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Minding Our Internal Control Tower

Treating depression and anxiety for overall wellbeing

By Kelly Lewallen, LMFT

So, you walk into your doctor’s office to find that it is filled with patients. They’re particularly busy, so you wonder if it’s a common cold or flu going around and whether you’re going to catch it. But the surprising truth is, the majority of patients seen in an outpatient clinic are coming in for anxiety and depression.

In 2010, the CDC recorded that an average of 20% of doctor visits were for mental health issues. Anxiety and depressive disorders are distinct from simply feeling nervous or down sometimes. These disorders have specific symptoms, which are chronic, and usually in response to a change in the chemistry of the brain.

Our brain is the control tower of all our organs, so diseases like depression and anxiety can have devastating effects on the entire body. For example, the stress response hormone cortisol is beneficial in the short term, but if elevated over an extended period of time, can cause increased weight gain, hypertension, increased blood sugar levels, and even osteoporosis.

Mental health issues are indeed actual diseases affecting the brain and therefore have physiological effects on the body. If only the solution were as simple as medication is for many other diseases; however, since it’s our brain, it’s a much more complicated disorder.

So, let’s start with basics: sleep, nutrition, exercise, social engagement, and thinking styles. These can help to prevent and heal psychological diseases. Sometimes, medication is part of the regime as well. However, if you have suffered from depression or anxiety, you most likely found it extremely difficult to regulate sleeping, exercise, eating well and positive social connections.

Below are some effective and seemingly ridiculously easy tools that anyone can use to shift their cognitive state quickly. All of them are based on brain science. We know that if we alter our bodily state, it literally changes our brain secretions. Likewise, we can stop and shift the track our brain is traveling down (neuropathways) so we can redirect it.

Try the following techniques, in this order:

  • Yell “stop” (internally); count from 5, 4, 3, 2, 1; or repeat a mantra.
  • Stand up and put your arms over your head for two minutes (I act like I am stretching, if in public).
  • If anxious, think: “I am excited about…”
  • If ruminating negatively, think: “I am grateful for…”

In the end, the recommended treatment protocol is therapy, sometimes paired with medication. The brain is simply another organ in the body and when it’s sick, it needs medical attention. Do feel free to talk to your doctor or therapist if you are struggling. They will assist in developing an appropriate treatment plan to help you recover and embrace life again.

Kelly Lewallen is a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Palm Desert and a member of Desert Doctors. She can be reached at (760) 777.7720. For more information visit www.desertmarriagefamily.com or go to DesertDoctors.org

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