Tag Archives: natural healing for depression

Faux Feelings, Real Consequences

“This human tendency to look for outer causes for our moods is the greatest addiction on our planet.” –Richard Rudd

For depression levels: All

The headline in this morning’s paper blared, “Mock abduction exercise a success.” As I read the article over my tea and toast about the 10-agency exercise conducted yesterday to find a 14-year-old girl by the name of “Veronica Doe” who had been “kidnapped,” complete with eyewitnesses, neighborhood canvasses, and search dogs, I found tears coming to my eyes.

This morning's headline.

“8:04 a.m.: An Amber Alert has been sent out to local media,” reads the article’s dramatic timeline. “A backpack and sweater Doe left behind during the abduction are collected as evidence.” “9:13 a.m.: … [T]he community emergency response team and the search dog network are brought up to speed so they can start combing different areas in hopes of locating Doe.” “10:55 a.m.: Dogs are brought to the area. After being exposed to scent on shoe, the canine takes off down a park trail and locates Doe within seconds. Abductor is arrested. Doe is reunited with parents and taken in for medical examination.”

Why was I getting all teary-eyed and emotional? It was a mock kidnapping, for pity’s sake! The teen probably volunteered to play the role and had the time of her life. She was fine, her family was fine, and law enforcement agencies for miles around gained valuable experience in what to do if the real thing comes along.

Although I am not a neuroscientist, my educated guess is that reading about a girl being overpowered by an adult up to no good, ripped away from her family, and exposed to trauma triggered reactions in my primal or “reptilian” brain circuits of similar experiences in my own childhood. The reptilian brain isn’t rational when it comes to these things; it has embedded in its cells the conviction that undergoing certain types of experiences automatically means pain.

While my rational mind knew the kidnapping was staged, the feelings that came up in response to this mock kidnapping felt real. Tears came to my eyes, my heart rate sped up, and a ball of anxiety formed in the pit of my stomach. Emotionally, I felt vulnerable. If I had chosen to take these feelings seriously, such as telling myself the world is such a dangerous place, children aren’t safe, you can’t trust anybody, etc., then I could have initiated a downward spiral into depression.

Here’s the sequence of events that leads, oftentimes, to the start of a depressive episode or the exacerbation of a current one:

  1. Something happens that reminds me of something in my past.
  2. My reptilian brain thinks it’s a replay of the same situation, and it responds with chemical reactions that increase feelings of fear, anxiety, and dread.
  3. I tell a story about what has just happened that reinforces those negative reactions.
  4. Depression sets in or gets worse.
  5. I am incapacitated, unable to function.

The stories we choose to tell ourselves about what's happening can generate negative feelings that trigger depression.

You can see how such a reaction to a minor (or even a fake!) event can have real-world consequences. Perhaps you find yourself reacting with anger or distrust towards a loved one, refusing to try new things such as checking out a different career field, or isolating yourself because you assume you will always be alone and friendless. It’s been said, “All limitations are self-imposed” (attributed variously to Oliver Wendell Holmes and Ernest Holmes—take your pick). Realizing that your neurochemical reactions and the stories you tell yourself about them may be in response to situations that are, in reality, negligible can restore your power and allow you to make more positive decisions about what’s going on in your life.

The Weekend Stretch

This weekend, pay attention to a situation that triggers you in some way. It could be a “rude” waiter at a restaurant, a close call while driving, an item on the TV news, or a conversation with a friend. Write the answers to the following questions in your journal:

  1. Is what’s happening something that actually applies to me now, in the present? Or is it simply a reminder of something from my past?
  2. What stories am I telling myself about what happened or what was said?
  3. Do I really want to give away my power to this?
  4. What’s a different, more empowering way to look at this? (Consider that maybe, just maybe, what happened has absolutely nothing to do with you!)
  5. What resources or coping and communication skills do I have at my disposal to deal with this situation constructively?

To take this exercise further, print out these questions and carry them with you, responding to them whenever you get triggered.

Have an empowering weekend!

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

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Filed under Making Tracks, Perception Pivot, The Weekend Stretch

Eating Wheat Can Cause Depression

As yummy as it looks, bread and other wheat-containing foods can be brain allergens for depressives.

“The doctor of the future will no longer treat the human frame with drugs, but rather will cure and prevent disease with nutrition.” — Thomas Edison

For depression levels: All

A couple of weeks ago, I took myself out to dinner at a local home-cooking franchise. I was really hungry and looking forward to the pot roast they had on special.

I did not take into consideration all the flour they add to the pot roast to bind the broth and make the dish appear more appetizing. I also forgot about the gravy that comes automatically with the mashed potatoes. Being a pot roast lover and a mashed potato addict, I inhaled them both.

Within 15 minutes of having begun my meal, I was hit with a wave of brain fog so severe that I literally could not form sentences. Fatigue washed over me, and I could barely keep my eyes open. It was only about 6:00 in the evening; it had not been a particularly arduous day and there was no reason for me to feel so tired. The waitress came and asked me if I needed anything else. It took an immense effort to even look at her and say, “No, thanks.” I felt drugged, or drunk. I managed to pay for the meal and left.

It was no coincidence that over the next couple of weeks I experienced a severe depressive episode. The pot roast and gravy-laden mashed potatoes were not the only culprits; I had been indulging in sweets, Mexican food wrapped in flour tortillas, and even sandwiches. I had also dropped off on my exercise plan.

I’ve known for many years that wheat is contraindicated for people with clinical depression. The essential reference book Prescription for Nutritional Healing, the first book I consulted after my diagnosis in 2001, states, “Omit wheat products from the diet. Wheat gluten has been linked to depressive disorders” (p. 317 in 3rd ed.). Julia Ross, M.A., author of The Mood Cure, describes the link between wheat consumption and depression:

“Dozens of studies confirm that depression is a common symptom of gluten intolerance, one that usually disappears when wheat and the similar grains are withdrawn. People with gluten intolerance have low levels of the . . . brain chemical serotonin, and gluten has been implicated in mental illness since at least 1979, which is when I first noticed psychiatric journals reporting tremendous improvement in the symptoms of patients with depression and manic-depression . . . who had been experimentally taken off gluten-containing foods.” (p. 126)

And Dr. Jeffrey Morrison, in his ground-breaking book Cleanse Your Body, Clear Your Mind, shares with readers how he actually eliminated all symptoms of schizophrenia from one of his patients, a man who had received that horrendous mental illness as his official psychiatric diagnosis, by removing all gluten-containing products from his diet.

Knowing something and actually acting on it, however, are two different things, particularly when the substance at stake is both highly addictive and near and dear to our hearts. Wheat contains gluten, as do barley and rye; oats can also contain gluten because they are typically processed in manufacturing plants that process wheat. Gluten has been described as a “brain allergen” and an opiate (Ross, p. 126). Eating gluten actually causes us to feel comforted, at least temporarily: We feel a drug-like high whenever we eat bread, pasta, cakes, cookies, pizza, and other wheat-containing foods.

"Amber waves of grain" = wheat!

In addition to being a potent addictive substance, wheat is woven tightly into the fabric of American culture. Think about the patriotic song, “America the Beautiful”: The second line is, “For amber waves of grain.” I don’t think they’re talking about rice! According to the National Association of Wheat Growers, three-quarters of all U.S. grain products are made from wheat flour. And what can you count on being served at every special occasion, from birthdays to Thanksgiving, from baby showers to the Fourth of July picnic? Breads and baked goods. Can you imagine your birthday without a birthday cake or the holidays without pumpkin pie? And how about eliminating sandwiches from your lunch menu?

Most people can’t. That’s why it’s so hard to say “no” to eating wheat. Everyone else is eating it; why can’t we eat it, too? Eating the same things most people eat makes us feel like we’re part of the tribe, like we belong. When we have to stick to a “special” diet, it exacerbates that feeling of being somehow different and oddball that we already experience due to having depression.

I’ve been using my own body and brain as an experiential food lab for many years. Time and time again, eating wheat has produced adverse affects for me, emotionally and cognitively. It has taken me this long to convince myself that I need to stay away from the stuff–permanently. I finally get it that eating wheat means giving up functionality and quality of life. It’s simply not worth it.

If you’ve been suffering from depression for a long time and have had less-than-stellar results from taking antidepressants, try eliminating wheat from your diet, even if it’s just for a short time. You should feel better in as little as a week, which might be enough of an incentive to continue avoiding wheat and even to seek out gluten-free alternatives. Changing your diet so drastically takes courage and fortitude, and practice, practice, practice. However, it’s a major step toward getting your life back. You’ll be amazed at the results!

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

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Filed under Nutrition, Provisions for the Journey

The Good Enough Seal of Approval

Putting our own seal of approval on a situation helps us to move past it.

“A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.” – Mark Twain

Those of us above a certain age remember the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. As a child, I can remember being impressed when I saw the seal, thinking, “Ooh, that must be good!” People actually used to look for that seal and choose products that had it over those that didn’t. Turning 100 years old in 2009, it was and still is well known as a guarantee of quality.

Part of Good Housekeeping’s mission when it was established in 1885 was to “produce and perpetuate perfection as may be obtained in the household.” Although their intentions were good—to ensure that consumer products and foods were safe, reliable, and unadulterated—their readers began applying that perfectionism to their own lives. Magazines such as G.H. became arbiters for how people were “supposed” to live.

Today, in the second decade of the 21st century, the media is a powerful force for influencing not only our purchasing choices but also the thoughts we have about the world around us and even ourselves. Whether we are aware of it or not, most of us hold an invisible set of standards by which we evaluate everything that goes on in our lives, including our accomplishments, careers, lifestyles, families, companions, and how we come across to others.

Every time you say, “Oh, shoot, I should have…” or “If only I’d said…” or “Why did I…?”, you are applying these invisible standards to whatever you have or have not done. How does it feel when you talk that way to yourself? I don’t know about you, but I know that when I think that way about myself, I feel ashamed and disempowered.

I got a chance to experience this phenomenon last week. A friend of mine hosts a weekly segment on our community radio station, KEOS 89.1, called “Brazos Valley Health.” Because the guests she had lined up to speak on the show had bailed, she asked me to come on the show to talk about depression. I said, “Sure, sounds like fun!” I had only about 20 minutes to prepare and had no idea what I was going to say. Fortunately, my friend has been doing this show for a long time and is an expert interviewer; that, along with my experience in Toastmasters, made the hour-long interview go smoothly.

In spite of this rather considerable accomplishment, on the way home from the radio studio I got into a critical conversation with myself. It went something like this: “Darn it all, I forgot to mention supplements! And I didn’t talk about the statistics regarding depression and disability, how depression is the leading cause of disability in this country. People need to know that it costs more than $300 billion per year! And I really shouldn’t have said anything about the fatality rate, because I didn’t have the source for that stat with me. Boy, I really blew it! Maybe only a handful of people were listening. Let’s hope so!”

This diatribe continued for a couple more minutes, threatening to take me into a depressive tailspin. I finally saw what I was doing and said to myself, “Stop it, Patricia! That’s enough! The interview really was good. You gave valuable information to folks; you spoke clearly; you even brought in a little humor. It was good enough.” I visualized a rubber stamp that had a seal with these words etched into it: “The Good Enough Seal of Approval.” In my mind’s eye was a piece of paper with the words, “Interview at KEOS”; I took the imaginary stamp, inked it with imaginary ink, and stamped it on top of the words, giving it a final seal of approval.

When my critical mind started to harangue me again, I said to it, “Nope, sorry. This event has been approved. It’s over.” Amazingly, it worked! The impulse to criticize myself receded, and I was freed up to go on to the next thing on my schedule.

When you become more conscious of the unreasonable standards by which you evaluate others and yourself, they will lose their power over you and no longer contribute to your depression. Try the following simple exercise:

BONUS EXERCISE

1)    Think of a recent situation in which you had a conversation, completed a task, or had to follow through on a commitment. Write it in your journal.

2)    How do you feel about how you did? What do you wish you had said or done differently?

3)    Where do you think this negative self-talk came from?

4)    Imagine that rubber stamp I described above; it says, “The Good Enough Seal of Approval.”

5)    “Stamp” your journal with this imaginary seal. You could even take colored pencils, markers, or crayons and draw a seal on top of the sentences you wrote. Be sure and write, “Good Enough.”

6)    You’re done! This situation has been approved, and you no longer have to think about it.

7)    Write up your results in the Comment box, below.

(c)  2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

For another take on the perils of perfectionism, see “Going Beyond Perfectionism.”

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Sudoku Therapy

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

Solving Sudoku puzzles can help heal the brain.

Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” – Vincent van Gogh

As Van Gogh, the famous artist and fellow depression sufferer, indicates in the quote above, depression can be healed by doing many small, seemingly insignificant things consistently over time. He probably knew what he was talking about, since he created beautiful paintings such as “Starry Night” and “Sunflowers” one brush stroke at a time.

Believe it or not, working Sudoku puzzles frequently—at least three times per week—is one of these small things.

The brains of people who do not have depression are resilient, capable of processing myriad thoughts, events, words, and sensory information almost instantaneously. The brains of people who do have depression are likely to skid to a halt if they receive too much input too quickly. This is because, in cases of moderate-to-severe depression, actual brain damage has occurred due to the chemical ravages of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. In addition, physical trauma in the form of head injuries may have occurred at some point.[i] As a result, the brains of people with depression exhibit cognitive and emotional dysfunction. In other words, you can’t think clearly and your mood is in the toilet.

Think back: Have you ever had any kind of head injury, especially when you were a child or young adult?

I was surprised when I found out that having sustained a head injury could increase the risk of depression, but as I thought about it, it made perfect sense. When I was in my mid-20s, I stood up into the top drawer of a five-drawer filing cabinet at work—you know, one of those heavy-duty, industrial-style jobs. I had left the drawer open while I bent down to pick up something that had fallen on the floor. I forgot the drawer was open and, when I stood up, the top of my head connected violently with the bottom of the file drawer.

The pain in that moment was excruciating, but even worse were the severe headaches and dizziness that plagued me for nearly a year. I was in so much pain that I had difficulty doing my job, and I had to lie down frequently throughout the day with my eyes closed. In addition to getting a CAT scan, I also consulted a neurologist who specialized in headaches. After an exam that tested my reflexes, eye-hand coordination, ability to walk, etc., he said that I had post-traumatic head injury syndrome. The headaches, he stated, would fade with time. He never mentioned that I might be prone to depression later in life.

All this is to say that engaging in predictable, repetitive, yet mildly challenging tasks such as working Sudoku puzzles can actually contribute to healing the brain and make it more resilient. Successfully—and repeatedly—solving Sudokus develops the following attributes:

a)     Ability to see patterns and make connections;

b)    Ability to think ahead;

c)     Concentration;

d)    Persistence;

e)     Relaxed mind;

f)     Desire to succeed.

Other benefits include a sense of accomplishment and the establishment of new neural connections in the brain.

When I first attempted Sudokus more than four years ago, I could not do even the simplest level without looking at the answer key. As the years went by, I found myself able to complete those puzzles fairly easily without “cheating”; I went on to the more difficult levels and developed more sophisticated problem-solving strategies. Now, it’s exciting to be able to solve a puzzle that would have stumped me a few years ago. On occasion, I can even complete puzzles at the “Diabolical” level!

You don’t have to be good at math to solve Sudokus. Although they are number puzzles, they have nothing to do with math. You could substitute nine different icons for the numbers 1-9, if you wished. Numerous websites give instructions on how to solve Sudokus; YouTube even has videos! Just do a search to see which ones appeal to you the most.

If you are new to Sudokus, give yourself permission to take your time, to make mistakes, and to not finish them at first. As you practice, you will find it gets easier and you will delight in how much sharper your thinking becomes. Your self-esteem—and your mood—will improve with every puzzle you complete.

Here’s to a new brain!

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.


[i] Tracey Holsinger, M.D., et al, “Head Injury in Early Adulthood and the Lifetime Risk of Depression,” Archives of General Psychiatry, 59.1 (2002) : 17-22. Web. Jan. 2002.

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Bongo Feet

<p><a href="http://www.freedigitalphotos.net/images/view_photog.php?photogid=989">Image: healingdream / FreeDigitalPhotos.net</a></p>

Give your feet some much-needed attention for a quick mood boost.

“Power and speed be hands and feet.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Most people are familiar with the saying, “Take time to smell the roses.” When’s the last time you heard, “Take time to play your feet”?

Say what?

As people prone to depression, it’s easy to get out of touch with our bodies. For so many years, I felt like I existed only from the neck up—and barely, at that. The numbness of my mind caused by the antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications seemed to extend to the rest of me. The fact that I gained weight due to the meds didn’t help any. I didn’t want to be in touch with any part of my body. I just wanted to feel better.

Good news: A quick, easy way to feel better is just a couple of feet away—literally. And it doesn’t cost a cent. Try this Easy Energizer I learned from my yoga instructor, Shelly Acree (see below). The first time she took our yoga class through this exercise, I was surprised at how much better it made me feel. I felt an influx of energy and clarity of mind. The fatigue with which I had entered the class fell away, and the process of doing the exercise made me smile. And it only took about five minutes. What’s not to like?

In preparing to write this article, I conducted a cursory review of reflexology as it affects depression. It turns out that the feet (and the hands) hold the stress patterns for the rest of the body. Who knew? By gently stretching, pressing, and slapping your feet, you can break up these patterns and release a lot of stress from the body’s nervous system, which in turn alleviates depression and anxiety. Eleven studies have demonstrated that reflexology reduces depression, while nine studies have demonstrated that it reduces anxiety (http://www.reflexology-research.com/whatis.htm). As I learn more about reflexology and how it helps relieve or heal depression, I will share this information with you.

If you are interested in learning more about reflexology, check out the website Reflexology Research Project. It has a really cool interactive, full-color reflexology chart for the feet.

Easy Energizer

You can do this exercise one foot at a time or, if you are flexible, both feet at the same time. Be sure to do every part of this exercise gently. If any part is painful (rather than merely uncomfortable), then skip it. If reaching your feet yourself is difficult or painful, ask a loved one or close friend to do this exercise for you. You can also make an appointment with a professional reflexologist.

1)    Take off your shoes and socks, if you’re wearing any (wheee!). Wiggle your toes.

2)    Thread your fingers in between the toes of the opposite foot, i.e., thread the fingers of your right hand in between the toes of your left foot and the fingers of your left hand in between the toes of your right foot. Leave them threaded for about 30 seconds.

3)    Unthread your fingers and stretch your toes back and forth a few times by pushing on them with your hands.

4)    Pull on each toe, massaging it as you do so.

5)    Take your thumbs and press them into the soles and tops of your feet, all over. Be sure to get the sides of your feet, the bases of your toes, your ankles, and your heels. Do this for a couple of minutes.

6)    Now, for the fun part: “Play the bongos” on your feet by gently slapping them all over. Do this for about 30 seconds.

7)    Rest your hands on top of your feet and close your eyes. See in your mind’s eye the many thousands of miles your feet have traveled. Acknowledge how hard they work for you and how important they are to your well-being. Thank them for all they do.

8)    Sit quietly and breathe deeply, sending the breath of life down into your feet. Enjoy your new-found energy and the release of tension. Smile!

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

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No News Is Good News

For a dose of serenity, focus on the positive.

“It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” – Jiddu Krishnamurti

You’ve seen the videos on the television news and YouTube: Employees diving under their desks as TV monitors and filing cabinets fall. Dramatic shots of walls of water racing through coastal towns and destroying everything in their path. Oil refineries blazing as though Hell’s inferno had escaped.

You’ve read the headlines in the newspapers and online: “Nuclear plant blows.” “Searching for survivors.” “Quake moved Japan coast 8 feet; shifted Earth’s axis.”

Your friends on Facebook have posted links to videos and news articles, commenting on how horrible this tragedy is and urging you to donate money to relief efforts.

As the waves of media coverage about Japan’s double tragedy washed over you, you may have felt desperately sad. Perhaps you were moved to tears. Maybe you watched helplessly as the equilibrium you’ve fought so hard to achieve has given way to an episode of severe depression. Your heart aches for the people of Japan and the devastating losses they are experiencing.

Stop.

If your depression is getting triggered by following the coverage of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami and their aftermath, particularly if you are becoming non-functional or suicidal, then just stop.

You can’t afford to become another statistic of this disaster.

Change the channel or turn off the TV. Skip the front-page news in the newspaper. Close YouTube and log out of Facebook. Stay off of CNN.com. Better yet, exit the Internet altogether.

Give yourself permission to remain out of touch with what’s going on in Japan. And everywhere else, for that matter, even in your own town. Bad news is endemic; it’s part of being on the planet. Unless it directly affects you or someone you care about, however, you don’t have to take it in.

I know: That sounds cold. Harsh. Uncaring.

But it’s not. Instead, it’s self-protective. Remember, the “C” in “CPR for Depressives” stands for “Care for yourself radically.” Protecting yourself from things that can trigger your depression is a form of radical self-care.

The fact is, people with chronic depression care too much. We tend to feel things more deeply than other people. We are easily moved to empathy, pity, and tears. This is not a weakness; it’s simply the way our brains are wired. Because of that, we need to protect ourselves more stringently than other people do, by avoiding information and situations that trigger our depression.

The disaster in Japan falls into this category. So do the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the recession, and the federal deficit. Poverty, hunger, and homelessness. And the myriad murders, rapes, and fatal traffic accidents that are happening all around us every day.

Avoid it. All of it. If you need permission to do so, then I hereby give it to you.

Not knowing what’s going on in the world does not make you a bad person, somehow lacking in social and political sensibility. Instead, it makes you more serene and better able to function.

One of the most serene people I ever met was my medieval and renaissance literature professor in graduate school. We students sometimes had a gentle laugh at her expense because she had no idea what was happening in the world. She never watched TV, never read the paper. Pop culture had no meaning for her. In her mind, she lived in the 10th thru the 16th centuries. Chaucer and Shakespeare were her contemporaries. She was clear on what contributed to her aliveness and functionality, and what didn’t. Tuning into the news didn’t. It was that simple. Her face was unlined and lit from within, in spite of her years, and smiling came easily to her. She was an excellent teacher and a joy to be around.

An essential part of recovery from depression is letting go of our attachment to wanting things to be different than they are. You and I can’t change the fact that a disastrous earthquake and tsunami occurred in Japan on Friday, killing thousands of people. What we can do is accept it, send our prayers winging across the oceans and continents, and make sure that we take radical care of ourselves by keeping ourselves out of the line of fire called “bad news.” Only then will we be able to make a positive difference.

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.

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It’s In the Hands

“Sometimes, if you want to see a change for the better, you have to take things into your own hands.” – Clint Eastwood

If you have depression, you are probably intimately acquainted with anxiety as well. The comorbidity rate (the likelihood of two diseases coexisting in the same person at the same time) for depression and anxiety is quite high—58% of people diagnosed with major depressive disorder also experience some form of anxiety disorder.[i] And here you thought you were somehow abnormal!

Anxiety hits during times of stress

While depression feels like wearing cement blocks chained to your ankles, anxiety feels like cement blocks are piled on your chest. Breathing is constricted, and the heart rate speeds up. Other physical symptoms can include headaches, fatigue, sweating, nausea, tense muscles, super-sensitive skin, heightened startle reflex, and trembling. Along with the physical symptoms come mental and emotional ones: Worry, irritability, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, a distorted view of problems or events, and a desire to isolate.

Interestingly, many researchers in the depression and anxiety fields believe that “a brain serotonin abnormality has more to do with anxiety than with depression,”[ii] according to Dr. Charles L. Whitfield, but because pharmaceutical companies have told us for more than 20 years that depression is caused by the brain’s inability to utilize serotonin properly (all the better to sell antidepressant drugs), that’s what we believe. This actually makes sense to me. In my own experience, taking SSRIs didn’t do much for my depression but seemed to alleviate the anxiety somewhat, if only by making me feel numb.

Riding a wave of anxiety can feel very much like riding a surfboard: You’re not at all sure you’re going to be able to keep your balance and you’re very much afraid you’re going to end up floundering about in water over your head. The unconscious impulse is to freeze and grab on to anything that feels familiar, whether it be a place, a person, or a routine; and to avoid anything that feels threatening. This is the old freeze-or-flee paradigm. Functioning normally becomes difficult, if not impossible.

For this reason, it’s important to interrupt the fear messages your brain is sending to your body and mind. (Let’s face it: Your brain doesn’t always interpret things accurately; it just thinks it does.) There are a number of ways to do this:

  • Physical engagement—for example, aerobic exercise;
  • Mental engagement—for example, cognitive-behavioral therapy;
  • Spiritual engagement—for example, meditation.

Try this simple exercise I developed to relieve anxiety that incorporates both physical and spiritual engagement:

1)    Find a quiet place where you can be alone for about five minutes. If this is a restroom stall at your workplace, so be it.

2)    Take note of your anxiety level: On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being barely noticeable and 10 being off the charts.

3)    Take three deep breaths. By “deep” breath, I mean, inhale to the count of four; hold for two; exhale to the count of four. If you can go for counts of six, three, six, do so.

4)    Rub your hands together until they are warm. This may take from one to two minutes.

5)    Place your left palm over your heart and your right palm over your solar plexus, about 2-4” above your navel. (The solar plexus is the spot where we frequently feel we have a “knot in the stomach.”)

6)    Continue breathing deeply. On the inhale, say to yourself, “I am a beloved child of God.” On the exhale, say to yourself, “I let go of all that does not serve me. I am safe.” Do this for one minute, or until you are feeling calmer and better able to function.

7)    Smile. Bask in the feeling of being loved and safe.

8)    Take note of your anxiety level now. Has it gone down?

If you do not “arrive” at a place of feeling connected to your Higher Power, don’t worry about it. The point is to feel better, not to have a transformative spiritual experience. The more you practice this exercise, the more powerful and effective it becomes.

(c) 2011 by Patricia R. Henschen, M.A.


[ii] Charles L. Whitfield, M.D., The Truth About Depression: Choices for Healing (Deerfield Beach, FL: Health Communications, 2003) 15.

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Filed under Anxiety Antidote, Finding Your Way Home