uplifting, watching something funny or reading spiritual material. During your next 5-6 sleeping hours your subconscious mind will replay this material over and over as it reprograms and imprints the uplifting data into your system! Given that 95% of our behavior comes from our subconscious mind it is pretty important to find ways to program it to suite c your goal of living a life full of peace and happiness.
THE SPIRITUAL COMPONENT
You are created in the image of God, your maker who desires your happiness and wholeness. However, you live in a world riddled with challenges that must be overcome if you are to experience the life God offers. By choosing to look at your challenges as an opportunity for spiritual growth a new pathway into happiness opens. Never have I had a patient come to me and tell me that their greatest moments of emotional and spiritual growth occurred as a result of the easy periods of life. In contrast, many, many patients over the years have shared with me their profound gratitude for the growth they experienced that was born out their struggles. Struggles led them to experience greater peace, joy and happiness. Life struggles offer you an opportunity to transform into a better, more loving, more forgiving person. They offer you an opportunity to become more Christ like.
Just as the first words that Christ revealed to me, referring to his blessed passion, were, “With this the spirit is overcome,” he uttered these last words with equal truth and faithfulness: “You will not be overcome.” This teaching and the comfort it brings are meant for all of us…He did not say you will not be tempted; you will not be troubled; you will not be distressed. What he said was, “You shall not be overcome.” God wants us to pay attention to these words and be strong in absolute trust, in both well and woe. – Julian of Norwich (3)
Below you will find scripture specific for those suffering from depression and anxiety along with my thoughts regarding further reflection. It is my hope that you find peace and happiness within them. I invite you to meditate on them Lectio Divina style and allow yourself to walk through the door of communication and friendship with God. Here is a post where I share with you this beautiful way of meditating on sacred scripture: Lectio Divina.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:6-7 (NABRE)
Offering gratitude for the blessings in your life, they have the power to cultivate love in your heart. When your heart experiences love, anxiety cannot occupy it. These two emotions are not congruent. Perhaps create a journal of the things you are grateful for to deepen your creation of love in your life.
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” – Matthew 11:28-30 (NABRE)
Jesus promised us that his yoke is easy and his burned is light! This runs contrary to the depression and anxiety we witness in the world today; however, his words are true. Go to Jesus, turn to him, create a space for him in your life so that he can reach you. Perhaps create an altar in your home with a candle, your Bible or other Catholic materials. Commit to spending a set amount of time with God, praying and meditating every day. It doesn’t even need to be a large amount of time, it’s consistency that counts. Consistency works to change your life. Like any relationship with a loved one, you need to commit to the relationship and spend time with your beloved for your love to deepen and grow. I have a page titled “Meditation and Prayer” that I invite you to read. In it I share some of my favorite prayers and forms of meditation. Here is the link: Meditation and Prayer.
Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad. – Proverbs 12:25 (NABRE)
The words we speak have great power and they can be used for our good – or for our harm. Why is this true? It is true because we are created in the image of God, and God spoke the world into existence. I invite you to read Genesis 1:1-31 during your “God” time and reflect on the power of the spoken word. The words you speak and think matter. They matter to you, and they matter to the world. Saint Paul tells us that as believers we have the mind of Christ (cF. 1 Corinthians 2:14-16) We are called to use this mind for good and proper judgement so that the “natural person” (the unbeliever) may come to know God as well. To fully understand how we have the mind of Christ calls us to look beyond our mere intellect. We are called to set our hope and trust in him, we are called to choose thoughts that are Christ-like. Lending our mind to thoughts congruent with Christ allows us to receive the grace God has for us.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. – Revelation 21:4 (NABRE)
End story my friends. The Book of Revelation only has 22 chapters. All will be well as Julian of Norwich (one of my favorite church mystics) tells us. Some believe we are living in the Book of Revelation. If so, then this promise is not far away. However, there will be hard times… Remember the kingdom of heaven is at hand and we can experience all the joy, happiness and love that God has for us right now. We will have troubles. God wants us to cling to him during our hard times (and our good times). All we have to do is follow the path he has set before us and unite our suffering with the passion of Jesus Christ and trusting in him.
I invite you to join me as we work together to help the world heal one family at a time, beginning with you and yours.
If you would like to schedule a session with Carolyn or inquire about inviting her to speak at an upcoming event or retreat of yours we invite you to click here: Carolyn Berghuis, MA, CTN, ND, MS
1 Julian. The Showings of Julian of Norwich: A New Translation, ed. trans. by Mirabai Starr. (Charlottesville: Hampton Roads Publishing, 2013) Ch. 5, p. 14.
2 Ibid., Ch. 58, p. 161
3 Ibid., Ch. 68, p. 186-187